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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, about which more later. One new antagonist provides an even more interesting twist. The League of Shadows has decided that Gotham is beyond saving, and must be destroyed. The resulting chaos will destroy the allure of Gotham once and for all, and allow something newer and purer to rise in its place.
The remarkable insight of this astute analogy is that this argument over whether Gotham is beyond saving takes place only between Batman and his mentor-turned-nemesis in the form of Liam Neeson. As Gotham goes about its daily grind, rotten to the core, no one in the bubble is aware that the debate has moved beyond the tired minutiae of what passes for life in the Belly of the Beast.
Similarly, Americans still allow themselves to be suckered in by the lurid pageant of TV "news," exploring the intricate details of Michael Jackson' private life while completely ignoring their lying jackass of a president and the never ending crimes of the unelected regent who somehow now wields state power at his side. Talking heads go on at length about the propriety (or im-) of Dick Durbin’s comment comparing the concentration camp at Guantanamo to those of the Nazis. Never mind the fact that historical analogies are always wrong by definition; the only "accurate" analogies are mathematical ones, like 1 is to 2 as 2 is to 4, and so on. Durbin's real sin was illuminating the world outside the bubble, where Americans are not always seen as the White Hats.
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 cohesive 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;" Poor Jimmy Carter: if only he had used the Teutonic Funk instead of the faggy French "malaise," people might have listened to him way back when. 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. Exposes like Bush's Brain are gaining currency, and Rove's wicked and illegal hand on the levers of power is coming ever so faintly to light. As a sort of throwaway guest character on the cartoon American Dad, Rove cameos as a sort of evil priest whose very presence freezes the fishbowl, who burns in church and transforms into a flock of bats when his "work is done." Cartoons may not influence state power, but hey—-funny is funny.
Outside the bubble, bright spots are easier to find. Latin America is, thankfully, in full-blown rebellion as at no other time in the last 25 years. Hugo Chavez' Venezuelan revolution is sitting on newly discovered oil reserves, assuring either the dream of using the country's vast oil wealth to benefit the poor, or a US invasion—-but not both. Incidentally, the Citgo buycott to encourage support for Chavez' agenda is an interesting and promising internet-driven campaign. And European voters were unimpressed by the prospect of NAFTA-like globalism, and rejected the neoliberal agenda in decisive polls in France and The Netherlands.
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. Poor Israelis who cast their lot with these armageddonite Christo-fascists. 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. With friends like these, who needs enemies? In this light, it is all the more understandable that they are ready to throw caution to the wind as the rest of us suffer eternal fire.
But the real reason the Big Question is out there is the same reason why Durbin's Nazi analogy falls flat. 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? Only time will tell whether Americans wake up and seize the salvation of Batman, or face that of the League of Shadows and Liam
© 2005 Daniel Patrick Welch. Reprint permission granted with credit and link to
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Writer, singer, linguist and activist Daniel Patrick Welch lives and writes in Salem, Massachusetts, with his wife, Julia
Nambalirwa-Lugudde. Together they run The
Greenhouse School. Some of his articles have been broadcast on radio, and translations are available in up to 20 languages. Links to the website are appreciated at