Friday, April 1, 2016

The Semiotics and Ideology of The Dark Knight Returns Part 2

Hello All, 
Since Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is set to premiere soon (or has already premiered IDK when you're reading this) and the massive internet discussions I've been having about the character has forced me to dig-up and old old graduate paper.  
I want to apologize for some of the content.  I wouldn't write a paper like this today but at the time I had like three 15+ page papers due that week so it was a bit rushed.  
I've added some silly photos to keep you awake while reading this piece of academia. 
Without further explanation, if you're having trouble sleeping please give part 2 a read. 

Batman knows what needs to be done to save Gotham from crime.   Batman is the truth.  Unlike Plato, who is forever searching for truth.  Batman’s actions show him as the anti-platonic character.  He believes he knows what’s best for the people of Gotham City.  He goes against what the politicians say and makes the decision to protect the people of Gotham from themselves.  When the nuclear winter happens and the people of Gotham City begin to riot Batman takes control of the disbanded mutant gang.  “Tonight we are the law.  Tonight I am the law” (Miller p.173).  He elects himself the lawmaker of Gotham, feeling he knows what is best for the people. 
Another example of Batman’s anti-platonic nature is how he would interrogate people he needed to get information from.  He carried one villain all the way to the top of skyscraper with the threat of dropping him if he didn’t give Batman the information he needed.  “It was tough work, carrying two hundred and twenty pounds of sociopath to the top of Gotham Towers the highest spot in the city.  The scream alone is worth it” (Miller p.68).  Plato would not consider this an appropriate way to gain information.  He feels that it is immoral to threaten to hurt someone just to get information about something you need.  Jay Gordon states that Plato “suggests that rhetoric can be a genuine techne provided the rhetor’s goal is conceived properly”  (Gordon p.153).  Batman’s goal is to gain information but Plato would not agree that this is a proper way of achieving that goal.  

The real reason they went non-toxic.

This is also highlighted in another interrogation Batman commits on a criminal whose arm is injured.  The criminal starts complain about the rights that he has and Batman responds by saying “You’ve got a piece of glass shoved into a major artery in your arm.  Right now you’re bleeding to death.  Right now I’m the only one in the world that can get you to a hospital in time” (Miller p.45).  Plato would be completely against the way this person is treated.  Batman does not allow the person to exercise his rights.  Batman works outside the law unlike Plato who demands that people do the right thing.   That type of treatment of a person is wrong, no matter what goal the interrogator might have.  
Batman uses his power over the mutant gang to take control of the situation and lead them in his crusade to save the people of Gotham City from themselves.  “Just his voice.  Just Him” (Miller p 174).  This would contradict Plato’s view on rhetoric.  Judith Ann Abrams surmizes “Plato believes that the speaker, audience and environment, subject matter, discourse, and underlying motivation all combine to create the stage for true rhetoric.  Plato concludes that without any one of these components, the art of rhetoric would be degraded to the art of flattery” (Abrams).  Plato believes that all these specific elements are needed to use rhetoric appropriately.  Batman proves Plato wrong with the speech he gives to the mutants who are about to join in on the riots happening in Gotham.  According to the character in the story Carrie Kelly, all it takes is his voice to rouse everyone into submission.  

Sorry, I got distracted while trying to find topical pictures. 
During Batman’s battle with Superman he says, “you gave them the power that should have been ours”  (Miller p.192).  Batman being the anti-platonic character he is, is working against the government laws and is fighting the system.  Superman is working with the government and doing what they ask of him.  “You always know just what to say.  ‘Yes’ you always say yes to anyone with a badge or a flag”  (Miller p.190).  This is what Batman says to Superman.  
Superman is representational of the American people.  Batman is telling America to stop saying yes to the government and start saying no.  It is time for the people to control their own lives instead of the government controlling it for them.  Bernard believs “the social, however, rests upon a vast array of artifacts, trivially material ones as well as signs, verbal and non-verbal” (Bernard p.47).  Superman is the symbol or “artifact” for the American people.  Just the insignia of the “S” on his costume is enough for people to recognize him.   He is also reflective of America because he is the most powerful being on earth.  This is expressed in Batman’s description of Superman.  “There’s just the sun and the sky and him, like he’s the only reason it’s all here”(Miller p.118).  Like many people in America, they believe that the United States is the only nation that means anything in the world.  Superman thinks that everything works so smoothly because he is there to make sure it does.  
Superman is the people’s reflection of this idea he has the power to do whatever he wants and chooses to follow his country.  Through this discourse Miller is pointing out how the American people say yes to the government, which they have the power to control.   Batman wants them to control themselves and say no to the government.  Plato does not believe it is possible for people to guide themselves in life and they need to follow and be led by someone or something.  

Uhh insert sarcastic comment here.
If Bruce Wayne never fell into that cave and encountered that bat when he was a child he would not have grown up to be Batman.  This relates to the idea of cause and effect or what is called ‘causal law.’  I.A. Ricahrs definition of causal law is “put very simply, a causal law may be taken as saying that, under certain conditions, of two events if one happens the other does”  (Richards p.1284).  Bruce Wayne would have never associated the bat as a sign of fear unless he had encountered it in a situation where he was scared.  
            Batman considers himself an answer to the problems in society that the politicians fail to address.  Throughout the story politicians keep passing the responsibility onto others about actions that need to be taken to help people.  When a reporter asks the president about his view on Batman, the president immediately shifts the responsibility.  “That’s a right big state all its own and it’s got its own solid, clear-headed governor, yes, it does”  (Miller p.108).  The governor says it is the mayor’s responsibility and the mayor says it is up to the police commissioner to determine what should be done with Batman.  “And so the Batman buck is passed”  (Miller p.108).  Since some of the voters like Batman and others dislike him trickery is used by politicians to avoid making a decision.   They do not want to receive any negative feedback on such a controversial person like Batman.  

