Monday, August 04, 2008

Dark (K)night

James Howard Kunstler writes (click title of this post for his site):

The most striking thing about the new Batman movie, now smashing the all-time box office records, is its emphasis on sado-masochism as the animating element in American culture these days. It must appeal to the many angry people in our land who want to hurt others, even while they themselves feel deserving of the grossest punishments. In other words, the picture reflects the extreme depravity of the current American sensibility. Seeing it all laid out there must be very validating to the emotionally confused audience, and hence pleasurable, in all its painfulness. ...

At the center of all this is the character called "The Joker." Judging by the reams of reviews and reportage about this movie elsewhere in the media, the death of actor Heath Ledger, who played the role, adds another layer of juicy sadomasochistic deliciousness to the proceedings -- we get to reflect that the monster on screen may have gotten away, but the anxiety-ridden young actor who played him was carted off to the bone orchard before the film even officially wrapped (and therefore deserves extra special consideration for America's greatest honor, the Oscar award, while the audience deserves its own award for recognizing the lovely ironies embroidered in this cultural phenomenon.)

The Joker is not so much a person as a force of nature, a "black swan" in clown white. He has no fingerprints, no ID, no labels in his clothing. All he has is the memory of an evil father who performed a symbolic sadomasochistic oral rape on him, and so he is now programmed to go about similarly mutilating folks, blowing things up, and wrecking everyone's hopes and dreams because he has nothing better to do. He represents himself simply as an agent of "chaos." Taken at face value, he would seem to symbolize the deadly forces of entropy that now threatens to unravel real American life in the real world -- a combination of our foolish over-investments in complexity and the frightening capriciousness of both nature and history, which do not reveal their motivations to us.

By the way, forget about God here or anything that even remotely smacks of an oppositional notion to evil. All that's back on the cutting room floor somewhere (if it even got that far). And I say this as a non-religious person. But the absence of any possible idea of redemption for the human spirit is impressive. In the world of "the Batman," humanity at its very best is capable only of being confused about itself. This is perhaps an interesting new form of dramaturgy -- instead of good-versus-evil you only get befuddlement-versus-evil. Goodness has lost its way in the dark night of the American psyche, as might be understandable considering the nation of louts, liars, grifters, bullies, meth freaks, harpies, and tattooed creeps we have become. The best we can bring to this predicament is the low-grade pop therapy that passes for thinking nowadays in educated circles. Any consideration of the heroic is off the menu here. We can't ask that much of ourselves. It's too difficult to imagine. Meanwhile, The People -- that is, the citizens of Gotham City -- literally banish even the possibility of heroism from town at the end of the movie -- they take an axe to it! -- perhaps indicating that they deserve whatever befalls them or, shall I say, "us."

A few other striking elements of this spectacle deserve attention. One is the grandiosity that saturates the story elements, and the remarkable impotence of it all. The Batman possesses every high-tech weapon and survival implement ever dreamed up, yet they avail him nothing ...

Finally there is the derivation of all this sadomasochistic nihilism out of a comic book. How appropriate, since we have become a cartoon of a society living on a cartoon of a North American landscape, that the deepest source of our mythos comes from cartoons. We're so far gone that real human emotion is beyond us. We're too far gone -- and even without shame -- to care how this odious movie portrays us to the rest of the world. It is already making a fortune out there.