- I felt brutalized as I watched, but after the tide of contradictions had receded behind me I wasn’t stirred to any feeling richer than an exhausted shrug, as when confronted by headlines reminding me that we no longer have a crane collapse or a bank failure, we have the latest crane collapse, the latest bank failure.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. I began to feel this Batman wears his mask because he fears he’s a fake — and the story of his inauthenticity, the possibility of his unmasking, counts for more than any hope he offers of deliverance from evil. The Joker, on the other hand, exhibits his real face, his only face, and his origins are irrelevant, his presence as much a given as the Second Law of Thermodynamics, or Fear Itself.
The Joker’s paradox, of course, is the same as that of 9/11 and its long aftermath: audacious transgression ought to call out of us an equal and adamant passion for love of truth and freedom, yet the fear he inspires instead drives us deep into passivity and silence.
If, like me, you’d hoped, distantly, vaguely, probably idiotically, that the 2008 presidential contest might be a referendum on truths documented since the previous presidential election, guess again. That our Iraqi invasion was founded on opportunistic lies, that it was hungered for by its planners in advance of the enabling excuse of 9/11, is a well-delineated blot on American history. But for those of us interested in a conversation about accountability it was always declared to be too soon — we remained unsure of the evidence, or too traumatized to risk fraying the national morale — until the moment when it was abruptly too late, when it became old news.
Yet I suspect it is still the news. While both candidates run on the premise that Washington Is Broken, I’m disinclined to disagree, only to add: our good faith with ourselves is broken, too, a cost of silencing or at best mumbling the most crucial truths. Among these, pre-eminently, is the fact that torture evaporates our every rational claim to justice, and will likely be the signature national crime of our generation — a matter in which we are, by the very definition of democracy, complicit.