Tuesday, December 02, 2008

My Paper 3: The Joker-Terrorist versus Batman-Bush

As you'll know from past past posts, I have been suffering to do my paper 3. And today I just collected it. And what a surprise I had. A-! haha. I practically collapsed on a nearby chair and analyse my paper. I thought it was not so good a paper, I just hoped for more than a C. So imagine my surprise and jubilation when I got a good grade from Mr Nerney! Hahaha. Thanks Mr Nerney!

Now I can got some chance to get a better CAP, perhaps even a 4.5!

Below is a modified version of the Final paper I handed up.

The Joker-Terrorist versus Batman-Bush

The movie “The Dark Knight” (Summary attached in Annex) was released on 18th July 2008, during the War on Terror. Americans claim that the movie is a piece of propaganda for “extremely pro- “war on terror” themes” (Pasha 2008) and make two arguments for it (1) the Joker is the terrorist and (2) Batman is George W. Bush, the President of the United States of America. According to Sheryl Tuttle Ross and her model of propagandistic messages, the two arguments are actually epistemically defective messages. While generally, the American people can see though the epistemically defectiveness and not fall prey to the covert propaganda of the movie for the War on Terror, non-Americans may not. So in order to investigate how can non-Americans identify the epistemically defective messages (and thus defend themselves), the process of how the epistemically messages can be identified must be known. So this paper will first define all the key ideas used here, state the Joker-terrorist and Batman-Bush arguments which are epistemically defective messages and then examine “The Dark Knight” using Ross Model of epistemically defective messages in terms of the arguments by looking at whether the messages are false, inappropriate, or connected to other beliefs in ways that are inapt, misleading, or unwarranted, the conditions for epistemically defectiveness. It’ll be shown that the American people are able to see the epistemically defective messages because they know the definition of terrorists and that Bush ordered a wiretapping program on the citizens of the United States and their communications to the rest of the world.


Sheryl Tuttle Ross defined propagandistic messages as (1) being epistemically defective, (2) intended to persuade, (3) by making reference to a socially significant group’s beliefs, opinions, practices, desires, etc. and (4) on behalf of a political organisation, institution, or cause in her article “Understanding Propaganda: The Epistemic Merit Model and its Application to Art” (Ross 2002).

As mentioned, epistemically defective messages are messages that are false, inappropriate, or connected to other beliefs in ways that are inapt, misleading, or unwarranted (Ross 2002, 23).

Firstly, false means the message is not the truth. What then is the truth? The truth is verifiable, able to be perceived and agreed upon by everyone individually. It is also the logical implications of axioms, things that are taken for granted and doesn’t need prove. So false can be the negation of any part of the truth, by either falsely replying what is observed or blocking others’ opinions so as to lead everyone to a conclusion different from or opposite to what is observed. Claiming that a statement which is not an axiom as one is also false, including any logical implications that can be arrived at using the false axiom.

Next, inappropriate actions or ideas is suggesting that a person perform an action or adhere to an idea that is objectionable to the person’s community.

Inapt is when the message claims two or more factually adequate descriptions are related in one way when they are actually related in another way.

Misleading is leaving out the facts so as to lead people to think in another direction because they got incomplete facts, cutting off message receiver from seeing other possible conclusions.

Unwarranted is when connection between claim and evidence is contestable or irrelevant, resulting in not enough evidence to state one’s claim.

According to Ellul “Covert propaganda tends to hide its aim, identity, significance and source. People are not aware that someone is trying to influence them, and do not feel that they are being pushed in a certain direction” (Ellul 1965, 15).

“Terrorism is the systematic use of violence to generate fear, and thereby to achieve political goals” (Encyclopaedia Britannica: Terrorism 2008).

The Two Messages

Five randomly chosen blog posts by Americans namely: “The Dark Knight of Propaganda” (Pasha 2008), “The Dark Knight (on Terror)” (Nezua 2008), “Review: The Dark Knight” (anaesthetica 2008), “Review: The Dark Knight” (Saval 2008) and “Dark Knight-Fascist Propaganda with an Eerie Impendency” (Mendoza 2008) share two main arguments that are repeated by each individually.

