“Things are worse than ever!”
In The Dark Knight, at a town hall, a citizen of Gotham stands up to shout this about the caped crusader. Ostensibly, he’s referring to the wave of crime now invited into the city, the casual destruction of property, or the increased viciousness of the mob since Batman’s explosion onto the scene of justice.
Here’s the thing: None of that is Batman’s fault. (For the time being, we’ll ignore all the citizen and police casualties we see in the Nolan films, because we know they’re just there to give us a little Hollywood magic.)
What Batman does is confront injustice. So why does this citizen think otherwise?
Negative Peace vs. Positive Peace
In his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King posited that there were two different kinds of peace, and outlined the levels on which they operate.
“First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate…who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.“
His point was that in order to be purveyors of justice in our society, it is not enough that we seek to quell injustice when it happens, but that we be committed to the lifelong project of creating systems of justice for all.
His words ring true every time the media hunts for causes to what seem to be like singular incidents, like the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, until they find that a history of systemic abuse of minorities (and white people) in that county left them open to such incidents. This takes what seems like the singular and connects it to a pattern.
Nor is it enough, like the Mayor of Ferguson, to say, “I think that they [race relations] are definitely more strained than they’ve ever been in a long time here in this community.”
How can the mayor reasonably believe that race relations were not strained before the Ferguson shooting?
Ambra Battilana Gutierrez and Harvey Weinstein
After an explosive exposé by the New York Times on the deplorable behavior of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, people have taken to learning something about his victims. One of the most notable is an Italian model named Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, who Weinstein admitted to groping in 2015.
The New York Post ardently led the charge to question the credentials of Ms. Gutierrez back in 2015 when the charges were brought, with a series of grotesque articles. They leave one with the feeling that she is opportunistic, not truly a victim of Weinstein’s, and simply seeking to use sexual harassment as a means to further herself socially or financially.
Even now, after having truly disturbing audio released by The New Yorker of Weinstein’s desperate and harassing attempts to get Gutierrez alone with him, she faces questions like this.
Why would a woman reporting on a crime done to her receive such condemnation and extreme skepticism? (Well, there are several, but…)
We like Gotham
The answer to all of these questions is the same. The citizen who thinks that Batman is responsible for the increase in crime, the mayor who ignores systemic issues until a shooting incident, and those who ask why women like Gutierrez didn’t report sooner have one thing in common: They like Gotham.
Remember that Gotham is a city overrun with criminals of the blue and white collar. Remember that every portion of it is controlled by bankers and mobsters who can extort the people any time they wish. Remember that this was the case long before there was any Batman to oppose this injustice.
And the people liked it that way, because destruction increases when evil is opposed.
It’s because the negative peace, however awful it feels under the thumb of thugs and criminals, allows us to go on, and it’s far easier to destroy Batman for standing up to injustice than it is to destroy the Joker for causing it.
Positive peace (NFL protests, criminal justice reform, or speaking out against a violent sexual abuser) commands our attention, and brings the clown car of society to a grinding halt.
Negative peace greases the wheels. Positive peace is by nature and intent, disruptive. And those who resist the system pay a far higher price for doing so than those intent on keeping the car going.
The people of Gotham prefer a negative peace. And so do we.