the old culture from balinese and all i know will show in this blog

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

The Beat Culture

Early in “The Dark Knight,” when the Joker commits a murder as deft and surprising as a magic trick, the audience laughs, briefly. Then come the sounds of people squirming and fidgeting in their rocking-chair seats.

There’s more to this movie than comic-book action or even the tragic mystique of Heath Ledger, who played the Joker to creepy perfection for his last film. Ledger died in January, at age 28, the victim of an accidental overdose of prescription drugs.

The story of Batman and the Joker brushes against profound issues that could occupy a roomful of scholars but are anything but academic: When forced to decide between people’s lives, how do we choose? How far will we go to stop death-dealing, psychotic criminals? How much evil can we confront before we fall into a moral abyss?

Batman has endured almost 70 years as a pop-culture fixture, a unique figure in the world of superheroes.

“The fact that he’s a human being, not an alien, not someone given super powers – that’s what makes him an everyman hero,” according to Mark D. White, co-editor of “Batman and Philosophy: The Dark Knight of the Soul,” a collection of 20 essays published last month by Wiley and Sons, the newest volume in the Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture series. “He’s single-mindedly dedicated to the pursuit of justice, and that raises all these ethical concerns. Is he doing right or wrong?”

White thinks Batman is the most popular and interesting of any comic-book hero because the audience can closely identify with him.

“He’s stronger and faster and smarter than everyone else, but all that he does is within the realm of human possibility,” said White, a professor of philosophy and economics at New York’s College of Staten Island-CUNY. “But he also has the flaws of a human being. He’s not a very nice person. He’s not out to scare children, but to scare criminals, he has to scare everybody. He’s not a team player. His mission shuts him off from other people and forces him to make sacrifices.”

That’s a more realistic picture of what it takes to fight evil than we get with “a bright blue Boy Scout” named Superman.

“You can’t solve every problem perfectly” in Batman’s world, White said. “You have to make a decision how to solve it. Who am I going to save? These are decisions that any police force, fire department or health-care system has to make. When you have one heart for a transplant and two patients, how do you decide?”

Those dilemmas define the current movie, as the Joker, a psychopath of the first order, murderously delights in being “an agent of chaos.” The mayhem he unleashes, often using a tool as ordinary as a cell phone, is chillingly familiar.

“The Joker is our fears,” said Christopher Robichaud, a contributor to “Batman and Philosophy” and an instructor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “We would prefer an enemy who makes sense. Evil for the sake of evil, without any other purpose, unnerves us. Even the figure of Satan doesn’t do that. Satan has an agenda. He understands the value of humans, and he works out of spite or anger. That makes more sense to us than someone who, as the movie says, just wants to see the world burn.”

Even scarier, Robichaud said, is how ordinary people identify not only with Batman but also with the Joker.

“This is part of the broader human condition, that we enjoy watching evil,” he said. “He echoes the anarchic tendencies we’ve all felt. He’s a rebel. He says we should let loose. ‘Why so serious?’ Only later do we realize we’ve been lured by a monster.”

As credits roll, “The Dark Knight” leaves a disturbing question hanging in the air: How do we respond when confronted with evil?

“The Joker is there to remind us how bad it can get in our darkest moments,” Robichaud said. “Evil is stopped. He doesn’t triumph – but he’s not destroyed either. We can’t get rid of the Joker. Hopefully we can keep him at bay. But we have to respond in a ways where we don’t become evil. That’s the permanent challenge when good people are faced with evil. You can’t fight the kind of evil the Joker is and come away clean. You can come away still good, but not pure