The World Needs Bad Men: How the Bush Era Caused the Anti-Hero Wave that Gave Rise to Trump

Toward the finale of the 2016 election, Mike Huckabee took to Fox News to give a defense of Donald Trump that I’ve been mulling over in my head ever since.

I see Trump as Capt Quint (Robert Shaw) on the boat, Orca, in the movie “Jaws.” He’s salty, drunk and says incorrect things. He spits in your face. BUT… He’s gonna save your rear. You may not like what he says but, in the end, you and your family survive.

“Vote for the fishing boat captain,” Huckabee said. “Not the shark.”

While ineloquent and muddled, Huckabee’s defense gave a great insight into why people were lining up behind Donald Trump. They saw him as a vulgar presence, but he was their vulgar presence against the greater dangers.

If Huckabee were more versed in film, literature, or television, he would have realized that there are a thousand better metaphors for who Donald Trump is: he is, in the eyes of his followers, the anti-hero of the True America.  

A different defense of Trump comes to mind, one that his followers would surely cite, had they seen the first season of True Detective:

Marty: Do you wonder ever if you’re a bad man?

Rust: No, I don’t wonder, Marty. The world needs bad men. We keep the other bad men from the door.

true-detective-anti-hero
“The world needs bad men,” from True Detective‘s third episode.

The world needs bad men. It seems like a missed opportunity that Trump’s campaign didn’t snap that up as their slogan. One can imagine Rust and Marty’s conversation rolling over footage of Donald Trump mocking Serge Kovaleski, or Rust’s defense of bad men and musings on man’s inability to love intercut with I moved on her like a bitch and you can do anything.

This is not a specific argument I’ve seen much of, unsurprisingly. It’s easy to assume that True Detective didn’t have a major following among Trump voters, particularly when one  compares one recent study on regional television viewership demographics with the breakdown of voter demographics in the 2016 election.

However, Huckabee isn’t the only pundit to notice that Trump’s appeal is not being a traditional hero, but being the scoundrel on your side.

quint
If you don’t recall, this is the character to whom Huckabee compares Trump.

You can take a look at some of the headlines to see that this has been thoroughly explored, including a) Trump and the rise of the anti-hero from CNN b) President Trump: America chooses an anti-hero from Yahoo c) The Anti-Hero Candidacy of Donald Trump from Huffington Post d) The Donald Rises: Why Republicans Want an Anti-Hero in 2016 from The Week ad e) Trump’s success as an antihero relies on the power of reality TV and drama over reality from The LA Times

At this point, I have to point out that there is nothing unique in saying that Trump is an anti-hero and our obsession with anti-heroes in our media and film is what got Trump elected. As evidenced by the articles I just listed, this has been exhaustively explored. 

What I do have is another layer to add to this: the rise of the anti-hero in our media came from the America that emerged during the presidency of George W. Bush. 

During the Bush era, America found itself in the role of the anti-hero. This is what propelled the flawed and gritty protagonist into our film and television. This is what prompted the wave of dark and gritty reboots that are still grinding today.

Art imitates life imitates art. Politics causes pop culture causes politics. Bush was our cowboy hero who became tainted, tattered, and gritty as our wars became unwinnable and our morals murky. Obama was our shining hero, our knight in shining armor, our warrior who could not be everything he wanted to be.

And now there is Trump: the gritty anti-hero, the protagonist who rapes, the populist king. He is the danger.

But, before I move forward with this argument, it’s important to pause and discuss what we talk about when we talk about anti-heroes. Continue reading “The World Needs Bad Men: How the Bush Era Caused the Anti-Hero Wave that Gave Rise to Trump”

Advertisements

What We Talk About When We Talk About Fan Theories

I’ve been trying to write this article for a while. Years. While I try to avoid listicles, I’ve found that, at times, they have their uses. These are my opinions and observations on what we talk about when we talk about fan theories, and what they are, and how we should talk about them.

No one has an agreed-upon definition for “fan theory.”

Fan theory is not listed on Urban Dictionary. It is not explained on Know Your Meme. Even the /r/FanTheories subreddit does not have any official stance on what makes a fan theory a fan theory.

This is largely because the phrase “fan theory” means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Part of why I’m writing this is to reach some kind of definition and meaning, and to refute what I see as being inaccurate uses of the phrase.

A fan theory is a form of contemporary critical theory, in which the audience analyzes the text and creates a new interpretation that explains “what really happened,” creating a separate narrative aside from or within the narrative.

