I. Finance and Batman: How does the Dark Knight make his money?

April 5, 2009

Chapter 5. After Wayne Enterprises and Lau Securities Investment meeting. Reese (accountant) to Lucius Fox: “Sir, I know that Mr. Wayne is curious about how his trust fund gets replenished. But frankly, this is embarrassing…”

Bruce Wayne is a trust fund orphan. He invests in capital growing activities through Wayne Enterprises, whose successful operation is so secure that he sleeps through business meetings. Wayne’s nighttime vigilante project as ‘Batman’ follows the classic model of 19th C philanthropy which diverts funds from capitalist production to the betterment of society. He stands up the urban underbelly (organized crime, terrorism and corruption) and for the reinstatement of civic ideals (democratic politics and civil order). The twist is that he does not build social institutes or charitable societies. He channels funds into the development of a personal arsenal of crime fighting technologies.

Chapter 15. Reese to Fox: “Applied science, a whole division of Wayne Enterprises just disappeared. Overnight. […] Now you’ve got the entire R&D department burning through cash, claiming it’s related to cell phones for the army. What-er ya buldin’ for him now? Ahhh rocketship?”

Batman is a story about a man who deploys his fortune on disposable technologies, hand made Armani suits (see credits), and political campaigns, for the protection of a particular form of society. In Gotham City illegitimate wealth is acquired by larceny and drug trafficking. Legitimate ways of making money include the perpetual streams of investment revenue of the rich, whom Wayne is able to convene in an instant, to rally behind a politician of his choosing.

Chapter 12. Fund raising party for Harvey Dent. Rachel Dawes to Dent: “Harvey Dent, scourge of the underworld, scared stiff by the trust fund brigade!”

In a world where the lines between right and wrong as a clear as the black boxes in a comic strip, the civic virtue of the rich remains totally untested. The working middle class bridge & tunnel crowd, on the other hand, must prove its moral metal in the Joker’s highly simplified orchestration of a kind of prisoner’s dilemma. Working people are shown to have weaknesses caused by economic pressures that can hinder the fight against evil by making a police officer in fear for his wife shoot a man in protective custody, or betray the Assistant District Attorney.

Chapter 33. Ramirez confronted by Two-Face (Dent) about the betrayal leading to Rachel’s death: “They got me early on. My mother’s hospital bills and I just…”

As Batman takes responsibility for the death of five men to save Dent’s spotless reputation, the moral of the story is that sometimes people deserve not to know the truth so that they can maintain hope: hope, that a system whose fundamental wealth production / distribution mechanisms never go unchallenged, will one day bring them a better future…

‘The Dark Knight’ is a Warner Brothers Picture.

2 Responses to “I. Finance and Batman: How does the Dark Knight make his money?”

  1. brian Says:

    I assume your last sentence is meant to imply that we shouldn’t merely read the film as an allegory for a specific system of capitalist institutions. As Jerome Christensen has argued, if we recollect that the Hollywood studio is a corporation, then the film might be taken as a form of corporate speech that reflexively discusses a corporate “person”. Christensen has already read the earlier Batman film as a Warner Bros. self-commentary: http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/abs/10.1086/343232

  2. marthapoon Says:

    That’s right Brian. I was just making an historic observation actually, about a kind of philanthropic social hero, forged in another time, who becomes, perhaps, somewhat problematic as the Batman series is updated and rewritten for today’s audiences.

    Christensens’ article which takes quite a different take, is intersting. He writes:

    “I will argue that Batman and JFK are corporate expressions: the former an instrumental allegory contrived to accomplish corporate objectives, the latter a scenario that effectively expands the range of what counts as a corporate objective.
    Batman is an allegory addressed to savvy corporate insiders, some of whom are meant to get the message, while others err. JFK aspired to turn everyone into an insider.”


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