It’s funny to think that I would have trouble thinking up a Secret Santa for Pretty Boy, since, as he indirectly noted in his Secret Santa to me, we’re actually pretty similar. We both have Riddler avatars, of course, and we both like to be analytical, if you look at my username and his series title. We both watch Friendship is Magic, him because he’s a brony and me because it’s my job (so ironically, I’m the one who’s talked about it a lot more around here). Also, we both apparently share the same first name and were born within 1 month of each other O_o

But in the end, our blogs aren’t usually very similar. He starts out looking for deeper meanings, while I start with such questions as “which is better?” He’s spent as much time covering beloved and popular entertainment as I have trying remind the world about the shows and movies it’s forgotten. In fact, the only times we’ve really talked at length about the same subjects were when we were debating with each other. And they were spirited debates at that, with one apiece (whether Sleeping Beauty is good and whether videos games are art) featuring one of us as basically the only guy on manic expression who wanted to take the other one’s challenge. We lock in perfect opposition, like yin and yang. You can probably guess where this is going.

Yes, I’m going to discuss which polar opposite character, Batman or the Joker, was the real winner at the end of The Dark Knight. It’s a great chance to build on Pretty Boy’s entry discussing why the Joker is so popular, just as he seemed to build on my blog about my avatars for his Riddler gift, and like Pretty Boy’s entry, it’ll hinge on something else we both seem to take interest in: Human nature.

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Goals:

Batman’s immediate goal, as always, was to thwart crimes and apprehend those committing them, working towards a greater goal of establishing order and justice – to control and secure his environment, you could say. Joker’s goal, just the opposite, was to prove that there is no true justice, that nobody really deserves such a benefit, because their roles as “good” and “evil” people are determined only by what the world allows in specific instances. He wanted to reduce his environment to chaos, to prove that security is an illusion.

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Results:

If we’re going by the immediate, surface-level result, the winner is Batman. When the movie ended, he was getting his way, while Joker’s attempts to make Gotham City share his views didn’t succeed. However, Joker didn’t necessarily expect to get his way immediately. He stated earlier that his predictions would come true “when the chips are down,” and we technically never got to see the chips down, because Batman was able to stop the Joker from completing his ultimatum this time. Joker was not permitted to detonate the ships he was holding hostage, so no hopes were crushed and no resolves were tested. Gotham was released from his test early. So then, is Joker’s “real” victory only delayed for as long as Batman can maintain control? Because as the next movie demonstrates, that’s not forever. In fact, the strain of it gradually tears him apart.

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Does it depend entirely on Joker vs Batman?

From this perspective, you might think the answer lies with the “civilized” people whose fates these two are fighting for. On their own, would they keep striving towards goodness and order, with Joker’s trials just amounting to major setbacks, or are such trials the inevitable times when people show their “true” colors? Greater men than I have argued whether man’s true nature is good or evil without a definitive conclusion. But good and evil are subjective. To deconstruct the nature of Gotham’s citizens/the average man and where it would lead them, there is an objective scientific consensus: Man as a species continues to thrive, because he was born with traits that allow him to preserve himself and his offspring better than his rivals. Our nature is to survive.

To some of you, that may sound like a verdict already. I just said that our nature is to preserve ourselves, to do what benefits us. That means we’re selfish, and our true nature is “evil,” right? Hardly. For one, our sense of “self” can and does extend to other people. It almost always includes our family members, you can probably testify, because how would we thrive as a species if our need to protect ourselves didn’t extend to our bloodlines? Plus, as you may also know, it can extend to non-relatives as well, when we form bonds that make us view them in a light similar to family. Those stories you’ve heard about soldiers smothering grenades, and flight attendants taking bullets for evacuating children, and average people staying behind to give strangers a chance to escape? Those aren’t just random flukes. That’s human nature in play every bit as much as The Stanford Prison Experiment, the Salem witch trials, and anything else I don’t particularly care to think of. What’s more, with endless personalities and experiences in play, “preserving” yourself can mean many different things. Just as people can come to see murder as personally beneficial, they can – and have – come to view martyrdom the same way. So while we could probably argue forever as to whether this is “good” or “evil,” the fact remains that there are just too many possibilities in play for a consistent result without influence. People like the convict who gives up his life to deny Joker his goal may not be universal, but they are a real and legitimate possibility, as are people who wouldn’t have been so heroic.

