“Dark Knight”, Aurora, Colorado, and America’s Culture of Violence
by John Reimann
A film that set a record $160 million in earnings in its first week in US theaters cannot be ignored. Especially when a gunman interrupted it in Aurora, Colorado, shooting 70 people and killing twelve.
But “The Dark Knight Rises” is nothing but crude Corporate America propaganda, and its success is the result of media propaganda plus the longer term affects of Corporate America’s propaganda war on American youth. In fact, this film exemplifies this propaganda war on several levels, one of which is absolutely blatant.
“Blood will be spilled”
Consider some of the dialog: The “plot” (if it can be called that) of the film involves a bloody mob taking over the city of “Gotham”, which symbolizes America. The leader of this mob proclaims to one of the super rich: “You think this can last. There is a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You’re going to wonder how you and your friends can live life so large and leave so little for the rest of us.” At another point they raid the stock exchange. One of the heads of the exchange asks why they have taken it over. “There is no money here to rob,” he says. “Then why are you people here?” comes the answer. At another point this leader urges his followers to “take control of our city… This (revolt) is the instrument of your liberation…. We come here… as liberators to return control of the city to its people…. We give Gotham back to you, the people.”
All of this sounds fine to those of us who object to corporate rule, until one realizes who is speaking these lines and to whom. It is the arch villain speaking to his followers. And these followers are nothing but a mob (in the most literal sense) of prison rioters and blood-thirsty dwellers of the nether, underground world. In other words, the alternative to the present society is pure and simple chaos and mob violence. As the leader says, “Spoils will be enjoyed. Blood will be spilled.”
“Peaceful and prosperous” alternative to mob rule
If this were not enough, towards the end the lesson is that the hero – the multi-billionaire Batman – has “saved the people (of Gotham/America) from the abyss so that they can be useful, peaceful, prosperous and happy.” Yes, for corporate-controlled Hollywood no message is too crudely put.
Corporate America is getting worried about the resentment of tens of millions towards the super rich; they are worrying that the Occupy movement represents the first wave of a movement that reflects this resentment. As a result, they are putting forward the propaganda that the only alternative is “the abyss” – total chaos and violence.
This is not the first time that the capitalist class has launched such a campaign. At the time of the Russian Revolution (close to 100 years ago), a similar picture was painted. In other countries, it’s been done in different ways. For instance, in the mid-90s in Mexico, the mass inter-ethnic violence in Rwanda and Burundi that resulted in some 6 million being slaughtered was blasted all over the Mexican media. The message was that the only alternative to the repressive, corrupt rule of the PRI was this sort of nightmare. We can expect more of the same message here in the US in the years to come.
But there is more to this film than this message, however crudely put. There is the culture of violence, along with a craving for the most simple sensory stimulation that the entire Hollywood industry helps develop. Consider what one sees when going to watch this film:
For the first ten or fifteen minutes, trailers for different movies come on. Every single one of these contains one short (few seconds long) scene after another. Almost all these scenes are of violence. Then comes the feature film. The first half of “Dark Knight” has almost no plot whatsoever. It too is hardly more than a disjointed series of violent events.
This is not exactly a rarity in Hollywood productions. In fact, ten years ago one study estimated that the average 18-year-old has watched 200,000 acts of violence on TV. And that probably didn't include watching football. Added to this is the increase since then of the popularity of video games, of which over 85% are violent according to “Psychology Today” (7/17/2006). All serious studies show that watching violence, and participating in it through video games, increase a tendency towards violent actions and decrease natural human empathy.
One study, for instance (“Desensitizing Effects of Violent Media”, Bushman and Anderson) found that after watching violent episodes the viewer was less likely to help an injured person. “The findings from both studies suggest that violent media make people numb to the pain and suffering of others,” they concluded. Another study (“The Effect of Video Game Violence,” Carnagey, Anderson and Bushman) showed changed brain patterns in those who played violent video games. As one author concluded, “These findings indicate that violent video game play has a long-term effect on brain functioning.” The part of the brain so affected “is involved in inhibition and emotional modulation.”
US Military uses
There are several different goals for US capitalism that this popularizing of violence serves; the first is directly military:
A series of studies have shown that in wars, up to 85% of troops normally are unwilling to overcome the natural resistance to killing. They intentionally fired over the heads of the “enemy” soldiers. By the time of the Korean War, the top US military brass had determined to do something about this. They devised a series of different trainings, including target practice against more life-like targets to desensitize the troops to killing their fellow human beings. Follow-up shows that these training methods have been effective. When one adds to this the violence the typical US soldier has watched, and vicariously participated in through video games, you get a soldier whose natural inhibitions against killing are overruled. Occasionally, one of these soldiers goes berserk and shoots up a village in Afghanistan, and all too often when they return home they are so burned out that they kill themselves or their loved ones, but that’s a small price to pay for American capitalism. (For this and more information, see “The Compassionate Instinct” by Keltner, Marsh and Smith.)
