Republican National Convention Party at The Flip Side

Put on this party hat and crack a warm Steel Reserve. It’s the RNC on MSNBC! Take me to heaven, Ed and Rachel.

Chris Matthews gets us started by dropping an adorable Spielberg reference: “(It’s) like E.T. phoning home. When Romney’s in a room with Ryan, his heart starts to blow- to glow. He seems to wake up in a way he never does when he’s not around.” That’s how everyone acts around Ryan, dummy. Look at him.

Chris kicks the coverage to Andrea Mitchell, who becomes mortified within moments: “This is definitely a Ryan crowd. This is the base and they’re about to do the national anthem, so we have the color guard. And I think, uh…”

She drops to a whisper, because Sen. Scott Brown’s daughter has begun singing the anthem. “… I think it’s hard for us to talk about this, during the national anthem. Uh. Chris. But. If you could come back to me in a just a moment, let’s take a quick break.”

Isn’t that perfect? Can you picture the Republicans who hate MSNBC standing around watching a reporter from that channel talk into her microphone during the “Star Spangled Banner”? She was terrified in that moment.

Ezra Klein will talk over the anthem. He can do that, because he’s in a TV studio. “Pretty much everything you think you know about Paul Ryan’s budget is wrong.” He says Ryan’s budget doesn’t lower taxes or cut the deficit. It barely touches Medicare, for old people, but it takes a huge bite from Medicaid, for poor people (which is not politically difficult). It leaves social security alone and then shreds everything else, like veterans benefits and education. Can he cut enough of those extra services to make up for massive tax cuts to multimillionaires? Ryan says yes, without providing a specific.

Laurence O’Donnell says we’ve never had a candidate for president who exploits tax shelters like Romney. No regular people have money stashed on islands to avoid paying taxes, Laurence said. He wrote the epic debate episode of “The West Wing,” so I’m gonna choose to believe everything he says.

Mitch McConnell is scary looking.

These MSNBC guys really do get fired up over Republicans. Chris Hayes is pissed about Rand Paul’s speech. “Here’s a guy that says ‘The reason my ancestors came to America, it is a place you can be judged on merit and not who you are. This is the son of a United States congressman who has no plausible case that he would be a United States senator BUT FOR THE FACT THAT HE HAS INHERITED ALL OF THIS PRIVILEGE IN THIS LAST NAME, talking about what a great meritocratic experiment America is. This person who was born on third base – like Mitt Romney, like George Bush – appropriating the story of other people’s social mobility to make his case for why America is a meritocracy as he stands up there, completely without acknowledgement of his own privilege. Remarkable.” That you said that so well is remarkable, bro. Way to talk in capital letters.

The Reverend Al Sharpton thinks this is “a 21st-century version of the Civil War all over again.” He does not like the state’s-rights argument, because Civil Rights came through federal action. “If someone breaks in my house and wants to turn the clock back, I don’t care if they’re 12 years old or 70.” Rand Paul is a Young Gun, along with fellow Rough Riders Eric Cantor and dreamy veepstakes winner Paul Ryan. Get on board.

Ron Paul’s fans have been booing Republicans like maniacs.

W. didn’t show, but he sent a video tribute to himself, with Laura saying “I’m so proud of George.” H.W. talks in the video, too, about his son: “Integrity. Honesty. There was never any kind of scandal around his presidency. And I think we forget the importance of that. They’ll remember him for being a good, honest president who got a lot of things done, but the thing I take pride in is his integrity.” Barbara cries. Bush segues to an endorsement of Romney. Slow piano music has been playing over this whole thing.

Karl Rove disciple Steve Schmidt (played by Woody Harrelson in the awesome HBO Sarah-Palin slam “Game Change”) is an MSNBC pundit now, and he takes issue with Ed Schultz saying W. lied about why we went to war with Iraq. The way these guys debate each other on-the-spot, live, is pretty cool. Schmidt says the notion Bush lied about weapons of mass destruction “is complete and total nonsense.” Schmidt’s cohosts take turns yelling at him. Hayes is rattling off death-toll figures and says “There still has to be accountability in the basic conscience and soul of the people that oversaw that, whether or not you think it was deliberate.”

McCaaaaaaaaain!!!! Mitt makes me actually miss John McCain. He calls Romney “my friend” at the start of his speech, but check out this line from Game Change (the book): McCain routinely called Romney an ‘*sshole’ and a ‘f*cking phoney.’  Guiliani opined, ‘that guy will say anything.’  Huckabee complained, ‘I don’t think Romney has a soul.’

