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180. Revolution (V)

A recent reintroduction to the Batman mythos is the figure of Ra’s al Ghul. As his vaguely Muslim name suggests, this character took centrepiece during America’s struggle with al-Qaeda after 9/11. He leads an esoteric brotherhood who are so disgusted by the decadence of Gotham that they have decided that the only just action is to extinguish her existence. Gotham is, of course, New York and al Ghul’s objectives are synonymous with those of Osama bin Laden and his acolytes. The struggle between Batman and al Ghul’s League of Shadows is the theme of the recent Nolan films and it was the League of Shadows that spoke to the Western radical right in the form of memes, particularly the stocky henchman Bane—a man whose deformed mouth is a literal maw.

In this narrative, Bruce Wayne attains his remarkable abilities as Batman thanks to a period of wanderlust during which he joins the League of Shadows, an esoteric order of warrior monks based in the Far East, in the mountains of Tibet—Hollywood often seeks to demonise Shambhala and, indeed, Ra’s al Ghul’s name refers to “Ra”; the masculine solar deity of Egypt, the masculine principle being the spiritual enemy of the profane. With the League of Shadows, Wayne learns to live in the dark; he learns to move anywhere in an instant, as a Taoist magician would, to see in the dark, and to confuse his enemies with psychic tricks. However, he does not complete his indenture; he returns to Gotham. In a shamanic act, he adopts the costume of a bat; he will become the master of dark places—the shaman becomes his mask. Wayne’s story contains two typical shamanic elements: he falls down a well as a child and, later, is imprisoned by the League in a well-like complex from which he must escape through a perilous climb—a climb that involves a literal leap of faith. These are all themes of shamanic initiation: the descent to the cave, the razor-thin bridge of faith, and the ascent to the Heavens.

Wayne is a conservative; he acknowledges that Gotham is decadent, but he thinks that it can be saved through covert vigilante action. The purer League of Shadows—the league of the unconscious, of what you suspect to be true but deny—say Gotham must die. It is better to die than create a population of obese sexual perverts who lie their whole, unnaturally long, lives; hence the appeal of the radical right to homosexuals, such as Yukio Mishima, childless men acutely aware of the horror of ageing—better to fade out with boyish good looks than rot away, better to die under the black banner.

Wayne is, really, a traitor to his spiritual tradition; he takes their discipline and uses its sacred techniques to sustain decadence. In this, he plays out the Westerner’s spiritual dilemma: the sincere redneck Christian, say, who joins the US Army but is deployed to defeat the Taliban—who, unlike his masters, believe in God as he does—in order to impose “Western values”—LGBT parades, divorce, and abortion—on the Afghanis. All the while he does so, the official media and state eduction system excoriate Christianity and white men. Films like Batman are made to make spiritual people justify compromise: you can serve God and Mammon, apparently. “It’s decadent; but we’ll clean the worst of it up, and we’ll keep bin Laden out—he’s worse, he’s evil.” This is a real deal with the Devil—or Hollywood, perhaps the same thing.

Consistency: Wayne is a traitor and a profane man who inveigled his way into an esoteric brotherhood and then put its secrets to profane use—to protect a corrupt materialist order, including his own wealth and social position as a billionaire. The idea is that a person can have spirituality and decadence at one and the same time, a celebration of compromise; hence the Western radical right prefers the “villain”, Bane, in their memes: he has integrity.


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