Friday, June 19, 2020

Black Lives Matter, Batman and Police Militarization

In recent weeks, amidst the disproportional global pandemic of COVID-19, and an increasingly fascist Trump Presidency, we heard a familiar refrain “Police Violence against Black people”. Once again we are confronted with the unnecessary killing of black men, women and trans people by police. Thankfully, this recent round of injustice has sparked an Anti-Racism movement against police violence that has strong national and international support.
The Black Lives Matter organization, and its growing network, have been dutifully fighting against this plague of police brutality ever since George Zimmerman was acquitted of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in 2013. The movement, created by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, has persisted even in the face of government resistance and surveillance.  Recently, we have seen some swift and hopeful progress:  police officers have been quitting the force, cities and states have banned the use of tear gas on protesters, and there has been a renewed effort to eliminate cultural reminders of slavery. While it is easy to be cynical about the macro level impact of this movement ( I wrote about Ferguson in 2014), and about the likelihood it will create long lasting change (due to systemic racism and entrenched white supremacy). There is evidence that this movement is different than the movements of the past.
Living in a time of such resistance, it is easy for a person to get swept up in the zeitgeist; to feel a desire to help, and be a part of such a cultural moment, without understanding what your place is in the struggle. Especially for those that are not directly impacted by what the movement is fighting against. Therefore, because I identify as a middle class white man, and have various forms of privilege. It is my job to be an ally, and not a savior  Allyship, in this context is NOT being antagonistic to police or instigating anarchic looting.

White Allyship can be achieved in two very simple actions:
1)      Using your privilege (and voice) to elevate the voices of the marginalized. 
2)      Police and educate people in your racial, class and gender group, and the culture at large.

To that end, in addition to elevating the voices of Black scholars and their work (see below), I wanted to provide a critical analysis of police militarization and, in the context of the focus of this blog, critically reevaluating the character of Batman (specifically Bruce Wayne). This analysis will zero in on the problematic nature of the character, as well as how he has been portrayed in comics and recent films. 

Read these authors

Angela Y. Davis                                                                     Imani Perry
Ta-Nehisi-Coates                                                                    Roxane Gay
Michelle Alexander                                                                Carol Anderson
Kathryn Russell Brown                                                          Audre Lorde
Ibram X. Kendi                                                                       bell hooks
Michael Eric Dyson                                                                Patricia Hill Collins

Token White Authors:                                                         
Mathew Desmond                                                      

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 The Military Industrial Complex, a term coined by Dwight D. Eisenhower, was born out of the military production during World War II. The term defines the intersecting institutions of the Economy, the Military and the Government. The economic stability created from this collusion eventually led to a surplus of Military gear and weapons.  In order to justify the continued production of munitions, the US government not only began to sell their weapons and decommissioned equipment to other countries, but also began to filter their weapons and gear from the military to local police forces beginning in the 1950’s.
The Civil Rights Movements of the 50’s and the 60’s increased fear in the populace, especially between people of color and the white majority; a majority that was disproportionally represented by law enforcement. Therefore, in some cases white people saw an attack on the white officers, and the fight against the structural white authority, as something that needed to be suppressed. In 1967 the federal government began to “share” equipment with local authorities (Balko 2013)[1] Then, beginning in the 1970’s, to justify this sharing of equipment, the federal government links together this fear of crime to drugs and drug use. This would become President Reagan's political crusade during the majority of the 1980’s.

Here we Saw:
·         The Creation of the Drug Enforcement Agency (D.E.A.)
·         The Criminalizing of people of color as drug users, manufacturers and dealers (Blacks in the US and North and South America. Abroad: Latinx in Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua and Columbia) Drug related arrests from 1980-1989 climbed from 375K to 1M Most of them people of color.
·         Steady increase in funds to Prisons for “Warehousing” (more guards, guns and walls) incarcerating more and more non-violent drug offenders. Lead to the birth of Private Prisons and the Prison Industrial Complex. Cops use Prison Data as evidence to support criminal profiling (Hall and Coyne 2013)[2].
·         The Military Cooperation with Law Enforcement Act (MCLEA) in 1981. In order “to enhance federal and domestic law enforcement agencies ability to enforce drug laws" This includes surveillance, support, and Guns and Gear.
·         The War on Drugs saw a reduction of The Castle Doctrine by the Supreme Court which allowed a person to be free from government intervention and interference within one’s home unless in rare and limited circumstances.

