Monday, April 04, 2016
Strained Analogies Between Recently Released Films and Current Events: Batman v Superman and the 2016 Presidential Primaries
by Matt McKenna
Here’s the concept: two powerful white dudes fight each other until they’re forced to confront a common enemy, which more often than not is another powerful white dude. Are we talking about the plot of Batman v Superman or the sad reality of American presidential politics? Could be either, right? Well, both the movie and the current election cycle have left critics displeased and audiences entertained. Although Batman v. Superman has received only a 29% from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, it has received a much better 71% from the audience. The primary election season has experienced a similar dichotomy between critics and the general audience: hardly a moment passes without a cultural critic decrying the base nature of this election cycle, yet audiences are tuning into election coverage on cable news channels in record numbers. Personally, I find the film much less offensive than the current (or any) election cycle if only because the film is fictional.
Batman v Superman is the narrative linchpin for Time Warner’s “DC Extended Universe,” which is an attempt to cash in on its ownership of the DC Comics characters the way that Disney has cashed in on its ownership of the Marvel Comics characters through developing a film franchise in which all the heroes fight on the same team in recurring, ever more expensive summer blockbusters. Therefore, although the film is called Batman v Superman, viewers shouldn’t be surprised to find out that Batman and Superman eventually stop fighting each other so they can go after the “real” bad guy, which (spoiler!) is exactly how the United States’ primary election process will play out. For all the jabs Republicans Ted Cruz and Donald trump take at each other, they will ultimately join forces to attempt to defeat the Democrat candidate in the general election. The same goes for Democrats Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, who will somehow forget all their prior complaints and support each other in defeating the Republican candidate.
If Batman and Superman becoming buddies sounds a lot like presidential primary opponents supporting each other in the general election, then the similarity between Superman’s struggles and Donald Trump’s campaign will be downright obvious with the one major discrepancy being that Superman is famously known for his good haircut.
In Batman v Superman, the American population is split in their feelings towards Superman--half the population deifies him and the other half think he’s a harbinger of doom. Everywhere Superman goes, angry protests and angrier counter-protests follow. Indeed, director Zack Snyder inserts a goodly number of shots of protesters and supporters waving signs, screaming, and appearing on the verge of riot. It hardly needs to be said that Trump has been a similarly polarizing figure, causing real Americans to attend his rallies nearly as much in protest as in support.
While there are certainly other similarities between Superman and Trump such as their nuance-free morality and their inability to include collateral damage among their decision making criteria, the most glaring relationship between Batman v Superman and the troubling reality we all share is in how the film’s contempt for humanity reflects the real-life media’s contempt for humanity. In the film, the humans that Batman and Superman are ostensibly attempting to save are not very likeable. Indeed, when these “normal” folks aren’t being depicted as too stupid to understand what is happening (e.g. they blame Superman for things that aren’t his fault), they exist mostly to provide padding for collapsing buildings (e.g. the film's favorite mode of dispatching people is to blow up the buildings they're standing in). The job of normal people in the DC universe is therefore to merely yell and cry--they yell at the superheroes for no good reason, and they cry when the bad guys blow up their stuff.
Clearly, Batman v Superman doesn’t think much of normal people. If you’ve watched cable news at all recently, this disdain for normal people should sound pretty familiar. The way it usually works is Rachel Maddow of MSNBC will introduce a clip of an altercation at a Donald Trump rally, show the cell phone video footage that includes screaming and/or tears, and then cut back to her shaking head and rolling eyes, which lets the audience know that, yes, these people sure are stupid. Of course, Fox News has their own version of this sort of thing--they might show footage from a college campus fracas just so they can cut back to Megyn Kelly’s condescending smirk. Either way, by the time you add up all cable news’ depictions of normal people, you are forced to presume that everyone is awful.
Batman v Superman is certainly better than critics would lead you to believe, although it’s a film best watched before turning eighteen years old. Not that you can’t derive enjoyment out of the film as an adult, but the plot certainly won’t surprise you. The same can be said of this election, which people seem to find entertaining because Donald Trump himself resembles some a comic book character. However, this election won’t surprise you either--it will still involve Republicans uniting against Democrats and Democrats uniting against Republicans.
Posted by Matt McKenna at 12:05 AM | Permalink