This is what I’ve come up with. I don’t know if it’s perfect, but I think it says a lot.

Now, more importantly, I’d like to explore both what makes a fan theory good and what makes a fan theory bad and what makes a fan theory not a fan theory. Part of this will include citing particularly good and bad fan theories.

westworld-theory.jpg
And yes, I’ll address so-called Westworld fan theories.

A weak fan theory is anything that suggests “it was all a dream” or “the main character was dead the whole time” or any variation of this.

Continue reading “What We Talk About When We Talk About Fan Theories”

Which Batman Character Does Trump Resemble Most? Part 6: The Conclusion

For the past several weeks, this blog has investigated which Batman character has the most in common with presidential candidate Donald Trump. We have considered five Batman villains thus far: Oswald “the Penguin” Cobblepot, Dr. Jonathan “the Scarecrow” Crane, Harvey “Two-Face” Dent, legendary villain the Joker, and the most recent of prominent Batman villains, Bane.

At this point, it is worth asking an important question: what should we do with this information? Why does it matter which character from Batman has the most in common with Trump?

But first: are there important Batman characters left to consider?

batman-villains
From “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader” by Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert

How much does Donald Trump resemble Lex Luthor?

Lex Luthor, while predominantly a Superman character rather than one of Batman’s friends or foes, resembles Trump in two significant ways: a) he’s a billionaire who b) runs for president (and, frighteningly, is elected) in the DC universe.

lex-luthor-election
From Superman: Lex 2000

The two do share one other key characteristic: a hunger for power. However, Luthor is known for being two-faced, passing himself off as a thoughtful philanthropist (while secretly plotting and inventing.) As previously discussed in the Harvey Dent article, one of Trump’s traits, and potentially his only virtue, is that he is not duplicitous: he has repeatedly revealed his ugliness on the world stage. Continue reading “Which Batman Character Does Trump Resemble Most? Part 6: The Conclusion”

Is Bane the Batman Character Who Trump Resembles Most?

“Do you feel in charge?”

It is with these words that the power shifts from one man to another in the 2012 film The Dark Knight Rises, as the terrorist and demagogue Bane rests a hand on the shoulder of corrupt, scheming businessman John Daggett. This is Daggett’s last moment alive, realizing that he staked everything on empowering a brutal man he never controlled. It’s a relevant moment, echoed in the recent power struggle happening within the Republican party.

do-you-feel-in-charge
“Do you feel in charge?”

“Tomorrow you claim what is rightfully yours.” – Bane, to the people of Gotham in The Dark Knight Rises

The majority of Batman characters were created in either 1939 or the 1940s, heroes and villains alike. We have compared Donald Trump to four Batman villains so far, each of which first appeared in the early ’40.s Bane is unlike the rest of these, making his first appearance in 1993.

Bane has two pinnacle stories: the 2012 film The Dark Knight Rises and the comic book storyline Knightfall, both of which feature a Gotham plunged into chaos and a broken Batman.

Bane-2
Bane, facing off against Batman.

It is these two stories which will serve as the majority of our comparison between the candidate Donald Trump and the character Bane.

Trump and Bane are both demagogues who inspire a hateful hope in their followers.

Charlie Jane Anders, writing for io9, described Bane as “the one thing that’s worse than the second film’s raving anarchist: a demagogue.” Continue reading “Is Bane the Batman Character Who Trump Resembles Most?”

Is the Joker the Batman Character Who Trump Resembles Most?

This is the fourth installment of an ongoing investigation into which Batman character Donald Trump resembles most. You can read the beginning here

The similarities between Trump and the Joker have been discussed here before, in response to an editorial by The Economist. But that was before the current series of “Which Batman Character Does Trump Resemble Most,” and was limited to the Joker as depicted by Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight.

Let’s take a step further and evaluate how much the Donald and the Joker (in all his various depictions) really resemble one another.

To begin with, both men have remarkably poor taste.

In what they say, in what they wear, in how they look and present themselves: these are crude, tasteless men.

joker-car
From Batman #321, “Dreadful Birthday, Dear Joker!”

The Joker drives a car with his own face on it, while Trump will brand anything with his own name. Both prove that taste does not accompany wealth.

He uses chaos and anarchy as a weapon, manipulating the weak and confused.

Shouting, punching, screaming, hysteria, name-calling: these are regular trappings at any assembly of Trump fans. Above this chaos stands Trump, fanning the flames and upping the ante.