Then During the Clinton Administration:
1122 and 1033 Programs: The Law Enforcement Support programs passed in 1993 and 1997 respectfully,  allowed the DOD to transfer excess military equipment to state and local enforcement, including body armor, aircraft, weapons, riot gear, and surveillance equipment. (Hall and Coyne 2013: 496).[3] Additionally, the program often offered the surplus weapons and gear at no cost.[4]

 During the Bush Administration: 9/11 was used as a justification for:
·         The Creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
·         The Criminalizing of People of Color (especially immigrants of middle eastern decent) as terrorists, potential radicals and/or undocumented persons.
·         A steady increase in Extraordinary Renditions, various forms of torture: (Waterboarding) humiliation and the holding of “persons of interest, as “enemy combatants” without trial at Guantanamo Bay. This practice has expanded to a paranoid mistrust of immigrants (Syria) creating a culture of Xenophobia
·         With current Tech, Local law enforcement can now use military style drones for spying and execution      
·         Local Anti-terrorism: The DHS give out billions of Grants a Year for Armored personnel carriers High powered weapons, Aircraft, “Tanks, other assault vehicles and military grade gear (Blako 2013).  Local law enforcement can request military grade equipment for actual or perceived crises. But once the crisis is abated, the size and service of the police does not reduce. (Hall and Coyne 2013). Many of these places have not, nor will not, be subject to a terror attack. But they do get to use this equipment on their own civilians through the performing of raids on houses of Non-violent drug offenders.
·         Many of the weapons used by the police were purchased at Trade Shows using Federal funds (Dansky, 2016)[5]
·         The Suppression of Protestors after 9/11

During the Obama Administration
·         Executive order 13688 This was the elimination of the free-flowing of military style weapons and gear from the government to local police.

      According to Lieblich and Shinar (2017):

Acquisition of other equipment will be controlled, meaning that agencies may acquire them, subject to further oversight, assurances, and certification. Moreover, agencies must employ protocols on the use, supervision, evaluation, accountability, transparency, and operation of the equipment  [However] police can still purchase the prohibited equipment or bypass the extra oversight provided for controlled equipment if the acquisition is not made through federal programs or federal funds. Moreover, the Executive Order has sparked criticism from both the House of Representatives and police sheriffs.
This is significant, since Executive Orders can be changed relatively easily (Lieblich and Shinar, 2017: 124-125).

During the Trump Administration:
·         On August 28, 2017, Trump signed Executive Order 13809, revoking both Executive Order 13688 and the recommendations issued pursuant to Executive Order 13688,116 thus restoring Program 1033 to its scope prior to Ferguson (Lieblich and Shinar, 2017:125).[6]

Since 2004 to the Present there have been attempts at legal roll backs of the first amendment[7] through various legal restrictions  in 18 states: [8] Of the bills that were passed into law many of them were carried out by a Militarized Police Force.

·         Seizure of assets of protestors “who become violent” (AZ)
·         Restrictions on tampering with equipment “so they can’t shut off pipelines” (CO)
·         Unlawful to obstruct traffic or public walkways/roadways (FL, IA)
·         Shut down highway protests “by any means necessary” (IN)
·         Increase fines for “mass picketing behavior (MI)
·         Increase fines for blocking road ways and highways and make protestors pay for their policing (MN)
·         a crime to “threaten, intimidate or retaliate against” current or former state officials, Anti Heckling Bill (NC)
·         Removal of liability if a motorist strikes a Protestor with their car (TN)
·         Removal of penalties that strike protestors with their car (ND) Response to DAPL
·         Deputize ATF and Homeland Security in deal (ND) Response to DAPL
·         The criminalization of Trespassing (OK)
·         Expel students who participate in violent protests from colleges and universities (OR)
·          Increase penalties for certain acts of trespassing and blocking highways. (SD) Response to DAPL
·         Obstruction of traffic as a felony $10,000 fine and 5 years in Prison (MS)

As this blog has found its way, there has been no greater subject that I have covered more than Batman. I have talked about my reverence for Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy and even  what the character has meant to my own biography.  I did these analyses without stripping way my fandom; without looking at the problematic ways in which Batman has been portrayed, and his contribution to the Social Problems I have just discussed. It is time for Batman/Bruce Wayne to be held accountable as a cultural icon.

