The Dangerous Western “Hero”

Throughout the latest Batman film, The Dark Knight, whenever I was brave enough to actually look at the screen (if you are as sensitive as I am to horrible images, I recommend you not going), I kept on thinking what a coward Batman is.

At one point in the movie you see Batman shooting some bad guys with a machine gun. The machine gun feels wrong to you and so you quickly realize that it’s not him, but an impostor. You just know, even if you aren’t a Batman expert, that Batman would never leave home with a gun.

Batman seems to be trained well enough to be able to, for the most part, attack the bad guys, put them out of commission, but kill minimally. So um, how long are they out of commission for?

He has at least two opportunities in the movie to kill the Joker – the ultimate, horrifying bad guy – and he doesn’t. Every time that kind of thing happens in (American) movies – and it happens all the time – I get so angry. And scared. It boggles my mind to think that this is who many of Western civilization consider to be the good guy. The man who stands up to evil but, when he has the chance, does not fully rid us of it. If he had killed the Joker when he had the chance, many, many more people would not have been killed.

As I was thinking this, I wondered, if Batman had taken a gun and shot the Joker in the head while the Joker was hopeless, how would I have felt? I admit it would have made me feel uncomfortable. Besides the fact that suddenly the plot would just have had nowhere to continue to (unless people would be interested in seeing the rebuilding of the city), it would have been hard to watch.

But that, in my opinion, only means that I am a coward too.

On July 17th 2008, Naomi Ragen wrote an absolutely amazing article about this. She talks about how in civilized terms, it is wrong to kill even the most heinous criminals and terrorists. Especially during that moment when they are helpless. Instead, we put them in jail (as Batman so stupidly does). The only time Batman is willing to kill a really bad guy is when the bad guy has a gun to a child’s head. Yes, of course it has to be a child’s head.

Naomi talks about the evil we have to keep facing, and that keeps killing us, because we don’t firmly stand up against it. So many people are killed in the movie because Batman doesn’t want blood on his hands. But in the end, isn’t it obvious that the blood of all those killed after Batman had the chance to kill the Joker but didn’t are on his hands?

In the Torah (the Jewish Bible) we are commanded to kill all of Amalek (men, women and children). I am sure that most people who study this portion feel uneasy about such a commandment and are probably pretty relieved that we don’t really know who Amalek is today so we don’t have to worry about doing it. But there is something we are supposed to be learning from this, even today when we cannot necessarily fully fulfill the actual commandment. Evil must be taken seriously. It must be fully rid of.

To think that Batman is a hero is really terrifying. And it is a perfect example of what is going on today. We hate the idea of getting blood on our hands. And so we allow more and more innocent people to be killed and terrorized instead.

I would think that the most important thing right now is to stop the killing and terror, wouldn’t you?

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2 thoughts on “The Dangerous Western “Hero”

  1. Paul Belserene

    It seems as though the main theme of this Batman movie is that Batman is effective because he’s not good. He’s outside of normal human society. A good old fashioned anti-hero.

    This, appropriately enough, is good and bad. :-)

    What do we need to do about evil? From fairy tales I have learned that we need to do at least two things:

    1) acknowledge that it exists (a sanitized world of stories leaves people feeling they are the only ones that have evil in them)

    2) exorcise it. This is also important. We need to feel that evil is discharged, made powerless, disintegrated. Another way of saying it that evil reaps its own reward.

    Nowadays (and maybe since Hamlet) we haven’t been able to truly feel catharsis from pure vengeance. But there are many ways around this. In one fairy tale, the king asks the evil person what would be the appropriate punishment for someone who did X (what she herself had done). Without making the connection to herself she describes a hideous and humiliating punishment that children find utterly chilling yet thrillingly satisfying. And the king merely agrees and lets it be carried out. Evil punishes evil.

    The trick today seems to be to acknowledge that the evil we recognize in murders, warlords and terrorists is no different from what exists in some seed form in ourselves. That can enable compassion. Yet at the same time we need to repudiate the acting out of the evil.

    For me, I mourned the death of Two-Face in this movie because I could see him being much the more interesting villain of a sequel.

  2. Arie Promislow

    It isn’t so much that we (plural) don’t want to get our angelic hands dirty, it is that their is a delay; a confused and dazed waiting period to hear back from out guardians.

    When people are younger they, for the most part, have an opportunity to be governed by their parents, growing up separations happen, and teachers begin their structural teachings and life long fabrication of what you should be and what to associate with.

    Batman like all guardians, isn’t a Hero, he can’t jump through space and time, he can’t heal him self; Mr Wayne is just a man, tough one, and financially savvy I might add; but just a man.

    Its my job to find out what I can do to help other people, stop waiting for my Heros to step in to save the day.

    War, Death, Fear, Terrorism are all constructed sets to control; its like the high-school bully. While I fully support the men and women who donate their lives to something they love; a change is happening, and that is a beautiful thing.

    This change isn’t democratic nor is it republican, its immune to the political process(s), its immune to our system of banks and credit unions, rather the realization that people like you, myself and others can change their environmental perception. No savings can purchase my joy watching my currently youngest Niece celebrate her first birthday.

    I hope to see more of the cell phone tracking system, totally cool gear!

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