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Who really won out?

So then, the winning side is determined by people taking the lead, the ones who influence the masses (as least, when those influences are forces as great as Batman and the Joker). So who was really the more powerful man, the one who wanted his rule to become the rule people lived by or the one who wanted to prove that his already was?

My personal favorite philosophy to address this kind of scenario comes from Taoism. You may remember it from Kung Fu Panda as the “illusion of control.” Because our primary instinct is survival, one of the most primitive needs we feel is to control our environment, to be the ones who have the final say on what happens to “us.” (Again, our sense of “self,” aka our ego, can vary.) Because we are more advanced than other animals, we are capable of realizing that the “final say” is out of our hands. By discarding the illusion, Taoism argues, we can see beyond our own ego and obtain balance. We can look out for “our” safety while accepting without fear or stress that it is never guaranteed, seek benefits and happiness without being distracted by frustration, and heal from wounds while keeping our eye on the recovered state worth reaching, instead of wallowing in the state in we’ve fallen into. Suffice to say, this isn’t something Batman is good at.

In fact, the caped crusader’s entire existence practically revolves around the illusion. Unable to heal from his parents’ murder, he instead labors under the notion that he can rectify what happened. As bold and admirable as this is, it speaks to a weakness in him. As his life’s goal, his very existence revolves around controlling this outcome. He discards the need for moderation, company, healing, and anything else that would distract from him sweating out the results. Not only does it leave him ravaged and isolated at the beginning of The Dark Knight Rises, unwilling to make any other life for himself, it lead him to sacrifice himself at the end of The Dark Knight to force a flawed bid for peace that falls through in Rises. His was always a path towards self-destruction, which is ultimately where it leads.

So is the Joker any better? His philosophy does acknowledge the illusion of control, after all. In fact, he uses it as a weapon, working to, as he puts it “show the schemers how pathetic their little plans really are.” However, that very admission makes it clear that he’s trying to sate a need of his own. He’s not just accepting dark possibilities. He wants people to confirm them and concede that he, the Joker, was right to expect them. He’s not seeing beyond his own ego any more than Batman is. He’s just going to the other extreme, trying as hard as he can to remove control over situations, even gladly risking own at points by giving his enemies the chance to kill him. And sure enough, it catches up with him, prompting the world he’s disturbed to bear down on him and confine him to a padded cell for the rest of his life. So the only fitting answer seems to be that at the end of The Dark Knight, neither character truly won.

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And finally

I could close out by looking at Rises as a scale-tipper and perhaps argue that Batman was able to learn balance and achieve his victory in the end. But I think it’d be more satisfying to turn the spotlight back to the comparison I started out with and ask: Do Pretty Boy and I have the same problem? Do we try so hard to analyze because we want to feel like we have the final say, the control we crave over our surroundings? Did we debate like we did because we’re two unyielding extremes that happen to be pointed in opposite directions?

Well, first of all, very few people have completely given up the illusion of control. The whole “enlightenment” thing is kind of a tall order. But while we’ve both done strenuous work in breaking down our subjects, first of all, there is a difference between being very interested in the truth and feeling a need to be its possessor. If we were unable to acknowledge when we might be wrong, we might have a problem. But looking back at our debates, not only do I think I got a lot out of them, I think the respect for the other man’s intelligence is clear on both sides. We both conceded when we thought the other had a point and continued, not by replacing our own logic with the other man’s but by continuing to build our perspective with their point in mind. So based on those debates, no, I don’t think we have trouble seeing past our own egos.

Although I, of course, am better.

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