Jonathan Lethem: We’re the Joker; McCain’s Batman; Obama Settles for Wall-E


While entertainers may skew elections, entertainment seems to increasingly be the lens through which America is figuring out its political landscape. Witness Jonathan Lethem’s op-ed in yesterday’s Times, in which the novelist (and, uh, musician) essentially equates the raving incoherence of The Dark Knight‘s simpering Joker with the apparent craving of most Americans to have the most addled, distracted, petty political conversation possible. “Perhaps I’m too prone to bear down on ‘The Dark Knight’ as the tea leaves in the dregs of a political season’s cup,” wrote Lethem, “but I couldn’t shake the sense that a morbid incoherence was the movie’s real takeaway, chaotic form its ultimate content.”

His conclusion? “In its narrative gaps, its false depths leading nowhere in particular, its bogus grief over stakeless destruction and faked death, ‘The Dark Knight’ echoes a civil discourse strained to helplessness by panic, overreaction and cultivated grievance.” The idea being, forget about The Dark Knight as W-jocking ideology—what it really is is a cautionary tale, an indication of how wrong things can go when you’re working off a script with a lot of distracting special effects and too many holes in the plot.

As J. Hoberman wrote in his Voice cover story this week, “show business permeates every aspect of our public life”; his somewhat tongue-and-cheek read on the summer movie season suggests that when people go to the polls come November, they’ll be voting for which summer movie they liked better. “All things being equal, the choice is Wall-E versus The Dark Knight. The 2008 election will come down to absurd hope (a funny little dingbot can redeem this blighted planet) or the miserable fear of that damnable, fascinating, scary clown.”

Given that The Dark Knight now occupies the second-highest spot in cinema history, as far as how many people saw it (and then saw it again, in IMAX), this is a dire prediction indeed. But there may be an upside, in terms of playing spot-the-relevant-movie for our far more comical Vice Presidential candidates: Palin as both mother and daughter in Juno or as Angelina Jolie in Wanted? Biden as Tom Cruise in Tropic Thunder or as that movie’s even more blithely racist Robert Downey Jr. character? Ideas? Anyone?

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