Why Labour Aren’t Rallying the Troops

In 1992, it was The End of History and we were “rockin’ in the free world.” But how did it happen?

As Oliver Stone repeatedly demonstrates in his brilliant series The Untold History of the United States, key figures are important to diplomatic relations.

By the late 1970s, the days of a trade union talisman like Jack Jones were few and far between, and a breakdown in negotiations between unions and the party of Labour they often relied on led to such disastrous events as the Winter of Discontent, and – as a result – Labour in-fighting. With the Winter of Discontent came darker days, blackouts, and the fading of the Post-War Consensus.

The socialism of Michael Foot, who had slowly worked his way up to the leadership of Labour, was routed by the flag-waving nationalism led by the Falklands-fighting Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher. With the Winter of Discontent still fresh in the collective psyche of the British population, Labour’s Neil Kinnock turned his back on striking coal miners who were having their pits closed by Thatcher simply because theirs was the strongest union around.

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Thatcher went on to dominate the 1980s Social Darwinist culture of “survival of the fittest.” It was indeed, a different time. Council houses were being bought up and sold off, and almost everyone believed they too could make it big. State services were subjected to a big sell-out. Entire sectors were being deregulated, giving financiers free rein. The money was flowing into London via the stock exchange, bankers were wheeling and dealing, and casino capitalism thrived, and as a result, a devastating £1.5 trillion bank bail-out looming in the not-too-distant future.

As Labour figures like Tony Benn had warned, neoliberalism turned out to be disastrous for our society. Thatcherism and, to a lesser extent, Blairism, exacerbated inequalities and overseas adventures damaged our standing in the world, with Iraq making the Falklands look like a playground fight by comparison. The ramifications would be felt to this very day, given the instability caused to the Middle East as a result of the illegal intervention.

While Tony Benn was with his ‘favourite politician’ Jeremy Corbyn and hundreds of thousands more of us protesting the horrific attack on Iraq, his son Hilary Benn was voting for it. And just this year, he called for air strikes on Syria in what the media claimed was an oratory masterpiece worthy of any historic figure able to rouse his population towards war. And this has been key: form over content; style over substance.

While Hilary Benn was being cheered on by Conservatives in the House of Commons, the same Tories were still intoxicated by the celebration of the harm they’d caused through blaming the debt left by a £1.5 trillion bank bail-out on Labour “overspending” on public services, using the lie as a way to stop said services, or even sell them off to their rich mates. Thatcherism was alive and well: it was “survival of the fittest” again.

Working class people had had enough of being left mere scraps. Some were so angry they’d even fight over the scraps with anyone else disadvantaged, be it neighbour or immigrant. Communities were being devastated. The Eighties were over. Greed was no longer seen as good. “Occupy” protests unfathomable in the Eighties were suddenly commonplace. If Labour’s Eighties brand of weak ineffectual socialism was resented, Eighties Thatcherism was downright hated. When she died, people were burning effigies of her in the street.

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In high contrast to Hilary Benn, when Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader in September of 2015 he was criticised for reading out statements from citizens he was representing, and I recall someone on Twitter pointing out, ‘Surely what matters more are the words on the paper?’

Corbyn’s entire approach has realigned our perception of politicians and made us believe that it can be policy, not pizazz, that matters – that going to court because you refuse to pay the poll tax means more than throwing your jacket over your shoulder, flashing a grin, snapping a selfie, and then going and killing thousands of people. What we do matters more than what we say. Corbyn had a long history of doing the right thing, even when his own party weren’t.

No surprise, then, that Blair’s old buddies were immediately setting out to stop Corbyn as soon as he became leader. They’d plotted to take him down since before the EU referendum. At this point doing better in the polls than other party leaders, Corbyn – who has never been slow to point out the flaws of the EU – still campaigned harder than anyone else in Labour to resist knee-jerk xenophobia and call for us to “remain,” as meanwhile Hilary gathered signatures to call for his resignation.

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Hilary and his plotters against Corbyn had already been given a gift by David Cameron: if Britain chose to “remain,” then Corbyn was a hypocrite and only succeeded because of the party’s position on the matter; if the UK decided to “leave,” he was a failed campaigner. Of course, as I had predicted for months, it was the latter: people who wish for the status quo will never mobilise the way those who want change do. It was always going to be “leave.” The only thing that surprised me was that it was as close as it was.

So the plotters upped the ante. They coordinated resignations with the BBC for maximum media effect. They briefed Laura Kuenssberg and, thus, David Cameron, on Corbyn’s planned remarks in parliament.

We can only assume – given the absolutely awful “candidates” they ultimately ended up proposing as alternatives to Corbyn – that their plan was to pile on so much pressure on him that he’d buckle, resign, and they’d have a replacement.

Hilary’s buddies who backed Blair bombing Iraq were no doubt anxious to see a Labour leadership act as an apologist for Blair upon the release of the findings of the Chilcot Inquiry. The nearer it approached, the more heat they put on Corbyn. But still, he didn’t go. Instead, he saw the Chilcot findings as a vindication of his – and our – opposition to the attack on Iraq, and issued a long-needed apology on behalf of the Labour party.

Corbyn standing his ground was more important than that, though. Any resignation from Corbyn would have turned away an entire generation from politics; far from being time-travelers from the 1970s, this is a generation interested again – a generation which values multiculturalism, European diplomacy, and social democracy and who will deliver us the future of our country, and this means we must keep them engaged as citizens or finally reduce them to bitter and twisted consumers as Thatcherism sought. Tens of thousands joined Labour to make it the largest socialist party in all of Europe. Thousands marched in British cities in support of the Labour leader. I’ve been on them myself.

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Even those few who had returned to the party were being targeted; Labour head honchos were spending more time, effort and energy chasing out socialists than chasing Tories in the race to power, and when asked who they thought would make a better Prime Minister out of Prime Minister Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn being undermined by his own MPs, the British public were thinking the former, in an <sarcasm>absolute shocker</sarcasm>.

When Angela Eagle stepped aside for the sad figure of Owen Smith in the last resort of a formal leadership challenge, the plotters tried to ensure the incumbent couldn’t again stand for election, such was their fear of Jeremy Corbyn remaining leader. The National Executive Committee then declared he could indeed stand, but set about deducting over a hundred thousand votes from him by declaring newer members ineligible to vote, and blocking members of the Unite union, who in turn suggested regional constituents de-select the plotting MP’s…which of course resulted in the suspension of regional constituency meetings. Which was just a coincidence.

But this isn’t a leadership challenge. It’s a membership challenge. It’s a challenge to all of us, as evidenced by the plotters’ asinine suggestion that they’ll have these challenges over and over and over again until they get the one they – not us – want…one of the most insulting sentiments ever directed at Labour party members who knock on doors and post fliers.

This is a struggle for democracy itself. It’s a struggle between the people and the elites in Westminster, and on Fleet Street – whatever’s left of it, as old media slowly and painfully goes into decline while Corbynistas utilise social media to seek out alternative, more reliable and authentic sources of information rather than the opinions of one rich Australian, or one of his fellow media barons, or the BBC establishment.

This is also an opportunity to start the dismantling of a system of power and control and influence that, if continued, would accelerate, rather than stave off, the destruction of the environment, of workers’ rights, and of democracy itself.

London’s outdated relics house a Westminster bubble of leather and gold representing oppressive established entitlement, where echoes bounce around corridors of power to present us with pantomime as an illusion of democracy. The media outlets highlight the delivery and posture of “Maggie” May as she avoids Corbyn’s question on workers’ wages and instead fires at him a personal attack implying he’s at loggerheads with his own “workers” – leaving the social media-savvy citizens to search for the full clip where Corbyn replies with one of the most poignant and pertinent points of our time: that neither she nor any of her colleagues, nor indeed anyone in Westminster, can relate to those of us relying on food banks to eat.

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But this particular attack by May – chosen as Prime Minister of Britain by a hundred or so toffs – is telling: it exposes the real delusion of party politics – that a party leader is akin to a chief executive, with key staffers, and shareholders on the outside. Despite the fact shareholders are generally treated with far more reverence than political party members, this comparison is grotesque, and shows how low our expectations of the political system have sunk since the formation of the Labour party itself just over a hundred years ago. We are not shareholders, but stakeholders. We are driven by values, rather than the value of things.

The accidental representative rather than ambitious leader, Corbyn has embraced the simple idea that being in Westminster isn’t a career, but merely a role designated by communities who select their MP. Angela Eagle nodded in agreement with her own constituents, then walked off, drove away in her car, and days later defied their wishes, challenging Corbyn – such is the arrogance and sense of entitlement of these politicos.

Ed Miliband represents my birthplace of Doncaster with no connection to the town whatsoever, merely gifted a “safe” Labour seat to suit what was an up-and-coming politician rewarded for being part of the political establishment with this role to keep him in Westminster; they don’t want some Trot, rabble or Doncastrian dog such as, say, myself who understands Donny villages like Bentley or Askern. I’m not cut from the right cloth, after all. I’m not a careerist who wants power to push apart the doors to boardrooms and corporate-sponsored trust funds for my kids.

You only have to look at the most successful politician in recent history – Tory blue-blood David Cameron – to see the best example of modern politics: if you’re from the right background, you get gifted a safe seat, you rise up the party, do the bidding of elites, and then quit politics to enjoy your yachts while being a token director of a board of some corporation that gets to spread word on the prawn cocktail circuit that they have a former Prime Minister don’t-you-know, and all the contacts that go with that, right there in their company. They all win. The only losers are us. By this point, it’s all so far removed from democracy that we’re utterly irrelevant.

