“The Dark Knight” — the new Batman movie — make $155 million over the weekend.  One cannot help wondering what sort of message the movie reflects in us considering its vast amounts of spilled guts, buckets of blood and unmitigated gore.  How do we contend with the strange, inhuman, joy found in the shared popularity of public killings?


When the indiscriminate assassin “The Joker” — played by Heath Ledger — murders his way through the movie, and young people attend the movie dressed as that killer, do you find revulsion in the glorification of the mindless slaughter of innocent citizens placed on the flickering screen for profit and movie making?

I am not the only one publicly wondering about the terrible message we are knifing against each other in the name of public entertainment:

Folger, 44, of Tulsa, thought she was taking her family to a superhero film in the vein of Hancock, a breezy action film that, like Knight, is rated PG-13.

Instead, she found herself squirming during several scenes.

“This is not a regular comic-book movie,” says Folger, who took her husband and two children, ages 11 and 14. “I know it’s a good movie, but it should have been rated R.”

If movies are a current, cultural, reflection of our values and morality — how do we come to terms with the record-setting box office returns for “The Dark Knight” without confessing, with the same breathless fascination, that we prefer to watch criminality test justice and bloodshed instead of kindness?

When I was growing up, my “Joker” was Cesar Romero — a buffoonish cartoon of a criminal who was easily defeated by Batman and goodness and the American Way.  If a culture changes us, or if we rot the culture — I am horrified to know how the new “Joker” sets a fresher American Standard for Wholesome, record-breaking, cultural touchstones pretending to be True Art

The most disturbing aspect of “The Dark Knight” is the intentional, and uneasy, appeal to children in its viral advertising campaign that can be viewed nightly on television.

In one particularly onerous advertisement, a young woman from Domino’s Pizza is racing through the streets of Gotham City in her car.  She is being chased by bad guys shooting at her and trying to steal her pizza by killing her.  They rip the door off her car.  She careens her attackers into a fiery crash just before she arrives at her delivery destination… which just happens to be a slimy warehouse.

As the warehouse door opens, we are astonished to see the fresh-scrubbed-and-proper Domino’s delivery girl is bringing her “Gotham City Pizza” to the Joker’s lair as part of Domino’s “The Dark Knight Deal.” 

When the Joker’s goons answer the door in horrifying masks, our blithe delivery girl smiles and says to the creeps, “The Joker owes me a new car.”

I could not believe the horrendous bad taste left in my mouth as I wondered who in the world that Domino’s pizza advertisement was meant to attract. 

The good guys or the bad guys? 

Are we supposed to be impressed that Domino’s doesn’t discriminate in its delivery practices and even killers like the Joker deserve an on-time delivery from Domino’s in under 30 minutes? 

Who thought up that mass mess of mixing the Joker with Domino’s pristine, religious, founding?

Domino’s, in case you don’t know, was founded by Thomas Monaghan, a devoutly religious Roman Catholic, who felt so strongly about his faith — and in the disintegration of American Morality — that he donated hundreds of millions to create his own religious university and dogmatic town in order to found his own “Christian Utopia:”

After selling his interest in Domino’s, Monaghan used upwards of
$450-million constructing Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, Florida, a
“Catholic town” he designed and built from scratch. After being
threatened with a lawsuit by the ACLU, Monaghan backed off on plans to
have his town ban adult videos, raunchy cable TV channels, and the sale
of condoms and birth control pills at drug stores.

It doesn’t matter if Monaghan is still involved in the daily business of Domino’s or not — his legacy is in that pizza chain and the money spent to build his Catholic utopia was minted with Domino’s coin — and we who remember, know there is a moral decay growing in America, and we are offended by Domino’s sponsorship of “The Dark Knight” because their goodwill only helps that immoral carbuncle grow and fester deeper into the cancerous hearts of good people and hopeful children the world over.

We must be morally responsible for our entertainment — as well as our pizza advertising — and we must re-take that first bold step of owning our lives by vowing, as a community, to never again celebrate murder and hopelessness with our hard-earned dollars. 

We must instead be vigilant in all future efforts to discriminately degrade the street value of violence as commerce in society and to begin to celebrate again our internal memes of joyousness and happiness that are then publicly expressed in kind acts we give to each other — without the expectation of reciprocity… or a knife across the throat… or the false promise of a pizza delivered in “30 minutes or less.”

