Sunday, 6 October 2013

Superheroes and Neoliberal Surveillance Culture

Reflecting further on how the 9/11 attacks have influenced politics and the superhero genre, I have been studying the legitimisation of panopticism with modern protagonists. above is a clip from Christopher Nolan's 'Batman: The Dark Knight'. Here, Bruce Wayne (Batman) has used his wealth and access to military technology to develop a device that not only hacks telephones, but also uses the information to map out a virtual environment, giving him an all seeing edge. Dan Hassler-Forest wrote a chapter on theory of this authoritative gaze in his book 'Capitalist Superheroes: Caped Crusaders in the Neoliberal age.' He mentioned that although Morgan Freeman's character vocalises his concern on the ethics of Wayne's intrusive device, the outcome (where batman secures a building full of hostages) clearly suggests that the protagonists controversial actions were necessary. Bruce Wayne is also shown destroying the device after the job is complete. 'Hassler-Forest' also discussed the phenomenon of the 'Cyborg' with heroes such as 'Iron Man' and 'RoboCop' creating glamourous fantasies of future military technology. Iron Man's advanced weapons and armour allows him to quickly distinguish terrorists from civilians, defusing a hostage situation with zero casualties:

Again we are presented with idealistic situations where wealthy protagonists use their advanced visualisation  capabilities to prevent catastrophe. 'Jack Bauer' from the '24' television series is perhaps the strongest example of the media legitimising surveillance. Bauer uses his panoptic capabilities to monitor terrorism, the show also necessitating torture as a means of extracting information. Where these potentially controversial methods could be questioned and explored in the show, they are simply glorified. Bauer never accidentally spies on or interrogates an innocent civilian. Viewers are in fact encouraged to intrust this large responsibility in the hands of the protagonist.

Hassler-Forest went on to discuss Alan Moore's 'Watchmen' graphic novel. With the character 'Adrien Veidt', Moore explores the panoptic gaze of the entrusted superhero and places it under scrutiny. Veidt uses a wall of screens to monitor both television broadcasts and surveillance footage simultaneously. By analysing trends in advertising, Veidt in one sequence decides a war is imminent so tells a servant to invest appropriately. This depicts Veidt as a Neoliberal, partaking in disaster capitalism. Although he is entrusted with his great wealth and power, he ultimately destroys Manhattan and arguably betrays its citizens.

I plan to elaborate on this concept of panopticism within the superhero genre in my extended essay.

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