Is Gotham Worth Saving?
by Daniel Patrick Welch
Almost every society finds a way to address even the most taboo subjects. Daniel Patrick Welch finds a frank depiction of America's fate in the Summer movie list, of all places. Sifting through the plot of Batman Begins, Welch reflects on a question Americans may not even admit exists: "Some day we will have to wake up to the reality that the debate has long ago moved beyond our narrow world of runaway brides and sanitized, bloodless wars." The jury is no longer out on what the world thinks of U.S. aggression, and has settled on what
Welch calls "the image of a bullying, out-of-control, violent society with a pack of dangerous, power-crazed lunatics at the helm of the Ship of State." The only question left: Is Gotham Worth Saving?
Summer is here. The choking ajajas of Baghdad coat everything in a pale yellow dust. Meanwhile, back at imperial headquarters, the sandman effect of the summer movie list coaxes Americans back to sleep, our attention spans and consciences soothed into complacency, in contrast to the suffocating sumerian sandstorms. Kick back and enjoy your popcorn in the artificial bubble of petroleum-driven, air-conditioned bliss, while the bubble outside shows signs of bursting. Batman Begins debuts in this atmosphere, and although no comic strip dystopia can quite capture the grim specter of America's decline, Christopher Nolan's morbid depiction is more than mere fantasy.
No astute observer will have missed the implications of doom for the ruling cartel of Gotham. Criminal power, even at its height, is surprisingly vulnerable--at least in Movie Magic. With their hands on all levers of power, Gotham's mob elite have thoroughly corrupted every level of the social order and filled it with hacks and butchers who respond only to money and power and the unstinting abuse of both, so much so that ordinary citizens can do little more than cower in fear. It is left to a superhero, a district attorney and the only cop not on the take to save degenerate Gotham from itself, against all odds.
Parallels to Bush's America are unmistakable. With control over all three branches of government, a compliant, sycophant press, and Americans too scared, dumb or oblivious to think, the Bush cartel would seem poised to build its house of cards as high as the heavens. Worse, "opposition" party spinmeisters hit the circuit to reassure Gotham's weary masses that they would have done things differently: Bush should have listened to the generals who told him he needed more troops. I get it: I was against the war, and it should have been a much bigger one. Huh? Is Gary Oldman the only ordinary citizen not on the take? Who can stomach this crap?
Yet all is not smooth for the thugs who haunt Gotham's halls of power. One new antagonist provides an even more interesting twist. Americans go about their merry way, oblivious to hatred of them mounting on the four winds and across the seven seas. Foreigners, that remarkable yet still human species of non-American, do not share the same illusions, and some day we will have to wake up to the reality that the debate has long ago moved beyond our narrow world of runaway brides and sanitized, bloodless wars. Without the approved filter, all these horrors are seen in a different light--the light of day, the light of truth--than that sanctioned by America's mythmakers. Guantanamo, the destruction of Fallujah, the torture at Abu Ghraib and Baghram (yes, torture-not abuse, as it is euphemistically labeled in American press accounts, as if the torturers were bad parents who need to be slapped on the wrist by the Division of Child Services) all these images hazy to those in the bubble have been clearly building a cohsive image for those around the world looking in, the image of a bullying, out-of-control, violent society with a pack of dangerous, power-crazed lunatics at the helm of the Ship of State.
Since I often have the privilege of having my work translated, I have contacts in dozens of countries around the world, who remind me of the truth that the American penchant for self-deception is tottering on the edge. This one, like all bubbles, is as flimsy as it is transparent. My wife and I watched with dismay as our foreign friends recoiled one by one, fleeing their adopted America in the wake of such grim foreboding. The election seemed to be the last straw, as even Yankeephiles desperate to forgive the people while condemning their government finally gave up. "You're on your own," they seemed to say--and who can blame them--as the very real question loomed (beyond the grasp of most Americans) of whether Gotham was beyond saving.
Yet, as with Gotham, all is not running smoothly for Bush, his Rasputin Karl Rove, and their fraternity of liars, thieves, cheats and misleaders. There is a sense that something is wrong, deeply wrong, in Bush's tightly scripted bubble world, a profound sense that "it" is over, whatever "it" is. For those holdouts who still doubted this, a palpable panic swept the country recently in whispers from coast to coast, and shook the spectrum from libertarians to communists as the Supreme Court effectively abolished private property in the heart of capitalism. Municipalities can now seize private homes to make way for private development. The way is now paved (and yes, I do mean that literally) for the blissful monoculture of chemlawn landscaped hell, one highway strip of Home Depot after WalMart after another as pesky citizens are bulldozed out of the way (and yes, I mean that literally too).
No wonder a CNN/Gallup poll finds Americans "generally in a funk." Despite Rove's bag of evil tricks, the people remain unconvinced that Social Security should work to enrich Wall Street. America's working class and minority youth are proving to be far smarter than Pentagon planners and their hatchet men recruiters counted on. Bolton is reviled as the caricature he is, while dropping poll numbers force ever growing cracks in Bush's façade. Is enough enough? Will the outrage ever erupt, and the citizens of Gotham rise to the occasion? Or is Gotham beyond saving? Impeachment whispers are growing as the Downing Street Memos ooze through the firewall of American oblivion. Of course, impeachment is hardly sufficient for war criminals of this magnitude, but it is a necessary starting point for the reckoning that must come if rationality is to prevail.
Militating against all hope, of course, is that Bush's minions are not susceptible to self-doubt. The Lebanese guy at the store on the corner says even Bush isn't stupid enough to start another war with Iran. But stupid, I remind him, has nothing to do with it. Bush's handlers had the good sense to build his base among fundamentalist End-of-Days zealots. Just as impervious to reason or criticism as their Thoughtless Fearless Leader, these dangerous wackos are so convinced that they are Doing God's Work that they think they can do it better than Him. These crazies are actually searching for the biblical red heifer to sacrifice on the Temple Mount. The only need these Rapture hasteners have for Zion to exist at all is so that it can be consumed in a ball of flame as they, The Chosen, are called to their Maker.
All hubris must be punished by a fall. Rome was sacked; the Nazis were defeated, decisively and militarily, and forced at gunpoint by occupying powers to sculpt a "new" society--one without an army or imperial ambitions. Wounded pride is hardly the type of whooping America needs to mend its ways, though the insanity of the ruling clique may yet be enough to wreak sufficient havoc to learn from. Half-assed defeats are dangerous, and yield no lessons that stick. Aborted Reconstruction was never able to reform the slaveocracy, yielding instead a hundred years of lynching, the Klan, and the greatest wave of domestic terrorism in U.S. history. So what's it going to be? Can Gotham save itself?
© 2005 Daniel Patrick Welch. Reprint permission granted