Saturday, August 9, 2008

Batman and generational theory

I've been meaning to write this post for a while, but I think it is an interesting premise. Some of you might be familiar with Strauss-Howe generational theory. The theory potentially holds some explanatory power for The Dark Knight.

It's a big, elaborate theory, but I'll try to give a short summary. The theory holds that Anglo-American history runs in a repeating cycle that lasts between 75 and 90 years. Each cycle lasts through four generations. There is an established order of generations in each cycle. The result is that the first generation of this cycle has a similar outlook on life as the first generation of the previous cycle, and of the previous cycle, and so on.

From wiki, here are the generational archtypes that operate:

Prophets are values-driven, moralistic, focused on self, and willing to (see other people) fight to the death for what they believe in. They grow up as the increasingly indulged children of a High, come of age as the young crusaders of an Awakening, enter midlife as moralistic leaders during an Unraveling and are the wise, elder leaders of the next Crisis. The Boomers are an example of a Prophet generation.[1]
Nomads are ratty, tough, unwanted, diverse, adventurous, and cynical about institutions. They grow up as the underprotected children of an Awakening, come of age as the alienated young adults of an Unraveling, become the pragmatic, midlife leaders of a Crisis and age into tough, post-crisis elders during a High. Generation X and the Lost Generation are examples of Nomad generations.
Heroes are conventional, powerful, and institutionally driven, with a profound trust in authority. They grow up as the increasingly protected children of an Unraveling, come of age as the Heroic, team-working youth of a Crisis, become energetic and hubristic mid-lifers during a High and become the powerful elders who are attacked in the next Awakening. The G.I. Generation that fought World War II is an example of a Hero generation.
Millennials are expected to emerge as the next generation of this example.[1]
Artists are subtle, indecisive, emotional and compromising, often having to deal with feelings of repression and inner conflict. They grow up as the over-protected children of a Crisis, come of age as the sensitive young adults of a High, rebel as indecisive midlife leaders during an Awakening, and become the empathic elders of an Unraveling. The Silent Generation is an example of an Artist generation.

I think that gives you the basic idea. If not, flip on over and read more.

My point is that at this site, proponents of the theory went gaga over Batman Begins, because they thought it adhered pretty closely to the formula. The important part, I think, is their understanding of Batman/Bruce Wayne as a "Nomad" hero, essentially a Generation X hero. For the most basic example, Wayne starts the film as a nomad. My guess is that they're going gaga again over The Dark Knight.

If you look at the description of the nomad archetype, it's a fitting description of Wayne/Batman. Unmentioned in that description are some of the other elements that are typical of the Nomad generation. They are individualistic and entrepreneurial, and tend to take problem solving in their own hands rather than wait for institutions to do it. Nomads would rather get the job done using a personal code of honor than fail due to the wider society's sense of morality. They have a talent for resourcefully making tough, real-world decisions that often times are the lesser of two evils. The best example of this was that most of the generals of World War II were Lost Generation. They found it necessary to kill hundreds of thousands to save millions. The dropping of the atomic bomb, a decision made by Lost Generation President Harry Truman, is maybe the ultimate example of Nomad thinking.

You see a lot of that thinking reflected in Batman/Bruce Wayne's thinking. The ultimate example is the cell phone surveillance scene. Morgan Freeman is shocked by it. Wayne just sees it as the only practical way to get things done. And in the end, he'll destroy the system when it's no longer necessary. That's partly why some older critics (i.e. the preceding morallistic Prophet generation) seem so outraged by his actions.

Anyway, I don't think this post went quite as well as I'd like. But I'm glad to bring it up for discussion.

1 comment:

Alexander Coleman said...

Yes, I've noticed this connection to Batman/Wayne and generational theory, and I remember many people loving Batman Begins because of it all. It's interesting, in any event--and you're right, the cell phone monitoring in the new film is an integral part of it, undoubtedly.