Warner Bros. film stirs Hollywood's political plot

It had to happen: With Batman breaking box office records, radio, op-ed columnists and TV news began looking for a piece of “The Dark Knight’s” action. Yet because they’re embarrassed to admit the truth — and feel out of their element talking pop culture — they justify dabbling in such trifles by squeezing them through a political/ideological prism.

The excuse to do so came via a jaw-dropping Wall Street Journal op-ed column by novelist Andrew Klavan, which completely misinterpreted the movie’s “message.” Exhibiting the kind of literal-minded density that could give right-wingers a bad name, the writer opined that “Dark Knight” is “at some level a paean of praise to the fortitude and moral courage that has been shown by George W. Bush in this time of terror and war.”

Blinded by this epiphany, Klavan somehow missed the film’s obvious concerns about how far its hero should go in the name of security and still merit that designation. The headline — “What Bush and Batman Have in Common” — was enough to set tongues wagging.

And away they went. The concept had already been broached by conservative radio host Curtis Sliwa — one of the dimmer bulbs in the talkradio space — but others, such as the more skeptical Larry Elder, used the Journal piece as license to devote an hour to Batman.

This same pattern is replicated with astonishing regularity, demonstrating how much producers want to spice up boring chat about Iraq and the mortgage crisis with conversation regarding movies and television — hoping such topics will inspire younger people, or at least a few soccer moms that watch “Access Hollywood,” to tune in.

Brace yourself in advance, in fact, for an inevitable debate about the new animated “Star Wars” series “Clone Wars.” Just as the final movie chapter “Revenge of the Sith” triggered a brouhaha because Obi-wan Kenobi said, “Only a Sith deals in absolutes” — which some immediately took as bashing the Bush administration — a “Clone Wars” preview at Comic-Con featured a scene in which a Jedi knight chides her protégé for harshly interrogating a prisoner.

“Terror is not a weapon the Jedi use,” she says.

You can almost hear Sean Hannity now: ” ‘Star Wars’ attacks the U.S. government over torture!” Or, in Yoda-ese, “Attacks U.S., ‘Star Wars’ does.”

The Jedi, however, are not alone. Firestorms have been ginned up over Fox’s “24″ (“Advocates torture!”) along with the animated movies “Wall-E” (“Propagandizes children about global warming!”) and “Happy Feet” (“Promotes being different — as in gay! They’re saying gay penguins are OK!”).

Fortunately, virtually nobody saw the latest “The X-Files” movie, or conservatives would be in a dither over a gratuitous if fleeting gag at President Bush’s expense.

Belittling such criticism isn’t intended to suggest these projects don’t contain subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle messages and themes. But most people understand that such minor asides are not even remotely what these light entertainments are about, so the pundits fulminating about a movie’s politics are being wholly disingenuous — simply seeking a pathway into younger-skewing material by cloaking it in puffed-up importance.

Almost unwittingly, this very point was articulated during Fox News Channel’s “Hannity & Colmes” as part of an exchange on Oliver Stone’s upcoming Bush biopic, “W.” Despite spending several minutes analyzing the movie’s implications, most panelists agreed with conservative columnist Tony Blankley, who said, “I think the public has a wonderful capacity to distinguish between movies and reality.”

Translation: “This free-for-all you’re watching is a complete waste of time!”

Frankly, the media jackals would have been all over the Bush-Batman comparisons sooner if Christian Bale hadn’t gotten into an alleged fracas with his family, splashing irresistible “Batman arrested!” alerts across cable news. Real scandals beat trumped-up scandals every time (and legitimate news, sadly, most of the time).

Beyond offering a distraction from matters of genuine concern, pundits self-servingly cloud the way projects are perceived by tethering them to such ideological baggage. And while a whiff of controversy is occasionally welcome promotional fodder, it’s idiotic that filmmakers and producers are compelled to defend peripheral aspects of their work because some buffoon on radio, Fox News or MSNBC bellows about it.

By spewing such inanities, dim hosts can push even a “Dark Knight” to its limits.

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