I added those asterisks, because they make it more funny.

Did anyone see the new “Bourne” flick? This reporter from The Guardian (a newspaper in England) gets sniped by the CIA in a busy terminal because he was getting too close to finding out about our super-soldier brainwashing program. The Washington Post, meanwhile, happily helps the American government cover up its killings by running planted, made-up stories. Lesson!

McCain wants us to go to war with Syria. Bad.

Are we ready for a robust debate in this country on military intervention and foreign policy? The question is posed, but duh.

New Mexico’s Gov. Susana Martinez is yet to speak, but she’s on at some point tonight. She got higher billing than the last presidential nominee. 505! Take a hike, prisoner of war! We got demographics to target.

The way Republicans attack Obama as a big spender comes back on them with these MSNBC guys. They take turns making points about how much bigger the deficit got under Bush 2. Says Chris Hayes: “They were just running the country for six years, and then the last two (years) Democrats took over the House. How did they run the country during that period of time? It’s not an abstract, theoretical question. They actually ran government, and they did not shrink government. Government as a percentage of GDP, the federal government as a percentage of GDP, did not go down. They want to frame this as this massive ideological choice between smaller government and bigger government. It is about who the government will benefit. I guarantee you, if they are running the show, we’re gonna see massive deficits again.”

The Founding Fathers “lived under the boot of big-government,” Mike Huckabee tells the horde, apparently cool now with Romney’s lack of a soul. Like we have her now? And what does Obama do? “He tells people of faith that they have to bow their knees to the god of government.” Oh yeah, I forgot about that time he did that. Obama also finds “human life to be disposable and expendable, even beyond the womb.” Beyond the womb?

Condoleezza Rice kills it, but fortunately I’m watching this on DVR and I can fast-forward through most of her speech. I think there’s a bunch of lipstick on her teeth.

Gov. Martinez is on right before Paul Ryan. 505! Her speech is good, but it’s also a little creepy. Two sentences stand out to me: “Despite what some would have us believe, success is not built on resentment and fear.” Then, “Success is the American dream, and that success is not something to be ashamed of or to demonize.”

Who disputes that?! God dammit…. (For more on Martinez, check out Independent Source PAC’s website, where I get paid to write stuff like this. Not well, but still.)

Paul Ryan’s up now. He’s an even better looking version of the horn-dog governor candidate Zajac on “Boss” (where Kelsey Grammar plays the murderous mayor of Chicago). Women who find power sexy have got to be throwing themselves at Ryan like they’re in a body spray commercial. If Romney wins the election, the Awesome Sex Scandal Countdown Clock starts running on his veep.

“When Gov. Romney asked me to join this ticket I said ‘Let’s get this done,’ and that is exactly what we are going to do.” Ryan gives little stabs with his finger when he says this, and then the camera cuts to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, villain of labor unions. Walker is looking up at the vice presidential candidate, a single tear rolling down his cheek. A tear.

Scott Walker just ruined our party, but man can he play this game.


“Breaking Bad” and the Weight of Our Souls

The third-ever episode of “Breaking Bad” begins with a long-ago flashback, where Walter White looks like a college student. He’s with a girl, writing numbers she reads onto a blackboard. They’re adding up the percentages of each element that makes up our bodies. Hydrogen: 63 percent. Oxygen: 26 percent. (There you have your water.) Carbon: 9 percent. Nitrogen: 1.25 percent. Calcium is only .25 percent, even with our whole skeleton to account for. Iron: .00004 percent. You can’t have hemoglobin without iron, right? Well, apparently it don’t take much. Sodium: .04. Phosphorus: .19 percent.

Add up all these percentages and you’re left with 99.888042 percent, .111958 percent shy of 100.

“It seems like something’s missing, doesn’t it?” Young Walt says. “There’s got to be more to a human being than that.”

“What about the soul?” she asks.

“There’s nothing but chemistry here,” Young Walt says.

He just did the math, though, and some quantifiable part of what makes up our bodies isn’t actually chemistry.

If you’re going to change a nerdy, white high school science teacher into a Scarface-scale gangster, he has to lose his soul. It’s a cliché because it’s true. Very early in its run, “Breaking Bad” spelled this out explicitly. That flashback begins the episode in which White strangles a man with a bike lock. His first murder. He did it to save his family, but that reason doesn’t matter any more. Really, the strangulation of Crazy 8 was Walt making his bones. These days he commits business killings no problem.

“Trust me,” Crazy 8 tells White early in the episode. “this line of work doesn’t suit you.” Yeah it does, dead man.

