Rick Young 6 December 2009 MDA465 Support For Heteronormativity And Patriarchy In The Dark Knight The character of Batman has been a ubiquitous element of pop culture almost since its creation by Bob Kane for DC comics in 1939. Given Batman‟s instant familiarity today, it‟s easy to wonder by what mechanism it is even conceivable that a seventy year old superhero could not only be surviving, but be instantly recognizable to nearly every person in the U.S. The Batman is, indeed, the locus of a thriving mythos capable of generating new sources of revenue to this day. What allows Batman and many other classic superheroes to remain relevant cultural icons is that “unlike some fictional characters the Batman has no primary urtext set in a specific period, but has rather existed in a plethora of equally valid texts” as “the (economic) pressure to produce means that comic book heroes must have eternal life and eternal youth and that basically unchanging situations must appear in endless modification.” (Taylor, 350) The overall essence and personality of the character remains more or less constant over the years, while the character‟s appearance will likely change to conform to the aesthetic sense of the time. As it happens, characters may often undergo subtle personality changes not only to suit the artistic or dramatic vision of their interpreters, but also as the inevitable result of changing societal norms and expectations. This fundament is central in analysis of the most recent Batman film, The Dark Knight, in the context of other Batm(e)n and the evolutionary lives of other superheroes. Because each new incarnation of Batman and the Gotham he inhabits are, of economic necessity, a product of their environment, it is possible to glean information about the values and institutions of the culture in which they are created. However, by virtue of their position in pop culture, mediated superheroes may also reinforce or challenge certain paradigms and ultimately influence, in small ways, the culture in which they were conceived. As a text, The Dark Night exhibits many culturally influenced elements with gendered significance. These signs may be critiqued from a feminist and, insofar as gender and sexuality also have class implications, Marxist perspective. This paper examines The Dark Knight‟s position within the cultural canon of Batman mythology, with specific focus on the film‟s patriarchal and heteronormative implications. Very shortly after its initial creation, the Batman mythos‟ relationship to cultural hegemonies was brought into the realm of public discussion. In 1954 Frederic Wertham, a psychiatrist, penned a book entitled Seduction of the Innocent in which he asserted “that comic books were „morally disarming‟ children” (Genter, 955) of the time. Among his claims, he specifically mentioned the Batman comic books as possessing “a subtle atmosphere of homoeroticism which pervades the adventures of the mature „Batman” and his young friend „Robin.‟” (quoted in Terrill, 493) This assessment of the relationship between Batman and Robin would have a direct influence upon the development of the Batman myth from that moment through to the release of the most recent Batman film, The Dark Knight. Among the effects of Wertham‟s analysis was a strengthening of contemporary American hegemonic ideals, specifically those relating to gender and sexuality. His claim reified beliefs in the immorality of homosexuality and the condemnation of homosexuals as a corrupting and predatory force. However, the impact of both his statements and the culture that received them would not only influence the development of the Batman myth at the time, but through to the release of The Dark Knight. The net result of Wertham‟s accusation of Batman‟s and Robin‟s homosexuality would prove to be the perpetuation of hegemonic masculinity and heteronormativity and the derived oppression of nonconformists. In his analysis of graphic novelist Frank Miller‟s reinterpretation of Batman and Robin, Tipton points out that the fictional hero and sidekick relationship was not new to American culture in 1954. (Tipton, 323) He continues that what had made Batman and Robin available for such an interpretation was their existence not only in the literary form, but their illustrative nature in that “their heretofore „meta-textual‟ homosocial relations became both „felt‟ and seen, thus making… close readings like those of Wertham‟s that much easier.” (Ibid) Indeed, it is not unreasonable for Wertham to interpret a possible homosexual relationship between the characters. It is the promotion of heteronormativity attached to his and others‟ criticisms that becomes a barrier