Monday, August 3, 2009


Via Andrew Sullivan, these posters are going up around LA.

Sullivan was confused by this depiction of Obama as the Joker:
It's graphically striking, but politically obtuse. The Joker is a wild man; Obama is no-drama; the Joker is an anarchist; Obama is a community organizer. Obama's careful politicking, his almost painful resistance to emotionalism, are worth lampooning, because they at least show an understanding of him, which is essential to successful mockery. But portraying him as an anarchist white terrorist recently made famous by Heath Ledger? To prove what exactly? Or is even asking for a reason at this point a silly thing to do?

It's not a silly question. But the answer has nothing to do with politics, socialism, or anarchy. Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker was, at its core, an amazingly effective portrayal of evil. With his scarred, blood-red grin, his constant lies, his brilliant scheming and his casual murder, the Joker seized the imagination of audiences who discovered the character for the first time, and completely re-defined the character for those who only knew the Joker as a goofy purple-clad straw man.

The creator of these posters wishes to portray Obama as evil, manipulative, and smug over his ability to deceive all of us. And Heath Ledger's Joker is the first, most visible, and memorable image of that evil that any movie-goer thinks of. The fact that Ledger is dead, and won a posthumous Oscar for his efforts, contributes to the visibility of this particular image of Evil.

Trying to read the politics of "The Dark Knight" is just a drive down the wrong intellectual highway when it comes to these posters. And, to be honest, the film's politics are actually quite muddled, with Batman eavesdropping on all of Gotham City as Bush did, but yielding these "war powers" to an ally who destroys them after use, only to see Batman martyred and made into a villain to be hunted down by the city that unjustly vilifies him. It's all a bit too Bush-Apologist for me, thanks.

Hm, maybe the politics of the film have more to bear on this than I thought.


  1. You drew a comparison between Bush and Batman, and after my desire to punch you in the snoot went away I thought about it a bit. I think I would be less likely to hate Bush having this power if he was also willing to personally fight the 'bad guy' in hand to hand combat and not take any Glory.

    You know as well as I do Batman has a copy of the eaves dropping set up hidden somewhere.
    No way would he give up that tool. He does believe he would be the only one who wouldn't abuse it. I really hate the fact that we will never see that version of the Joker again.

  2. In all fairness, I did not come up with the Bush=Batman analogy. That was something which was written about by right-wing bloggers in the days and weeks after Dark Knight came out. They wanted to see Bush as a misunderstood hero, the guy who will tap your phones and break the law for your own good, and we should trust him, but people hate him for it, because people are stupid. The result is a story of "Bush/Batman the martyr."

    Personally, I think that whole rationalization for Bush politics is full of shit. Batman can do all this because he's a goddamn comic book character, and we can trust him to put away the illegal wiretaps when the movie is over because that is what makes a better story, but in the real world despots do not give up the tools to power. Bush, Cheney and the rest are not going to just stop doing bad things because, well, they don't need to anymore. Don't make me laugh.

    As for Batman really giving up this power, well, that depends on which Batman we're talking about I suppose. Most of the time, in the comics, you are absolutely right. Batman would use every weapon at his disposal except, apparently, for guns, because guns make him feel dirty or something. In the movies, Batman has to be more heroic. He has to be a pretty unambiguous good guy. And that means that, in the movie, he gives up the power to a neutral party in a form of checks and balances. Which is where the metaphor with Bush breaks down, because the Bush/Cheney administration was all about consolidating power in one branch, not spreading it out to others.