Andrew Klavan wrote a rather strange op-ed in the Journal today titled What Bush and Batman Have in Common.
In it he claims Batman: The Dark Knight is doing well at the box-office because it depicts “the values and necessities that the Bush administration cannot seem to articulate for beans.” For Klavan these values include tactics from the “by any means necessary” school, tactics allegedly shared by both Bush and Batman. I wonder why Jack Bauer was left out since we know the Bush administration looked to him for inspiration on interrogation techniques.
I see three reasons why Klavan’s reading is incorrect:
- The Ledger factor: Heath Ledger died earlier in the year and understandably this created a great deal of interest in the movie. It probably didn’t hurt that practically every critic said his performance in the movie was brilliant. Before Klavan adopts Ledger into his conservative pantheon, we should remember that his breakthrough movie was a tender exploration of romantic love between two men, not exactly the stuff of conservative dreams.
- The Star Wars counter: Klavan goes on to claim that films which question the Bush administration’s view have bombed at the box office (Redacted, Rendition). Lets level the playing field, shall we?. Batman is probably as big a franchise as Star Wars is. If you watched episodes I, II and III you probably caught the references to Bush term I rhetoric when the young Darth Vader says “if you aren’t with me, you’re against me”, or when Obi-Wan cries out “Only a Sith deals in absolutes!”. These most recent Star Wars movies had terrible dialogue and weak scripts, but they still managed to gross between 310 and 431 million in the US. There is an audience for nuance in a battle between good and evil on American movie screens.
- The Iron Man defense: We don’t have to reach that far back though, Iron Man dealt pretty definitively and specifically with the corruption wrought by close ties between a military-industrial complex (Cheney-Halliburton or Rumsfeld doctrine anyone)?. It’s still playing and has racked up 310 million, not too shabby for a super-hero who hadn’t ever starred in a movie. Perhaps there was a lot of pent-up demand for movies about how a strategy focused on forcibly subduing unrest, without using the resulting peace to encourage development would fail in Afghanistan and Iraq (as it did in Europe right after WW-I).
I could go on, Klavan also suggests 300 is a conservative film about Bush administration values. It deals with the defense of a small nation by a determined band fighting a great power with overwhelming military superiorty. If there are any parallels to the situation we find ourselves in, they are on the wrong side. I know we like rooting for underdogs, but on the global military field, we are Persia, not Sparta. Perhaps Klavan was only referring to the movie’s Spartans losing the battle after they demean and spurn their allies.
In any case, it’s a bit of a reach to look for support of your tactics in the box office results for a superhero movie. That’s sort of like saying the American people love intellectual serial killers since Silence of the Lambs and Seven were hits. We don’t have to search for such tenuous links, enough surveys have asked the question directly of the American citizenry. 70% of them say they have a negative view on the Bush administration’s Iraq policies, 59% give the Bush administration negative marks on fighting terrorism and Bush wins the contest for worst president since WW-II. The problem isn’t that the Bush administration has failed to spin their actions as well as Batman or Hollywood can. They were pretty successful at it for a few years, but there’s a firm strain of independence in the American spirit, and there’s only so long we’re willing to accept authority without question, especially when it is inept. The American citizen also knows enough to realize that what makes for good theater doesn’t necessarily make for good policy.
The truly frightening thing is that Klavan claims to speak for freedom, but has managed to write a defense of tyranny. After all, what else would you call oppressive power vested in a single person, the doctrine of the unitary executive?