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Batman, Downton Abbey, And The Radicalization Of Elites

Taylor Marvin, Erik Kain, and Jamelle Bouie are in the midst of a fascinating conversation about Batman, the legitimacy of the state, and the state monopoly on violence. The part of it I’m most interested, and what I want to use to pivot to a slightly different point, comes at the end of Jamelle’s post, when he writes:

Thomas Wayne was a philanthropist who sought to improve Gotham and the lives of its most vulnerable citizens. This, more than anything else, is why Bruce Wayne donned the mantle of Batman. It’s not that he’s “incapable of dealing with loss and forming real relationships,” it’s that he wants to build a Gotham where his childhood loss is never felt by anyone, ever again. Put another way — as we see with Ducard in the first film — vengence will only take you so far. You need a positive goal to keep striving. Bruce wants a better Gotham, which is why he’s willing to endure the hatred of his home if that’s what it takes to build the city into something durable.

I think it’s in part because I’m watching Downton Abbey right now, but I’m very interested in the question of when members of economically elite classes become radicalized, and what happens when they tip over. There’s a world in which Bruce Wayne could have continued his father’s tradition of philanthropy, responding to Thomas’ death by giving away even more of the Wayne family fortune and giving it even more aggressively (I would be fascinated to know if there’s any textual evidence for what Thomas’ charitable priorities are) on anti-poverty, education, or gang prevention programs. Instead, he’s going out and fighting crime, an approach that may be geared at making a better Gotham, and that may give him a direct rather than delegated hand in that process, but that also lets him physicalize his emotional pain, and dish some out himself. The approach is more radical in terms of how Wayne comports himself during the process, but not necessarily more radical in terms of what the Wayne family’s desired outcomes are.

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