By Bryan Kim
“You know what I noticed? Nobody panics when things go according to plan: even if the plan is horrifying. If tomorrow I tell the press that a gang banger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it’s all part of the plan.” — The Joker
Since its release in 2008, The Dark Knight, and Heath Ledger‘s portrayal of the Joker in particular have become part of the cultural zeitgeist. There is something in his honest menace that speaks to the American public: it is because he is a Truth figure that stands against the governing ideology which bases itself on lies to the American public. The Dark Knight and the Ledger-Joker are unimaginable in a pre-9/11 and pre-Bush era – they are a bitter reaction to the failed propaganda of the Bush presidency and its feebly defended wars.
At The Dark Knight’s conclusion, Batman and Police Commissioner Gordon agree to a cover-up of fallen-from-grace District Attorney Harvey Dent’s crimes against society. They argue that if the people knew the truth, they would lose faith in the goodness of the legal system. They fear the public’s cynicism and disbelief in the the system, so they craft a lie – what Plato would refer to as a “noble fable” – in order to sustain societal order. The are perfectly willing to cover up the truth as long as it fits the narrative they decide “is good for the people.”
“The United States knows that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. Any country on the face of the earth with an active intelligence program knows that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction,” said then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. This the first Great Lie of the 21st century, sustained by dubious “evidence and facts being fixed around policy.” It cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and the souls and minds of too many American soldiers. More than that though, it destroyed our country’s fragile belief that we could count on the powers that be for any type of informed, honest discussion.
I was all of thirteen years old when the Twin Towers went down. Even though it really did seem like to 11 year old me that George W. Bush had stolen the presidency, there was a decided sense from everyone but my mom that it didn’t really matter who the President was. The Cold War was over and we were too smart to end up in another Vietnam. That was a long time ago, and anything to come would be just like Desert Storm: in, out, and home in time for dinner to be treated like heroes. Going to Afghanistan to take out Bin Laden seemed like it would not only be simple, it would be justice. The only thing I knew to compare 9/11 to was Pearl Harbor and the entire nation seemed to be right with me that this attack should be repaid in kind.
So to watch all that moral outrage, that national unity we achieved after the attacks, be dissipated and wasted on a fruitless war the Bush administration lied to get us into was a majorly traumatizing event. I watched them use their power every day to spread falsehoods and propaganda, as the journalists who tried to refute their lies were punished, fired, and called traitors. I listened to Army recruiters on my high school campus tell 17 year old kids, “any war this military conducts won’t last longer than a year.” I watched those kids – my friends and peers – come back with scars, both external and internal, while stock prices at Halliburton, Blackwater, and General Dynamics climbed higher and higher.
So when Batman (a perfect paragon for the War on Terror with his high tech weaponry and surveillance equipment) covers up Dent’s crimes and takes off into the night with all the accountability of an NSA spook, it’s a victory that rings as hollow as Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” banner. We may never know how The Joker really got his scars, but we know that it was the lie itself, the betrayal of trust, that gave the Millennial Generation ours.
Bryan Kim is CEO of the Moderate Majority, an independent grassroots coalition based in San Diego that is working to put an end to political partisanship.