Batman as a Metaphor of America

Conservative/Liberal Hero Confronting an Ever-changing Menace

Dr. Giuseppe Sacco brings his expertise in international politics and its relationship with cinema to campus.

Many a college kid is familiar with Batman and Joker, the superhero and supervillain; not so many with Batman and Joker, super cultural symbols of American politics.

And yet, that is precisely the argument Dr. Giuseppe Sacco, editor-in-chief of The European Journal of International Affairs and professor of political science at the University of Rome, La Sapienza, presented to students this past Monday, February 10 at a speech called “Batman as a Metaphor of America: a Conservative/Liberal Hero Confronting an Ever-changing Menace.”

Sacco, who published a book in Italian about the political significance of Batman and Joker in all eight American Batman films — “Batman & the Joker: the Face and the Mask of America” (“Volti e Maschere dell’America”) — paralleled the ever-changing villains of the Batman movies (from Prince Daka to the Joker to Poison Ivy to Two Face) to personifications of the changing obstacles in American politics at the time the movies were made (from political corruption to environmental protection to theories of social good.)

He also analyzed Batman as a symbol of American heroism, and moreover, a symbol of the conservative and liberal divide in American politics.

“I’m not a movie critic,” Sacco said, “but I’ve seldom seen in a movie such deep political meaning.”

In the 1997 film “Batman & Robin,” Batman (George Clooney) faces two villains: Dr. Victor Fries/Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzzeneger) and Poison Ivy/Dr. Pamela Isley (Uma Thurman). Sacco explained that Mr. Freeze, as a villain who stakes hold ups in effort to finance a search for a medicinal cure for his terminally ill wife, represents science as a social responsibility; while, Poison Ivy, as a villain who makes all plants either poisonous or carnivorous so that they may protect themselves from man, represents environmental responsibility.

At the time this film was made, Former President Bill Clinton was leading America in a time of very little war, said Sacco. “So the main concerns in American culture could be the environment, the revolt of nature, and science,” he said. “By choosing to help Mr. Freeze with a cure for his wife, but not Poison Ivy, Batman chooses to save the scientist, the medicine, but does not help the environment.”

“The way Batman acts towards the environment is very conservative,” said Sacco, continuing, “but the way he acts towards social science and medicine, very liberal. This is politically significant because it personifies the divide in American thought in this American superhero.”

Clarissa Marchia, a sophomore media studies student, attended the event for class. “It’s cool [Sacco] related something a lot of teens know about to something on a larger scale like politics,” she said.

“It’s important that we, as young people, are able to see these parallels between film and what’s going on in the government because reality is often reflected in the media we take in,” said Stephanie Castaneda, a senior media studies major.

Sacco will be presenting the speech for a second time today, Thursday February 13, in Kalmanovitz. For event details, contact Krislyn Tanka at ktanaka2@usfca.edu or 415-422-2802. 

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