The rise of Jeremy Corbyn is a threat to all of this. ‘This is the way it’s always been,’ they cry over their canapés.

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So it’s not even just about Jeremy Corbyn though, is it? It’s about what he represents. It’s about his desire for politics to embrace the grassroots, rather than coming from these corporate penthouses. And it’s also about his brand of socialism, for which there is an appetite not seen since 1945.

Corbyn has battered the Tories into several reversals in policy, on tax credits, on housing benefits cuts, on disability cuts, on police cuts, on the trade union bill, on academies, and on, and on. All this despite those Westminster elites undermining him, attacking him daily in the press.

Can you imagine what genuine social good could be achieved if the whole party was behind him? If they actually gave a shit about people like you and me, rather than what Board of Directors they get to sit on after parliament, or how big the trust fund for their kids might be.

But though the money never seems to truly trickle down, the sense of entitlement sure does. You can feel it in Labour party events and meetings. The old guard, who stood by war criminal Tony Blair, and scoffed at the hundreds of thousands of us who marched against him. I attended my Constituency Labour Party meeting recently and sat there in utter shock as one woman supporting Owen Smith angrily shouted, ‘We don’t want rallies!’ This sounds like a joke but I’m not making this up. It actually happened! I have witnesses! The punchline would have to be when dozens more “delegates” erupted into applause as us mere members sat stunned at the back of the room (the naughty area, I assume).

Consider this for a moment. Imagine possessing so much passion in opposition of mass mobilisation around your leader and, as a result, your party. What could be the rationale? What could be seen as threatening about this? What is it about this idea that Labour needs to be Blairite? That Tony Blair had got it right? Because that is an idea removed from reality. New Labour was supposed to be an “election-winning machine” yet it bloody hemorrhaged three million votes! So I ask Blairites: do you want to win elections? Do you really actually want that? And if so, is it on the condition that younger people come into your party, go to the back of the room, sit down, shut up, and just deliver fliers for you when you tell them to?

But, I tell them, if you truly wanted to win a general election, you’d get behind the leader the party members, overwhelmingly, chose. You’d join the momentum. You’d get behind the campaign. You’d fight for the true socialist Labour values that he represents, and that have been written on your membership card, if you’d taken the time to actually read it rather than take absolutely everything for granted for years.

So now, if Jeremy Corbyn again becomes Labour leader, and they again undermine him…they clearly want the Tories to win in 2020. It’s as simple as that.

I thought Gordon Brown was an improvement on Tony Blair, but who is he going to brag to about that? I still got chased by police for peacefully protesting the G20 when he was Prime Minister. But you know what? When the smoke had cleared and the dust had settled, I remained a Labour supporter. Just like I did when Ed Miliband was leader.

Abby Tomlinson, the leader of #Milifandom, like Ed, backed Owen Smith, suggesting rallies don’t win elections because, hey, newsflash: the Tories get into power without them!

Despite wisdom beyond her years, this view is an astonishingly naive one, shared by too many in Labour.

While it’s true the Tories don’t win with rallies, it is a fact they win on apathy. They rely on working class citizens staying at home. Corbyn’s rallies have mobilised people, made them excited again, and inspired people to once more believe in democracy and engage in the issues with family and friends – what Michael Moore, when referring to Bernie Sanders over in the States, refers to as the “dragging people to the polls” effect. It’s all so exciting that even Smith himself wants to attend the rallies to talk to Corbyn’s supporters, while Smith’s followers claim rallies are worthless. Confused? Understandably!

If the Labour party now chooses to disconnect itself even further from the communities it was set up to represent, if it feels justified in rigging a democratic process, again and again and again, until it can effectively serve a select few vested interests, and if it decides that it should not fight for democratic socialist values but instead be a “broad church” that is all things to all people – a ship never anchored in principles, left adrift in right-wing waters of murky vested interests – then it won’t have a soul left to be fought for; it will have already lost it. It will have accepted the media and its narrative as it is, when – as Francesca Martinez said – there’s no time left for that; it’s do or die. It’s the end of “The End of History.” It’s an opportunity to truly change things and, hey, as Gordon Brown might say, change the world.

There is one certainty: after this latest ill-intended and anti-democratic process, whatever the result, it will have repercussions on the political landscape felt for many years to come. Either the party elites will save Labour from themselves by ceding more power to democracy, or the politics of cynicism will win the day, casting adrift hundreds of thousands of social democrats who want change – and will seek other means to get it, leaving Labour without the biggest socialist membership in Europe it currently enjoys, but instead a base, and a position, almost every bit as pessimistic, miserable and introspective as the Tories.

Hundreds of thousands of us are involved in this struggle because it matters. I for one will remain active, be it in party politics or simply in politics generally.

Because, after all, politics is too important to be left to politicians.


Labour Loyalties and Where They Lie

The 1980s in which I grew up were dark days. The Conservative Party, having won the 1979 general election, dominated British politics, winning again in 1983, and beating Neil Kinnock’s Labour in both 1987 and 1992 before his party decided he was “unelectable.” Get used to that word. It gets thrown around with greater frequency nowadays.

1997 was the first British general election in which I could vote. With the Conservatives holding on to power for so long, this was the year where they finally lost their grip and the appetite for democratic socialism was so strong that Tony Blair became Prime Minister. Despite growing up in Doncaster, in a Labour heartland and a Labour household, this wasn’t a tradition I felt I could follow in order to keep our family loyal to the party.

With a strong majority and increasing indications that a reversal of Thatcherism were not a priority, “New” Labour failed to appeal to me. In 1997, because I smelled a rat, I actually voted Liberal Democrat.

I continued voting for the Lib Dems – as they also joined a million of us in the February 15th, 2003 march I took part in, against the attack on Iraq, and I was quite inspired by the late Charles Kennedy’s anti-war speech in Hyde Park. Of course, there were other Labour Party figures, like Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn, who remained vocally opposed to such immoral actions. I felt like they remained loyal to their principles rather than to a party going in the wrong direction; they remained loyal to their principles rather than lying to themselves.
blair_liedI even made a documentary venting my frustrations at Blair’s obsession with overseas invasions, immigration, and the surveillance state, and got a standing ovation for it at its worldwide premiere in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. I despised Tony Blair, and enjoyed some relief when Gordon Brown came in and at least demonstrated the decency to have his podium symbolically moved further away from that of George W. Bush, Jr.

Nonetheless, the political culture became one where neoliberalism had remained largely unchallenged rather than reversed, and where party leaders were required to be slick public relations experts and slippery, smarmy smooth-talkers who wanted foot soldiers as door-to-door salesmen to make sure people bought into illegal wars. After years in the wilderness, the Tories realised Labour were actually beating them at their own cynical game, and went back to the drawing board to get their own “Heir to Blair.”

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In 2010, given the poor excuse for democracy in this country, there came the revelation that the Tories could actually return to power, and that was a scenario much more frightening than a Gordon Brown-led Labour government that still gave us the Minimum Wage, Human Rights Act, Sure Start children’s centres, and progressive taxation. So, for the first time, I supported Labour, but during the Blair/Brown years their New Labour project had let three million voters slip through their fingers, a hemorrhage they couldn’t stop, and they lost. This was depressing to me, and I resented New Labour for allowing Tories into power.

I was rooting for Doncaster North MP Ed Miliband to become the next Labour leader, and became a party member when he actually did, through a combination of support from fellow MPs, members, and unions – or, “union barons” as the right-wing media preferred to refer to them, ignoring the millions of workers who cast their votes. In addition, the leadership election took so long that the Tories established a new narrative ignoring the £1.5 trillion bank bailout and instead reasserting the lie of Labour “overspending” that became part of press presupposition. As Ed tried to oppose the resulting austerity agenda of small-state sell-offs to private interests, pro-privatisation “Blairites,” behind the argument that it was too late to do so, stopped him at every opportunity.

We tried anyway. I attended most meetings. I became an active campaigner. I flyposted leaflets until my hands literally bled. I regularly engaged with Labour councillors losing sleep over cuts from central government that left them with agonizing budget choices at Town Hall. Because of this, I also agreed to do some work for Labour in getting the Fair Deal for Sheffield campaign rolling out online to raise awareness about the disproportionate cuts to our city from Westminster. And while at times, bizarrely, finding myself sat laughing with people like Lord Glasman in Labour workshops, and groups like Progress and even the Fabians having an air of unreality about them, I kept going – as many of us did – to get Labour back into power.sky

In my column “What Ed Said,” I wrote at length about the media’s caricature of “Red” Ed and how he somewhat understandably softened his stance on austerity after attending the March 26th March for an Alternative and being bashed by protesters for not being radical enough, and lambasted by the press for attending the demonstration in the first place, juxtaposed with shots of a minority of violent protesters – all the while being subject to undermining by Blairites who felt he wasn’t cosying up to the corporate world enough. Despite this, he called out the bankers, the media monopolies, and even landlords, and promised to push the break pedal on austerity and shift course for the country. My fear was, if even this failed, Blairites would claim it was time to return towards the right.

Making an ill-advised quest to actively oppose Scottish independence while failing to reach out to working class communities that were instead courted by a UK Independence Party appealing to their darker nature, a Labour leader impossibly trying to be all things to all people was finished off by two forms of nationalism. In addition, Ed, who had worked with Benn and Brown, tried the tactic of trying to appeal to everyone else that remained – and, as is usually the case with such an approach – ended up pleasing few of them. The Blairites despised him; the socialist membership complained he wasn’t going far enough. Thus, there was no great movement to get him into power, and the Tories this time took a majority win.