In order to begin this critique, we must first be aware of the object of Bruce Wayne. Bruce Wayne/Batman is a comic book character created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. Because he is a character in a monthly publicized medium: the origin, stories, and motivations are built around the very capitalistic notion of selling comic books. Thus, regardless of story arcs and continuity, Batman’s whole existence is to sell comic books. This inevitably makes Batman’s adventures less perilous because there is a tacit understanding that he will be ok to sell the next month’s series of books. He will always survive. This not only lowers the stakes for the character, often “rebooting” or “retconning” him back to his status quo (through such inane actions of Time Travel, rebirth, or fake out deaths), but maintains that Bruce is only a mechanism for profit. One perfect example of this is Batman’s origin story.
Batman’s origin story is designed for profit.  The decision to have the parental death trauma impact Bruce Wayne when he was a child, is to get children invested. This allows children to see themselves in young Bruce. This tactic is later used with the introduction of Robin as the reader surrogate. In addition, the vow Bruce takes in the Batcave[9] to never stop his war on crime, is so that these stories will extend in perpetuity.  The character has an endless war on crime because capitalism deems it so.  Secondarily, the vow is so unrealistic that it only could makes sense to a child, the comic book’s target audience.  Because of this, the idea of Batman is divorced from reality at the very beginning, and by reinforcing tired masculine codes of revenge disguised as justice, DC comics obfuscates the realities of trauma and the need for therapy. Ironically, it is harder for a child to process trauma than to desire revenge. 

One of the easiest and re-treaded (but sadly still salient) critiques of Batman/Bruce Wayne is in his identity status. He is a heterosexual, able-bodied upper-class white man. His identity is one of the “super” majority. Not only that, but the very concept of Batman is one born of privilege. The ability to become Batman is predicated on having access to unlimited resources and time. Someone outside of Bruce’s status and position, would find it near impossible to construct the Batman persona as depicted.  More than money, Bruce walking through the world as a straight white man allows him the ease of travel and the ability to “sample” or consume different cultural identities without consequence. This allows him to become both white savior and imperial cultural consumer of various combat arts, developing an appropriated melting pot of violence to use against any would-be criminal.
Additionally, the existence of Batman is only possible due to the ignorance of men born out of a society built on white masculine supremacy. After the Trauma of his parents death, there is no suggestion of therapy or the processing of grief. Alfred doesn't impress upon young Bruce the importance of emotional development. He, like many men in our culture, learn to suppress all emotions (besides anger) because those things are often coded as feminine in our society. This is the classic problem with US gender socialization, often rooted in patriarchy and general male supremacy.  It allows boys to only access anger on the emotional spectrum. Thus, they will filter all their emotional complexity through that one outlet, usually manifesting in violence. This creates the kind of white male fan toxicity that salivates over the “dark and gritty” versions of Batman and screams online about “The Snyder Cut“. There is no self-reflection or critical deconstruction of “their” hero, because to do so would be to deconstruct themselves.

In Sociology, a term that can explain the persistence of this toxic fandom in our culture is Reference Groups. Coined by Musafar Sharif and later elaborated by Robert Merton, reference groups are the collection of individuals that we use as judgements against our own behavior. Our reference group usually changes as we age: our reference group at age 5 is different than our reference group at age 25. We usually add members to our reference group with each new role and status we achieve throughout our life  Aspects of an individual can be in your reference group (I want to be honest like my sister, or rich as Bill Gates), or the whole complete person (thereby creating what Psychologist call role models).  This is often epitomized in the religious context with the acronym WWJD “What would Jesus Do.” This is an apt example given that anyone in a person’s reference group is in danger of deification.

