“There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.”
These words are spoken by Anne Hathaway in the trailer for next year’s The Dark Knight Rises, and together with scenes of massive armed riots and robberies, they have ignited speculation that next year’s Batman movie will have Occupy Wall Street-flavored political undertones. Actually, the movie isn’t introducing anything new. Batman’s entire narrative is a story of the 1%, of Bruce Wayne using the gigantic inheritance left by his parents to set himself above the law. It’s just that when you set that sort of high-flying opulence down into the meticulously real Gotham City which director Christopher Nolan has built over the course of these films, the obvious theme of class conflict becomes inevitable.
This doesn’t mean that the film is pushing any kind of social justice agenda. Other scenes in the trailer (such as the emotional conversation between Alfred and Bruce) make it clear that this film focuses much more on Bruce Wayne’s personal struggles than America’s income disparity. But still, Batman’s blatant 1%ism raises the question: Can Americans simultaneously attack Wall Street executives and adore Batman? Of course they can. In fact, instead of criticizing Batman for resembling Wall Street executives, they should attack Wall Street executives for not being enough like Batman.
Anger at Wall Street and love of Batman has nothing to do with their wealth. The different reactions come from the different ways Batman and Wall Street utilize their money. Bruce Wayne is as far away from the common man as Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, but whereas the Occupy movement has charged that Blankfein and his Wall Street compatriots utilize their wealth to take advantage of their customers, Wayne uses his money to finance a massive crime fighting operation for the good of society. Batman is an ubermensch. He seeks to hone his mind and body and mold himself into a weapon in the fight for justice. His wealth is only a tool in his work towards human perfection.
Loving Batman doesn’t necessarily mean you love the fact that Batman has much more money than the average American; it can mean you love the way Batman uses that money to improve himself and help others. Just like how supporting the Occupy protests doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a socialist in favor of a radical redistribution of American wealth; it can mean you support the right to protest against government compliance with Wall Street selfishness.
So no, we shouldn’t all rush to Occupy Wayne Manor. Batman is actually an example of what rich people should try to do with their wealth. He is the embodiment of the American dream, the self-made man. But instead of using his success to put everyone else down, he helps protect ordinary people and raise them up by scaring the shadows away. That narrative isn’t one of perfect equality, but it is one of justice.
Photo Credit: Brett Jordan