            Word choice is emphasized throughout the graphic novel commenting on how politicians use words to persuade the Americans public.  “American tr—excuse me heroic American troops are now engaged in direct combat with soviet forces”  (Miller p.119).  This is an example of how politicians use specific words to invoke emotions from people.  When the president was broadcasting his announcement he was going to say Americans troops and changed it to heroic American troops because the implied meaning creates more sympathy for the people fighting.  It is a way for the politician to keep people from objecting to the fighting.  If they put their sympathy in the place of the soldiers than they cannot protest what is going on.  
The word heroic conjures the sympathy of the American people.  The sympathy they feel will keep them from protesting the fighting because they do not want to dishonor the heroic troops.  The word heroic works well with I. A. Richards and C.K. Ogden’s triangle (Richards & Ogden p1275).  The word “heroic American troops” is the symbol, because the word heroic and American is used the reference applied to that symbol is that American troops are doing a brave deed for their county.  That makes the referent heroic American troops fighting honorably for their county.  The symbol “heroic American troops” and the referent “American troops fighting honorably for their county” are not directly related.  That relation is done through the viewers’ brain.  When the president added the word heroic to statement he was making, the meaning of everything being said was shifted so he could manipulate and also get support from the American people.  

What does this conjure up?
Another attack on the nature of politics is said by Batman when he is throwing a gas pellet at a criminal.  “This stuff has a name that’s as long as your arm.  It was developed by the military during one of our more contemptible wars” (Miller p.49).  This is an example of how deadly weapons are developed during wartime.  It is attacking how technology can take huge strives when there is a war.  How the need to kill the enemy is so important.  
Through the use of semiotics and ideology the character of Batman is iconic in his anti-platonic features.  The bat is used in the story as a sign against those who prey on the weak and helpless.  Batman uses this sign to lead people to rise up and take control of their lives.  He doesn’t follow or do what he is told like his superhero counterpart Superman.  He believes the power belongs to everyone and should not be given away at any cost.  
The political discourse in the graphic novel points out issues concerning society as a whole.  The manipulation that is committed by politicians is addressed throughout the story.  Also shown is how politicians’ choice of terminology can affect a persons view on a subject manner.  The fear of a nuclear strike from an attacking country is something that plagues society today.  Superman symbolizing the American people and how the United States government controls its people is brought into focus. The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller has very explicit rhetorical and political messages that cannot be ignored. 

Is this really a surprise from a bunch of dudes that wear tights? I'm not judging and neither should you.

Works Cited 
I wish a picture of Danny Devito could be used in place of all Works Cited
Abrams, Judith Ann.  “Plato’s Rhetoric as Rendered by the Pentad.” Rhetoric Society 
Quarterly 11. 1 (1981) 24-28. EBSCO.
Bernard, Jeff.  “Inside/Outside, Ideology, and Culture.” Semiotica 148. 1-4 (2004) 47-68.
Hofstra U Lib., Hempstead. 16 May 2006 <>
Gordon, Jay.  “Techne and Technical Communication: Toward a Dialogue” Technical 
Communication Quarterly 11. 2 (2002) 147-164. EBSCO.
            Hofstra U Lib., Hempstead. 16 May 2006 <>
Miller, Frank, Klaus Janson, and Lynn Varley. The Dark Knight Returns. New York: DC 
Comics, 2002.
Mowatt, Raoul V.  “Batman gathers fellow heroes to set things right in DK2” Chicago
Tribune (IL) 08/30/2002. (2002) EBSCO.
Hofstra U Lib., Hempstead. 16 May 2006 <>
Noth, Winfried.  “Semiotics of Ideology.” Semiotica 148. 1-4 (2004) 11-21. EBSCO.
            Hofstra U Lib., Hempstead. 16 May 2006 <>
Radford, Bill.  “Batman fans eager for return of the Dark Knight.” Gazette, The 
(Colorado Springs, CO) 12/06/2001. (2001) EBSCO.
Hofstra U Lib., Hempstead. 16 May 2006 <>
Richards, I.A. “The Philosophy of Rhetoric.” The Rhetorical Tradition Readings from 
Classical Times to the Present Second Edition. Ed. Patricia Bizzell, and Bruce Herzberg, Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2001. 1281-1294.
Richards, I.A. and C.K. Ogden. “The Meaning of Meaning.” The Rhetorical Tradition 
Readings from Classical Times to the Present Second Edition. Ed. Patricia Bizzell, and Bruce Herzberg, Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2001. 1273-1280.
Thomas, Harry.  “The Dark Knight.” Rolling Stone 867 (2001) 98. EBSCO

Hofstra U Lib., Hempstead. 16 May 2006 <>

Written by 
Joseph Ammendolea
“I Like To Play With Toys” Productions®