Despite my own fellow Sheffield Central constituents increasing the majority enjoyed by our MP, Paul Blomfield, from 165 to 17,309, my partner Jane Watkinson having been used on pamphlets to urge voters to switch to reds from the Greens as she had, we remained “The People’s Republic of South Yorkshire” – what we felt was not what the country voted for.dsc_0174

And so another Labour leadership election began, this time to find a replacement for Ed. With no more Liberal Democrats to hide behind in Westminster, the Tories found themselves exposed for the con men they were, and a Prime Minister who had actually packed his bags ready to leave 10 Downing Street was so tired in his role as mouthpiece of the elites that his mask slipped with increasing regularity.

Of all the Labour leadership candidates, I was so uninspired by the prospect of an even bigger PR disaster than Ed that as a party member I no longer felt we had anything left to lose: I instead voted with my heart, and chose Jeremy Corbyn, a man who had done such things as oppose apartheid, support LGBT rights, refuse to pay the poll tax, and sport a beard long before any of these were considered cool.cnknamrxeaao877-jpglarge

Lo and behold, he won with the most historic, massive mandate in Labour history – a sign that members were sick and tired of polished PR men and instead wanted progressive policies and “straight-talking, honest” politics. It was a revelation; a realisation that politics could be different; that maybe, now that the “token” few socialists had a voice, it could resonate with working class communities disenchanted with career politicians fueling an electoral machine, and prepared to be all things to all people as long as they got power. Now we had integrity.

From the very moment he became leader, Jeremy Corbyn faced an onslaught from the mainstream media and even those in his own party who had expected him to act as a paper candidate in the leadership race; a token “loony lefty” like Diane Abbott supposedly was before him in the previous leadership election. This was clearly never a part of the plan. This was a glitch in the Matrix. And heck, did the system ever remind us of the fact – over and over again, with headline after headline, newsflash after newsflash, and resignation after resignation from those who, truth be told, enjoyed Labour’s “broad church” branding as (in reality) a years-old excuse to control socialism and let the rampant capitalists in. “Broad church”? ‘My goodness, it was never meant literally!’ they surely exclaimed. ‘Blair? Yes! Corbyn? No!’ That’s how it works.

main-david-cameron-eating-a-hotdog-and-ed-miliband-eating-a-bacon-sandwichSo I wrote to my MP, Paul Blomfield, and urged him to stick to the principles he expressed so strongly as Ed Miliband was mocked for not being “statesmanlike” and awkwardly eating a bacon sandwich while the media downplayed David Cameron eating a hot dog with a knife and fork. Like most party members and Corbyn, Blomfield is against the renewal of Trident, but engaged in an email exchange with me claiming Labour needed different leadership. I’ll at least give him the respect of not publishing the email exchange here on my blog, but suffice to say I was disappointed. I told him I felt I was being told by those in Westminster that, as a party member, my vote was meaningless, and that I was a peasant who didn’t know what was good for me; as though they were a party happy to take in nearly a thousand pounds of my money up to that point, and then tell me to shut the hell up.

Paul Blomfield then announced that he was backing former Pfizer lobbyist Owen Smith to replace Jeremy Corbyn, a man who not only inspired hundreds, even thousands, but accumulated more Twitter followers than Ed Miliband did in nearly five years as Labour leader.

I got up after three hours’ sleep to go to my Constituency Labour Party meeting to indicate, as others across the country had (overwhelmingly for Corbyn over Smith), who we collectively backed. Aside from the fact “delegates” had been selected as the chosen ones to vote while members like me were put at the back of the room, we heard speeches from Corbyn and Smith supporters for an hour, only to then decide not to even have a vote after all. Corbyn speeches were all about being engaged in politics; Smith speeches suggested Corbynistas are stuck on social media but never come to meetings. After wasting over an hour of our time, this might be why!

Nonetheless, I was offended by so many suggestions that – despite bleeding Labour red – as a Corbyn advocate, I wasn’t a campaigner, even though Smith supporters were reiterating that the general population, not party members, were important. It was such a miserable, pessimistic sentiment. After this exercise in futility, I went straight home for a coffee. My MP and several councillors didn’t seem keen to talk to me anyway. Sheffield’s ever-increasing city-centre conservative middle classes had nixed the whole idea of their CLP even choosing in the leadership election. But their MP still went ahead and endorsed Owen Smith anyway, regardless of this impasse of his constituents. He unilaterally decided he was still backing Owen Smith, regardless of what we wanted.

In a sign they’d left citizenship behind and become far too cosy with people in positions of power, many councillors I knew were suddenly opposing our leader, perhaps explaining that odd feeling I had experienced when first entering the party – almost as though I had got the handshake wrong, missed a secret meeting, or failed to get a memo. I began to question everything I’d taken for granted in the Labour party; everything I knew, or thought I knew.

Despite the countless times I’d defended them, some councillors began blanking me in the street. One MP’s former campaign manager even stopped following the Fair Deal for Sheffield campaign (that he’d spearheaded) on Twitter because it had included tweets favourable to Corbyn’s campaign. A top women’s football club owner did the same to me because he saw I was pro-Corbyn. For goodness sake, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Tom Watson, who had enjoyed my support and had followed me for years on Twitter, suddenly stopped doing so, then blocked be – the only thing I’d done differently was support his own leader. It was perverse. Many of us actually hadn’t voted for him to be Deputy Leader, but respected the democratic process. Unlike him.screenshot_20160812-233611

Numerous high-end authors and academics, too, spoke out against Corbyn. Owen Jones, a supposed “left-wing” Oxbridge product now writing for the Guardian, was one of the more high-profile ones.

I just wasn’t in the club.

But I wasn’t the only one, as evidenced by the thousands in the social democratic Momentum campaign, the most exciting mass movement to happen in party politics since the birth of Labour itself, with a membership of 12,000. This too has been targeted. I approached a Momentum stall in, funnily enough, the Peace Gardens here in Sheffield as a man walked over, shouting at the stallholders, ‘You’re a party within a party! You’re abusive!’ with no irony whatsoever, as those staffing the stall calmly asked, ‘Why don’t you come here so we can discuss it?’ I have moved closer to Momentum as a result, as have many others, because of this kind of treatment. The card-carrying paid-up members have been treated like an inconvenience, and we want grassroots, democratic change – from the bottom up, not the top down. Loyalty was only valued one-way; it was never a symbiotic relationship. Any loyalty to members like myself was a lie.

Something has happened in the Labour party. Perhaps this is now the revealing of the ugliness that was always there, and I was a sucker for believing it wasn’t. When you’ve given a leader one of the biggest mandates ever, and politicos undermine, and then even try to reverse that, you know John Lennon was right when he sang, ‘You think you’re so clever and classless and free, but you’re still ****ing peasants as far as I can see.’


Jeremy Corbyn Vs the British Army

This past spring’s British general election was pretty depressing stuff. After the Liberal Democrats sold out their principles to go into coalition with the Conservatives, aiding and abetting the Tories in their quest to exploit the bank bailout’s depletion of the Treasury in order to sell off the state, few of us believed there was anything left for Britain to vote for but a Labour Party that, under Ed Miliband, moved away from Blairism and offered the promise of a better, fairer society for the working class mass majority.

But the fact is, opinion polls were wrong – ‘shy’ Tories, so ashamed of their own failures to resist the smash-and-grab, everyone-for-themselves, rampant individualism of the Tories realising Thatcherite fantasies, had gone and done their dirty deed in the voting booth on election day. The aftermath was conveyed across social media as a revelation of ‘selfish Britain’ – a population so suckered in by the lie that there was no money left, that they grabbed what they could for themselves, even at the expense of the sick, the poor, the disabled, or anyone else.

Of course, as the infamous Question Time episode showed, some of those same people also realised that they themselves were not even safe – the Tories continued their assault on the population at large on behalf of the elite 1%, determined to kill off the concept of collectivism so wounded by Margaret Thatcher, dismantling the state in as many of its forms as possible to sell off to their rich friends, and that meant looking at tax credits, housing benefit, you name it, whether you were self-employed, hard-working, or not. Even the Big Lottery Fund itself was salivated over by Gideon Osborne as a way to raid funds to cover services he’d wiped out from state provision. The Tories did, however, back down from several of these. And they did it because of a Labour Party suddenly dedicated to standing up for people. How did this happen?

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After the election result, before the dust had settled or the smoke had cleared, I was already determined to offer hope of a brighter future, but my look towards the horizon was clearly stifled by my glasses prescription being out of date, because I anticipated – and accepted – the prospect of Labour’s knee-jerk reaction to Ed Miliband’s defeat to take the party a little to the right, with someone more media-friendly than down-to-earth, lovable Ed, who – despite very cleverly attempting to reconcile the narratives of the psychotic tabloid media hysteria over welfare recipients and immigrants, with his commitment to social democracy (a tightrope act if there ever was one) – was of course constantly bombarded by filthy rich media interests concerned they’d have to be millionaires instead of billionaires.

I wrote about Chuka Umunna, expecting him to be the sort of suave, smooth-talking politico Labour needed to actually get into power and do some good. Tristram Hunt, again to the right of the party, at least appeared public relations-friendly and therefore capable of winning the election for Labour. There were others too, like tabloid-friendly ‘war hero’ Dan Jarvis, and human rights lawyer Keir Starmer (named after Keir Hardie!) How short-sighted was I? All of these bottled it, preferring to wait for a more opportune moment even if it was after another Labour defeat, and even undermined the party’s socialist values in several interviews. Bastards!

