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24 September 2008

The Dark Knight,: Batman's latest crime-buster

Reviewed by Lindsay Wheatcroft

Hot on the heels of Iron Man, this summer's big cinematic release sees another super-rich capitalist buying some high-tech war gear and waging war on crime.

The sad loss of Heath Ledger has seen the hype for this film explode. And to be fair, his outstanding performance as the Joker completely steals the show. It's safe to say anybody who likes super-heroes or action movies has probably seen this and read several reviews already, but perhaps not given much thought to the politics of the film.

The message of the Batman franchise has always been that it's perfectly fine for millions of Americans to live in poverty as long as billionaires like Bruce Wayne do something about it - that is, donate to charities in between beating up criminals.

As Batman, his main concern is reacting to visible street-level crime, only going after corrupt capitalists if they've got a mob connection. With working-class youth lacking jobs or leisure facilities and turning to gangs as a source of income, the best thing he can think of is a luxurious party to get his super-rich buddies to fund a politician who pledges to be tough on crime. As if tax-dodging tycoons who keep themselves rich by paying rock-bottom wages ever helped the working class!

From the start of the film, most of the sociopathic Joker's victims seem to be his own men, so it's pretty puzzling how he manages to find new people for each job. That is, until it's revealed that he is exploiting vulnerable mentally ill people who have been totally let down by the US private healthcare system.

The failures of the US health system are alluded to again when it's revealed how a police unit is leaking information - an officer is desperate to pay her mother's hospital bills and is taking bribes.

The most disturbing aspect of the film is the message that torture and snooping can be justified if it makes society 'safer'. Batman's interrogation technique is utterly brutal, breaking the limbs of suspects until they tell him what he wants to hear.

The big gadget this time round is a sonar device in every mobile phone, that lets Batman's sidekick see and hear everything in all Gotham. I suppose our privacy doesn't matter if the man spying on us is a nice guy like Morgan Freeman!

The real world is facing recession. Whilst Hollywood and DC Comics would have us believe that well-meaning billionaires can solve capitalism's problems, the fact is that the system which supports the super-rich also creates the poverty which leads to crime.

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