The deification of the reference group is important in understanding the relationship between Batman and his Fans. The reference group is not exclusive to people that a person knows, or historical figures; they can also include religious and fictitious characters from media. What makes these characters' inclusion unique, is in the way it shapes behavior.  With real people in the reference group, there is a likelihood of social cognitive dissonance (due to deification). This is where a person in the reference group, through their actions, contradict their very reason to be in a person’s reference group (I catch my sister in a lie, and Bill Gates gives away his money). Therefore, a person needs to alleviate that dissonance by either placing greater value on the person, or the importance of the behavior. If they value the behavior, they will eject that person out of their reference group and find someone else more suitable. Rationalizations happen when a person explains away an individual's actions because they value their place in the reference group (as a pillar of whatever virtue they believe in); rather than rejecting them as a role model. The latter is more common than the former, especially in Fandom.
Fandom is a space with the complete deification of its characters[10]. This deification is reinforced through the continuity of characters and the longevity of storytelling. Because Batman has been written for over 75 years, there are generations of people, predominately white men, who have held Batman in their reference group for their entire lives. Yes, every generation has “their Batman”, but the overall fundamentals of the character are consistent. This means that a character becomes integral to the foundational personality development of a collected group. Therefore, an attack on their favorite character, feels like an attack on them personally. For them it is not “What Would Jesus Do.” But “What would Batman Do?” Yep, an emotionally stunted “rage-aholic” with unlimited resources and a history of violence is the moral and masculine paragon of millions of men.  Stemming from this, whenever the character “gets out line” and is written or portrayed in a way that this fan culture disagrees with; the dissonance that this creates is often expressed in aggressive and violent ways. This has happened countless times usually around historically white male characters like Captain America, Luke Skywalker and Batman all. Of the. Time

 In addition, characters like the Punisher and his symbol is co-opted for politicized violence and brandished by police engaging in brutality. That image gives you a window into some officer’s mentality when facing protestors. These cops have completely given themselves over to their reference group idols. They don’t just want to be police, or the military, they want to be vigilantes.

Batman and Militarization
 All one needs to do to see the relationship between the character of Batman and Police Militarization is to do a visual comparison.  They look the same. This is deliberate considering that Batman is supplied with most of his gear by Wayne Corp, his private company with military contracts. As explained above, the military, and the private companies that secure military contracts, are the source of various police department’s arsenals.  However, unlike the US military, Batman does not like to share. In the comics, Bruce Wayne has publicly suspended the weapons manufacturing sub contracted part of his company, so as to not be publicly scrutinized as a merchant of death.[11] The sick reality is, that behind closed doors, Batman keeps the best weapons for himself; to fight crime his way. This is problematic considering the consistent depiction of Bruce Wayne's personality/mental state.

In the Comics
There have been many interpretations of Batman over his 75 plus year existence. Usually, because Batman is a US cultural icon, he always represents the time in which he is being published. There is, as they say, "A Batman for all Ages". Thus, as the police force began to become aggressively militarized due to Reagan's policies and continuation of the War on Drugs, we saw Batman go through a similar transformation in the comics, thanks to the work of Frank Miller.

With the now seminal works of Batman Year One, and The Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller shaped Batman for a generation. These two stories have become so popular that even though they cover a time in Batman’s life outside of his monthly titles[12] (where he is perpetually 35 years old), they have established themselves as part of the canon. The problem is that Miller's version of Batman, that so many generations of young to middle aged white dudes revere, is a militant, sociopathic, fascist anarchist.

According to Matt Rea (2016)[13] Miller transforms Batman into a fascist in three steps:
1.      Establish that the governing forces are inept when it comes to dealing with criminals.

Every level of elected government in The Dark Knight Returns is inept, or worse — a point that’s obvious when you read the text. At the top, President Reagan is a dangerous buffoon who heats up the Cold War with the Soviet Union, only narrowly avoiding nuclear destruction with Superman’s help. Gotham’s mayor is an indecisive coward who gets murdered when he tries to negotiate with the Mutant Gang leader. Commissioner Gordon is replaced by Captain Yindel, who goes after Batman instead of chasing down the real villains. And prisoners are treated by a left-leaning psychologist, Dr. Wolper: an anti-Batman jargon-spewer, drawn to look like Hitler. Just to make sure you fully understand Wolper’s flawed methods, Miller has him killed by his own patient: the Joker.