So the Labour leadership pool was reduced to Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham – predictable if unelectable candidates following their time as key figures behind Ed Miliband – and Liz Kendall and Jeremy Corbyn.

Who?

I’d honestly never even heard of either of them. My heart sank. While Yvette Cooper was doomed to the sexism of politics as “Wife of Ed Balls” and Andy Burnham was a Thunderbird-like wooden stand-in for Ed Miliband, this mousy, Blairite Kendall lass was too right-wing, while old man Jeremy was too left-wing, surely?

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Apparently not. After the MPs gave him a proverbial pity lay, Corbyn got enough nominations to get on the ballot – and the left-wing party members (myself included) elected him as leader by a landslide, receiving one of the biggest mandates of any Labour leader ever, a gift for party members who still bothered to read the statement on their membership cards.

Given all candidates were unelectable, I’d already resigned myself to believing that – whatever the result – Labour were doomed to fail again in 2020, but I’d always rather lose with my integrity intact than compromise and add insult to injury by losing anyway. Nonetheless, I knew what the corporate mainstream media – owned and operated by the elite and their own interests – were about to do: terrified by the prospect of a left-wing Labour narrative or, worse yet, victory, they set out to attack.

“Red” Ed Miliband threatened the nation’s greedy landlords sucking overpriced rents paid for through housing benefit subsidies, he took on the energy monopolies, and he even dared to challenge Rupert Murdoch, the tax-avoiding immigrant war-monger in full control of The Sun, The Times, and all of Sky. Naturally, they threw as much shit at him as possible, and although not much stuck, they successfully convinced the British public he wasn’t “statesmanlike” enough, at a time when people were saying they were sick of seeing the same posh arseholes in suits within the world of party politics.

So for Jeremy Corbyn – a man who endorsed an undiluted, less sugarcoated version of Ed’s “responsible capitalism” known as, you guessed it, socialismthe mass media had to mobilise and prepare their propaganda troops with all the ammunition they could gather. Socialism, where the state reflects our collective responsibility to look after each other through taxation, investment, job creation, and even a real living wage, absolutely sickens the elites who want to continue their transfer of public powers into private interests, with next to no state provision – everything owned by profit-making companies, and people left to slowly die if they happen to be poor. They want seven cars, not five; they want three houses, not one. And they’ll stop at nothing to make sure things stay as they are.

After the transfer of £1.5 trillion of public funds into the hands of private banks, they had the media seize the story that there was no money left (a lie), and that your libraries and hospitals had to be closed down and sold off, so if you want something – anything at all – you had to pay for it. Poor? Tough, just die. That’s their message.

So yes, Jeremy Corbyn sent shockwaves through the corridors of power.

The right-wing career politicians who slapped a red rosette on and grabbed themselves a nice safe seat in a Labour stronghold were suddenly genuinely concerned. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Lowly peasant scum like us weren’t supposed to choose our party leader, they were. They only got him on the ballot to offer an illusion of democracy, with a token lefty candidate.Jeremy-Corbyn__3406649b

Even the British army elites were so shaken by the prospect of a true democratic socialist in Downing Street – the first since Harold Wilson or possibly Clement Attlee – that they openly entertained the idea of a military coup to topple a democratically-elected socialist Prime Minister.

But the greatest army was that of the media stormtroopers – soldiers who can be counted on in times like these, like Andrew Marr, who’d happily nod in agreement while interviewing a Tory, but repeatedly try to get Jeremy Corbyn to admit he wanted to re-nationalise not only the railways but – gasp! – utilities too! Commie! (He failed, by the way, Jeremy never said anything of the sort, so the conversation switched to Karl Marx, as it does). But Corbyn’s such a diplomat, he just remained civil and stuck to the policies…which is what scared them even more, because if the public catch wind of his policies, then they’re truly in trouble. It’s absolutely crucial that the dialogue remains on, for example, his choice of tie, maybe his commie buddy in college, or whatever they can think of after rummaging through rubbish bins like scavengers and bottom-feeders; hacks for the Oxbridge elites.

Even Labour and left-wing types get drawn into defending him from all-out attack on trivialities and superficialities, sometimes even going so far as criticising him themselves – which is fine if it’s a “straight talking, honest politics” discussion on policy, but it isn’t. And that’s what the media are banking on (pun intended).

The media attempt to shift focus away from policy and on to subjects like, say, sex with Diane Abbott, ooh! Better yet, they can slam customs and traditions on him, like checking whether he sings the anthem or bows forward enough; rituals rather than actual integrity of action like honouring the fallen – which he does. All the while, avoiding another war to fan the flames of terror.

While discussing Syrian air strikes as part of the latest exhausting episode of British military overseas adventures, Laura Kuenssberg made sure to keep the Labour leader away from policy and attempt to shift hypothetical scenarios, repeatedly shouting at him to state whether he’d reject military action under any circumstances without him knowing what circumstances might be presented. If she could have got him to cite a scenario where, say, a foreign army was invading the British Isles, and he’d have our brave troops kick ’em off, then – yes! – she’s got him to admit that, far from being a peacenik, he’s for military action too, just like David Cameron, and the producer yelling in her earpiece can give her a pat on the back later on in the studio, and everything’s returned to its natural order of the powerful ruling over the vulnerable. Status quo. Despair. Terror. Accepting your lot in life (hey, it could be worse).

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Of course, Corbyn’s such a diplomat who likes to sit down and discuss things, he’s welcomed his fellow Labour MPs having a free vote on bombing Syria, despite his opposition to Cameron’s proposals. Corbyn has been repeatedly referred to in the press as “left-wing Labour leader” while Cameron is never, ever called “right-wing Tory leader” (maybe because that sounds worse…and if so, why is that, I wonder?) In the final bad joke, the right-wing media, since they couldn’t fully portray him as a pacifist hippie as they’d hoped, even tried to blame military intervention on Corbyn himself for allowing such discussion, rather than on Cameron, who’d been sabre-rattling for weeks wanting bombs in the first place!

So, if this genuinely good guy actually gets to the general election, consider it a blow against the vested interests that control the information channels. And if he actually wins, it will be the end of them. Just remember that the next time you find yourself defending his style of suit to your mate in the pub over a pint. Policy is everything.

 


Facebook isn’t a Tool Any More. We’re the Tools for Using It.

ap071106062657-2Carrier pigeon. Snail mail. Telephone. Email. Facebook.

One of those things is not like the others. That’s because one of them is less a form of a communication, more a private corporation by definition. Call me? Sure! Email me? Why not! You actually have a choice about which service you’ll use to do so. But Facebook is just Facebook. Facebook me? No, thanks. Let’s not, and say we did.

I already wrote about Facebook’s uses here before, and there’s no doubt that it’s a tool. But if it’s just another tool, what’s so special about it? We don’t treat it like a hammer we lost from our toolbox. Heck, we hold more importance to our Facebook accounts than we do a book on our shelves, the favourite shirt on our clothes rail, or even our wallet. Think about it. Which would most of us be more traumatised about losing these days?

On principle, we have to make sure we stop rushing to one corporate social networking website to engage in discourse, because it’s dangerous, as I’ll explain in a moment. I refuse to believe we’ve become so inept at communication and mobilisation that we’re dependent on our Facebook accounts to do this.

No, Facebook isn’t just another web tool, it’s an albatross. And we’ve become tools for using it. In fact, we’re not just tools, or cogs in the machine – we’re the product, since Facebook finds out our friendships, relationships, anniversaries, workplaces, favourite foods and restaurants, and even tracks where we go, how many times, and for how long, then gathers all that information, and sells it to companies, commodifying us as the dreaded target market we often try to avoid being reduced to. They’re even watching us and using us to conduct social experiments.

It’s a McCarthyist dream, and this data-mining is how Facebook use you to make money off you, and are now worth around $200 billion because of it. No, you didn’t get a cut of that, did you? Sorry.

Sure, they all do it to some extent, since money makes the world go around. But nobody does it like Facebook, where Mark Zuckerberg rules with an iron fist and around 60% of his board’s voting power, which even has the most laissez-faire free marketeers uncomfortable – and that’s saying something.

640px-Mark_Zuckerberg_1984_Berlin_GraffitiBut that’s not the only way Zuckerberg turns a healthy profit. Facebook has a reputation for bargaining some of the lowest third world labour rates in the industry. Those people who pick up your complaints and reports when you’ve caught someone being abusive on Facebook? They’ve been getting paid $1 an hour for the trouble. When you compare that to Google – who are no saints themselves yet have frequently paid ten times what Facebook have – it’s no surprise that Google’s reporting services generally act within hours to tackle child pornography and other abusive material, which over on Facebook goes left for days to go viral. No surprise either, then, that kids have killed themselves.

Facebook, in particular, has become a haven for passive-aggressive attacks for cowardly perpetrators to deny any intention of targeting their victims, while it has also become everything anti-capitalist cultural critics have slammed for years as it grows into a cynical popularity contest, buoyed by the introduction of the “Like” button and Facebook’s habit of promoting the most popular posts into your feed, tantamount to rewarding the filthy rich with more wealth while the poor and the persecuted are left behind.

Every revolutionary is a romantic, and this imbues them with a vision of what might be, a belief in a better way of doing things, and a determination to fight for it. With that in mind, we have to be more optimistic, more ambitious, even if it seems a struggle. To leave Facebook behind means leaving behind many more people, but – much like my old documentary screenings before I got wise and made Return to Doncatraz – too often we find ourselves either preaching to the converted, or defending ourselves to those who are closed-minded, and hey, that’s no way to spend our time as citizens.