The Joker is compared to the terrorist because the Joker uses violence to generate fear and so is labelled as a terrorist but the Joker has no political goal, instead “wants to see the world burn” (Nezua 2008), meaning the Joker just wants to spread chaos for its own sake. The resulting epistemically defective message from the mixing of these two elements is that terrorist wants to spread chaos for its own sake.

Batman is compared to Bush because in the attempt to stop Joker’s violence, Batman infringes upon the privacy of the people of Gotham by spying on them turning every cell phone in Gotham into sonar emitter and receiver in search of the Joker and to save the City of Gotham (The Dark Knight 2008). This is “a clear reference to current NSA wiretapping of U.S. citizens” (anaesthetica 2008) under the Terrorist Surveillance Program ordered by George W. Bush; the President of the United States of America at the time of the War on Terror starts in 2001. The epistemically defective message arises when the use of the technology by Batman is used to justify the actions of Bush’s warrantless wiretapping, thus giving out the message that wiretapping is okay.

The Joker- Terrorist

The following paragraphs will describe how does the Joker uses violence to generate fear and is so labelled as a terrorist and then explore the ideology of the Joker and the reasons behind his actions before going on to coin them up into the epistemically defective messages of terrorist spreads chaos for its own sake and then shows how with the knowledge of the definition of terrorist, the message is clearly connected in a inapt way and is thus detected as epistemically defective.

In the movie, various scenes show that the Joker is not hesitant to use violence for his own way (which is to spread chaos) to generate the maximum amount of fear. In the meeting with the mob bosses, the Joker walks out of the room by threatening to blow the explosives attached to his body when one of the mob bosses wants to attack him personally, making the rest of the mob bosses stand up in fear (The Dark Knight 2008, 25m 31s-26m07s). Besides that, he uses explosives on Judge’s Surrillo’s car (The Dark Knight 2008, 48m 41-44s), uses bazooka on the Bat mobile (The Dark Knight 2008, 1 h 17m 47-48s), later blasts himself out of police headquarters with explosives (The Dark Knight 2008, 1h 34m 45s), uses bombs to kill Miss Dawes (The Dark Knight 2008, 1h 35m 44s) and blows up Gotham’s General (The Dark Knight 2008, 1h 51m 41s-1h 52m 39s). He also broadcasted live on Gotham Cable News three times during the movie. The first time was to show how he tortured Brian Douglas, a Batman copycat before killing him and threatens “Will the Real Batman Please Stand Up?” (The Dark Knight 2008, 42m 2-4s) or one person will die each night. The second time and third time are mainly used to manipulate the citizens of Gotham to do crime out of fear. Later in the movie, Dent speaks for Batman’s defence, “Should we give in to this terrorist (the Joker) demands?” (The Dark Knight 2008, 1h 11m 5-7s) After Bruce Wayne let Dent falsely confesses to be the Batman, Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s butler tells Miss Dawes, Dent’s girlfriend, that perhaps both Bruce and Mr. Dent believe that Batman stands for something more important than the whims of a terrorist (the Joker) (The Dark Knight 2008, 1h 28m 28-35s). Hence the Joker the fear-generating-violent psychopath is labelled as a terrorist.

The Joker is someone who just wants to watch the world burn. This notion is first put to mind when Alfred comments to Bruce Wayne that maybe Wayne doesn’t fully understand the Joker. Then Alfred relates his experience in Burma when he was young. He makes a parallel of the bandit who threw away precious rubies after raiding for them with the Joker who killed Judge Surrillo and Police Commissioner Loeb and nearly got to Dent and Miss Dawes. “Some men aren’t looking for anything logical like money, they can’t be brought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with; Some men just want to watch the world burn.” (The Dark Knight 2008, 54m 10s- 55m 10s) Alfred used the word “some men” and invites the audience to fill in the blanks. Which is easy as the screen shows the face of the Joker when Alfred says that, thus indicating that the Joker is beyond reasoning and does things for their own sake. The Joker later on says to the Batman while in captivity, “The only sensible way to live in this world is without rules.” (The Dark Knight 2008, 1h 31m 6-8s) This shows that he’s obsessed with the world without order, the world of chaos. In fact, the Joker tells Dent that he is an agent of chaos when he was pushing Dent over the edge to become Two-Face (The Dark Knight 2008, 1h 52m 23-24s). When burning his half of the money that he had gotten from the mob bosses, the Joker says, “It’s all about sending a message. Everything burns.” (The Dark Knight 2008, 1h 43m 44-53s) That means that everything should be in chaos. The Joker says, “I like this job. I like it.” when he is driving a very big truck and smashing smaller cars along the roads. (The Dark Knight 2008, 1h 18m 42-44s) It is clear that the Joker works to spread pure chaos for its own sake and is enjoying it thoroughly.

