� Pops | Main | Happy Dad �

June 20, 2005

Why Do We Fall?

The last thing I expected from a night of escapism was a dose of wisdom, but this episode of Batman has eclipsed all other superhero narratives and applies well to our society.

'Batman Begins' has reverse-engineered the legend of Batman into something serious enough to be transcendent of the genre. It's a critique on society that actually works. Unlike the facile comparisons I've heard about the latest installment of Star Wars, I believe that Batman discussions might yeild something hidden.

The bad guy in 'Batman Begins' is a man who seeks to destroy Gotham City for becoming corrupted beyond repair. His 'League of Shadows' aims to purge with fire that which is considered irredeemable. Billionaire Bruce Wayne, now transformed into Batman must part ways with the very man who made him. Why? Because the man who made him was without mercy and considers Wayne's mercy the very weakness that tolerates crime. Wayne's legacy is that of the family who sought to inspired the good in those of the wealthy who could make a difference. Batman must negotiate the narrow path which goes beyond vengeance towards justice. He is no punisher, but a catalyst.

On his way to recognizing and fulfilling his destiny, he does a lot of falling. The answer to the question is 'so that we may pick ourselves up'. It is this trajectory towards nobility that is the subject of 'Batman Begins', and I think the film makes a good distinction between elitism and nobility.

I often say that I am an elitist. Considering that I am not phenomenally, nor even marginally wealthy, I recognize that attitude is often all I have. So I sometimes overplay it. I have certain expectations of the elite, most primarily that they exhibit nobility. I am reminded very much of these moral expectations at bottom, so despite the fact that I might tend to rail against incompetence of all sorts as well as engage in a healthy about of ragging on the American peasantry, I do not hold great value in elitism for elitism's own sake.

The sterling character of this tale is none other than Alfred, played admirably by Michael Caine. I find it odd that in our own set of archtypes, it's difficult to imagine someone not British to play the part. We seem to have lost the very idea of propriety he, Alfred, embodies. It is Alfred, after all, whose fierce loyalty and understanding of the gravity of young Wayne's obligations to Gotham enable him to become and remain Batman - that thing Gotham needs most.

What indeed are our obligations to the wealthy? And so I turn to politics.

If there is a useful distinction to be made by the example of Alfred, it is how Americans are so quick to find in the wealthy and powerful some flaw worthy of exploiting. It is not enough that those who are truly corrupt are busted, but we suspect all of our betters to be equally corruptible. In fact, this is so pervasive a presumption that the only wealthy people we find admirable are those who 'keep it real'. There is no other reason to celebrate gangster culture than to believe that power always corrupts. By expecting corruption, we tolerated it. By tolerating it, we never face it down. By abdicating that responsibility, we cry out for superheroes, superweapons, supervengeance. We end up on the path of Batman's nemesis. We say that it is too late, and we seek a cleansing fire.

I believe that this sentiment is at the heart of every revolutionary and most liberals. Anyone who could cheer Michael Moore is certainly one who feels nothing of the responsibility Alfred bears. The key to this understanding is the one that strikes at my own heart. The merciless instructor understood that what Bruce Wayne feared was his own power. Ahh.

To fear your own power is to know that you can create or destroy. And yet 'there is always a bigger fish'. How difficult is it for us to see in our life's work some greater plan? Why should we help our bosses and our bosses' bosses? Isn't it all about money and power? Wouldn't we all like to take a pile of cash and live like PDiddy or JLo if we could? We fear our own power because of temptation, and because of frustration. When we realize that given a million bucks we would do something entirely different than what we are doing now, we admit that we don't really care about the integrity of the process we are working under today. We're just getting paid. What difference does it make who we work for? That, my friends is what makes us corruptible. Since there's always a bigger fish, there's always corruption we can't stop. Unless.

Unless we are to adopt the propriety of Alfred and work to insure that the good and powerful remain engaged in the well-being of society, there is nothing to stop corruption. That means we cannot afford to become merciless and cynical, that puts us on the side of destruction and chaos.

Quite a moral from Batman.

Posted by mbowen at June 20, 2005 05:06 PM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


Before you go off the Rochester deep end here brah..,

Couldn't your noblesse oblige be put to better use among we unrepentant field hands than among those corrupt Laguna Hills bettors?

Believe me, if I had two million bucks, I'd be doing MORE of what I'm doing today and in more places...,

Posted by: cnulan [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 21, 2005 06:57 AM