In Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Oliver Stone’s film Wall Street, the 1980s as a decade is portrayed as a negative and destructive time. These texts are completely different in style, audience, and execution; and yet they still give the same message and ask the same questions. There is always a darkness; and no man is safe from its temptation, especially in the pursuit of happiness. The question, “Is man inherently evil, or is man inherently good and his situations make him choose evil?” is asked and is a constant struggle throughout both texts and through the 1980s as a decade.
During the 1980s the people of the United States were dealing with the aftermath of scandals, new ideals becoming more politically known, and the beginning of an era with a better, soon to be booming, economy. With these events being portrayed in the media and seeping into everyday life, the questions must be asked about the character a man or woman has and what that means for society.
In Miller’s Batman, the tone overall is the dark and repressed anger coming from Bruce Wayne. He has hung up the cape and has been retired for ten years yet yearns for his younger days when he was fighting crime in Gotham. The reader witnesses various types of crimes being committed, but also follows with how the media portrays these crimes, if Batman is a hero or menace, and the “perfected psychopaths” created by their removal of society. While the theft, murder, and torture are crucial to the story, the media takes the stage when asking about the character of humanity. The news channel tries to tell the facts but ends up making a humorous spectacle of themselves and a menace out of Batman. Talk shows pit people against each other trying to use science and psychology to provide evidence to their opinions but end up sounding ignorant, naïve, and ill trained. A prime example is that of Harvey Dent, whose super villain alter ego is Two-Face. Dent is finally released from the psychiatric hospital once his face has been corrected with plastic surgery. His plastic surgeon and his psychiatrist both claim that Dent is ready to enter normal civilian society and should not be feared but instead should be welcomed with open arms. Not even a week later, Dent is missing and it soon becomes apparent that he is behind a major plot of theft and murder, essentially back to his old habits.
Dent was a product of his previous circumstances before the psychiatric ward as well as a product of the hospital itself. His psychiatrist and his plastic surgeon claim that he is rehabilitated because his outward appearance has been altered to its original state. However, being in a psychiatric hospital obviously entrenched Dent to fully become his Two-Face persona. The Joker has the same story, being locked up in the hospital and hearing the jabs and jokes about his demeanor could arguably have caused him to fall far past a place of rehabilitation.
Wall Street’s Buddy Fox is another prime example of situational “evil” versus the predestined evil. Buddy starts off as a hardworking man and a respectful son of his father and his father’s lifestyle. His family does not have much money, and while he does dream of making money, he is pushed to make drastic choices when he begins to owe money to his boss because his job is lacking. As the story progresses viewers see the anger, fear, and need for importance grow in Buddy’s character; similar to Batman in the Miller version. Buddy falls in line with the “greed is good” argument that Gekko makes in the movie, thinking that once he has more money he will be able to have the life he desires. His placement and his experiences with people like that of Gordan Gekko seep into his life and personality making him desire more. The people of the 1980s are consumed with consumerism and a desire to be heard, needed, or irreplaceable. These desires are found and explicitly rejected in both Wall Street and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.
The 1980s is reflected as a loud consuming culture especially between these two texts. Batman desires to be needed and useful; he wants to help because in his eyes he will be happy like he was in his romanticized past. Buddy wants to make money to help his family’s business, have a better house, and get the girl he feels he deserves. All these desires and long search’s happen for each character’s pursuit of personal happiness.
This pursuit of happiness brings both characters to a place of darkness. Wayne becomes the Batman once again and Buddy partakes in insider-trading. Both become self-destructive behaviors that are helpful at first, but then bring a realization of sadness. Buddy and Bruce realize that not only was the pursuit in vain, but they are tragically replaceable. Needed and even desired for but a moment and then tragically forgotten and dismissed.
The loud art, media, and politics of the 1980s brought about the desire for more and more. Whether that be in consumable goods, recognition, or moral obligation, the message is clear in Batman and Wall Street. More is better, and “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” The question should then be changed from “is man evil or good?” to that of “Is the pursuit of happiness worth it and does it really matter in the long run?” According to these texts that answer is “no”, the pursuit of what people believe to be happiness is not worth the darkness. All winning streaks end, the hero grows older, and people forget the rich in a matter of minutes. This makes the loudest and supposedly most memorable era in the twentieth century the culprit of a generation of individuals who had no choice but to be forgotten.
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