I recently stumbled upon this Peter Rollins blog post (I have no idea who he is, by the way) and found it quite interesting. It discusses the whole concept of actually living out what we claim to believe by using the example of Bruce Wayne’s paradoxical lifestyle involving running a multi-million dollar corporation by day and then fighting crime by night. It is the capatalistic system, Rollins would say, and the corporations that fuel it, that have created the crime Wayne is attempting to combat. The part of the article that really hits home for me is his analysis of our beliefs (I have bolded the section of the article that summarizes what I’m referring to). Are we actually living out the values and ideals that we deem important or are we just taking part in religious activities to clear our consciences and make us feel like we are actually making a difference?
Here’s the article:
Brecht once famously wrote, “what is the crime of robbing a bank compared to the crime of founding one?” Is this not the very sentiment that we must bare in mind as we watch Batman at work? By day he is Bruce Wayne, a wealthy industrialist, by night he is Batman, combing the streets of Gotham City for criminals to beat up and people to save.
His obsession with street crime arises as a direct result of witnessing his Mother and Father murdered by a thief. His Father was a philanthropist who attempted to help Gotham City by funding social projects and local charity work. Bruce, however takes a different approach and uses his wealth to fund a vigilante war on terror.
One could say that Bruce Wayne is fundamentally different from his Father in so much as the later concentrated on helping victims of crime while the former seeks to punish the perpetrators of crime. However, it would be more accurate to say that Bruce is merely continuing his Fathers business by different, but equally flawed, means.
Both are obsessed with the subjective violent eruptions that take place on the streets of Gotham City and both seek to address them. However, in the midst of all their activities neither pay attention to their own (sublimated) violence. This violence is that which has been objectified in the very economic structures that allow corporations like Wayne Industries to make such vast sums of money in the first place. Batman is unable to see that the subjective crime he fights on a nightly basis is the direct manifestation of the objective crime he perpetrates on a daily basis. The street crime is the explosion of violence that results from greedy, large industries obsessed with the increase of abstract capital at the expense of all else. It is not enough to hate subjective explosions of crime, one must turn ones attention to the ground that feeds these expressions.
Indeed one could say that it is the very philanthropic work of his Father and the crime-fighting of Wayne that actually provide the valve that allows them both to continue in their objective violence. What better way to feel good about yourself than volunteering at a local charity in the evenings (like his Father) or beating up on street criminals in the evenings (like Wayne). Such acts (like a prayer meeting, worship service or bible study) can recharge the batteries and make us feel like our true identity is pure and good when in reality it simply takes away the guilt that would otherwise make it difficult for us to embrace our true (social) self who is expressed in the activities we engage in for the rest of the week. The philosophy here is exposed as “do something so that nothing really changes”.
Perhaps then the next film will not have Batman running around beating up drug dealers and pimps (an impotent project anyway as there is only one Batman for the whole city), but rather dissolving Wayne Industries, setting up free health care and campaigning for radically different socio-political structures.
Mind you, it might not be as fun to watch (and I am very much looking forward to seeing the new Joker in action).