to furtherance of equality and social justice. This reinforced hegemonic heteronormativity would guide a concerted effort, on the part of the future propagators of Batman myth, to visually construct his heterosexuality via an amplified masculinity. How this has been accomplished in the most recent cycle of Batman films (Batman Forever, Batman and Robin, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight) is through what Terrill refers to as “sanitizing the Batman.” Central to this sanitization is the unequivocal establishment of Batman as within the bounds of heteronormative hegemony so as to remain a commercially viable commodity. While there is no conclusive evidence that such “sanitation” is undertaken consciously for the express purpose of upholding hegemonic ideals of the status quo, the observation that DC Comics has a track record of refusing to grant reprinting licenses to academic works (in four specific cases as of 2001) that specifically discuss Batman‟s sexuality vis-à-vis other “hundreds of permissions granted by DC for inclusion of material we‟ve published in scholarly works ranging from articles to books,” (Heer, 21- 22) lends credibility to the theory. It does not seem unreasonable to think that DC would refuse to grant licenses to prepare derivative works to graphic novels and films that did not meet it‟s acceptability standards for portraying the Batman. The first method by which Batman is sanitized is through amplification of his masculinity via militaristic imagery. Prividera and Howard show that there exists in American culture an equation of militarism with masculinity and that this “[g]endered and racialized framing of militarism and war is perpetuated in the American media.” (Prividera & Howard, 30) Militarism extends far beyond physical violence against criminals in Batman mythology. During the course of a dialogue with Lucius Fox (played by Morgan Freeman) in The Dark Knight, it is revealed that Bruce Wayne‟s (played by Christian Bale) mega-corporation, Wayne Enterprises, deals significantly in military research and development. In his analysis of Batman Begins, Dr. Kyle Killian describes one product of Wanye R&D: “the Batmobile, which is (not coincidentally) a high-speed tank in this re-vision.” (Killian, 80) The very same Batmobile is later destroyed-in-action in The Dark Knight. Military research and technology is also evident in the creation of the tools, weapons, and body armor with which the Batman combats criminals. The construction of military industry, through its indispensable utilization by the Batman, as the savior of Gotham effectively approves and reinforces its primacy in masculine American hegemony. In The Dark Knight, Batman is described as a vigilante. Furthermore, his use of force as an autonomous, albeit very influential, citizen, and his refusal of accountability to the state, confirms this description. (Dumsday, 51) Violent aggression is fundamental to the act of vigilantism and “without at least the threat of violence, vigilante action would be totally ineffective.” (Ibid) While not immutable, under the dominant culturally- constructed conception of masculine and feminine behaviors, following from the masculine role as hunter/protector and the feminine role as nurturer/caregiver, the use of violence and aggression is looked upon as a masculine trait, excepting cases in which mothers might, in their nurturing capacity, defend their offspring. In The Dark Knight‟s final catharsis Batman‟s vigilantism is vindicated in the ruse by which Commissioner Gordon‟s privately supports Batman whilst publicly condemning him: James Gordon Jr.: Why‟s he running, Dad? Commissioner Gordon: Because we have to chase him. J: He didn‟t do anything wrong. C: Because he‟s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So, we‟ll hunt him, because he can take it, because he‟s not a hero. He‟s a silent guardian. A watchful protector. The Dark Knight. As the protagonist and hero of the film, Batman‟s use of vigilantism portrays masculine aggression in a such a way that it reinforces notions that, not only is masculine aggression itself acceptable, but desirable over a “feminine” passive response. By favoring masculine traits over feminine traits, existing patriarchal hegemony is further reinforced. Also important is the fact that vigilantism is undertaken to redress a perceived threat to the status quo.” ( Dumsday, 55) A vigilante‟s concern for the status quo, insofar as it is the dominant ideology, has class implications. By attempting to “(prevent or inhibit) criminal or noncriminal but still deviant acts” [sic] (Dumsday, 57) the vigilante is defining deviance according to societal norms. Whether for the benefit or detriment of society and individuals, vigilantism, by definition, perpetuates the prevailing paradigm of the time and place. Ultimately his violent vigilantism, as well as his utilization of military technology to fight criminals, Batman reflects and reinforces “distinctly masculine assumptions regarding social, economic, and political activity” in which “[t]he warrior hero is definitively male” (Privadera & Howard, 31) and definitively heterosexual. Two further ways by which Bruce Wayne as the Batman is sanitized regard his aesthetic taste and his relationship to women. In assessing Wayne and Robin‟s alter-ego, Dick Grayson, Wertham wrote: “At home they lead an idyllic life. They are Bruce Wayne and „Dick‟ Grayson. Bruce Wayne is described as a „socialite‟ and the official relationship is that Dick is Bruce‟s ward. They live in sumptuous quarters, with beautiful flowers in large vases, and have a butler, Alfred… It is like a wish dream of two homosexuals living together.” (quoted in Tipton, 322) This is quite a different picture from the aesthetic of Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight. His style of dress is more in line with the harder-edged monochromatic fashionability of the “metrosexual,” invoking images found on the cover of the lexical masculine magazine, GQ. His quarters, a chic high-rise penthouse, further employ the straight “metrosexual” aesthetic to confirm Wayne‟s masculinity. Wertham is implying, of course, that “sumptuous quarters” and “beautiful flowers in large vases” indicate sexual preference. By acknowledging these criticisms and refining the image of Bruce Wayne to fit a more “straight” masculine ideal, the creators behind The Dark Knight, whether knowingly or not, accede to these gendered meanings. As a consequence the notion is that not only are flowers “naturally” feminine, but so must also be homosexuals. Straight/masculine hegemony remains unquestioned. Another noticeable difference in the revival of the Batman cycle is his altered relationship to women. No longer is he simply a “socialite” who “squires about” the most beautiful women in town. Were that to remain the case, Bruce Wayne could conceivably continue to be interpreted as having homosexual preferences. Terrill discusses at length the inclusion and heterosexual implication of the female love interest, Dr. Chase Meridian, in Batman Forever. So too, is there a feminine object of desire in The Dark Knight: Assistant District Attorney Rachel Dawes. In fact, with her death at the end of The Dark Knight we see the interrelation of separate canonical texts revolving around the Batman. The explanation for the Batman‟s sexual ambiguity found in Frank Miller‟s novel is recycled in the 2008 film. The rationalization contends that during his relationship with and especially after the death of Rachel, Batman‟s “sexual urges are so sublimated into crime-fighting that there‟s no room for any other emotional activity.” (Taylor, 356) This explanation may be unnecessary, given Batman‟s relationship to Chase Meridian in Batman Forever, given that the film was created before and set after The Dark Knight, but Warner Brothers and DC Comics presumably might not object to a reminder of Batman‟s hegemonic authenticity. Rachel, as the former lover of Bruce Wayne, and current lover of District Attorney Harvey Dent, is the focus of a simmering rivalry between the two. The inclusion of the rivalry between Batman and Dent has gendered significance in that it reifies conceptions of competition, especially in the context of romantic competition as a masculine pursuit. The physical attributes and personalities of Wayne and Dent pit physical strength and sexual appeal (Wayne) versus sensitivity and emotional appeal (Dent). Implicit is the notion that the ideal male may only possess one set of characteristics or the other and, in so doing, be either “properly” masculine or lacking some desired traits. The ultimate position of Dent as being, first, dependent upon Batman for rescue and, second, succumbing to a moral defect and transforming into the villain Two-Face, a decision is made as to which traits are ultimately most desirable in a “good” man. Critical theorists have asserted that the question of Batman‟s sexuality may be resolved by virtue of inclusion of certain secondary characters and their relationship to him. (Terril, 2000; Tipton 2008). In explicitly displaying his unattainable romantic and sexual interest in Rachel, The Dark Knight casts Bruce Wayne/Batman as an icon of heterosexual masculinity and dominance. Consequently the relationship to the women he “squires about” is altered. In the party scene at his Penthouse, it seems rather that it is he who is being escorted as he steps out of a personal helicopter with three idealized women on his arm. It is of course an eroticized, patriarchal, and hegemonic ideal to which the women conform. Each woman is tall, slim, with large breasts and curvy hips; accentuated by dresses with plunging necklines and high hems. The portrayal of the women against the backdrop of a luxurious personal helicopter and a high fashion invitation-only party connotes their function as accessories; through their use it is understood that Bruce Wayne‟s status may be elevated. This example, along with the instance in which he whisks away every woman in a Russian Ballet troupe to Hong Kong only to be momentarily shown laying seductively on the deck of his yacht in Bikinis, evokes images reminiscent of Jay-Z‟s “Big Pimpin‟” and other similar rap videos shown on MTV. These women are the reward of the rich and famous, and, as the film‟s “good guy” is rich and famous, it is natural that he should have them. Such depictions only perpetuate a hegemonic ideal in which “women are valued for their constituent body parts and their sexual attractiveness and… are encouraged to value themselves for these same attributes.” (Mooney, 252) By creating women as either, in the case of Rachel, the unattainable quarry of the chase, or as the rented possessions of Bruce Wayne, they are “[contained] to „women as image‟ so that only men can be represented as fully social subjects.” (Mooney, 262) In addition to the inclusion of sexualized women, the questionable role of Robin in the early comics has been resolved through recasting. In Frank Miller‟s reinterpretation of Batman legend as the 1986 graphic novel, The Dark Knight Returns, he originally completely re-sexes Bruce Wayne‟s ward as a teenaged girl. (Tipton, 323- 324) In his analysis of Batman Forever, Terrill decodes Chris O‟Donnell‟s version of Robin as “vehemently heterosexual.” (Terrill, 501) Dick Grayson, in Forever, displays an overt sexual interest in women and “[b]y displaying the signs of heterosexuality himself, Robin clarifies Batman‟s sexual orientation.” (Ibid) In the same way that remedial portrayals of Robin are created to secure Batman‟s hegemonic masculinity, so too are the portrayals of the villains related to an audience‟s ability to “correctly” decode the Batman. In Batman Forever, Jim Carey‟s Riddler is sexually ambiguous and displays many “Campy” qualities. (Terrill, 498-499) Furthermore, the Riddler represents the antithesis of the Batman. As what Terrill describes as the mythic “trickster,” he is in all things a doppelganger of the protagonist. Thus, “because the Riddler is sexually ambiguous, Wayne/Batman isn‟t.” (Terrill, 498) In The Dark Knight, the Joker fills the same role of the trickster/doppelganger. However, with Batman/Bruce Wayne‟s sexuality firmly resolved through earlier re- representations of Robin and the Riddler, the Joker‟s opposition to Batman takes on a much different character. Rather than reinforcing the heteronormativity of Batman, via a postmodern sexuality in which he can appear in drag as a nurse, yet be apparently “straight” (according to the aggression-related norms already established in Batman), the Joker opposes the patriarchal masculinity of Batman‟s industrial militarism. Where Killian argues that the new Batman is representative of George W. Bush‟s “War On Terror,” (Killian, 77) the Joker might be more properly described as a rough analog to an Iraqi or Afghan insurgent. He stands in defiance of the order represented by both Batman and the rest of Gotham‟s organized crime as hegemonic forces. In the conversations between himself and Batman, he is shown, not as insane, but sadly and pathologically realistic in his assessment of the world in which he lives. Yet, in his ultimate defeat, patriarchal hegemony, conformity, and propagation of the status quo are also victorious. Superheroes are, at their core, the embodiment of hegemonic ideals. The heroes adhere to and defend societal norms. Villains oppose them. What has historically separated the Batman was his moral ambiguity. (Terrill, 494) In possessing such ambiguity, Batman traditionally has been the most accurate portrayal of the individual‟s conviction that their way is the correct way. In “sanitizing” Batman Forever, Terrill argues that Batman‟s antagonistic relationship to hegemony has been transformed. In continuing to rigidly define the Batman through his portrayal in The Dark Knight, it has been shown that the Batman mythos becomes a proponent of, rather than a challenge to, cultural hegemony. 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