Paul A. Taylor, "Zizek and the Media"
Batman as Constituent Ideology: The Liberal Communist... one should distinguish between constituted ideology - empirical manipulations and distortions at the level of content - and constituent ideology - the ideological form which provides the coordinates of the very space within which the content is located... Today, this fundamental level of constituent ideology assumes the guise of its very opposite, of non-ideology. (Zizek 2009b website)The notion of constituent ideology is encapsulated in the stolen wheelbarrow anecdote. We lose focus upon the ideological effects of form by over-concentrating upon the nominal content, and a vivid illustration of this process is provided by the Batman films. At the level of constituted ideology, the films contain a quite radical critique of advanced capitalism - Gotham City is a dark (literally in terms of cinematography) dystopian place in which private affluence exists cheek-by-jowl with public squalor. However, the form in which the films are structured, and the manner in which their potentially radical messages are processed, produce a different, non-constituted, overall ideological effect: the constituent processing of potential critique by means of various caricatures and symbols. The Dark Knight, for example, not only deals explicitly with the issue of the basic corruption of individual public figures, but it also strongly portrays the deep-rooted cynicism of the whole political and economic ruling class. It thereby clearly demonstrates a working awareness of the form that constituent ideology assumes. However, instead of then exploring a radical solution to this ideological problem, it merely provides a more sophisticated further form of constituent ideology (the film form itself) with which to befog possible solutions. The movie exemplifies 'the contemporary cynical attitude: in it, ideology can lay its cards on the table, reveal the secret of its functioning, and still continue to function' (Indivisible Remainder: 200; 1997b website) - the ideology of the stolen wheelbarrow.
The ideologically constituent aspect of the films is most clearly embodied in the figure of the liberal communist, Bruce Wayne: 'Capitalism needs charity in the same way Batman "justifies" Bruce Wayne's wealth. Capitalism qua Gotham City creates the problems and then provides the repressive mask by which those problems are to be solved' (Reece 2008). The systematic problems with capitalists like Max Shreck and their underworld counterparts such as the Joker and the Penguin who take things to unacceptable extremes. The implicit message of the movies is that of the philanthropic capitalist model enshrined in the Wayne family legacy is the solution to society's problems, and this is what Batman fights to protect - le nom du pere - his father's benign legacy. The films thereby subjectivize objective, systemic problems and provide a sustained example of the conceptual distinction Zizek makes between subjective and objective forms of violence. The films achieve this effect through the constituently conservative form in which they present their constituted ideological content - an only apparently radical portrayal of capitalism's dark soul. Batman's origins may lie within the comic book, but Hollywood movies embody a serious political issue: the specific nature of contemporary mediated belief.