2.      Represent the average person as dangerous or weak and thus dependent on absolute governance.

Despite knowing that all levels of government and order are inept or corrupt, the everyday citizens in The Dark Knight Returns do nothing about it. Left to their own devices, citizens are selfish and violent. For example, here’s a guy pushing a disabled man onto subway tracks. The story is ridiculous yet perfect for Miller’s crusade to justify Batman’s takeover as Gotham’s fascist dictator. Both citizens demonstrate the need for governance but for different reasons. The man with the crutches is helpless and needs protection. The man doing the pushing has to be restrained. There are more of these throughout the comic, all of which are designed to lead the reader into accepting Batman’s ruthless authoritarianism as a solution

3.      Create villains whose actions have no motive beyond the desire to sow evil.

Gotham’s general population is beset on all sides by violent criminals with no discernible motive. Seriously, if you’re an average person living in Miller’s Gotham City, a teenager might stab you to death to meet a quota.The Mutant Gang, those knife-wielding teens wearing strange Geordi La Forge glasses, terrorizes Gotham for half the graphic novel. A projection of  ’80s punk-rockers, Miller’s mutant gangs are pierced brutes with dyed spikey hair and bright clothes.Led by an ogre of a man, the Mutant Gang sews violence throughout Gotham because … that’s what kids do these days? Their motives are murky, but at least they have an end goal: conquer Gotham. From atop his trash-heap throne, the mutant leader barks a speech at the gang members about taking over the city.

   These books, and Miller's squeals  (All-Star Batman, The Dark Knight Strike Again, Batman: The Master Race) continue to establish this Bruce Wayne as being reckless, unhinged and dangerous. He is an alcoholic, he assaults women, commits child abuse, and fixes all problems through violence. He is the embodiment of Toxic Masculinity. (Connell 2005)[14]  It is so bad that in order to make these actions seem acceptable, Frank Miller must pit his Batman against villains that figuratively represent hell on earth. From versions of the Joker to Darkseid, these characters are so reprehensible that Miller's Batman looks like a necessary deterrent.  

In the Films
Miller’s Batman has become ingrained in film culture. Since 2005, the portrayal of Batman on Film has been influenced by the work of Frank Miller. In part because it allows the white boys and men, who grew up on Miller's work, and are disproportionally writers and directors in Hollywood, to satisfy a violent power fantasy. The result is that Miller's deranged murdering totalitarian fear monger allowed to be glorified by a whole new generation of boys.
The Dark Knight Trilogy was described by Glen Weldon in his book The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture as “ The Trilogy of Terror”. For Weldon (2016)[15], these Batman stories were a cinematic way for us to process “The War on Terror” and the developing “Surveillance State”[16]. The allegory is clear: Ra’s Al Gul is Osama Bin Laden, The League of Shadows is Al Qaeda (Batman Begins), The Joker is a radicalized domestic terrorist, disillusioned by American Policies (The Dark Knight) and Bane, Talia and their soldiers are ISIS (The Dark Knight Rises).
 Additionally, philosopher Slavoj Zizek (2012)[17] deconstructs the idea that Nolan’s Bruce Wayne is a “good Capitalist”. He juxtaposes Bruce giving to charity and housing of orphans at the end of The Dark Knight Rises using the money that he made presumably making orphans though weapons manufacturing and distribution. The loss of Bruce's fortune, also in that film, does not seem to faze the man at all. Defenders of this depiction of Bruce would say that he is noble, worried more about his weapons getting into the wrong hands (they do anyway). However, even will all of his money gone, Bruce is still allowed to keep the house and all of its contents. Not to mention, in the film's finale, Bruce still has enough money to live out the rest of his days in Florence in relative affluence. As Selina Kyle so aptly says “The Rich don’t even go broke the way that we do.”   Even Bruce’s protégé, John “Robin” Blake has everything he needs to start his "war on crime" safely tucked away in the Batcave; because you can’t be Batman without money. Although Bruce repeatedly states that “Batman Can be anybody.” The implication is that “Batman can be Anybody...with wealth and the resources it provides.”  Elitist. Paranoid. Controlling. Miller’s Batman would be proud.

