Brown: Dark knights need no shining armor

Phil Brown

July 19 saw the release of “The Dark Knight Rises,” the third and final installment of a trilogy centered around the exploits of Batman. Comic book characters as famous as Batman often have multiple versions of themselves created, each with a distinct twist or flavor. “The Dark Knight” trilogy has made its name by casting Christian Bale as not so much a do-gooder boy scout but a more visceral, fear-oriented bruiser.

It has always been a major point of conflict in Batman’s universe that while he uses fear and other morally questionable tactics, such as violence, he stands for the greater good. The second installment and title movie, “The Dark Knight”, saw this painted out beautifully by contrasting the “White Knight,” District Attorney Harvey Dent, with Batman, who thinks of his actions as a necessary evil for Gotham to rise again.

I’ve written here before about the inspiration for action that can be drawn from comic book heroes, but there is another important lesson to be learned here.

Sometimes we do not have to have a perfect hero. We do not always need a guiding star to look upon as a reflection of what we can do. Sometimes we need someone out there who will do what needs to be done, without worrying about how it looks.

Take a good look at just what Batman is doing when he decides to become this dark protector of Gotham. He is certainly acting publicly, but unlike so many actors of today’s world, he simply does not care what is thought or said of him. It would seem this attitude comes from a knowledge his purpose is greater than Bruce Wayne could ever hope to be.

It would certainly be in Wayne’s best interest to just be the billionaire playboy he could so easily be. When Gotham needed something more of him, however, he gave it. He gave it even though he gained nothing personally from it, yet it required both vast physical and financial sacrifices.

There is a very specific way in which Wayne behaves that lets us know for certain he is in it for Gotham alone. He does not bask in the light or glory shone upon him. We know this from the ending of “The Dark Knight,” when Batman takes the blame for Harvey Dent’s murder spree. He is not acting for his own benefit. In his own words, he is “whatever Gotham needs me to be.”

To be sure, this is a complication in our world. For if we cannot see those who do not take the credit for their actions, we could not recognize them. Sure, we know who Batman is, but we do not know Wayne is the man behind the bat. Batman, after all, is only a disguise.

It is impossible to determine the motives of an actor through their acceptance of the credit alone. So, then, we must approach the question from a different angle. When it appears to our senses public figures are concerned with the glory and praise of their actions, the question can be posed — are they in it for us or for themselves? Some would perhaps wonder what the difference is. If someone does something good, should his or her motives really matter?

In short, yes.

The motives behind an action will give as much insight as we can hope to gain into future actions. If people do the rest of us a service because it helps them, what will they do when it would be in their interest to do us a disservice?

It is well-known Benedict Arnold was one of the greatest assets of the American Revolution both as a general and as a leader of men before he began working with the British. He saw, however, the American military situation was precipitous at best, and the Congress was still divided. It looked by all accounts to be a losing fight and one that would drag the sorely under-appreciated Benedict Arnold down with it.

When he was given command of West Point, a key military fort situated on the Hudson River (and a functioning military academy even today), Arnold planned to surrender it to his British contacts in exchange for a reward of over 6,000 pounds, a commission as a brigadier general in the king’s army and a pension for life.

This surrender would have left the heart of the American Revolution wide open to the British Navy. General Arnold was not acting for the greater good of the newly formed United States or even for Britain. He was acting for himself.

We should take a closer look at our knights in shining armor. We may just find that they would not be much without the armor, and that our true guardians are silently watching from the shadows.