Share a gif of a cat flushing a toilet, and you get dozens of “Likes.” Post an article about how we need to live more ethically, get none. In turn, share a relationship update, and people scramble onto your page like gawkers slowing down their cars by a crash site. Sure, there are those whose every word is met with cheers when posting an overtly political status – and that’s because they’re the ones singing to the choir. See how it works?

06oU8nGFacebook has brought out the worst in people. While the open-minded have a tendency to seek out different, challenging information, Facebook leaves us customising our feeds to include those who agree with us, and we only address those we disagree with to vent our spleen at. It’s a culture of popularity, hypocrisy, and fake care and concern, giving birthday wishes to those whose birthdays weren’t even meaningful enough to us to note in our diaries in the first place. People deactivate their accounts for attention, or delete people in a passive-aggressive, gutless, virtual sucker-punch…often attempting to re-add them later on, once the knee-jerk feeling has subsided and the guilt taken over.

So much gossip has been said about me – I have enemies at home and abroad, and have learned of really frightening accounts that have included painful lies about me, but no worse breeding ground for that has existed than Facebook, where some people add you not because they care, but quite the opposite: seeking gossip, they’ve heard the rumours and lies, and are just keeping tabs on you to see if you’ll slip up. As someone with a strong sense of ideals, I’ve inevitably pissed off more people than I can possibly keep track of, but I’ve never once set out to intentionally hurt someone, yet I’ve been subjected to terrible claims about me both personally and professionally, even in my work at SilenceBreaker Media, or with AFC Unity, where individuals with claims later proven to be found false can’t wait to hit “Like” on someone’s jab at you on the page. It’s sad.

facebook-addictionSince announcing my intention, people have said it’s a “mistake,” argued the case for good ol’ Facebook.com, and even suggested I’m overreacting. This is the behaviour of addicts. And the first part of dealing with an addiction is accepting you have one. Few in a drug den congratulate the person planning to kick the habit and quit their little ritual, do they? No, they persuade them to stay, because it makes them all feel better, then. Those who aren’t, say, alcoholics, but like a drink now and then, are often the first to applaud their friends going teetotal. Because they respect it without feeling threatened by it.

I’m not quitting Facebook for attention, or to return sometime soon. I’m quitting Facebook because I have found I don’t have room for unnecessary negativity in my life, and that’s mostly what the site offers, at the cost of selling myself to them for free so they can make Mark more money. I also resent its increasing invasion of privacy, its forum for bullying, its rewarding of those already ahead of the pack, and its platform for passive-aggressive behaviour. Too many assumptions are made about you on Facebook; I’ve had people claim I’m a “radical,” and the next day others call me “conservative” because, in both cases, I see myself as a citizen, I see it as my duty to vote in elections, and I’m at the same time pragmatic about working within the system, as well as outside it. What a weirdo! “Sooo political, man!” “No, not political enough! If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal!” And so forth. Sigh.

facebook-open-graph-partnersI don’t know about you, but I miss – and relish – the opportunity to make things happen in my community by hitting the streets, meeting more people in person, and being a lovable asshole. I miss mixing up my time online between eBooks, forums, newsletters, podcasts, videos and websites in general, rather than getting bogged down with checking numerous notifications and seeing some little-known “friend” pipe up for the first time ever to attempt to bring me down a peg or two, or see someone else cheering on my antagonists, simply by hitting “Like,” then shrugging innocently.

No, it’s time for us to move on, a fact that the next generation are already increasingly aware of. It’s time to be brave, be bold, be different; have a change in how we spend our time. And it’s time for us to send a message to Mark Zuckerberg and his pals that we’re not reliant on his collegiate website for our information or interaction, and we’re sure as heck not going to put a price tag on all our photos, relationships, and feelings. We can have a better world, and that better world is one not with but without Facebook. Much like a government, if a social networking website isn’t working for us any more, we should build ourselves another one – and there are already alternatives out there, like Ello.

Surely Kalle Lasn had a point when he suggested mainstream media is to our brains what fast food is to our bodies. Everything needs to be consumed in moderation, and everything needs to be as healthy as possible. Facebook has become the equivalent of a Big Mac. Even the breadbun is bad for you, so there’s little point any more.

So, let’s leave it behind and get busy living. There’s a whole wide world out there to win.

And the next time you want to know the truth about what I’ve said, or done, or thought, you won’t be adding me on Facebook – you’ll be asking me to my face.

Some may not “Like” it, but I happen to like it.


Batman: Making a Killing (part two)

Read part one here.

When Warners’ Batman brand was ready for reboot in 2005, things looked relatively promising: director Christopher Nolan was no slouch, and seemed to take the source material seriously enough, while he also brought in a host of skilled actors – Morgan Freeman, Rutger Hauer, Tom Wilkinson, Cillian Murphy, Gary Oldman, Liam Neeson, Michael Caine, and Christian Bale, of American Psycho fame, a wise choice for the dual role of both Bruce Wayne and Batman. Both Nolan and Bale instantly went on record during hype, paying respectful homage to Tim Burton’s vision but then claiming they’d be more true to the source material.

At just over two hours long, Batman Begins did what it said on the packaging: it spent most of its efforts telling the story of how an orphaned rich kid grew up to turn to vigilantism utilising his wealth of resources. It was a well-devised journey that showed him training in the East while on his travels, before returning to Gotham City to defeat his demons and adopt the mantle of the Bat. It even started on intelligent terrain, focusing on his development from vengeful, arrogant killer to recognising his power and responsibility to root out the causes of disadvantage in Gotham’s streets.

Having said that, there were significant departures from the spirit of the Batman stories along the way. Of course, the argument is always that Batman is adapted to various interpretations, but some of Nolan’s changes – unlike Tim Burton’s previous update of the Penguin character, for example – lent nothing, just diluted.

Despite the bragging about staying true to the Batman stories, while audiences were shocked by Burton’s Batman revealing Bruce Wayne’s alter ego to his girlfriend Vicky Vale, already in Batman Begins, Batman’s true identity was essentially known to not one, but three other different people (Rachel Dawes, as well as, arguably, Lucius Fox, and, of course, Ra’s Al Ghul). But the failure to back up their boasts didn’t just lie there…

Bale’s Batman didn’t have a gravelly whisper; it was a growl, at times comical to even the staunchest of Batman Begins fans, and his eyes were small, mouth often gaping as he tried to convey emotion through the mask. And while Bale’s Bruce Wayne was deliberately obnoxious, rather than reclusive, to cover for his secret identity (and that sure is another perfectly acceptable take on the character to an extent), what it sacrifices is a warmth and vulnerability, even in his lone moments, that he really needs to have in order for audiences to sympathise with the privileged protagonist. This is not a major complaint, but is important, because it reflects what the franchise would become.

Alfred, meanwhile, was not a traditional butler from an upper-class background, but, here, a chirpy cockney chappie cracking jokes, which suggests the part was written specifically for Michael Caine, who created his own backstory to the character to suit himself, showing no signs of the proclaimed universal loyalty to the source material. The excellent Gary Oldman is here sadly more reminiscent of Ned Flanders than any traditional imagining of Jim Gordon, but at least a credible effort offering the character more depth and respect than previous versions. And while Lucius Fox, Carmine Falcone, and, to a lesser extent, Ra’s Al Ghul, were all done justice, the same can not be said of Dr Jonathan Crane and his alter ego the Scarecrow, barely fleshed-out, barely seen, and reduced to ridicule by the time he’s seen carried around on a horse at the film’s climax – Cillian Murphy, and the character, deserved better. In the comics, the Scarecrow is a manifestation of Jonathan Crane’s desire to use fear as an equaliser after he was bullied by brutes as a child for his lanky, nerdy appearance; here, he was just a mad doctor garnering little sympathy.

Finally, Gotham City – and the entire approach to design, including the grotesque “Tumbler” Batmobile – was based on Nolan’s premise that the film be as urban and gritty as possible, meaning that what was blatantly Chicago in several shots was presented as Gotham, a city so-called because of its dark gothic nature…but not so here. Nolan apparently wanted his crew to think of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner during production, but Batman Begins lacked Scott’s political intelligence in addition to his creativity; you’re hard pushed to find a single breathtakingly beautiful shot anywhere in the film, let alone anything approaching gothic and oppressively twisted. The approach means the film is more likely to date badly, which is presumably just fine with the filmmakers. The movie’s visual ugliness reflects its lack of heart, and that was something apparent when it was over – it felt more like Nolan had an idea for a movie with clever twists, and just transplanted the Batman brand onto it so it would be marketable. Two of Hollywood’s finest composers, James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer, combined to score the film yet Batman’s “theme” always felt like a build-up without a crescendo, and the score was never going to be any match for Danny Elfman’s. But all in all, this was, of course, an improvement on the Joel Schumacher versions…though who would anybody be able to brag to about that? Making over $370 million, Nolan couldn’t match Burton’s 1989 debut, but certainly satisfied Warners enough for them to finance further films.

In addition to drawing inspiration from Blade Runner, to his credit Nolan also drew from some DC Comics source material such as Batman: Year One by Frank Miller, a decent starting point from which to have Batman begin, but again also a very dark place in terms of spirit rather than visuals (Burton, as has been mentioned, focused on the reverse: dark style, with well-meaning content).