It is a key element of Trump’s campaign and rhetoric. He brands himself as “anti-establishment.” Consider what the Joker says about establishment and order in The Dark Knight:

Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos. Oh, and you know the thing about chaos? It’s fair!

Like the criminals in The Dark Knight who turn to the Joker to save them, Trump’s voters are at “the point of desperation.” They are the unemployed, the angry, the tired and the scared. As Alfred Pennyworth says, “in their desperation, they turned to a man they didn’t fully understand.” Continue reading “Is the Joker the Batman Character Who Trump Resembles Most?”

Is Harvey Two-Face Dent the Batman Character Trump Resembles Most?

This is the third installment of an ongoing investigation into which Batman character Donald Trump resembles most. You can read the beginning here

Harvey “Two Face” Dent represents the curse of the classic politician. He’s the fallen star, the Apollo destroyed by the harsh realities of politics. His ambition and ideals are corrupted by pain and reality.  He’s the Barack Obama who realized he couldn’t close Guantanamo in his first term, the John McCain who courted the religious right and chose Sarah Palin as his running mate, the Mitt Romney who denied inspiring Obamacare.

whos-who-two-face
Two-Face as depicted on the back cover of Who’s Who: The Definite Directory of the DC Universe #24, February 1987

“You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” – Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight

Dent divides the world into those who die heroes (Kennedy and Lincoln come to mind) and those who live long enough to become the villain (Julius Caesar is the example he uses, although one could think of many more). Trump is of a third variety.

How does Trump resemble Two-Face?

Idealistic, handsome, charismatic. Donald Trump is none of these things, and there are those who admire him for it. He does not appeal to our higher selves, does not court intellectuals or idealists. He is humanity at our basest: frightened, hateful, and angry. He appears to have little-to-nothing in common with Harvey Dent, but there are some ways in which they resemble one another.

They promise a better world, whether they can deliver it or not.

Trump promises to “Make America Great Again.” Dent is elected to Gotham City’s District Attorney in The Dark Knight on “a crusade to take back our city,” with the slogan “I Believe in Harvey Dent,” which itself is a reflection of Batman’s recurring line in The Long Halloween: “I believe in Gotham City. I believe in Harvey Dent.” Continue reading “Is Harvey Two-Face Dent the Batman Character Trump Resembles Most?”

How the Republicans Have Become the Political Equivalent of Batman’s Villains

“This has never been about who the nominee is,” Paul Ryan said yesterday, explaining why his party will fight any Supreme Court justice nomination made by Barack Obama in 2016, and why they are specifically going to fight the nomination of Merrick Garland.

This, from a party ostensibly dedicated to the Constitution. This response to the President’s nomination has proved something: the Republicans have lost all sense of identity, becoming the contemporary political equivalent to the villains that Batman fights daily in the fictional Gotham City.

whatever-happened
From Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader by Neil Gaiman and and Andy Kubert.

How so? In Batman media – whether comic books, films, or television – there is a running theme that the Batman’s “rogues gallery” is defined only by being the yin to Batman’s yang.

Their ideals, their missions, their goals and visions are all ethereal, shifting, defined not by what they are but by what Batman is not: Continue reading “How the Republicans Have Become the Political Equivalent of Batman’s Villains”

Is the Penguin the Batman Character Who Trump Resembles Most?

There is perhaps no narrative referenced more in today’s pop culture than that of Batman. It makes sense: Batman is omnipresent. He first appeared in 1939, and has subsequently been in eight live action films, two live action television shows, countless animated films and television series, and thousands of comic books. The ninth and tenth live action films to feature Batman (and, of course, Bruce Wayne) are both to be released in 2016.

batmanvsuperman-xlarge
The upcoming Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

Metaphors are how we talk about things in America. We seek something we already know from history or literature or film and we apply it to what we see today. At the moment, we have a political candidate whose ego and campaign results in comparisons ranging from homegrown Americans like Andrew Jackson and George Wallace to contemporary European buffoons like Silvio Berlusconi. And, of course, Adolf Hitler.

When a narrative has become as firmly cemented in American experience as Batman, it’s no surprise that it’s a common and convenient place to turn when seeking metaphors for our current political atmosphere. Parallels have been drawn repeatedly between candidate Donald Trump and the cast of rogues and anti-heroes in Batman’s Gotham City. In August of 2015, Trump proclaimed himself Batman. A month earlier, The Economist had described Trump as resembling Heath Ledger’s the Joker in The Dark Knight, a metaphor found in various places and explored further on this blog. Recently, comparisons have bubbled up across the internet comparing Trump to The Penguin, often accompanied by the hashtag #MakeGothamGreatAgain.

