Batman as an Oppressive Plutocrat Enforcing an Aristrocratic Social Order

Comics critic and editor Steven Padnick has an interesting read on the Batman narrative. Bruce Wayne, he argues, is hardly a hero of the oppressed, but a tyrant whose primary goal is to maintain a rigid class structure in Gotham City:

Batman isn’t just “the man,” Bruce Wayne is also The Man. He’s a rich, white, handsome man who comes from an old money family and is the main employer in Gotham. He owns half the property in the city. In a very real sense, Gotham belongs to him, and he inherited all of it.

True, it’s a very American version of aristocracy, based on wealth rather than divine right, but in practice it’s basically the same. The myth of aristocracy is that class is genetic, that some people are just born good enough to rule, and that this inherent goodness can be passed down from generation to generation.[...]

This gives Batman’s origin an Arthurian “king-in-exile” element. “Banished” from Gotham by the death of his parents, Bruce Wayne returns to reclaim his throne and redeem his land. But instead of reclaiming it from usurping uncle or foreign invader, Batman must take Gotham back from a rising underclass.

Just look at who he fights. Superman (for example) fights intergalactic dictators, evil monopolists, angry generals, and dark gods, i.e. symbols of abusive authority. Batman fights psychotics, anarchists, mob bosses, the mentally ill, and environmentalists, i.e. those who would overthrow the status quo. Superman fights those who would impose their version of order on the world. Batman fights those who would unbalance the order Batman himself imposes on Gotham.


Do you agree with this reading?

Link via Boing Boing | Padnick's Blog | Image: DC Comics/Jim Lee

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Newest 5 Comments

A couple of Jewish guys create Superman and you see it as being racist against non-Jewish people? Are you serious, or are you just a race-troll?! Batman being a plutocrat is more believable!
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@Jeffos: Agreed.
I have known quite a few rich brats, even those with all money and no class.

Believe me, rich brats become vacation bums or specific social "scene" bums. Many spend their time in endless public masturbation. Cite your favorite cynical "Big 80s" book here.

The very LAST thing they have on their minds is public service of any type.

What was that old Japanese saying? -When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything starts looking like a nail.

When you are an insecure Communist kleptocrat wealth-redistributing class-warfarist, everyone with more money and class than you looks like an old-line WASP plutocrat.
[btw, I disagree with the mad goons on Faux News as much as the average Moderate]

I agree much more with the analysis that Batman is in-fact Teddy Roosevelt, more than anyone else.

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+I find Superman boring and trite, and in some parts of the original concept, kinda racist against non-Jewish people.
Super-man, better than everyone else, supreme being, Christ replacement, brilliant-cut diamond-shaped emblem, historical presence of the Jewish people in the diamond business, Old Testament/Talmud saying, ~"The Jews are God's chosen people. All else are cattle.", Red Sun of Krypton, Identification with Marxism as reaction against Nazism, etc.
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Context matters, and Batman's context is Gotham City.

Gotham is a dystopia.. the name was deliberately chosen to reflect that fact. It's a place where the traditional social order and values are inverted.

Crime, corruption, and violence aren't disruptions of the status quo in Gotham. They *are* the status quo.

The psychopaths (Joker), anarchists (Catwoman), mob bosses (various), mentally ill (Two Face), and environmentalists (Poison Ivy) are the cream of the dystopian aristocracy. They're powerful beyond the need for wealth. They just take whatever they want, and the only force that opposes them is Batman.

The bottom layer in Gotham is made of people who aren't rich or powerful enough to protect themselves, their families, or their homes and businesses. They're the everyday people who keep their heads down and "didn't see anything" because reporting a criminal won't do anything but make them the next victim.

The social dynamic in Gotham is that you participate in corruption, or get shoved into the victim class. Only the corrupt are safe, because even the ultra-wealthy can be targets.

In the context of Gotham, Batman is the Nelson Mandela who can't be silenced, starved, imprisoned, broken, or killed. OTOH, the victim class in Gotham will never rise to support him, or themselves, so the fight never ends.
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I'm actually a huge fan a Batman, so it pains me to say it, but I think summarily dismissing the argument ignores the way that comics and other stories use allegory.

When a creator makes a political or social point, it's based on the assumptions that are made to create his or her world. Yes, the disappearance of the Wayne family as protectors 'paralleled rising unemployment, crime, corruption, and social disruption in Gotham,' but that in and of itself is the construction of a fictional universe where a society needs what is essentially an oligarchy to maintain order. Citizens aren't actors; they can't make a difference on their own or pool their power to protect themselves. Yes, the villains in Batman are nasty folks who have immoral aims or tactics--of course they would be. But let's say you have two different villains who are both evil and kill many innocent people in pursuit of their goals. One is a Marxist revolutionary and the other is a fundamentalist Christian trying to usher in the apocalypse. Don't those say different things about the ideological bent of the writer and about what he or she thinks we should fear? What if all the villains are clearly bad, doing terrible things--and all black? Does that mean something about the author's position?

Take Ayn Rand. Clearly, she had a very specific political philosophy that she espoused through fiction. On of the things she argued against is altruism. She did this by writing a series of fictional events where altruism fails to help the intended target and is in fact only attempted for selfish reasons. The setting in a story is a way to trick the reader into not realizing that it's not real evidence--it's entirely constructed by the author. You can say anything you want in a story, but that only makes it true in the fictional universe you create and not in real life.

There are good points to be made against Padnick's claim, but I think the main juvenile argument here is that you can ignore the subtext of a story teller's choices.
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"The idea that Batman is a selfish plutocrat defending his own narrow interests is the argument of a juvenile mind which conflates freedom with anarchy. Batman is fighting against Gotham's descent into a Nietzschean hell where the only "law" is will to power."

You said it, Jeffos!

Batman is a guy who, thanks to his incredible wealth, is able to devote his time and energy defending the people of Gotham against government corruption and criminal acts.

I don't think it has anything to do with keeping the status quo. In fact, I think the status quo in Gotham is so bad, Batman is trying to overthrow it.

Plus the guy has a giant penny and a dinosaur in his underground cave. How can you not love a guy like that?
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