Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Obama v. Joker

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Successfully made it up to New Haven in time for my talk today. Aside from some technical snafus—my PowerPoint doesn’t seem to want to play embedded movies at an audible volume—I think it went over reasonably well. The conference’s title is “The Politics of Superheroes: Renegotiating the Super-Hero in Post 9/11 Cinema” and my talk was called “Person of the Year: Barack Obama, The Joker, Capitalism, and Schizophrenia.” Essentially I try to make a few types of claims:

1) That although from a structural perspective he is obviously staged as the villain, in terms of The Dark Knight‘s narrative energy the Joker is unquestionably its central figure and creative engine, even (from a certain perspective) its hero;

2) that the film foregrounds the extent to which Batman (as a kind of stand-in for capitalism) and the Joker (creative destruction) need each other, that neither one can exist without the other;

3) that the Joker is therefore best understood not as a “terrorist” but as a kind of Deleuzean force of pure code-scrambling that (again despite the narrative framing) speaks to a revolutionary creative force (“schizophrenia”) that is both capitalism’s enemy and its limit;

4) that there exist certain theoretical similarities between the Joker and 2008’s most important buzzword, CHANGE;

5) that taking all of the above to heart to the extent that Obama becomes a champion of continuity rather than change we supporters must be prepared to be the Joker to his Batman.

That’s pretty reductive of a twenty-plus-minute presentation, but something close to the point.

I really enjoyed writing this one, but I’m really not sure where it goes from here. It doesn’t seem exactly publishable; it’s located very much in this particular moment right at the cusp of Obama’s presidency—if it were to appear in an anthology or even a journal it would need to take a rather different and much more historical perspective on all this. I don’t know. I’ll think it over.

Written by gerrycanavan

January 30, 2009 at 10:44 pm

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