Jonathan Lethem has written a great piece for the NYT about The Dark Knight. I was a little angry when I wrote this post when it was mimed on so many different websites. My argument, in effect, was that the new film has conservative and fascistic tendencies; that it dignifies torture and rendition.
Lethem is far more clairvoyant (and articulate, to boot) to say that
Yet I suspect it is still the news. While both candidates run on the premise that Washington Is Broken, I’m disinclined to disagree, only to add: our good faith with ourselves is broken, too, a cost of silencing or at best mumbling the most crucial truths. Among these, pre-eminently, is the fact that torture evaporates our every rational claim to justice, and will likely be the signature national crime of our generation — a matter in which we are, by the very definition of democracy, complicit. (Perhaps some unconsciously hope that electing a man who was himself tortured will provide moral cover, just as Batman’s losing his parents to violent crime forever renews his revenger’s passport.)
No wonder we crave an entertainment like “The Dark Knight,” where every topic we’re unable to quit not-thinking about is whirled into a cognitively dissonant milkshake of rage, fear and, finally, absolving confusion.
It’s writing like this that inspires me; Lethem is right to title his piece “The Art of Darkness”: the reader is yanked through the cognitive ether into a more horrifying time spent in front of another flickering screen: Apocalypse Now. As we wind up the river in the PT Boat, our vision takes on a dual valence. We are surrounded by riverbanks in Vietnam and Cambodia, but our vision harks back to an earlier time, when those first Belgians ventured into the Dark Continent, and when the enlightened visage of man lays shorn and the teeming, decaying patch of irrationality is finally laid bare for our own self-examination and self-reflection.
Lethem is right to see confusion as the dominant theme in The Dark Knight. In our infatuation with this movie, we see ourselves as Conrad saw that lonesome French Man o’ War in the Congo, more ghost-ship than real, incessently shelling the surrounding muck and jungle, if only to take comfort that it was doing something–anything–to stem the infernal growth before it. We are now doing the shelling, not those unfortunate French: we are plugging away at the looming growth of economic failure, moral decrepitude, and social decadence. We can’t see the forest for the trees, and here we will continue to tread water, fullisade after fullisade, waiting for the next doleful author to capture our decay at his own languid pace.