  Of the films in Nolan’s Trilogy Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises pull from Miller’s work the most. They are both amalgamated loose translations of Year One and The Dark Knight Returns.  In both cases there are scenes, characters and sequences that are directly lifted from the Miller’s texts. From swarms of bats to Bruce coming out of retirement, these are the influences of a writer that is so valued that his work is a foregone conclusion for adaptation.  Yet, it wasn’t enough and Nolan’s Trilogy was criticized as not being faithful to the source material.  

Enter, Zack Snyder.

After the lackluster box office performance of Man of Steel that jumpstarted the Detective Comics Extended Universe (DCEU) Director Zack Snyder decided to his adaptation of Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.  Miller’s work is so revered that the announcement was lauded

Snyder promised to deliver a more faithful adaptation of Miller’s work.  Titling his film Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Snyder’s Batman is a Miller Fans paragon. Not only are several scenes and specific shots pull right from the pages of Miller's graphic novel, but Ben Affleck’s Batman praised  in reviews for “looking just like the comics exactly embodies, Miller's alcoholic, womanizing psychotic Torturing murderer. A character  that does not change throughout the course of the film, lest he tarnish Miller's legacy. The film, and it’s sequel Justice League were widely panned and cited as a poor adaptations. 

     For a moment, it seemed like we could start to move away from Miller's influence on our Cinematic Batman. That was until recently when the aggressive Zack Snyder fanbase won its war with the studio to "release (more like create) the Snyder Cut" of Justice League  through HBO Max. So, it looks like we are not done with Miller's version of Batman in film.  From all accounts, "The Snyder Cut" will be the fourth bite at the Miller apple in 15 years.  This shows that Miller and his unhinged Scion of the Night, is still desired and valued in our culture; for no other reason than his ability to validate the mediocre of white maleness to no one but themselves. As, Brian Raferty in a Wired Magazine article poignantly states “We got our way. But in the process, Batman may have lost his.”   

Frank Miller’s Batman, the version praised in the comics and integral to every single film adaptation over the last 20 years is a fascist, fear mongering totalitarian murdering alcoholic sexist hypocrite. He is the retrograde image of systemic racism and white supremacy we need to eliminate along with Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben. Additionally, this Batman's image has been used to bolster Police Brutality through the process of militarization, and reverence by police. Since every cop looks like Batman, many of them now feel that they have car blanche to work outside the law; violating Civil and Human Rights. We deserve better in our reality; why shouldn’t we ask more from our heroes.


Blako, Radley 2013 Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces
Connell, RW 2005 Masculinities
Dansky , Kara 2016 Local Democratic Oversight of Police Militarization
Hall, Abigail and Christopher Coyne 2013 The Militarization of Domestic Policing
Lieblich, Eliav and Adam Shinar 2017 The Case Against Police Militarization
Rea, Matt 2016 Frank Miller’s Batman is a fascist and you really shouldn’t cheer for him
Leave this version of Batman in the ’80s where he belongs University of Alberta
Weldon Glen 2016 The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture
Zizek, Slavoj 2012“The Politics of Batman” in The New Statesman

[2] Hall, Abigail and Christopher Coyne 2013 The Militarization of Domestic Policing
[3] Hall, Abigail and Christopher Coyne 2013 The Militarization of Domestic Policing
[4] Lieblich, Eliav and Adam Shinar 2017 The Case Against police Militarization
[6] [6] Lieblich, Eliav and Adam Shinar 2017 The Case Against police Militarization
[9] And subsequently makes all the members of his “Bat-Family” take which can be defined as textbook Child Abuse
[10] Pay no attention the literal fact that some of them are gods
[11] There are clear similarities between Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark here
[12] in this case being his first year as Batman (Year One) and when he “comes out of retirement” in his 50’s (The Dark Knight Returns) 
[14] Connell, RW 2005 Masculinities
[15] Weldon Glen 2016  The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture
[16] I discuss this a little in my initial review of The Dark Knight
[17] Zizek, Slavoj “The Politics of Batman” in The New Statesman