Batman, Friction and Flesh
Exiting the cinema leaves one in a bleary eyed haze, a rebirth into the actual world from the virtual world. That dark room of the semi unconscious, where Freud said the magic happens. My return from the cinematic hyperreality of the new Batman film was made all the more strange learning of the shootings that took place in the small suburb of Denver, occurring parallel with my viewing of the film.
It was Average Hollywood fair with maybe slightly more adult aesthetic sensibilities. I preferred the first two films in Christopher Nolan’s franchise. While being no less implausible they were certainly less absurd. Scenes of Street brawls and battle charges between the heroic clean shaven and wholesome boys in blue and the dirty, foul mouthed “revolutionaries” peppered the latter half of the film and were reminiscent of watching occupy wall street through a fox news editorial filter, The first half of endless climaxes and action was punctuated by some naval gazing ultra-rich as they ponder the ethics of wealth to a background of orphans languishing away in a care home. The line “Will someone please think of the children!” was never uttered but heavily implied. The divisions between good capitalist bad capitalist and very bad revolutionary was clear cut. The film clearly tried to grasp topical themes of the past year or so and the political subtext, if you chose to read between the lines of 3 hours of gratuitous American machismo, is that revolutions never change things for the better, in fact they are executed by deranged millenarian like cults, more fixated with apocalypse than freedom. The only thing that will save the poor orphan children of Gotham City is not revolution or even public spending but good old fashioned philanthropy, ethical capitalism. It’s Bruce Wayne’s sizeable donations save the ailing orphanage. Batman: hero for the right wing. And while the absurdities of batman confronting Gotham city in revolutionary lock down may appear just as implausible as John Carpenter’s escape from New York (of which Nolan borrowed heavily) Batman’s story still proves relevant to the modern condition. The Super powers he possesses, unlike many superheroes, are the real world super powers of fame and money.
While Tom Cruise may be quite utterly bonkers, he certainly does have those two super powers of the bourgeois. Imagine being Tom Cruise. Every word that comes out of your mouth can be transmitted to millions if you so please. Charity foundations, political initiatives, and PR stunts can be set up on a whim. At the snap of your fingers you can be flown to any location on the planet to turn up at a premier where the crowds are parted for you like waves and red carpets appear at your feet wherever you walk. Every single head turns when you enter a room. Your thoughts and fantasies materialise as soon as you utter them. The world warps to accommodate you. Reality conforms to you not the other way round. Unlike the everyman to whom reality is mainly concrete and immovable, to whom reality means changing your plans, actions and Self in order to navigate life. With a definition of magical ritual being ‘an act that makes reality align with your Will’ then Tom Cruise, along with other mega celebrities, is surely a grand Magus. With this bizarre existence then no wonder he’s so fucked up. In fact given the way his super human life possesses no friction, no struggle, maybe his dealings with the church of scientology provides everyday normality. The scifi mythology of Xenu and Theatans is, like many religions, unmoving and predetermined. In a world where any thought you express becomes the very reality you inhabit , where crowds of adorning fans and yes-men make every action of yours meaningful, then the concrete determinism of scientology, scarily enough, provides a welcome dose of normality in Cruises bat-shit mental existence. Friction in a frictionless life.
Bruce Wayne also places himself deep in myth as the Batman. To escape the frictionless (if not slightly tortured) aristocratic existence he takes part in the biblical fight between good and evil. The unending struggle to rid the world of bad people, driven by a borderline exterminatory impulse. Like all superheroes Batman and tom cruise put their powers not into decadent self-gratification, but into a mythic struggle.
In these days of cyberspace we all live in a frictionless hyperreality. As soon as a thought goes from our brain to our fingers and registers on the computer we can virtually travel through any time or space. All cravings for virtual stimuli are gratified almost instantly. Did Anders Breivik not subscribe to a mythology of the nobel fight against evil? The “Christian” soldier battling the forces of Islamic evil. What a relief his demented crusade must have been to him from the previous frictionless hypereality of online forums and endless hours on World of Warcraft. His sunny day out on Utoya island was certainly more visceral and corporeal than the virtuality of his online life. He needed the fresh air and interaction. As I write this, that small suburb of Denver is coming to terms with their own shooting during the local batman premier. Another deranged man, a PhD dropout, probably in search of the same return-to-actuality as Breivik. An affirmation of his own corporeality.
J.G. Ballard’s novel crash and subsequent movie adaptation deals with this need to return to the flesh, as a group of individuals explore the possibilities of being sexually aroused by their own car crashes. Nearly totally subsumed to the hyperreality of the motor vehicle we, in this modern age, slide through frictionless lives in air conditioned capsules that alienate us from social interaction, dehumanising 4×4 fortresses teleporting us from one safe house to another.
The hyperreality of the car, like the internet, partially transcends time and space. We traverse the landscape quicker and faster than previous generations would have imagined. Ballard’s pornographic car crashes are a return to corporeality, a reminder that one is made of flesh and bones and that one is alive. What could be a more total representation of friction that the complete halt of a car crash? The frictionless, endless boredom of circling the M25, the ultimate network of hyperreality can be brought back to the flesh by an arterial blockage, a crash, a jackniffed lorry or an IRA Bomb. This return to the corporeality driven by mythic struggles can explain 21st century phenomena. From young middle class British Muslims waging war against America, to lone gunmen in as disparate locations as Norway and Colorado, to a lunatic mega-celebrity envisioning himself as the saviour of humanity. Other social transgressions such as body piercing, rock and roll, raves and Magic Mushrooms are all a return to the flesh, a tactical rupturing of the hyperreal membrane. The virtuality of technology has made us all into superhumans of cyberspace, able to transcend time and space but with alienating consequences. A Society without the flesh. Batman’s crusade along with countless other primitivist tales like Crash, Fight Club and The Unabomber manifesto represent the western need to create meaning in our lives by weaving struggle into motivating narratives. This struggle is the moment we transgress from the hyperreality of technology and experience friction and flesh.