On Batman and the Problem of Constituent Power
Earlier this month anthropologist David Graeber wrote an article originally titled “On Batman and the Problem of Constituent Power” and its a must read for anyone interested in the sociological implications of superhero narratives. Below are a few of my favorite quotes but definitely go read the full piece over at The New Inquiry.
“Almost never do superheroes make, create, or build anything. The villains, in contrast, are endlessly creative. They are full of plans and projects and ideas. Clearly, we are supposed to first, without consciously realizing it, identify with the villains. After all, they’re having all the fun. Then of course we feel guilty for it, re-identify with the hero, and have even more fun watching the superego clubbing the errant Id back into submission.”
On superhero narratives and the connection to fascism…
“[Superheroes] remain defenders of a legal and political system which itself seems to have come out of nowhere, and which, however faulty or degraded, must be defended, because the only alternative is so much worse. They aren’t fascists. They are just ordinary, decent, super-powerful people who inhabit a world in which fascism is the only political possibility.”
On The Dark Knight Rises…
“If there’s supposed to be a take-home message from all of this, it must run something like: “Yes, the system is corrupt, but it’s all we have, and anyway, figures of authority can be trusted if they have first been chastened and endured terrible suffering.” Normal police let children die on bridges, but police who’ve been buried alive for weeks can employ violence legitimately. Charity is much better than addressing structural problems. Any attempt to address structural problems, even through non-violent civil disobedience, really is a form of violence, because that’s all it could possibly be. Imaginative politics are inherently violent, and therefore there’s nothing inappropriate if police respond by smashing protestors’ heads repeatedly against the concrete.”