It was from this dark place that Nolan built his over-long, slightly pretentious sequels, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, both of which brought back Scarecrow – or, rather, Jonathan Crane – for brief scenes in which he was worthless. But other characters were wasted, as well – such as that of Two-Face, a villain who was failed by Schumacher and, here, was failed by Nolan. It would surely take an entire film to do justice to the fascinating, deep, dark, coin-flipping antagonist as he was in Batman: The Animated Series, and yet here he was an add-on, half his face ravaged by acid so much so that, through Nolan’s CGI, it looked absurdly zombiefied, bones and tendons galore, all while Nolan excused the rest of his removal of Batman comics details in the name of – yes – “realism.” And let’s not forget Steve Englehart, Batman comics writer who penned the Dark Detective stories where Batman’s former girlfriend is seeing a handsome, blonde, upright politician scarred and lured into the dark side by Harvey “Two-Face” Dent himself. Here – with no acknowledgement to Englehart’s stories, mind you – Harvey Dent is himself the handsome, blonde, upright politician seeing Batman’s ex, but instead seduced into crime by The Joker.

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Stated Steve Englehart himself: “In my version, it’s Two-Face talking to another guy who’s been heavily damaged on the left side, and who is another ‘golden boy’ politician, so it makes sense that Two-Face could convince Evan Gregory. They share a bond. In the film version, it’s the Joker talking to Harvey Dent. Those two have nothing in common, and Dent has hated the Joker the entire movie. It was a storyline in search of a reason to be there.” Englehart went on to point out that he hadn’t continued to flesh out the whole comics story at the time of Nolan’s film, “which is why the last half hour of The Dark Knight feels so tacked on.” But enough about the scarring of Two-Face himself by the filmmakers – there was much more damage done. Many more characters were thrown away or manipulated to suit Nolan’s crime thriller.

Robin was hinted at, without any reference to Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, or circuses, but instead, here found his roots in nothing less than the corridors of the Gotham Police Department as a flatfoot civil servant. When corporate villain Daggett was introduced, Nolan couldn’t bring himself to make it Roland Daggett in homage to the animated series; it was John Daggett. Out was Officer Montoya; in came Detective Ramirez. Grace Lamont was nowhere to be found; Rachel Dawes was Dent’s love interest.

Yes, the Nolanverse had placed itself over and above anything the mere fan-boys had cherished; he was their new God to worship, and gone were the old ways. It’s almost as though Nolan looked down at the Batman source material patronisingly, and again, it was used more as a way for him to engage in clever filmmaking. Whereas Burton was the fascinating geek goth telling stories with heart, Nolan was the fuddy-duddy middle class professor being incredibly intelligent but boring you to death with his clinical tales of twists and turns, showing off his cerebral superiority.

In the first follow-up, the Joker was not just a mysterious vagrant and gifted fighter able to match fisticuffs with Batman (a joke in itself), but also an “agent of chaos” who wanted to “introduce a little anarchy.” This unbleached Joker was a blank canvas for America’s fears, bearing only the smears of face paint – or “war paint” as Nolan rationalised – and while supposedly representing the often-peaceful political philosophy of liberty without authoritarianism that is known as anarchism, was considered a “terrorist.” The Joker even stated: “Do I really look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I’m a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it! You know, I just do things.” So, the feeling was that there was no rhyme or reason to the Joker’s actions, reflecting the American Bush era perspective that “terrorists” just do what they do…because. There is, we were told, no point in scratching beneath the surface.

On this basis, throwaway explanations can be something as vacuous as “they hate freedom,” as George W. Bush Jr himself once claimed. His administration’s Patriot Act that attacked civil liberties by spying on their own citizens was introduced on the premise of combating the supposedly constant, elusive, irrational threat of “terrorism” where W. himself said, “When we’re talking about chasing down terrorists, we’re talking about getting a court order before we do so. It’s important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think Patriot Act, constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we value the Constitution.”

In The Dark Knight, Batman hacked into all the cellular phones in the city to track down “terrorist” Joker, and Lucius Fox told him: “You took my sonar concept and applied it to every phone in the city. With half the city feeding you sonar, you can image all of Gotham. This is wrong,” to which Batman replied, “I’ve gotta find this man, Lucius.” When Fox asked at what cost, Batman made excuses. Andrew Klavan wrote in the Wall Street Journal: “Like W., Batman sometimes has to push the boundaries of civil rights to deal with an emergency.” That this perspective is used in a Batman film, Klavan explains, is because “Hollywood conservatives have to put on a mask in order to speak what they know to be the truth.” This is quite frightening stuff, if a fair summary of Nolan’s work serving his stories through the Batman mask. The eyes are the windows to the soul, and whereas Michael Keaton’s (below) did much of Burton’s storytelling for him, Christian Bale’s were lacking expression, symbolically serving to conceal the soulless nature of Nolan’s miserable version.

But The Dark Knight made even more money: blowing Burton’s Batman away by doubling that film’s takings (though to judge popularity by this, given the changing price of cinema tickets, remains complicated), it was a billion dollar dream for Warner Brothers, who knew they needed Nolan to return one more time to make a third. By this time, it was easier to brace yourself for the nasty little mean-spirited right-wing themes Nolan was plotting, and in the midst of a post-financial crisis United States, polarised by Occupy Wall Street on one hand and the small-state libertarian Tea Party movement on the other.

The graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke had inspired Burton’s Batman, of course, and the novel’s writer Alan Moore was more than happy to offer his thoughts on the political unrest in the U.S. and his native U.K.: “At the moment, the demonstrators seem to me to be making clearly moral moves, protesting against the ridiculous state that our banks and corporations and political leaders have brought us to.” However, naturally, Nolan seemed more aligned to the perspective of Batman: Year One and RoboCop writer Frank Miller, who said: “The ‘Occupy’ movement, whether displaying itself on Wall Street or in the streets of Oakland (which has, with unspeakable cowardice, embraced it) is anything but an exercise of our blessed First Amendment. ‘Occupy’ is nothing but a pack of louts, thieves, and rapists, an unruly mob, fed by Woodstock-era nostalgia and putrid false righteousness. These clowns can do nothing but harm America.” Alan Moore, in turn, responded: “(The ‘Occupy’ movement) is a completely justified howl of moral outrage and it seems to be handled in a very intelligent, non-violent way, which is probably another reason why Frank Miller would be less than pleased with it. I’m sure if it had been a bunch of young, sociopathic vigilantes with Batman make-up on their faces, he’d be more in favour of it.”

But Nolan’s franchise kept heading in the direction in which it had begun – which was clearly more “Miller” than “Moore.” In the second sequel, Batman returned from retirement to tackle Bane, who here was not the Latin American muscleman of the comics and cartoons, but a short, chunky, Yoda-voiced “terrorist” from the Middle East merely under the guise of a freedom fighter, kidnapping stock exchange suits, bringing Gotham City to its knees and leaving the people to run amok. Then there’s cat burglar Selina Kyle (but not “Catwoman,” a term too unrealistic for Nolan, we can assume): unlike with Batman Returns, where Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman stopped being in service or submission to men, Selina Kyle here, alongside Miranda Tate, often acted in both. While the film had promise when she told billionaire Bruce Wayne, “You’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us,” she then lured Batman into the grip of Bane, who imprisoned him in a Middle Eastern cell, and left him to watch as he trapped the entire Gotham police force before revealing his true motive: simply destroying the entire city.

Again, the rebel (and his revolutionaries) represented simple “terrorists” with no method to their madness, and the scenes depicting riots and looting of mansions, followed by kangaroo court show trials, played out like a parody, ridiculing the very concept of uprisings and categorising them all as evil, comparable to the Reign of Terror or the Great Purge at their worst. The fact that Bane not only sought to wipe out an entire city, but aimed to do so with a green energy device that was instead co-opted as an A-bomb, only reinforces the cynical, right-wing perspective of Nolan’s films. As Catherine Shoard wrote in The Guardian: “The Dark Knight Rises is a quite audaciously capitalist vision, radically conservative, radically vigilante, that advances a serious, stirring proposal that the wish-fulfilment of the wealthy is to be championed if they say they want to do good. Mitt Romney will be thrilled. What’s strange is that quite so many of the rest of us seem to want to buy into it.”

When Gotham’s police force are trapped underground, we’re told that they’re “not just people down there, they’re cops,” leading to a showdown in the streets between the officers on one hand and the revolting rioters on the other, again reinforcing the binary black-and-white view Nolan supposedly blurred in his first two attempts, all the while tarnishing Batman rather than redeeming his enemies in the process. Once more, the message to moviegoers and their children was to trust power, even if it means sacrificing freedoms, because those who wish to question authority under the banner of making the world a better place are, in fact, themselves not to be trusted; they have a hidden agenda – the “ugly” face of socialism that will, we’re told, lead us to death and destruction. Author David Sirota wrote at Salon.com: “When villainous motives and psychopathy is televisually ascribed to mass popular outrage against the economic status quo, it suggests to the audience that only crazy people would sympathize with such outrage.” He added: “Knowing the teenage audience is right now forming the next generation’s vision of good and bad, it’s a message that the 1 percent must love.”

And, as the movie almost equalled its predecessor, they did love it. Whereas The Dark Knight was provocative enough to leave room for at least a little debate about its themes and questions raised, the American right-wing wholeheartedly embraced The Dark Knight Rises, as is understandable. “The entire film is an ode to traditional capitalism,” claimed Ben Shapiro. “Furthermore, while we learn that Bane spent time in poverty in a prison – and that it toughened him up – Bruce Wayne can get just as tough, though he grew up with tremendous wealth.” He went on to point out the movie’s endorsement of firearms: “At one point, (Selina) Kyle has to save him by using guns – and she tells him that she disagrees with his rule. It’s hard for the audience to disagree, seeing as all the bad guys have guns – and in one scene in which thousands of cops charge the Occupy Army of Bane, the Occupy Army blows the underarmed cops away.” Andrew O’Hehir, also at Salon.com, explained: “It’s no exaggeration to say that the ‘Dark Knight’ universe is fascistic, and I’m not name-calling or claiming that Nolan has Nazi sympathies…It’s simply a fact.” He called the film “an unfriendly masterpiece that shows you only a little circle of daylight, way up there at the top of our collective prison shaft.”

