Thursday, August 9, 2012

Batman Doesn't Negotiate with Terrorists

BATMAN - THE DARK KNIGHT HIT theatres on July 18, 2008 and became the highest grossing opening in history.

But something else made that same week a significant moment in Jewish history. TWO days earlier, on July 16, 2008, Israel released five convicted terrorists and the remains of 200 dead terrorists in exchange for the bodies of two captured Israeli soldiers.

At the risk of trivializing a great tragedy by juxtaposing it with a movie about a comic book, at the time I could not help but feel that the movie was a deliberate commentary on the current events.

The Joker was a terrorist. Much like Hamas and Hezbollah, he could not be reasoned with and was happy to see the world burn. He targeted innocent civilians and threatened to blow up a hospital if his demands were not met. Batman felt that capitulating to the Joker's demands would not bring an end to the Joker's reign of terror.


In the movie there is a debate between Batman and Morgan Freeman, who represented Batman's conscience, as to whether it was ethical to use Patriot-Act-like-technology that would invade people's privacy in order to find and stop the Joker. Morgan Freeman is opposed in principle but ultimately agrees with Batman that it is warranted, necessary, and even ethical under the circumstances.

The message to me was clear. Batman does not negotiate with terrorists. The movie seemed to be making a clear statement, and the movie's overwhelming popularity, while not exactly a gallop poll, may have also served as an indicator of public opinion.

Or perhaps not.

But either way, it is clear to me that Batman supports Israel's right to defend itself against its enemies, and in a broader sense Batman is a right wing (pun intended) political conservative and would probably vote for the Republican candidate for Gotham City Mayor.

Dark Knight Rises, the latest Batman film, not only confirms this belief, but addresses a host of political wedge issues, all of which Batman falls on the Right side (as opposed to the Left side).

Here are a few examples: (SPOILER ALERT):

As far back as the Adam West version of Batman, the caped crusader is known for working in tandem with the police. In the current incarnation, even when the police are hunting him down, the average police officers are portrayed as competent, valiant, and heroic - not the norm by any means for most Hollywood films. But at the end of the movie one police officer, revealed at the very end to be the future Robin, makes a decision to throw away his badge and fight crime on his own. He decides that there are too many laws that inhibit the police and encourage the criminals making it too hard to fight crime by the book. If the bad guys are not playing fair then the good guys must use whatever means are necessary to stop them. This quite obviously applies to Israel's war against its enemies, as well as the global war on terror, and the domestic debate on how to deal with crime.

Part of the evil plot involves taking away all of Bruce Wayne's money. They do this by breaking into a computer and purchasing millions of worthless stock options with Bruce Wayne's account. This could have been accomplished simply by stealing his Ameritrade login and password. Instead, the writers of the film have the bad guys Occupy Wall Street. In some outlandish scheme, the bad guys break into the Gotham stock exchange and hold everyone hostage, drawing the attention of an army of police and Batman. This gratuitous plot hole was clearly placed to evoke images of the real life Occupy Wall Street movement. Later in the movie, after the entire master plan unravels, speeches are made by the bad guys about how the have-nots have to take Gotham back from the haves. Amidst the mayhem someone says, "now all of this stuff belongs to everyone." In essence the movie is about Batman's fight to prevent a world where Occupy Wall Street has its day.

Wayne enterprises creates a nuclear device that has the potential to produce safe nuclear energy. However, Bruce Wayne prevents certain people from attaining this energy for fear that the device will be used to make a bomb. A character representing a very liberal kumbaya ideology constantly leans on Bruce telling him that he has to trust people. Of course in the end the bomb gets into the hands of the very people who said, "trust me" and the outcome is disastrous. This is a not-so-subtle echo of the debate over how Israel and U.S. foreign policy should deal with Iran's nuclear program. Do we trust those who think Iran should be allowed to develop nuclear power or do we prevent them from becoming nuclear. I know where Batman would stand!

Rabbi Avigdor Miller was once asked if it was permitted to allow children to read Batman comics. He did his research by reading one himself. He answered that the comics are good for children because they "teach law and order to the kids by making sure the hero always overcomes the villain. The heroes even teach humility since they disguise their true identities and keep their good deeds confidential."

Batman has always been a platform for discussing serious issues and teaching morality. The writers of Dark Knight Rises have continued that legacy by providing us with a movie that entertains as well as confronts us with serious issues. But I wonder - does Batman's right wing stance on issues signal a change in the direction of the traditionally Left wing Hollywood norm? Or are the writers of Batman anomolies and Hollywood will continue to promote the views of the radical left? Will the Dark Knight continue to Rise?


Rabbi Jon Gross is an Orthodox rabbi in Omaha and considers himself the Chief Rabbi of the State of Nebraska. He sold his chametz to Warren Buffet this year. Follow him on Twitter at @Jon_Gross.