Monday, July 28, 2008

Everybody Else Is Doing It So I Won't

I'm all for a little bloody-minded contrarianism now and then, even if it involves backlash against the new Batman movie, but if it can't be done with the minor courtesy of spoiler warnings, the kid gloves are off. David Cox' humourless dismissal of The Dark Knight has so ruined my morning that I was halfway to titling this post "David Cox is a twat" just to cool my blood.

Like every salaried hack, Cox doesn't even treat his readers to moderately imaginative writing. This aloof exercise in simplistic indignation stumbles right out of the gate, under a title unduly pleased with itself as a bad pun built on cheap consonance and sort-of synonyms. This is followed by a pre-critiqued laundry list of the objects he'll be examining, a cheat-sheet so we can keep up with him - a device as tired and condescending as beginning a trailer with, "In a world..."

The central conceit of Cox' article (that the film wrongly denies any moral authority in the War On Terror) is awkwardly incorrect. He's right in his analysis ("the distinction between good and evil has evaporated") but wrong in his condemnation thereof, not the least because Cox seems to have missed the past seven years. He posits the Joker as Osama bin Laden's onscreen incarnation, and makes 9/11 - but no subsequent events - the moral climate in which all decisions are made. If these cinematic metaphors don't bear up under scrutiny, it's because they're the wrong metaphors to be inferred. When Cox scolds the film's apparent moral ambiguity towards such things as mutually-assured destruction, extraordinary rendition, and total surveillance, he does so with a hubris that ignores that our own governments are engaged in exactly those things. The film is explicitly post-9/11 in its ideology, necessarily acknowledging our betrayal of our principles in their own name. We "have become a monster out [our] very excessive attachment with seeing Evil everywhere and fighting it." If the Joker is an imperfect stand-in for the "boringly purposeful" bin Laden of September 11, 2001, then the Joker is a perfect stand-in for bin Laden as he currently exists in our imaginations: an indefatiguable trickster, a walking embodiment of an anarchistic sadomasochism, an "evil-doer."

For a man who makes his living in the media, Cox is surprisingly unsophisticated in his interpretation of the film: that by presenting the collapse of moral authority, the film endorses it. Yes, let's take everything at face-value, shall we? (This could explain why Cox apparently thinks we occidentals are still possessed of some unimpeachable sense of right-and-wrong: because, after all, we say so!) Of course, if the anomic aside of "Cool, man!" is Cox' idea of piquant "irony," then he's measurably forty-some years behind the curve on symbollic literacy. Sure enough, solemnly intoning that "without morality, there can be no saviours," Cox makes clear his preference for the ol' "Boy Scouts in blue," two-dimensional propaganda for a grey-less worldview. This is the same brand of escapism that led Depression-era audiences to sympathise with unrepentantly spoiled debutantes and dandies: when reality gets ugly, flee into an anaesthetising fantasy anthithetical to real life. But should he find his own enjoyment interrupted, Cox ought to be angry at our governing bodies, not grease-painted fictional action figures, for casting "a smokescreen behind which... some kind of coherent whole can be persistently ducked."

Of course, I might be demanding too much of Cox. We're dealing with a man who fell head over heels for a Francophone exercise in Ed Burns-esque provincial romanticism. Perhaps Cox is just grumpy while he waits for Flash Of Genius, that heart-rending David-&-Goliath allegory balanced upon legal appeals over the patent for friggin' windshield wipers.

Most disturbing in all this, though, is the peak in his libindal scrapbook Cox offers us when expressing shock & disappointment at seeing "Maggie Gyllenhaal drained, astonishingly, of sex-appeal." Great, thanks for that, Davey-boy, now we can all imagine your unsypathetic mastiff/headmaster pout drooling salaciously as Maggie crawls around in a pantsuit-and-leather-leash combo. Nevermind that most of my friends and I always saw Gyllenhaal as a pleasantly unglamourous indie everygirl instead of some ur-sexual goddess. Perhaps Cox is a textbook pervert who willingly accepts any actor, in a role signified as "sexy"/sexual, as innately "sexy"/sexual.

Can we please hand Anna Pickard all the Guardian's AV coverage already?

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