Yes, the Tea Party movement, Paul Ryan, and Mitt Romney must love Nolan’s Batman world. There were few shades of grey here, as we had with Burton or the subsequent animated series. This has been the killing of Batman as a vulnerable, tragic, disturbed figure fighting for the oppressed and exposing the corrupt, his foils all born out of often equal tragedy and, through circumstances, taking different paths in life – the stories, left untold by Nolan, of Mister Freeze, whose wife was left to perish after his cryogenic freezing chamber was discontinued by the greedy corporation funding his research; of Clayface, whose acting career and celebrity depended on superficialities of appearance and whose very stage makeup consumed him; of Killer Croc, whose medical condition left him deformed, cast out by his family, leaving him residing in the sewers; all with questions the Riddler himself would be proud of: what separates these villains from vigilantes, or the police from politicians, or governments from corporations? Understanding psychological trauma and social conditions may provide some answers, but Nolan was more interested in absolute good, and pure evil.

The final film in Nolan’s Batman series has, of course, been often overshadowed by the shooting at an Aurora, Colorado, movie theatre that left 12 people killed and 58 injured at a time when death threats were being sent to those of us who dared to criticise this latest offering. With such a dark view as Nolan’s, championing the individual and the right to bear arms, while demonising villains as one-dimensional terrorists who hate the freedoms we ourselves must be prepared to sacrifice for our rich and powerful patriarchal masters, this all seemed a tragic yet logical conclusion to the franchise. As Batman costumes were being banned in the subsequent hysteria, were Nolan’s people suggesting it’s a sacrifice we must accept as worth making? After all, we are led to assume that all killers are evil, and all rebels are wrong.

A wise man once said, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” As mentioned, Tim Burton’s mistake has been to move on from the Batman films without political awareness. But Christopher Nolan produced his series unashamedly ignorant of the terrible themes and messages he was creating, and the filmmaker, like Clayface, has been consumed by the ugly makeup of his very own aesthetic. “The films genuinely aren’t intended to be political,” he said. When countered with the claim that all art is political, Nolan replied, “But what’s political?” As the Skunk Anansie lead singer Skin sang, “Everything’s political.”

Until these movies are directed by a filmmaker who recognises that – and the power and responsibility that this medium inherently affords – Batman will remain killed off. For now, like our hero, we fight on through the loss; we still have many, many comics and animated episodes in which to take solace before redemption is to be found in Hollywood.


Batman: Making a Killing (part one)

What comic book character has been so enduringly popular as Batman for the last 70 years? After Superman, you’re hard pushed to think of one that comes even close – in almost every major ranking, Batman is right there, second only to “The Man of Steel” himself.

Superman came about at a time of political extremes and talk of races of supermen, to become a symbol of Rooseveltian American freedom and refuge to others’ poor and persecuted, and while he would go on to, in fact, become a posterboy for blind patriotism, Batman always remained in far more interesting territory.

Inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci flying machine designs, comic strips and pulp fiction books from The Phantom to The Shadow, as well as Zorro and the film Bat Whispers – where a criminal in a cape shines a bat signal before committing murder – Bob Kane developed a crime-fighting vigilante “Caped Crusader” who would, one year after Superman’s debut, follow him into the annals of pop culture history. Batman frequently joined Superman in 1940s comic books to fight against the evils of the Axis powers of the Second World War.

With such anti-fascist sentiment, of course, the 1950s saw a backlash in the United States as Soviet Russia threatened their superpower status, with Hollywood subjected to witch-hunts from Senator Joseph McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee, and even comic books targeted as a dangerous threat to wholesome apple pie-American family values and consumerism, and the Comics Code Authority was formed to monitor the comic book medium in the midst of outlandish claims that the relationship between Batman and Robin was – shock, horror – perhaps not strictly heterosexual (for those who feel the need to know, it actually was).

But the irony is, that as a result of all this and the subsequent changes made to the aesthetic, you could be forgiven for having thought differently, as the camp 1960s television show starring Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin had the Bat and his sidekick donning tights, skipping along, and fighting crooks in broad daylight, with crayola colours, bad jokes, and a swinging sixties “Batusi” go-go style dance. It was vacuous; it was awful.

After the 1978 success of Superman as a comic-to-screen adaptation, Hollywood realised that Batman could perhaps translate to the cinema medium, too. However, when Superman’s writer, Tom Mankiewicz, drafted a screenplay for a Batman movie, it was almost as lighthearted as the series.

Producers Jon Peters and Peter Guber enlisted relatively unknown Tim Burton for directorial duties after he’d made cult hit Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and box office success Beetlejuice, and the choice took the project into a darker direction. Despite growing up in hot, sunny, Burbank, California, watching the television show, the pallid, black-robed Burton preferred the evolution of the comics in the 70’s and 80’s that focused further on the trauma that made millionaire Bruce Wayne become vigilante Batman. “It’s a guy dressing up as a bat and no matter what anyone says, that’s weird,” said Burton.

“The rich. You know why they’re so odd? Because they can afford to be.” – Alexander Knox in Batman (1989)

With Hollywood speculating that the likes of Mel Gibson and even Sylvester Stallone might be cast to play the lead in Burton’s Batman, the director instead selected his Beetlejuice friend Michael Keaton, a relatively unthreatening yet versatile actor who was hardly A-list, provoking a huge backlash from fans whose complaints even made the pages of the Wall Street Journal. “It would have been very easy to go for a square-jawed hulk,” reasoned Burton, “but if some guy is well over six-feet-tall with gigantic muscles, what’s the point in him wearing armour with an arsenal of weapons and gadgets?” Developing a story about a rich, reclusive loner obsessed with avenging the murder of his parents, Burton while producing the picture put together rushed trailers of footage to be screened at movie theatres everywhere – and when they witnessed Keaton whispering “I’m Batman” in a gravelly voice, by God, they believed him. While the costumed Keaton modestly joked that he felt like Elvis in the Vegas years, film crew members were in awe by his transformation once in the suit. He was completely different as the shy, retiring Bruce Wayne, compared to his portrayal as Batman, acting through the mask with his eyes, dialogue kept to a minimum to retain mystery, simmering with subdued rage.

Burton had used Alan Moore’s graphic novel The Killing Joke as inspiration for the film’s feel, and after sharing it with Jack Nicholson, successfully convinced the actor to play the Joker, written here as a mobster set up by his boss for having an affair with his moll, dropped into a vat of chemicals that left his skin bleached white and his mind unhinged, a pivotal plot device that brought about everything after it, and even called into question the ramifications of the sometimes-fascistic vigilantism of Batman. Nicholson scored one of the most lucrative film deals ever, making money off the film and its franchise to this day.

With incredible Pinewood Studios sets of an oppressive, gothic, gargoyled Gotham City “as if hell had erupted through the pavements and kept growing” and a sleek Batmobile symbolising sex and violence, all designed by Anton Furst, in addition to a Baroque operatic score by composer Danny Elfman, the film noir homage was a killer, and became a massive box office hit, making over $400 million. It was also for the most part an artistic and critical success, redefining the comic book genre completely following the Superman adaptations, and justifying daring casting decisions in the industry. Its impact on film is too often understated – The Crow, Spider-Man, X-Men, Avengers, and even V For Vendetta would never have been treated as serious proposals without 1989’s Batman.

Though some thought the film was “too dark,” Burton himself found such claims disturbing considering the cynical cops-and-guns movies that were released at the same time, bringing into question the definition itself. “They see people walking around in regular clothes shooting guns, and it makes them feel more comfortable than when people are dressed up in weird costumes,” said Burton. “I’m disturbed by the reality of that; I find it darker when there’s a light-hearted attitude to violence and it’s more identifiable than when something is completely removed from reality. I’ve always had trouble understanding that.”

Gaining overnight creative clout and freedom to deal further with interesting, tortured characters, the visionary Burton cast then-unknown Johnny Depp as the lead in Edward Scissorhands, about a boy with scissors instead of hands that are paradoxically both creative and destructive – the film based on sketches by Burton as a child in Burbank, dealing with issues of acceptance, judgement, and depicting the uniformity of suburban life as sinister. With Burton succeeding in Hollywood, Warner Brothers had to give him carte blanche if they wanted him to direct a follow-up to Batman. And they did.

“A man dressed as a bat is a he-man, but a woman dressed as a cat is a she-devil. I’m just living down to my expectations.” – Catwoman, in Batman Returns (1992)

Having lost his friend Furst, who had thrown himself from a rooftop to his death following Batman, for the follow-up Burton made sure to surround himself with others who he could depend on. In addition to the returning Elfman, he brought in production designer Bo Welch, cinematographer Stefan Czapsky, and producer Denise Di Novi amongst others, all of them back-up from Edward Scissorhands, and had Heathers writer Daniel Waters define the Catwoman character as the bullied, dowdy secretary turned kick-ass feminist portrayed by Michelle Pfeiffer, while actually adding layers to the previously fat yet flat Penguin persona, developed into a well-rounded three-dimensional former circus freak abandoned by his wealthy parents. Danny DeVito played the Penguin, staying in character throughout production. The film also touched on patriarchal oppression, with Catwoman’s former boss Max Shrek (named after Nosferatu actor Max Schreck) developing a power plant that would, in fact, not generate power for Gotham, but steal and store it – symbolic of Burton’s cynicism towards corporate power at the time. Despite this, the film is careful to make every character sympathetic in some way, presenting redeeming features and even explanations for their atrocities.