Interested in reading fiction by D. F. Lovett, the author of this blog post? Check out his debut sci-fi novel here.

But who is Donald Trump? Does he resemble his fellow billionaire Bruce Wayne, or one of Batman’s malevolent foes? Is he one of the few heroes or the many villains that populate the fictional Gotham City? Is he the hero we deserve? The one we need?

Or is he our reckoning?

Let’s investigate, beginning with one of the most common comparisons I’ve seen since the beginning of Trump’s campaign: The Penguin.

“The liberation of Gotham has begun!” – The Penguin in Batman Returns (1992)

Oswald “The Penguin” Cobblepot first appeared in issue #58 of Detective Comics, in which he hid a shotgun in his umbrella and pulled off a number of heists, initially unsuspected because of his bizarre appearance. Since then, he’s been portrayed by the cackling Burgess Meredith in the campy television series and film of the 1960s, by Danny DeVito in Tim Burton’s bizarre Batman Returns, and by Robin Lord Taylor in today’s Gotham television show.

The_Penguin_2
Oswald “the Penguin” Cobblepot, as portrayed by Burgess Meredith.

Each interpretation of the Penguin is slightly different, but some key elements are universal throughout his depictions.

The Penguin and Trump are both conventionally unattractive, with their appearance being a source for easy jokes.

The unpleasant appearances of Oswald Cobblepot and Donald Trump simultaneously inspire disgust and sympathy. They are vain men with repulsive physical appearances. The Penguin has deformed hands in many depictions, a small incapable body, and a twisted, ugly face. Continue reading “Is the Penguin the Batman Character Who Trump Resembles Most?”

What We Failed to Learn About Terrorism from The Dark Knight

Or, “Stop Calling Them Gunmen and Start Calling Them Terrorists”

One of the most notable elements of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy is that, despite being made by a British writer and director and set in the fictional Gotham City, the films capture the zeitgeist of the post-9/11 America in a frightening, realistic way.

But there’s one lesson in these films that we don’t seem to have retained: terrorism can take many forms. 

Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises, the first and third films in the trilogy, show evil as an extensive international network motivated by belief in a higher cause: the League of Shadows, lead first by Liam Neeson and later by Tom Hardy’s Bane. It’s an evil organization which resembles Al-Qaeda or IS/Daesh in its reach and tactics. 

Unlike the other two films, in The Dark Knight our villain is Heath Ledger’s Joker: a criminal who seemingly materializes out of nowhere. His background is unknown, with no criminal record or history of violence. He operates as a loner, with a few followers but no peers. He believes not in fundamentalism but in anarchy and chaos. He prefers easily-obtained weapons: in his words, “a few drums of gas and a couple of bullets.” He kills with abandon, targeting mob bosses, murdering his own followers, burning corrupt businessmen alive, turning civilians against one another. Throughout it all, he operates without loyalty and welcomes death. 

CA.0627.darkknight
Perhaps film’s most famous villain of the oughts.

He gives a speech, in one of the more famous moments from the film, explaining why people are so frightened of him. Because he disrupts expectations. He disrupts “the plan.” Because anyone can be his victim, not just “a gangbanger” or “a truckload of soldiers.”

The mass waves of shooters (most of whom are white and “Christian”) overtaking America resemble the Joker in every way: they kill innocents, make spectacles of their crimes, and fear nothing, including death. The American mass shooter is almost always suicidal. There are few mass shooters who begin their killing sprees expecting any outcome aside from death or life imprisonment.

Like the Joker, they cannot be “bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with.”

But there is a key difference. In The Dark Knight, District Attorney Harvey Dent holds a press conference and calls the Joker what he is: a terrorist. America’s leaders, when they hold press conferences, talk about gunmen, about shooters, but not about terrorists. Continue reading “What We Failed to Learn About Terrorism from The Dark Knight”

Why Tim Burton’s Batman is the Worst Batman Movie Ever

People are still complaining about the idea of Ben Affleck as Batman. But, based on the trailers alone, and a few released still images, it’s already obvious that, even at its worst, the new Batman and Superman movie can’t be worse than what has come before it. Batman has bottomed out plenty of times before, but nothing is worse than the 1989 feature film adaptation, directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton. It does not matter what Ben Affleck does or does not do. Nothing is worse than what has already happened.

Infinite hope.
Infinite hope.

Let’s look at why. Continue reading “Why Tim Burton’s Batman is the Worst Batman Movie Ever”