Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy reflected the Bush-Obama world of the early 21st century. The issues people faced after 911 and the Panic of 2008 are all laid out by Nolan. The villains are faceless like modern terrorists, mobs run wild in the streets like Occupy Wall Street, and Batman uses extreme measures to save Gotham. In the end, the films capture the essence of the period
Batman Begins opens with Gotham City run by mobsters. The city struggled to survive an economic downturn caused by an ineffective government and faceless enemy. Indeed, the United States and western world suffered a major economic conflagration in the late seventies. Great Society programs, high taxes, and government regulations devastated the country. Gotham City’s poor economy and high crime rate simply reflected events in New York City, Detroit, and other major metropolises in the United States before 1980.
As western economies struggled, Islamic terrorism showed its teeth when radicals kidnapped American embassy workers in Tehran, Iran. They held 52 people hostage for 444 days and helped defeat Jimmy Carter’s re-election bid in 1980. This was the first major confrontation between the west and radical Islam. In 2001, El Qaeda launched the 911 attacks on New York and Washington. The terrorists were mostly faceless individuals that hid behind masks. However, some of their leaders did appear in public or made tapes for broadcast.
In the Dark Knight universe, the League of Shadows takes El Qaeda’s place. Members wore ninja costumes and masks. They were as faceless as a typical Islamic terrorist. They also struck from the shadows like El Qaeda, who hid in caves. The league almost destroyed Gotham City before Batman Begins, launched a full scale attack in the film, and then returned to complete the job in Dark Knight Rises. In the final film, they hold the city hostage, murder the mayor, trap the police force underground, and detonate a nuclear weapon.
The League of Shadows was originally led by Ra’s al-Ghul, or the Demon’s Head. Ghul was the face of the faceless League of Shadows. He died trying to destroy Gotham, but was replaced by Bane in the same manner Osama bin Laden was replaced by Ayman al-Zawahiri. The steroid monster Bane became the face of the league and launched a second strike on Gotham. However, Ghul’s daughter, Talia remained in the shadows. Her character represented the sleeper cell component of terrorism. These individuals blend into society and then emerge to strike without warning. In this case, Talia struck after Batman defeated Bane.
Terrorism dominated the Bush Era. The economy melted down in 2008 shifting the narrative to economics. The downturn and surrounding hysteria led to the rise of left wing extremism. The Dark Knight tackled this extremism through the Joker. Heath Ledger’s Joker represented anarchy and even burnt a large pile of cash in disgust over human greed. He had a very low opinion of human nature. Christian Bale’s Batman believed in the people and they did not let him down. Bale’s optimism reflected Reagan’s conception of America while the Joker represented the American left. Reagan believed America was a "shining city on the hill" while Obama lied to pass an unpopular health care program.
The Obama Administration compounded its deceit through surveillance. Batman needed electronic surveillance to defeat the Joker. He wired the entire city through a central computer. The unit zeroed in on the Joker and then Batman had Lucius Fox destroy the system. Bush’s surveillance state was initially conceptualized along these lines. He wished to find the terrorists, defeat them, and then return to normalcy. However, the Bush unit was later expanded and abused by the Obama regime.
Obama’s election and the fear around the Panic of 2008 sparked an extremist movement that established camps around the country. The Occupy Wall Street movement committed many crimes and destroyed property at will. Nolan denies using the movement in Dark Knight Rises, but the parallels are uncanny. Although he did draw directly from the French Revolution, Bane’s rhetoric and some of the dialogue appeared to come from Occupy Wall Street. They spoke of income inequality, redistribution of wealth, and even established a tribunal to execute class traitors. Occupy never gained enough credibility or power to have trials, but Moveon.org did demand Republican leaders be arrested and tried for the government shutdown in 2013.
The Obama Administration was extremely sympathetic to the occupy movement. It also strongly advocated gun control. In Dark Knight Rises, the police are disarmed and forced to face a mob of occupiers with clubs. Meanwhile, Bane’s forces have automatic weapons, handguns, and tanks. It represented the classical second amendment argument. If guns are outlawed, then only criminals would have guns. Law abiding citizens were forced to fight well armed felons with sticks and stones.
The Dark Knight Trilogy provided a conservative critique of the post-911 world. It portrayed the left in a negative light while seemingly advocating against gun control and for government efforts to combat terrorism. At the same time, it used the League of Shadows to portray El Qaeda and Islamic terrorism as well as Occupy Wall Street in escapist fashion. The trilogy's power derived from the headlines.