While Batman was impressive, Batman Returns was stunningly beautiful, often shot with a wintery blue tint and entirely inside an elaborate, deliberately crowded Warner Brothers studio that Pfeiffer herself at one point got lost in, with its temperature dropped to subzero for the lead villain’s live penguins and for visible breaths in the air; crew members stepped from sets full of real snow and ice out into sunny Californian streets, still wearing their parkas. Abandoning the cartoon animation from the first film and adopting then-groundbreaking computer techniques, the movie may be now more than a quarter of a century old but looks like it could have been made last year, due in part to the timelessness of the overall design that paid homage to the 1940s and 50s emergence of the Batman character, while incorporating styles from numerous eras. Fascist city sculptures and pavements built upon pavements further exacerbated the feeling of claustrophobic urban landscape, incomplete development, and oppressive regimes, while Batman’s own superficialities became more art deco. The film like no other exposes Burton’s influences from German expressionism: in addition to Nosferatu, in Batman Returns it’s easy to see the likes of Metropolis and Cabinet of Dr Caligari in the aesthetic.

Though grossing well over $250 million at the box office in 1992, the huge profits were no match for Batman and not enough for wanting-more Warners, who were uneasy with the more Burtonesque film, with its baby-snatching plot elements and its sadomasochistic subtexts. The Happy Meals and toys were becoming more difficult to market to children without backlash from conservatives, and Warners were unnerved. Burton dismissed the concerns: “I think children have their own barometers,” he said. “I was always grateful for heavier subject matter when I was growing up.”

Ultimately, though, the notorious knee-jerk prompted by the studio system’s greed led to a mistake that would, in the long-term, cost them millions: with more material left to enjoy, they decided not to bring Burton back for a third film, and at the time, any attempt to publicly express a firm belief that the franchise was going to head for disaster was dismissed. But having already inspired what is largely considered the best animated series of all time that featured an Elfman theme and Burton motifs all over it, the style was going to be difficult to depart from. While the comics were enjoying some of their juiciest stories ever, and all subsequent comic book movies were influenced by the ground broken by Burton, Batman: The Animated Series finally superseded the live-action serial of the 60’s, and Batman in the popular consciousness was almost entirely based on this “dark deco” interpretation. In turn, the show continued developing characters in that vein – Two-Face, the unstable District Attorney with a tortured soul who has half his face scarred by acid that literally and figuratively exposes his dark side, was presented as the third villain in line to the throne of the rogues gallery, and beautifully Burtonesque in his split suit of black and white and torn, dark complexity. His brooding presence in a third Burton movie was highly anticipated, but it was not to be.

Appeasing Burton by giving him a token producer credit on the third film, Warners brought in Joel Schumacher at the helm. At first, this seemed like a great choice: Schumacher was responsible for the deliciously dark The Lost Boys, Flatliners, and even the controversial yet thought-provoking Falling Down. There was little doubt he could do justice to the material at his disposal. But Warners were clear that he must create something lighter than Batman Returns, lighter than Batman, and even lighter than Flatliners and The Lost Boys. Having read the script, Keaton rejected the offer to don cape and cowl again, and Schumacher cast the younger, more male-model Val Kilmer to replace him. While still exploiting what was widely accepted as the Batman signature theme by Elfman, the first trailer for the third film in 1995 showed Kilmer sporting rubber nipples on the batsuit, alongside the wasted talent of Tommy Lee Jones screaming, shouting and gesticulating wildly as the normally dark and moody Two-Face, in addition to Jim Carrey’s Riddler – whose mind-reading device in the story seemed like something Mad Hatter would create in the comics. Schumacher utilised a high-tech, high-rise Asian-influenced cityscape and his trademark neon lighting and glow-in-the-dark paint palette for the film, which finally introduced Robin while Batman went through the film over-articulating his over-wrought self-perception rather than simmering in the darkness. Meanwhile, Carrey even based his portrayal of the Riddler on that of Frank Gorshin’s own in the campy 60’s show, and this was representative of the whole regressive nature of the franchise by this time. The wheels of progress towards interesting territory were ground to a halt, and put into reverse by the studio.

Generating over $335 million at the box office, it was more than Batman Returns but less than Batman – though this didn’t seem to matter to Warners because of the large range of merchandising opportunities this lighter, brighter version opened up for them. The film’s title, Batman Forever, suggested Warners were confident they could keep going back to the well an infinite number of times, banking on families with money to spend and enough ignorance or indifference to the source material to care about the sacrilegious bastardisation of the Batman characters. The franchise had to go on – because the bank account, not the material, required it; sequels planned through greed and nothing more. Tolkien, this was not.

But Warners were so sure of themselves, they actually thought they were headed in the right direction, moving up and away from what they saw as the dark depths of the “mere” $250 million from their 1992 Batman returns. So, when Schumacher fell out – as all directors seem to – with Kilmer, and George Clooney was cast as Bruce Wayne and his alter ego, Clooney’s colleague Uma Thurman arrived on set and was forced to do take after take after take to sufficiently ham up her performance as Poison Ivy. Thurman had seen Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, and was sorely mistaken in believing she ought to aim for a similarly sophisticated performance. With Arnold Schwarzenegger playing Mister Freeze as though he were Rainier Wolfcastle as McBain in The Simpsons, and Jeep Swenson as a Bane reduced to a grunting henchman, this fourth film was uncomfortable, even downright embarrassing, to watch. “There was a lot of pressure from Warner Brothers to make (the film) more family-friendly,” explained Schumacher at the time.

The direction was wrong for Warners, whose greed had made them push their luck too far, and 1997’s Batman and Robin failed to reach Batman Returns levels of box office success, while also being universally slated – one critic saying “Schumacher’s tongue-in-cheek attitude hits an unbearable limit,” and even star Clooney – who under a different direction could have perhaps been great as Batman – admitted that on reflection the film was a waste of money. This was a version of Batman killing the franchise. The widespread disgust became so overwhelming that finally Schumacher himself had to offer an apology to audiences: “If I’ve disappointed them in any way, then I really want to apologise. Because it wasn’t my intention. My intention was just to entertain them.” But it wasn’t really Schumacher’s fault. It was Warners avarice taken to it inevitable conclusion.

With Burton proven right, he was courted by Warners the following year to instead turn to Superman, hoping he could adapt the character for contemporary audiences in the same way he had with Batman. He’d even proved he could lighten up, by directing Mars Attacks!, the 1950s style sci-fi comedy that was based on trading cards of the same name and which exorcised all of Burton’s rage at American culture, amusing British audiences but angering American patriots. Interested in focusing on and playing up Superman’s status as an alien adapting to human life while being secretly and inherently different from everyone else on the planet, Burton scrapped the gaudy red, blue and yellow spandex in favour of an electric suit, and understandably rejected Superman’s chances of hiding his identity completely by simply wearing a pair of spectacles, instead casting the sometimes-brilliant Nicolas Cage and agreeing with him that the actor would have to use his physical acting ability to hide Clark Kent’s true identity from other humans.

Comic book fan and Dogma director Kevin Smith wrote a screenplay that read more like the fantasies of a Superman geek-boy, full of insider references, prompting Burton to scrap it, and provoking an immature response from an otherwise smart Smith, who has publicly and pathetically attacked Burton ever since in one of the worst cases of sour grapes in movie history. When Burton suggested he himself never read comic books as a kid, Smith quipped, “that explains Batman” – despite the fact that the entire comic book film genre as we know it today would not exist without Burton’s influence.

But beyond Smith, the wider backlash to Burton’s updating of the costume and casting of Cage proved even greater than that in response to his choice of Keaton a decade earlier. With $30 million already spent in development hell, Warners put the whole franchise on hold and relieved Burton of his Superman duties. At the time of writing, it’s still yet to see a decent movie. Burton went on to direct the wonderfully creepy Sleepy Hollow, the off-target Planet of the Apes, and the quirky tear-jerker Big Fish, all of which began his consistent approach of preferring existing material that he could translate in his own way that coincided with his romantic relationship with Helena Bonham-Carter. And so followed Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Alice in Wonderland, and Dark Shadows, all starring Bonham-Carter, laden with CGI from the one-time proponent of stop-motion animation, and lacking in political awareness (just look at the Chocolate Factory’s Oompa-Loompas, “African pygmies” all universally played by the same short-statured Kenyan actor). Moving to the more suitably dreary London, England, at a time when the country was about to become run by David Cameron’s most right-wing British government since the Second World War, Burton’s political ignorance would only be reinforced by Bonham-Carter’s claim that Cameron, a close friend of hers, is “not a right-wing person.” All while he was busy scrapping the UK Film Council, clamping down on the internet, selling off the state, and wiping out communities to pay for the debts of his banker buddies.

By then, enough years had passed for Warners to dare revive the Batman brand to plumb for profits. Burton had long since moved on, and the studio began instead looking to other talented directors to reboot the franchise. Wolfgang Petersen and Darren Aronofsky were both under consideration, at various times. But it would be Christopher Nolan to bag the job. And while Schumacher’s involvement might have represented the killing of Batman artistically and commercially, Nolan’s would do something much more sinister: it would kill Batman’s very soul.

Find out why in part two next week, featuring Alan Moore, Frank Miller, the Occupy movement, the Colorado shootings, the stench of fascism, and more!