Additional Benefits for Capitalism
In addition, by increasing the general level of violence in society, TV shows and movies like “Dark Knight” serve to increase the distrust, the lack of a feeling of “community”. This is always a positive when Corporate America is seeking to prevent a mass movement against their domination over society.
There is another benefit: American society has had a historical tendency towards short term thinking, towards avoiding considering ideas through to their conclusion. The reasons for this are rooted in the unique way that American capitalism developed – springing to birth on virgin soil (except for a few million “Indians” who were easily slaughtered). The entire thrust of Hollywood productions encourages this through its high tech methods of simply providing one loud, bright stimulus after another. There is no need for longer-term attention span. In fact, these productions discourage it. But as they say, a mind is a terrible thing to waste, and the brain needs stimulation. So in place of any serious ideas comes the thirst for one immediate stimulus after another, and the majority of these stimuli are violent (often linking sex with violence).
Of course, the corporate mouthpieces deny that violence in media and in video games leads to physical violence. One team of economists – corporate mouthpieces if there ever were any – made the silly claim that violent films reduce the amount of violence in society by taking potentially violent people off the streets and leaving them passively sitting in theaters. And then there is the Entertainment Software Association, which claims that “there is no scientific research that validates a link between computer and video games and violence.” As many studies, including those mentioned above show, this is a flat-out lie, similar to the lie the tobacco companies told for years about the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer.
The domination of Corporate America over culture and the media is also demonstrated in the reviews made of this terrible film. The reviewer for the Sacramento Bee called the film “mesmerizing” and said that it “holds treasures, and plenty of tension, as well.” The reviewer for National Public Radio called the film “satisfying” and wrote that “this new movie has both feet planted firmly in the real world.” This last comment was a reference to the theme in the film of a revolt by something approximating the masses against the super rich. In this, the reviewers –- mouthpieces for corporate America that they are -- correctly explained that the film was stirring up images of the Occupy movement. What they don’t mention is that the film tries to portray every objection to the domination of the rich and the corporations as bringing nothing but chaos and blood-filled mob rule. This fear mongering is now replacing the Red Menace (“Communism”) that was the alternative in an earlier period.
Not in a Vacuum
Make no mistake: This cultural war is having a disastrous effect, especially on young people. One study showed that while about 20% of high school students have been victims of bullying, some 80% have carried out bullying acts. The same study explained that in an incident similar to the recent Aurora one – the killing in Columbine – that before they carried out this atrocity the killers had made a video similar to one they’d been playing – a video that bragged about what they were planning on doing. (http://www.yuthguy.com/Literature%20Review.htm)
This violence in US society, the increase in random killings as well as acts like those in Columbine and Aurora, don’t take place in a vacuum. Corporate America through their media, their economic policies and their politicians and increasingly through their “education” system drum into their victims the message that you are alone in the world. Your problems are yours alone. If you are hungry, that’s your problem. If you are homeless, if you need medical attention and can’t afford it, if you are victim of bullying or abuse… all of this is your problem to be resolved by you as an isolated individual. And if you live alone, lack friends, have no real social contact – then the escape is video games like the (presumed) shooter in Aurora played for an hour per day.
This, after all, is the real message in the opposition to socialized medicine. It is the message in the drive to cut every social program in existence while funding for wars is unlimited. It is the very heart of the message of the entire “free” market propaganda.
No Redeeming Features
In terms of its surface as well as subliminal message, in terms of its artistic value, plot and character development, “The Dark Knight Rises” has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. It is no accident that its showing was interrupted as it was in Aurora, Colorado, by a youth who was saturated with the message of the corporate-dominated culture that this film represents. As my viewing partner commented once the movie was (gratefully) over: “I was worried about surviving the movie, and it had nothing to do with any gunman.”
However, despite the devastating consequences of the Hollywood propaganda that “Dark Knight” epitomizes, despite the many billions they spend on such, they will never be able to stamp out the basic human drives of empathy and compassion that form the very basis for the evolutionary success of the human species. This is proven by the increasing numbers of youth who choose to make a statement against killing by adopting veganism. It is proven in the tiny acts of kindness and friendliness that are carried out every day. Most important, it is proven in the collective struggle that was the Occupy movement (no matter how confused that movement may have been) and in workers’ struggles and oppressed peoples’ struggles and that will grow despite all repression and propaganda.
Watching, and coming under the influence of propaganda like this movie may make it more difficult to believe that, as they say, a different world is possible. That is the intention. But everything about this movie – including the nuclear explosion near the end – is proof that it is not just possible, it is essential if the human species and life on this planet are to survive and flourish.