Views in brief

August 8, 2008

Thrown away by the system

REGARDING THE story on life without the possibility of parole ("Living in hell for life"): I would also like to say that even if an inmate is parole eligible, the chances here in Florida, and in many other states, are basically slim-to-none that they'll actually ever get paroled.

My husband, for example, was given a 25-to-life sentence for being a witness to a murder. This was back in 1983 and he was only 17 years old.

After 25 years, he had his first parole hearing. The parole commissioners make their decisions well in advance of the hearing. They only look at the ancient crime and anything negative, no matter how minor (smoking in a non-smoking area in 1998, for example). They never look at the positive accomplishments that the inmate has made, the support from loved ones or friends, or release plans.

So no matter what is said in support of an inmate, the parole commission will always find reasons to keep the inmate in prison.

I was told by a commissioner during a private meeting the day before my husband's hearing that because my husband has made so many accomplishments, that "it would be best to keep him in prison just a little while longer so he could help to rehabilitate other inmates."

Afterward, I met with another commissioner. This one said "life means life!"

The end result? They gave my husband a presumptive parole release date of 2100! This, for a crime that he never committed!

This is one of thousands of horror stories that goes on here in Florida. Furthermore, these inmates are supposed to have their parole hearings every two years (except for the extreme cases). Instead, they are being given five-year set offs across the board.

Why is the parole commission doing this? The answer is simple. To keep their high-paying jobs--not to protect "public safety" as they want the public to believe.

It's gotten so bad here, that we even have a prison for the elderly! What harm can these inmates do?

The parole commission is only paroling 1 percent per year. Obviously this is to show that they are releasing some inmates. So even if the inmate is parole eligible, it still means a life sentence for most.
Grace Dark Horse, Davie, Fla.

Something to applaud in The Dark Knight

JOE ALLEN'S critique of The Dark Knight is, in most respects, right on ("Batman's war of terror").

However, I think it is a little one-sided. I completely agree that the movie does show all the attributes and limitations of the liberal take on the "war on terror"--for example, accepting the assumption that some civil liberties may need to get stepped on for the "greater good." In addition, it continues to instruct its audience to look to powerful government officials for brave, effective leadership, instead of looking to ourselves.

Any hint of class-based politics is pretty much shot out of the water when Bruce Wayne throws a campaign fundraiser for Harvey Dent. He pitches the idea to Dent as though the criminal underworld of Gotham and its ruling class is somehow separable. That is a classic problem with the over-simplified "good-vs.-evil" genre of the world of Batman.

I say Allen's article is one-sided, though, because there are other elements of liberalism that come out in the movie that I believe deserve some applause. Though the movie accepts Batman's mammoth wiretapping program as necessary, the voice of those who oppose it is represented. Also, there is a "faith in the people" that The Dark Knight tries to portray with the ferry scene--when prisoners on one boat and free people on another decide not to bomb one another to save their own lives. I prefer this brief focus on the agency of regular people over the customarily condescending liberal hand-ringing about the duped and lazy "sheeple."

Lastly, there is, in the character of the Joker, an acknowledgment of the madness created by the system. In one scene, the Joker says (to paraphrase) that a whole truckload of soldiers gets blown up, and no one does a thing because it's all part of the plan--but threaten the life of one little mayor, and everybody flips out. In the Joker, the movie (implicitly of course) reflects the anarchist rallying cry of "shocking people out of their complacency"--while explicitly, and unjustly, linking anarchy to stark, raving lunatics.

For all its limitations, The Dark Knight manages to integrate a number of conflicting perspectives--the liberal idealism of Harvey Dent's leadership, a more radical view of people as enlightened and self-sacrificing, and the Joker's anarchical social commentary. In doing so, it reflects a broader trend in our society in which people are looking around them for new ideas and different strategies for changing the world.

The Dark Knight reflects the society that has created it. The fact that it involves no strategies based on working-class solidarity--well, that's something we shall have to remedy!
Ben Ratliffe, Madison, Wis.

