Originally published by Truthout
Nietzsche's declaration that "God is dead" is quoted nearly as often as it is misunderstood. Nietzsche did not simply intend to express that there is no God. Rather, he meant that the notion of God had ceased to play its value-generating role as an organizing principle, maintaining order and social harmony. Since God is what gives the world structure for the plebian masses, the death of God opens a space in which meaning can be reshaped and ideals redefined. For Nietzsche, God would have to be replaced by an ubermensch, a higher sort of human being who would "revalue all values," assuming the role of imposing meaning and purpose for the weaker class of followers.
Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight Rises" takes place at a rather similar moment. In the film, the system and those who lead it ("the 1%" of Occupy's imagery) have failed: we are shown images of economic decline, unemployment and hardship. This fall corresponds with the disappearance of Batman, the patriarchal guardian of order in Gotham City. This absence of "God" brings imbalance in the form of a mass uprising led by arch-villain Bane, which threatens dominant values and relationships. It is not often that superhero villains explain their goals in terms of social justice and democracy, yet that is precisely what Bane does - but he seeks to redefine these terms in a manner contrary to that of the existing establishment. The clash between Batman and Bane is, on one level, a clash of values between value-creating ubermenschen, two contradictory notions of social order and harmony. In the film, concepts like democracy justice, and equality are deformed and manipulated by the "bad guy" as a means of leading the masses astray, into what is ultimately a murderous plan to destroy the entire city. Then, in true Bonapartiste fashion, Batman the ubermensch joins the cops in reimposing the rule of the social elite, restoring law and order.
As with God in Nietzsche's age of scientific discovery, and in Gotham in "The Dark Knight Rises," for us today the system has lost its self-evidence, the automatic legitimacy that usually renders its role in underwriting social order invisible. But in this moment of liminality, no ubermensch, but the Occupy movement, has risen to challenge fundamental ideas and structures, striving to re-articulate the very principles on which the prevailing ideology claims a monopoly. This struggle has contributed to the crisis of ruling-class power, and has accordingly been met by a level of state violence that has shocked the nation and contributed to a growing awareness of the tenuous, limited nature of our democracy. In this context, "The Dark Knight Rises" has been interpreted by several critics as a shameless, reactionary attack on the efforts of Occupiers to endure police beatings and brave the winter cold to propel us toward a more just and democratic future. This is worth paying attention to, because it is not just fictional characters Batman battles, but real-life ideas that are of great importance to our future.