16 Comments

  1. Hi David,
    “The Dark Knight” is running in Kolkata too, but as I am not a “Batman” fan – I was happy with “Hancock”.
    And, after reading your review, I am the last person to waste my time, money and energy in it.
    I understand an adult picture being soaked in blood and all but I really don’t get it when a supposed to be “junior” movie glorifies the blood-shed.

  2. Katha —
    Yes, I am obviously out of the mainstream thought on this one because “The Dark Knight” is now the new standard for a family blockbuster the world over. I am dismayed by that grotesque fact. This is not a Batman movie. It is a Joker movie. We should beware what we celebrate and honor because those values are venerated by young children looking to model values and imitate behaviors.
    I wonder how soon Domino’s will ink a cross-promotion deal with Charles Manson?

  3. I have grown rather ill with all of the cross marketing over the last few years. Example: going to the post office to send a package and seeing ads for a Shrek movie all over their signage. Example: seeing an Old Spice commercial which is also an ad for a Will Ferrel film.
    Ms. Folger was a little naive to think that this film was going to be a typical superhero film. Elizabeth and I even commented to one another before the film started that this would be one film we would have not been taken to as kids. The PG stands for Parental Guidance and if she didn’t take the five minutes to research the movie and realize how it, like Batman Begins, are a lot more graphic than the first Batman films, she has not a person to blame but herself.
    It really was quite a gruesome film but I knew that going in. My jaw actually dropped at the scene with the pencil “magic trick”, so maybe even I wasn’t fully ready for that. I guess the bottom line is that this, like Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, is not actually meant for children. 🙂

  4. I agree with your point that the movie is not for children — I’ll take it one step further, Gordon, and argue that no adult should, or need, to see this movie, either. Ever. What does it add to our culture or intelligence? Is it “escapism?” If so, what are we escaping into, and why would anyone want to slime around with the dregs of of the world to come away with nothing in the end?
    The Dominos advert ran prime time on television — in prime kid watching hours. That ad sets a terrible model for society and the Dominos website is now decked out in Dark Knight badging.

  5. I absolutely agree with you David – I went to see “Hancock” in a multiplex where this “Dark Knight” was running in the next screen and all I observed in the viewers was this “spellbound” attitude.
    Is it really worth it?
    Well, “Hancock” is also an out an out action movie and so are all my recent “watches” – except “Michael Clayton”…but somewhere I just abhor “The Dark Knight” – I don’t know why.
    I can’t think of any Indian ad celebrating “Charles Shobhraj”….
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Sobraj
    they will probably be banned for life!

  6. Katha —
    Yes, I think that’s it about being spellbound — there’s a certain wanting and yearning to be a part of something special and when you add in “honoring” Heath Ledger’s death — you create a perfect mix of a storm that gave The Dark Knight such a good weekend.
    I think there’s also a longing for revenge and healing and smashing the bad guy in America that has been building up over the last six years or so because of the war in Iraq. There’s no national outlet for mourning or patriotism or fighting back any longer and so The Dark Knight becomes more of a cathartic release — “I’m so glad it isn’t me even though that could be me” — while providing the safety of a theatre seat and a bucketful of popcorn.
    Do you have a Charles Shobhraj link that isn’t Wikipedia?

  7. Hi David,
    I didn’t know this was out!
    it’s strange that the Nolans – who’ve made such great movies before – made this. i guess this can happen when we get so caught up in craft and technique that we lose sight of everything else.
    Must go and watch it now!

  8. Arrgh! The danger of writing such an article is that it just might encourage smart people like you, Dananjay, to run out and see it! Double Arrgh! SMILE!

  9. Sorry about the wiki link David – but I couldn’t find anything else.
    I can understand enjoying the vengeance about bad guy being smashed…
    I still remember the total “disbelief” I saw in my roommate’s eyes when I told him – I was not a “Star wars” fan….
    I even remember his comment – “….the entire country identifies with it man”…. He thought I was a complete dumb!

  10. Katha —
    It is fascinating to watch which memes take hold in our current mainstream thought — and which memes are rejected for not being fulfilling enough to the masses. It makes one argue that mythology has a greater passion in the hearts of the mainstream than hard reality and the fact of reaction.