1. The necessarily public dimension of the police officer’s identity follows from the public nature of the law itself. A law that was not publicized would cease to be a law, and a state that operated with hidden laws would cease to be a state in the proper sense of the term. [return to page 1 of essay]

2. Film noir represents the aesthetic rendering of what occurs when private interest overruns public law. While public law provides a bond between subjects, the noir universe shows how the triumph of private interest shatters this bond. As a result, one cannot extend trust to anyone in this universe. As Hugh Manon notes, “The view of noir is invited to contemplate the objects, people, and events of ordinary daily life in a sinister light.” Hugh Manon, “X-Ray Visions: Radiography, Chiaroscuro, and the Fantasy of Unsuspicion in Film Noir,” Film Criticism 32, no. 2 (2007): 8.

3. Zack Snyder, director of 300 (2006), turned down the opportunity to direct a Superman film because of his lack of moral complexity. Snyder explains, “He’s the king daddy of all comic-book heroes, but I’m just not sure how you sell that kind of earnestness to a sophisticated audience anymore.” Qtd. in Scott Bowles, “Are Superheroes Done For?,” USA Today (28 July 2008): 2D.

4. G. W. F. Hegel, Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art, vol. 1, trans. T. M. Knox (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975), 185.

5. Hegel understands the insufficiency of the legal order and the need for an exception, but he locates the exception not in the hero but in the sovereign. He insists on preserving the monarch even in modernity because he grasps the necessity of sustaining the exceptional position outside the law. See G. W. F. Hegel, Philosophy of Right, trans. T. M. Knox (London: Oxford University Press, 1952).

6. Andrew Klavan, “What Bush and Batman Have in Common,” The Wall Street Journal (25 July 2008):
After this article appeared, leftist bloggers (such as Christopher Orr) almost immediately pointed out the central problems with Klavan’s thesis — namely that Batman follows an ethic that doesn’t allow him to kill anyone no matter how evil the person may be, that Bush has not re-established the boundaries of civil rights as Batman does, and that Klavan wants Bush’s heroism to be recognized when the film insists that true heroism can’t be — but there is nonetheless some aspect of the film that invites Klavan’s analysis. With its defense of the need for the figure of exception, The Dark Knight grants a fundamental premise of conservative (and even fascist) politics.

7. Klavan, “What Bush and Batman Have in Common,”

8. According to Benjamin, the presence of lawmaking violence in a social order does not disappear with the cessation of the violent act itself and the founding of the law. The social order relies on the idea of this violence in order to sustain its functioning. Benjamin notes, “When the consciousness of the latent presence of violence in a legal institution disappears, the institution falls into decay.” Walter Benjamin, “Critique of Violence,” trans. Edmund Jephcott, Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings Volume I, 1913-1926 (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1996), 244.

9. The question, for the superhero film, is the precise status of the superhero’s violence in Benjamin’s terms. Is it merely law-preserving violence, a supplement to the violence of the police? Or is it divine violence, the kind of violence outside the law that renders an infinite justice that goes beyond the balancing of accounts? It is according to this opposition that we must judge each act of exceptional violence.

10. Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception, trans. Kevin Attell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 22.

11. Agabmen, State of Exception, 2. [return to page 2 of essay]

12. Immanuel Kant, Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, in Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason and Other Writings, trans. and eds. Allen Wood and George di Giovanni (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 59.

13. As Kant puts it, “Whatever his state in the acquisition of a good disposition, and, indeed, however steadfastly a human being may have persevered in such a disposition in a life conduct conformable to it, he nevertheless started from evil, and this is a debt which is impossible for him to wipe out.” Kant, Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, 88.

14. The Joker’s aesthetic critique of the morality that rules the other characters echoes Nietzsche’s condemnation of what he calls a slave morality. Nolan makes the link between the Joker and Nietzsche explicit during the bank robbery that opens the film. As he places a grenade in the mouth of the bank manager, the Joker paraphrases Nietzsche, proclaiming, “I believe whatever doesn’t kill you simply makes you … stranger.”

15. The autonomy of the Joker renders him difficult to understand, even for Batman. At first, he interprets the Joker as just another criminal seeking to enrich himself, but Alfred (Michael Caine) points out the possibility that this interpretation fails to capture what motivates someone like the Joker. Through a story from his own past, Alfred suggests that the Joker acts for the sake of acting rather than for a goal like money. He tells Bruce Wayne, Alfred: “When I was in Burma, a long time ago, my friends and I were working for the local government. They were trying to buy the loyalty of tribal leaders, bribing them with precious stones. But their caravans were being raided in a forest north of Rangoon by a bandit. We were asked to take care of the problem, so we started looking for the stones. But after six months, we couldn’t find anyone who had traded with him. One day I found a child playing with a ruby as big as a tangerine. The bandit had been throwing them away.” Wayne asks in response, “Then why steal them?” Alfred says, “Because he thought it was good sport. Because some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

16. Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, in Practical Philosophy, trans. and ed. Mary J. Gregor (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 89.

17. As Alenka Zupancic notes, tracing out Kant’s own logic leads to the conclusion that diabolical evil has the exact same structure as adherence to the moral law. Kant’s rejection of the possibility of diabolical evil — evil for its own sake — stems, according to Zupancic, from his unconscious recognition of this underlying sameness. She says, “diabolical evil, the highest evil, is indistinguishable from the highest good, and that they are nothing other than the definitions of an accomplished (ethical) act. In other words, at the level of the structure of the ethical act, the difference between good and evil does not exist. At this level, evil is formally indistinguishable from good.” Alenka Zupancic, Ethics of the Real: Kant, Lacan (New York: Verso, 2000), 92.

18. The bond between Batman and the Joker becomes evident on several occasions. When Batman interrogates the Joker in the jail cell, the Joker tells him, quoting literally the famous expression of romantic love from Cameron Crowe’s Jerry Maguire (1996), “You complete me.”

19. The most relentless advocate of utilitarian ethics in contemporary culture is the television program 24, where federal agent Jack Bauer (Keifer Sutherland) confronts a series of ethical dilemmas and consistently reduces them to quantitative problems in order to arrive at the proper ethical decision. To put it in the Joker’s terms, Jack is a schemer.

20. Slavoj Žižek, Violence: Six Sideways Reflections (New York: Picador, 2008), 66.[return to page 3 of essay]

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