Skip Bayless Again, Trashing Someone Fascinating

“He’s always hated football,” says Skip Bayless, gesturing wildly and making angry face.

“A disgrace to humanity, Ricky Williams,” says Jay Mariotti, pointing and bobbing like a tough guy.

Two blogs ago, we discussed Skip Bayless’s racism. It is obvious, annoying and lucrative. Since then, I watched a documentary called “Run Ricky Run.”

“Run Ricky Run” is about Ricky Williams, who was a truly awesome running back. He won the Heisman trophy when he played in college at Texas. He was an NFL rushing leader. He kept testing positive for marijuana and getting suspended, though. He retired in his prime, only a week before the 2004 season began and after signing a huge contract with the Miami Dolphins.

When Williams first entered the league, as a top draft pick carrying enormous expectations, he gave interviews with his helmet on. He told his counselor he only felt safe at home, alone, in the dark. He admits he abused marijuana.

When he was young, he told his mother he wanted to grow up to be a police officer, so he could shoot his dad and get away with it. As a boy he also told his mother he had taken naked photographs of his father, because his father told him to. She found one of those photographs in the trash. The family was torn apart.

In the NFL, Williams set a two-year record for carries, meaning he ran the ball more times over two years than any other player, ever. He was fast, nasty and powerful, but his body took a beating. He wondered about his concussions and the other repeated injuries he endured. He retired and traveled the world, until he came back and played really great again.

“Run Ricky Run’s” director, Sean Pamphilon, narrates a scene late in his movie where we see Williams jogging at a park: “Shortly after turning 30 he looked me dead in the eye, 30 minutes after I shot this footage, and said ‘If I could get my head right, I could be the best player in the NFL.'”

He couldn’t get his head right. Powerful personal and psychological issues were impacting the decisions he made about what to do in life, while it just so happened he was one of the best football players in the world. That’s an amazing, and very human, story.

Skip Bayless, though, went on TV and declared that Ricky Williams hates football. I saw him say so in this movie last night and was disgusted. (He’s also quoted thusly: “So I say, ‘Great. Disappear and smoke away the rest of your life.'”) Skip lives to make mean, angry comments about athletes without any regard for context, an inspiration to clones like the despicable Jay Mariotti.

Bayless is entitled to his living, I guess, but there’s no soul in his schtick. He’s a dumb and incurious id, plowing forward with no regard for what’s right or good.

There is a huge market for these Skip-inspired TV “personalities,” who take turns trashing athletes in one-minute monologues on TV and in radio. It sucks. They make sports worse.

In fact, why am I writing about him? That’s what he wants! Meet me on the next blog. I got something to add on “Breaking Bad” and the weight of our souls.

When “Breaking Bad” Turned Really Bad, Two Planes Crashed Together

“Hush little baby, don’t you cry. Daddy loves you and so do I.”

There is a scene in “Breaking Bad” this season with Walter White and his son Walter Jr. watching “Scarface” together. “Everyone dies in this movie,” Walter says. They’re loving the countless spent rounds and explosions. “Say hello to my little friend!” Ha!

Sacred legend has long proclaimed that “Breaking Bad” creator (and nerd God) Vince Gilligan pitched the show to studio executives as “a story about a man who transforms himself from Mr Chips into Scarface.” Most “Breaking Bad” fans know Gilligan said this about “Scarface,” and now here is our antihero Walter “Heisenberg” White – formerly a dopey high school chemistry teacher, presently a budding meth kingpin – watching the movie and commenting aloud on the violent mortal end of its characters.

Later, another character mentions having rented “Heat,” a film which also climaxes on a spectacular shootout scene between cops and criminals.

Gilligan has said this will be the final season for “Breaking Bad,” and the first scene of the first episode this year saw Walter White, a year in the future, buying an enormous machine gun. Where could this possibly be headed?

With Walt closing in on fiery death, this seems a fair time to look back on his gangster saga and wonder when, precisely, our protagonist turned evil. Was there a true tipping point? Some specific moment when killing became OK? Did that specific moment set a course of events in motion that would culminate with the baddest thing that ever happened on “Breaking Bad”?

Yes, yes and yes. Glad I asked. Remember White watching Jane, strung out on heroine, choke to death on her own vomit? They’d argued over money. It was a startling sequence, with Walter struggling to decide whether he should merely roll the girl on her side to save her life… or do nothing and watch her die. Suddenly there’s a shift in facial features that’s somehow both blatant and barely distinguishable, and the decision is made. He takes on the look of an uncaring thug. She’s dead, so there’s that problem solved.

