Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Surpassing the Ego Ideal?

The logic of Batman’s (or Superman’s or Spiderman’s) mask is given a comical twist in The Mask with Jim Carrey: it is the Mask which changes the ordinary guy into a superhero. The link between the Mask and sexuality is rendered clear in the second Superman movie: sex (making love to a woman) is incompatible with the power of the Mask, i.e., the price Superman has to pay for his consummated love is to become a normal mortal human. The Mask is thus the a-sexual “partial object” which allows the subject to remain in (or regress to) the pre-Oedipal anal-oral universe where there is no death and guilt, just endless fun and fight – no wonder the Jim Carrey character in The Mask is obsessed with cartoons: the universe of cartoons is such an undead universe without sex and guilt, a universe of infinite plasticity in which every time after a person (or animal) is destroyed it magically recomposes itself and the struggle goes on…

Who, then, is Joker who wants to disclose the truth beneath the Mask, convinced that this disclosure will destroy the social order? He is not a man without mask, but, on the contrary, a man fully identified with his mask, a man who IS his mask – there is nothing, no “ordinary guy,” beneath his mask. (Recall a similar story about Lacan: those who got to know him personally, to observe him how he is in private, when he was not enacting his public image, were surprised to learn that, in private, he behaved in exactly the same way as in public, with all his ridiculously-affected mannerisms.) This is why Joker has no back-story and lacks any clear motivation: he tells different people different stories about his scars, mocking the idea that he should have some deep-rooted trauma that drives him. How, then, do Batman and Joker relate? Is Joker Batman’s own death-drive embodied? Is Batman Joker’s destructivity put in the service of society?

A further parallel is to be drawn between The Dark Knight and E. A. Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death”. In the secluded castle in which the mighty retire to survive the plague (“Red Death”) ravaging the country, Prince Prospero organizes a lavish masked ball. At midnight, Prospero notices one figure in a blood-spattered, dark robe resembling a funeral shroud, with a skull-like mask depicting a victim of the Red Death. Gravely insulted, Prospero demands to know the identity of the mysterious guest; when the figure turns to face him, the Prince falls dead at a glance. The enraged by-standers corned the stranger and remove his mask, only to find the costume empty – the figure reveals itself as the personification of the Red Death itself which goes on to destroy all life in the castle. Like Joker and all revolutionaries, the Red Death also wants the masks to fall down and the truth to be disclosed to the public – one can thus also claim that, in Russia in 1917, the Red Death penetrated the Romanov castle and caused its downfall. Does, then, the film’s extraordinary popularity not point towards the fact that it touches a nerve of our ideologico-political constellation: the undesirability of truth? In this sense, The Dark Knight is effectively a new version of the two John Ford western classics (Fort Apache and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance) which deploy how, in order to civilize the Wild West, the Lie has to be elevated into Truth – in short, how our civilization is grounded onto a Lie. The question to be raised here is: why, at our precise moment, this renewed need for a Lie to maintain the social system?
- Slavoj Zizek, "Hollywood Today: Report from an Ideological Frontline'

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