Now we get the Joker as a violent terrorist and the Joker wanting to spread chaos for the sake of it. Combining them together, we get terrorists just want to spread chaos for the sake of it. To see that it is inapt, the definition of terrorism is necessary. “Terrorism is the systematic use of violence to generate fear, and thereby to achieve political goals.” (Encyclopaedia Britannica: Terrorism 2008) The “terrorist” Joker promotes pure anarchy and this is evident from the words he used to bring Harvey Dent down to Two-Face. “I try to show the schemers how pathetic their attempts to control things really are.” “Nobody panics when things go according to plan, even when the plan is horrifying.” “Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order and everything becomes chaos, I’m an agent of chaos.” (The Dark Knight 2008, 1h 50m 59s-1h 52m 32s) From here, we can see how the Joker’s ideology doesn’t include plans and is purely chaos introducing. So there is no space for the Joker terrorist for any political goals, as chaos is not political. So the Joker has been wrongly labelled a terrorist, he has no connection to any real world terrorist that we know of and to make such a connection is inapt. Therefore it is clear that to see that “Terrorist just want to spread chaos for the sake of it” is an epistemically defective message, all one need is the definition of terrorist.


The following paragraphs will examine the surveillance by Batman from four points of views, (1) the person who is doing the surveillance, (2) the people being surveillance, (3) the method and extend of surveillance, and (4) the situation and reason that require surveillance. All four points will lead to the epistemically defective message that unwarranted surveillance is okay in a time of crisis. Then the unwarranted surveillance by Bush is also examined using the same four points and will reveal that the message is epistemically defective.

In the movie The Dark Knight, there is a scene where Batman who is desperate to find the Joker that he, in Fox’s words, “turned every cell phone in Gotham into a microphone” (The Dark Knight 2008, 1h 57m 40-45s), so that he can triangulate the location of the Joker once the Joker uses any communication device. The person in the movie that is doing the surveillance is Lucius Fox on behalf of the Batman whereby he commented, “This is too much power for one person.” And Batman replies, “That’s why I give it to you.” Lucius Fox comments that the surveillance program is “beautiful, unethical, and dangerous” and that while the machine is there at Wayne Enterprises, he will not be there (The Dark Knight 2008, 1h 57m 33s-1h 58m 40s). This tells us that the person holding this much power must realise that and be a very responsible person. And that any self-respecting person will not tolerate its existence in peaceful times.

The ones under surveillance are the whole city of Gotham, as Fox says, “spying on 30 million people isn’t part of my job description” (The Dark Knight 2008, 1h 58m 20-22s) indicating that the whole city is under surveillance but only one person’s location needed to be found, as Batman says, “I gotta find this man (the Joker) Lucius.”(The Dark Knight 2008, 1h 58m 0-2s) The Joker will be found by using a voice recognition program.

The method of surveillance is to convert the cell phones of every person in Gotham to a high frequency sonar emitter and receiver, in effect; the person with the controls can see the whole of Gotham through all possible space that high frequency sounds can penetrate. This is a very high level of sophistication surveillance method that provides almost full range of visible objects over a very wide area of sweep.