Batman's never-ending fight

IT'S UNFORTUNATE that critics of The Dark Knight on the left have alleged the film props up George W. Bush's "war on terror" ("Batman's war of terror").

It seems unlikely in this political climate, in which the majority of the country has turned hostile to Bush's imperial hubris, that any successful pop culture phenomenon would go against this current.

Joe Allen's review is fraught with petty ultra-left criticisms, unnecessarily pointing out Harvey Dent's blond hair and his political characterization as a "white knight" (white emphasized). The significance of Dent's character in the film must have been lost on Allen.

Dent symbolized a movement within Gotham that represented the people's hope for change in the city, that it could kick the criminal and the corrupt from power.

So, like Allen, we'll ask the readers: Does all that sound familiar? Allen's review could have easily focused the film as an allegory for the current election.

We could have a discussion about Batman's methods. Yes, we see intense interrogation, but nothing is ever resolved in these particular scenes. The plot plays out for the audience to see that these acts of torture by Dent and Batman didn't stop the Joker's killings.

The film doesn't take the problem raised by the cell-phone spying lightly either. Lucius Fox, a moral center for Bruce Wayne, states it is unethical and dangerous. Is the Fox guilty because he went through with it anyway? Yes, but that doesn't serve to promote Bush's policies. Rather, it highlights the limitations a comic book crime fighter faces when forced to make unethical decisions to carry out the hero's mission.

Allen completely misrepresented "chaos" in the film. The fight between the Joker and Batman is essentially over human nature, not anything close to the racist assumptions inherent in the "war on terror."

The Joker aims to prove the whole arrangement of human beings living in society is a fraud, that when the chips are down, they'll commit unspeakable acts of depravation. The plot progresses to refute this nihilistic thesis of human nature by the conclusion of the scene with the ferries. The civilians on one boat initially argue that the convicts on the other ship deserve death because of their crimes. However, they don't allow themselves to have that blood on their hands. Are we going to call attention the point the film makes about the death penalty? This must be what Allen refers to as one of the film's "liberal pangs."

This development actually happened independently of Batman's direct actions; yet he is consistent in his own faith in human goodness, which is in fact progressive because without it, not only would the city's salvation not be worth the effort, but a better society isn't possible if human beings are by their nature corrupt.

The Dark Knight is ultimately about the limitations of the "hero." His/her existence is a reflection of a problem they can never truly solve. No matter how sacrificing, no matter how incorruptible, the inequality that allows Bruce Wayne to stay ahead of the criminal element, is what guarantees that criminal element's survival.

Though the Joker is presented as an unstoppable force, free from motivation and explanation, he still must make alliances with those whose criminality do have social causes.

Batman is forever locked into a fight that will never end for him. This is
the tragedy of the Dark Knight, but also our opportunity to present an alternative to a system that can only go so far.
Alex Fu and Jeff Guarrera. Bay Area, Calif.

The Dark Knight is just a movie

I AM a 16-year-old radical socialist in Toledo, Ohio, and I have been reading Socialist Worker for over a year now, but it was, in my opinion, a little ridiculous to try and break down the hidden messages in The Dark Knight ("Batman's war of terror").

It was an astounding, extremely well-done movie, and I think we should enjoy it as just that, a movie!

It is an escape, and so what if Batman is a vigilante? All superheroes are.

Anyway, I disagree with your review. Batman has nothing to do with socialism or war. It's okay to enjoy something for what it is, and you don't need to break everything down into politics.

That's why I go to this Web site for politics, and the movie theaters for entertainment.
Jon Mohr, Toledo, Ohio

Blaming the victims of racism

REGARDING "WHOSE responsibility?": This article makes a great point: we should not ignore the lingerings of segregation in America and adopt some sort of "blame the victim" mentality.

Thanks for posting this timely and relevant piece.
Andrew Oxford, San Antonio, Texas