W.he believes he is at the end of his tether after a pandemic emergency for more than a year, be comforted: In Gotham City, the emergency is going on for much longer. He has ruled Batman’s hometown for eighty years – and the world is watching, the world in an almost literal sense. Mentioned for the first time in the DC Comics booklet “Batman No. 4 “, winter 1940/41, people on all continents read about the fate of the fictional millionaire Moloch to this day. The audience that takes part has grown even more since the city has also appeared on the screen. The last two films in Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy alone grossed more than a billion dollars worldwide.
The fact that the fate of the invented city of Gotham is so close to new generations and that they relate it to our life in the here and now is probably also due to the two faces of this city: On the one hand, it is a very contemporary metropolis, populated by ordinary citizens. On the other hand, Gotham is unusual and out of date to such an extent that it occupies our imagination. We believe we know all of this – and at the same time we are constantly surprised, never quite sure whether the artistically devised catastrophes will soon overtake us too. And when it comes to disasters, you can’t be resourceful enough, as the reality of recent years has shown, the corona pandemic is just the most recent.
“Gotham” stands for the permanent state of emergency, for the rule of crime, for unimaginable state failure. But it also stands for the triumph of Republican heroism practiced by the city’s most prominent citizen, Bruce Wayne aka Batman. The question arises what the special flair, what makes this Gotham community so special – and what collective phobias it is that are expressed here.
In ancient times, the destruction, damage or desecration of cultic sites often signaled a maximum threat to the existence of the state and society. Which justified almost every measure – even if from an objective military or police perspective the act was not that significant. It became so solely because of the symbolic value of the endangered object.
The world of the 20th and 21st centuries lies as well as that of antiquity in a symbolic force field. When Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the Washington Capitol in January of this year, they held the United States and the world in suspense. It was not the damage to the furniture and the life and limb of the guards that was unheard of, but the process as such: the unauthorized intrusion of noisy hooligans into the holy of holies of American democracy, sometimes in strange costumes.
In Gotham, there are two iconic places in particular that keep coming into the crosshairs of criminals and terrorists: Blackgate Prison, the infamous prison. And Arkham Asylum, the even more infamous urban psychiatry where villains like The Joker and Two-Face have been kept in the comics since 1974.
These buildings are disturbing because they represent the latent fear of the socially uprooted inmates, fueled by rumors and speculations – and also the guilty conscience of a citizenry who is unsure of the integrity of their judiciary. They are toxic places in the heart of an unstable republic. Failure of the protective devices separating the rulers and the outcasts will lead to the ultimate catastrophe.