Required Reading: Graeber on Nolan’s Batman

More required reading for anyone interested in popular culture, film, comics, media generally, Occupy, politics generally, the financial crisis, global capital, or life generally: David Graeber, anarchist anthropologist and author of Debt: The First 5000 Years, has a thought-provoking piece in The New Inquiry on superhero comics and their recent film incarnations (with special reference to Christopher Nolan’s Batman films). The piece starts provocatively enough:

Let me clarify one thing from the start: Christopher Nolan’s Batman: The Dark Knight Rises really is a piece of anti-Occupy propaganda.

From there, Graeber goes on to explore (perhaps not altogether unproblematically, but importantly) the politics of superhero comics from the mid twentieth century to the age of digital filmmaking and media convergence.

Dark Knight Rises offers an opportunity to ask some potentially enlightening questions about contemporary culture. What are superhero movies really all about? What could explain the sudden explosion of such movies—one so dramatic that it sometimes seems that comic book-based movies are replacing sci-fi as the main form of Hollywood special effects blockbuster, almost as rapidly as the cop movie replaced the Western as the dominant action genre in the ‘70s?

Why, in the process, have familiar superheroes suddenly been given complex interiority: family backgrounds, ambivalence, moral crises and self-doubt? And why does the very fact of their receiving a soul seem to force them to also choose some kind of explicit political orientation?  One could argue that this happened first not with a comic-book character, but with James Bond. Casino Royale gave Bond psychological depth for the first time. By the very next movie he was saving indigenous communities in Bolivia from evil transnational water privatizers.  Spiderman, too, broke left in his latest cinematic incarnation, just as Batman broke right.

This is an important piece, framed by consideration of Nolan’s latest Batman film, but really about the framing function of constituent power and the popular means for channeling, negotiating, and ultimately re-imagining it.

More on #OccupyTheGoddamnBatman

The more I think about it, #OccupyTheGoddamnBatman is a necessary development or outgrowth of #OWS. For one thing, there’s such an abundance of (coincidentally linked but thematically relevant) material that’s just asking to be appropriated (i.e. occupied) and virally reproduced, such as the photos from the film shoot that Keith Olbermann referenced. (A lot of this work has been started, as the images and clips here demonstrate.) As one commenter remarks on the pictures of the film shoot (there’s been talk of using protesters as extras):

“This weekend Batman visited New York and shot a home movie called The Dark Knight Rises with his buddy Christopher Nolan. The Occupy Wallstreet people may not have a job, a place to piss, or any hope for the future, but at least they got to meet the Goddamn Batman. And Catwoman was there, too. Rawr.”

Meanwhile, Frank Miller, author of the series that gave us the famous “goddamn Batman” line — and the meme it spawned — recently came out with some “putrid false righteousness” concerning the #Occupy movement (those are his words, which he uses to describe #OWS). See Miller’s post here, if you must, for his full condemnation of the protesters, whom he calls “pond scum” and “schmucks,” and about whom he writes insightful things like this:

“Occupy” is nothing short of a clumsy, poorly-expressed attempt at anarchy, to the extent that the “movement” – HAH! Some “movement”, except if the word “bowel” is attached – is anything more than an ugly fashion statement by a bunch of iPhone, iPad wielding spoiled brats who should stop getting in the way of working people and find jobs for themselves.

In response to Miller’s blathering, digital illustrator Dane Cypel has begun the occupation of the goddamn Batman, recognizing that Miller’s “Batman’s not really the goddamn Batman, he’s also the goddamn one-percent”:

(“I’m the Goddamn 1%!”, from Cypel’s blog The Greatest Dane, here)

And here are some similarly themed images from around the Web:


#Occupy the Goddamn Batman

A few days ago, Keith Olbermann discussed the injustice of NYC Mayor Bloomberg’s response to #OWS. Among the more humorous of his remarks was this:

Who else but a publicity addict like Bloomberg could have enabled the arrest of 700 protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge and yet, two months later, frozen 20 square miles of New York City in gridlock traffic over two days, so somebody could film another GODDAMNED BATMAN movie on the 59th Street Bridge? Leading to the inescapable conclusion that — if you want to tie up a little traffic during a protest for equality and freedom from corporate domination on a bridge in New York City — you will be arrested. But — if you want to tie up all of the traffic during a goddamned movie shoot for the financial benefit of corporate domination — the city of New York will embrace you and give you tax breaks.

Now fans of Batman will recognize here more than just a tirade against GODDAMNED BATMAN movies; there’s also an allusion — perhaps a fannish, loving allusion — to words uttered by Batman himself: “I’m the goddamn Batman!” (panel 1, page 10, All Star Batman and Robin the Wonder Boy, issue 2)

This has since become a widespread Internet meme (see the Know Your Meme site for some background), as displayed in images like this:

So while Olbermann was making a serious point in his commentary on Bloomberg and GODDAMNED BATMAN movies, he was also invoking this line of humorous appropriation — or OCCUPATION — and bringing it into connection with #OWS. We might read this, then, as a call for the occupation of Batman — or, more accurately, for the politicization of the occupation represented by the “goddamn Batman” meme.

Almost as if in response, what is appropriately being called a “Bat-signal” for #OWS (created by Mark Read) was projected yesterday on the Verizon Building during the #N17 march on the Brooklyn Bridge (see the video above). (The story behind Read’s projection is quite interesting, so check out the interview with him at BoingBoing.) And while I haven’t seen anyone explicitly connecting Olbermann’s comments, the “goddamn Batman” meme, and this so-called “Bat-signal,” I think there’s something to be said for doing so, and good (i.e. strategically sound) reason for actively taking up these connections as part of the viral imagery of the #Occupy movement. #OWS itself is about reclaiming, rewriting, about techniques familiar from the medium of comics — about retcon and the proliferation of alternate universes, as these words from the Bat-signal for the 99% demonstrate: