Mind Theater

The Dark Knight: Heroes Public and Private

January 10, 2022 Ayo Akingbade Episode 58
Mind Theater
The Dark Knight: Heroes Public and Private
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Show Notes Transcript

Exploring the role of vigilantes, public and private heroes, and the people's faith that good will prevail in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight (2008).

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Music by Blue Dot Sessions
- Minister Creek
- Four Count
- Rainday Textile
- Slimheart (Clarinet Leader)

  1. [Die a hero]
  2. One of the things that makes superhero movies so interesting is to me how they approach representing and at times criticizing the legal system as an institution. They often expose aspects of incompetence and corruption that stretch from policing to the court house, and in doing so reveal the supposed need for a figure that operates not within the confines of the slow churning wheels of justice, but instead transcends them. And I don’t think there’s a better movie than The Dark Knight to fully encapsulate the role of heroes both public and private.
  3. [Its about whats fair]
  4. In the context of a world where public figures have failed the greater people the vigilante is embraced, called upon as a private citizen to do a public service. It’s in this way the vigilante and the law he so often supersedes choose to not act as separate entities, battling for the affection of the people they govern, but instead work in some sort of symbiotic tandem. And It’s this relationship between public and private, between the outward censored message central to how politicians and political figures control their narratives, and the internal darker truth concerning the machinations that make crime fighting possible that’s fully revealed in Batman. A hero who exists not to expose the fragility of the law and the true motives of those who govern it, but instead exists to maintain the illusion of stability and the faith people have in systems of power. 
  5. Harvey Dent is the epitome of a public hero. A man whose idealism and careerist attitude is revealed in a smile. Fueled by the grandiose level of self-importance one needs to find themselves in the position of DA in the first place. He likens himself to a Roman emperor. Someone to lead the people out of the darkness of Gotham occupied by Mob bosses and costumed sycophants. The nature of his work in this regard is highly performative, from the way he disarms a greasy mob boss on the witness stand [clip] to revealing himself publicly as The Batman in an attempt to bring the Joker out of hiding [clip], Dent’s role as DA and by extension as Gotham’s protector is one that serves to both quell the fears of citizens and maintain the illusion of civility in concerted effort and response to lawlessness. Dent serves to represent to the people outwardly that the legal system works, to instill the belief that above all else, no matter what manner of criminal or costumed vigilante terrorizes the city, justice will prevail. And that bad guys with no morals or ethics will always lose to good guys who do. The truth couldn’t be any further from this. For Dent and even Gordon Batman plays a critical role to their performance of moral superiority. He singularly extends their reach outside of the bounds of the law. It allows their institutions to play a dizzying dance, one in which they can separate themselves from the so-called scum they lock up and appeal to the public as the good guys, all whilst being as corruptible as they come. What’s revealed through the film about Harvey Dent and political figures at large is that when this song and dance fails, when you go through the rigor of submitting to all outward facing moral expectations and break anyways, losing the ones that you love and the very faith in institutions you stood for in the process, corruption is almost inevitable. 
  6. [Decent man in an indecent time]
  7. The Batman, on the other hand, represents the private hero. He does the dirty work that keeps Dent and Gordon with jobs and the city “safe”. but at its core it's a selfish escape of spectacle. Batman believes that the people have to look up to someone public facing like Harvey Dent, its the reason why he asks Gordon to preserve his legacy and even goes as far as asking Dent’s crimes to be put on him. For the city to put more faith in Batman to save them from what is vile and wretched is to give Bruce an impossible burden, to be forced to act as the singular response to criminals of all stature. From the robber at the corner store to The Joker himself. The reason Batman would so readily have people question the strength of the convictions they have in him is because for them to stop believing in due process or the machinations of the law or the District Attorney himself, is the very frame of thinking that breeds villains like the Joker in the first place. Those willing to take advantage of the void of lawlessness left when people have only modern cowboys and sheriffs to look up to for protection. 
  8. Both Harvey and the Batman reveal something about figures in positions of power, regardless of whether are not those positions are public facing. It’s hard to maintain the illusion when someone as crazed as the Joker exists and is able to strike at the very core of the tenets we hold deer. No amount of someone like Gordon or Harvey getting on the news and saying “it’s all okay” can erase the fact that these people are pawns being batted around by ridiculous characters in costumes whilst looking towards other ridiculous characters in costumes to save them. When the message of stability cracks, when the laws that promise to protect us become untenable, when the figures who promised to appeal to morality lose their own in turn, the people have no one to look towards but themselves. Corruption can cut deep, striking the most incorruptible of figures, it’s this very truth the Joker is so intent on exposing within Dent and all of us. And when given the chance to expose this truth, Batman instead chooses to bury it. Why? Because just like The Joker who he’s ever embroiled in conflict with, Just like Harvey Dent who fell from grace so tragically, they’re liars.
  9. [Clip]
  10. Dent and Batman operate under the same framework that all figures in positions of power operate under, whether they’re self appointed or by the people. The need to preserve the lie, to maintain the faith people have in decent men to remain so no matter how indecent the times get is born out of the reality that without their faith they’re nothing. But what they both fail to realize, what the Joker’s endless plots have inevitably revealed is that there still remains some hope left for people willing to remove themselves from the yolk of the powerful, refusing to play in games that so often end with their sacrifice. The powerful can choose to live in the ideal, playing to the fantasies that reaffirm their positions whilst sedating the masses, asking them to ignore the horrible truth central to their experience as pawns and playthings. But eventually the balancing act gets tiring, and the heroes we look up to fail us. And we're left with no other choice but to remain faithful that no matter how dark the night truly gets, that dawn….will come.
  11. [Clip]
  12. Mind Theater is produced and written by me, Ayo Akingbade. For updates on the show as well as upcoming episodes follow mindthearpod on twitter, instagram, and tiktok. If you wanna show monetary support the kofi link is in the show notes. Thanks for listening, ill catch ya next time.