This week, Bane, the masked supervillain from The Dark Knight Rises, and Bain Capital, the financial firm co-founded by G.O.P. presidential candidate Mitt Romney, are both very much in the news. It’s one of those great quirks of fate that make life feel like it’s one unbroken Abbott and Costello routine, and in a perfect world, the only fallout from the homonymic coincidence would be conversations like this: “Did you hear about Bain?” “Bane? Sure! Evil, right?” “Well, it probably leans to the right, but evil’s a strong word.” “Well, Bane does hate millionaires.” “You mean Bain makes millionaires?” Annnd so forth.
Alas, it’s also the summer months of a presidential election year, a.k.a. The Silly Season in Politics. So in the run-up to the opening weekend for The Dark Knight Rises, commentators from across the political spectrum have decided it would be great fun to link Tom Hardy’s garbley-voiced performance in Christopher Nolan’s sure-to-be-a-blockbuster with the alleged corporate shenanigans of Romney’s former firm.
On the right, Rush Limbaugh had this to say today on his radio show (via MediaMatters):
Do you think that it is accidental, that the name of the really vicious, fire-breathing, four-eyed, whatever-it-is villain in this movie is named Bane? … There’s now discussion out there as to whether or not this was purposeful, and whether or not it will influence voters. … This movie, the audience is going to be huge, lot of people are going to see the movie. And it’s a lot of brain-dead people, entertainment, the pop-culture crowd. And they’re going to hear “Bane” in the movie, and they are going to associate Bain. And the thought is that when they start paying attention to the campaign later in the year, and Obama and the Democrats keep talking about Bain, not Bain Capital, but Bain, Romney and Bain, that these people will think back to the Batman movie — “Oh yeah, I know who that is.” There are some people who think it will work. There are some people think it will work. Others think — “You’re really underestimating the American people who think that will work.”
On the left, a Washington Examiner blog post from Monday quoted Democratic advisor and former Clinton aide Christopher Lehane sharing a similarly specious piece of cultural insight. Before you read on, please know that a couple slight plot SPOILERS follow:
It has been observed that movies can reflect the national mood. Whether it is spelled Bain and being put out by the Obama campaign or Bane and being out by Hollywood, the narratives are similar: a highly intelligent villain with offshore interests and a past both are seeking to cover up who had a powerful father and is set on pillaging society.
Limbaugh and Lehane are far from the only pundits suggesting that Christopher Nolan and President Obama are somehow in cahoots. To a degree, one can see how this sort of connection could be made, given that The Dark Knight Rises‘ story focuses on the One Percent of Gotham City. Nolan himself said as much in this week’s EW cover story on the film:
The notion of economic fairness creeps into the film, and the reason is twofold: One, Bruce Wayne is a billionaire. It has to be addressed. We’ve never done that before. But two, there are a lot of things in life, and economics is one of them, where we have to take a lot of what we’re told on trust, because most of us feel like we don’t have the analytical tools to know what’s going on. So in making a movie about dishonesty, really, it’s one of the things we think about.
But if any of these political junkies bothered to dig even just a little into the mythology Nolan’s crafted for his Dark Knight trilogy, they’d see that, if anything, Bruce Wayne could be interpreted as a coded reference to Mitt Romney: A man of great means and family privilege struggling to marshall his wealth for the good of people everywhere, while nefarious forces around him deliberately misinterpret his intentions and try mightily to tear him down. Bane, meanwhile, spends most of the film attacking the monied elite, not epitomizing them.
As any respectable member of the brain-dead pop-culture crowd can tell you, though, stories that deal with mythic heroes and villains are pretty well designed to be interpreted in different ways by whomever is consuming them. Is Catwoman a commentary on the perceived moral elasticity of ambitious women living in a profoundly sexist world? Or is she, you know, sexy and cool and stuff? Besides, if you’re going to craft a conspiracy theory connecting Bane, The Dark Knight Rises, and the respective Obama and Romney campaigns, you really have to start back in 1993, when the character of Bane first appeared in the Batman comic books and Romney began considering his eventually unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate. Obviously, the far-thinking folks at DC Comics created the character of Bane as a fail-safe cultural cudgel just in case Romney ever decided to run for public office.
By the way, here’s what Nolan had to say to EW about anyone suggesting a “political” reading to his Batman trilogy:
I don’t feel there’s a left or right perspective in the film. What is there is just an honest assessment or honest exploration of the world we live in — things that worry us, as I like to say it.
You can check out Nolan’s full interview in this week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly, available on newsstands and tablets now.