Malone, a mob boss says after Batman broke his legs, “Nobody’s gonna tell you nothing. You got rules. The Joker, he got no rules. Nobody’s gonna cross him for you” (The Dark Knight 2008, 1h 6m 01s-11s). The Batman can’t find the Joker through his ordinary way of imitating thugs through torture, because every thug knows that Batman won’t kill no matter what but the Joker will not be so compassionate. Dent and Batman then uses bait and lure to capture the Joker but he escapes from the Major Crime Unit and blow up a hospital. This prompts Batman to take desperate measures: to spy on the whole city of Gotham in order to find and stop the Joker with the lives of Two-Face/Harvey Dent, two ferries load of people and a bus load of people at stake. Finally, Batman manages to save the day by using this unethical method after which Fox engaged the program to self destruct, thus justifying the use of the machine by destroying it once the danger is over.

Thus from the movie alone, we get the conclusion that the method (wiretapping) is acceptable when there is a ticking bomb, lives to be saved but should be destroyed once the danger is over (Violet 2008). The message is that it is okay to do unwarranted surveillance on a whole city in an attempt to save it. The danger of the situation is outweighs any civil rights of a human being to have privacy.

In the real world, there is a Terrorist Surveillance Program under Bush. Following the four points of view mentioned just now, the ones who are doing the surveillance is the National Security Agency, U.S. intelligence agency within the Department of Defense that is responsible for cryptographic and communications intelligence and security. It is headed by Lieutenant General Keith B. Alexander a military officer of flag rank—i.e., a general or admiral (National Security Agency 2008).

The scope of the surveillance involves monitoring “the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants over the past three years in an effort to track possible "dirty numbers" linked to Al Qaeda” (Risen 2005).

The methods used are monitoring telephone calls, and emails without warrants (Risen 2005) as mentioned above.

Following 9/11, "In January 2002 Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to monitor the international telephone calls and e-mail messages of American citizens and others in the United States without first obtaining an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, as required by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 " (National Security Agency 2008), indicating that this program is to prevent any event like September 11 2001 where terrorist hijacked planes smashed into the World Trade Centre in New York and is considered unethical and illegal.

Once the message that surveillance is ok is applied to Bush’s case, it becomes epistemically defective because the War on Terror is never ending. As commented by George Lakoff, “Wars are conducted against armies of other nations. They end when the armies are defeated militarily and a peace treaty is signed. Terror is an emotional state. It is in us. It is not an army. And you can’t defeat it militarily and you can’t sign a peace treaty with it” (Lakoff 2006). So the perpetual War on Terror implies that surveillance last forever which clearly reduces the imminent danger so that the civil rights of privacy outweighs the danger this time. Hence the unwarranted surveillance by Batman doesn’t apply to the case for Bush. The message is shown to be inappropriate therefore epistemically defective with the knowledge of Bush’s NSA warrantless wiretapping.


So the American people are able to see the epistemically defective messages because they know the definition of terrorists and that Bush ordered a wiretapping program on the citizens of the United States and their communications to the rest of the world. However it is interesting to study whether non-Americans knows these knowledge which will then tell us whether non-Americans are being exposed to pro- War on Terror propaganda.

Reference List:

anaesthetica. 2008. Review: The Dark Knight. August 5 http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2008/8/3/151516/5693 accessed November 10, 2008.

Ellul, Jacques. 1965. The Characteristic of Propaganda. In Propaganda: The Formation of Men's attitudes, trans. Konrad Kellen and Jean Lerner, 3-32. New York: Vintage Books.

Lakoff, George, and Evan Frisch. 2006. Five Years After 9/11: Drop the War Metaphor. September 11. http://www.rockridgeinstitute.org/research/rockridge/fiveyearsafter911/ accessed November 10, 2008.

Pasha. 2008. The Dark Knight of Propaganda. August 16. http://techandfreedom.org/blog/?p=14 accessed November 10, 2008.

Mendoza, Luis. 2008. Dark Knight-Fascist Propaganda with an Eerie Impendency July 26. http://www.y5k.org/index.php?option=com_fireboard&func=view&id=8&catid=2#8 accessed November 10, 2008.

National Security Agency. 2008. In Encyclopædia Britannica., from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/405392/National-Security-Agency accessed November 21, 2008.

Nezua. 2008. The Dark Knight (on Terror). July 22. http://theunapologeticmexican.org/elmachete/2008/07/22/the-dark-knight-on-terror/ accessed November 10, 2008.

Risen, James, and Eric Lichtblau. 2005. Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts. December 16. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/16/politics/16program.html?_r=1&oref=slogin accessed November 10, 2008.

Ross, Sheryl Tuttle. 2002. Understanding Propaganda: The Epistemic Merit Model and Its Application to Art. Journal of Aesthetic Education, Vol. 36, No. 1, Spring, 16-30.
Saval, Nikil. 2008. Review: The Dark Knight. August 6 http://www.nplusonemag.com/dark-knight accessed November 10, 2008.

Terrorism. 2008. In Encyclopædia Britannica., from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/588371/terrorism accessed November 20, 2008
The Dark Knight. DVD. 2008. Directed by Christopher Nolan. Warner Bros. Total length: 2h 33m 29s

Violet, Bright. 2008. Ten Reasons Why the new Batman Movie is Overhyped (and won’t stand the test of time). July 29 http://brightviolet.wordpress.com/2008/07/29/ten-reasons-why-the-new-batman-movie-is-overhyped-and-wont-stand-the-test-of-time/ accessed November 10, 2008.


Summary of “The Dark Knight”

“The Dark Knight” is the sequel to “Batman Begins”, a movie that describes how Bruce Wayne, a billionaire in Gotham City becomes Batman, a masked vigilante that fights crime and super villains. However, the first appearance of Batman was way before the War on Terror started, in a comic book in 1939 where over the years various features are added in to give rise to the conventional Batman. This sequel describes the classical battle between Batman and his greatest arch enemy, the Joker. The summary below will only highlight the important events in the movie.

The Joker offers his service to the mob bosses, saying that he wants half of the total money they have in exchange for killing Batman. But midway through the movie, the Joker decides that Batman is too fun to kill and even put a bounty on Mr. Coleman’s (who’s about to reveal Batman’s identity) life in exchange for not bombing a nearby hospital. However, before that happened, the Joker kills five people, using various methods including but not limited to acid, explosion, and long range shooting, all just to lure Batman out. He also ambushes Harvey Dent, the new Gotham District Attorney who claims to be the Batman and thus apprehended by the police, and thus launches a road chase which involves the use of a bazooka, bringing down one police helicopter, and overturning a large truck (The Dark Knight 2008).

The Joker is put into custody after the road chase whereby the Batman uses violence and is threatening to kill the Joker in order to find out the location of Dent and Rachel Dawes, the love interest of Bruce Wayne/Batman. The Joker manages to escape via explosions, after deceiving Batman to save Dent so that the Joker can later on push Dent into becoming Two-Face. Later on, after blowing up a hospital and taking a bus load of hostages, the Joker sets up a “social experiment” with two ferries, a ship load of criminals in one and civilians in another. Then Joker announces, “Each of you have a remote to blow out the other boat”, and by 12 o’clock he’ll blow the boat that didn’t push the detonator button. Batman, prompted by the Joker to take desperate measures, uses a new sonar technology that uses cell phones that enables him to “see” via sonar waves, anyone and everyone in the city of Gotham. Lucius Fox, the main developer of Batman’s high tech gadgets and the CEO of Wayne Enterprises threatens to resign as long as the machine is in Wayne Enterprises, clearly showing his disapproval of the technology (The Dark Knight 2008).

In the end, Batman manages to find and defeats the Joker. Later on, he is forced to take on Two-Face who has by now killed five people. In order to keep the people of Gotham’s now delusional hope and trust in Dent (who had earlier in the movie put half of the cities criminals behind bars), now the dead Two-Face, Batman takes on the blame for the crimes of Two-Face (The Dark Knight 2008).

1 comment:

mum said...

keep it up boy..do not underestimate your own ability especially on art subject...well done...hope you do the same scoring
A +++ for wake up at 8.00a.m. and sleep at 11.pm. keeping your health at tip top position ...lov mum