A Masked Hero for the 1%

Article excerpt

Byline: Will Brooker

Did Batman turn elitist--or is he still a defender of the people?

If every generation gets the superhero it deserves, what does it say about us that the latest iteration of the Dark Knight is a conflicted billionaire in a tuxedo pursuing an expensive crime-fighting hobby?

Four years after his last outing, Christian Bale returns to his bat suit in The Dark Knight Rises (in theaters July 20), the final installment of director Christopher Nolan's trilogy. The buzz around the highly guarded film is that Nolan has shifted his political messages (which are, to his credit, never black or white, red or blue). Just as he demonstrated that caped vigilantes could still be relevant post-9/11--that they could not only echo a changed world but reveal something new about it--he's now reflecting the fractured culture of our new decade back at us.

Batman's new nemesis, Bane (Tom Hardy), is literally a mass of muscle, a one-man mob, but his real threat is that he's the charismatic leader of a collective. He leads a crowd; he inspires and commands followers. By contrast, Batman/Bruce Wayne starts to look like a privileged 1 percenter, a bourgeois capitalist facing an angry city. There's a storm coming, Selina Kyle warns him, "and when it hits, you're all gonna wonder how you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us."

And so Batman himself will have to change, to attune himself to the new mood and new language of the city and its crowds, if he's going to survive. Sound familiar? It was perhaps easier terrain for Nolan to navigate when real-world concerns began to overlap with the film. News broke that Nolan was shooting footage around the Occupy Wall Street protests last year, and in November 2011 Occupy protesters shone a Bat signal at a New York skyscraper, replacing the familiar insignia with "99%" and consciousness-raising slogans.

In the run-up to its release, The Dark Knight Rises incorporated two new forms of communication into its viral campaign: the language of the Occupy street chant, led by the repeated phrase "mic check," and the hashtags and tweets that spread like wildfire through a series of street protests, from the Arab Spring to the London riots of 2011. Fans of the new film were invited to lend their own voices to a mob chant for the soundtrack, then encouraged to tweet images of Bat-graffiti from around the world. Nolan was harnessing the power and energy of the contemporary "hivemind," the collective intelligence of online fans, and The Dark Knight Rises shows that this crowd power can be both liberating and dangerous.

Batman's specialty has always been his ability to stay current by changing with the times. When he first appeared in 1939, his stories mixed Warner Brothers gangster-movie grit with the European Gothic of German expressionism. …