Can superhero stories, in all of their superfluous imaginings of society, actually portray a semblance of reality within their themes?
Personally, I’ve always been drawn to the lore of Batman as a whole due to it being somewhat more plausible (if not realistic) than many other superhero stories. A crimefighthing martial arts and weapons expert who is a billionaire CEO of a company pried from the dead hands of his parents may be a bit larger than life, but I’ve always found it to be more plausible than aliens coming to Earth with super powers or nuclear waste altering people’s DNA to make them superhuman or that sort of thing. Nevertheless, my curiosity with realism in The Dark Knight doesn’t lie within the character of Batman but to Joker as an agent of chaos.
I read one post from Jim Emmerson that got me thinking about this theme of chaos when things get just a little out of hand. He discusses how the villians of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy look down upon the citizens of Gotham, particularly the Joker in The Dark Knight who purports that their “moral code” is “a bad joke, dropped at the first sign of trouble” and “that when chips are down, these civilized people, they’ll eat each other”. At the end of his post, Emmerson claims that “[chaos out of the disruption of the status quo] isn’t really a theme that’s developed in the movies, but like most of the political and social references, it’s something that’s… there.” I largely believe he is right in saying that.
Think about the chaos that ensued post-Hurricane Sandy. New York City was declared a disaster zone due to houses destroyed, people killed or left with nothing, gas shortages, the national guard being called in, people hurting and even murdering each other in extreme cases for supplies; all in the wake of Sandy. Heath Ledger’s character has a point; when things get a little out of whack, people panic and as a result, chaos ensues. Superheroes and supervillains, as superfluous and larger than life as they may be, can bring some level of actualization into our lives. What happened when The Joker tried to instill chaos? Gotham basically went to hell in a hand basket. While there likely aren’t supervillains running around trying destroy major cities of the world, it’s safe to say that when the scales are tipped in the favor of chaos, the uninitiated who easily panic (Gotham’s citizens in the case of The Dark Knight), will believe it to be the end of the world at the first sign of trouble.