That wasn’t the tipping-point moment, but it happened in that same devastating episode. Walter changed before Jane choked and died. Right before, in fact.

Let’s flash forward to the wonderful and polarizing “Breaking Bad” episode called “Fly.” (The entire hour is Walt and Jesse hunting for a fly in their meth lab.) Drugged with sleeping pills, Walter stubbornly refuses to pass out. Instead he whispers, one squinted eye sending a tear down his cheek: “I should’ve never gone to your house. Maybe things would have– I was at home watching TV. Some nature program about elephants. Skyler and Holly were in another room. I could hear them on the baby monitor. She was singing a lullaby. If I had just lived right up to that moment, and not one second more.” He pauses and stares off into another universe, jaw hanging open. “That would have been perfect.”

He’s talking about the moment he steeled himself to emotion and officially became a monster.

His daughter had just been born, and she was perfect. He and his wife were warm toward one another, though she was starting to retract and make goo-goo eyes at that stupid asshole Ted. Walter had earned the cash to secure his family’s financial future – the ostensible reason this whole adventure began in the first place. He was sitting in his living room. Happy. Eavesdropping on his wife softly singing a lullaby to his baby.

White’s soul melts when the song ends. He becomes a bad guy right then, rubbing his mouth while his eyes seem to disappear from his face. He goes to Jesse’s house and lets that girl die, coolly adding another awful secret to Heisenberg’s closet of corpses.

But then Jane’s dad slips his soul as well. Awash in mad grief, he goes to his job as an air traffic controller and guides two planes into each other. It’s awful to watch. Awful and mesmerizing: He accidentally says his daughter’s name and then gives in to raw hate, for himself and everyone else. The explosion in the sky sends a flaming pink Teddy bear into Walt’s pool.

The plane disaster is easy to forget now, because so much has happened since. There were those ax-wielding twins in the slick boots who crippled Hank, and the life-or-death chess match between Walt and Gus Fring that ended with an ultimate death scene:

Hope I’m not ruining this for you.

Nothing really trumps that plane crash, though. It’s been the biggest, worst consequence of Walter’s change – a tragedy on the scale of a terrorist attack. If you blame Walt and Jesse for Jane’s death, doesn’t it follow that they’re responsible for the crash her grieving father created as well? If we include those victims, the death toll climbs from a couple dozen to nearly 200.

Which is crazy. Walt is going to hell. Soon we find out how he gets there.

ESPN’s Skip “Baby Jesus” Bayless Skews Nazi

“White people problems.” It’s a catch phrase that comes up occasionally at my house, which is walking distance from downtown and nicely adorned with a large TV and framed posters and a spoiled little dog who begs constantly for walks. She doesn’t seem to understand that it’s difficult to make time for a dumb pooch when I need to cook a decent breakfast – cage-free eggs and a ripe avocado – while watching the internet replay of last night’s “Daily Show.”

White people problems. If you’re white and you’re reading this, you know what I mean.

“Terry and James want to hang out tonight but I just wanna stay home and watch ’30 Rock’ on Netflix. What do I tell them?! Curse the gods!” “Wait… You are actually saying to me that there’s no 3G service in this area?” “My water glass sat here empty for almost three minutes before the waiter came with a refill. What do I tip now? If only I’d never been born.” “Do I give Dave and Karalyn $50 for their wedding, or should it be more? Sixty dollars? Eighty? Is there a bridge nearby I can jump off?” “The garbage man left the trash can in front of our driveway AGAIN! It goes back on the curb!” “Happy hour ends at 6 p.m. here? That’s too early! I wish nuclear war would just hurry up and wipe us all out.” “My Kindle is turning pages too slowly and I don’t know how to hard reset!!!”

What was I…. Oh yeah… There’s a dude called Skip Bayless with a TV show on ESPN2 called “First Take.”


On that show, Skip and another guy named Stephen A. Smith argue about sports. As an example, Skip has spun hours of air time from saying LeBron James sucks. He also dissed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s point guard Russell Westbrook, saying Westbrook is a selfish gunner who hurts his team. Westbrook’s teammate Kevin Durant actually responded to Bayless, thusly: “That guy doesn’t know a thing about basketball.”

Totally. But he knows how to be a media personality. Whether you’re into sports or politics, there’s no avoiding the plain truth that a massive pseudo-industry has grown like forests of aspens around a single pseudo-product: opinion. Saying something zany or controversial gets you discussed, and being discussed is worth gobs of real money.

News media is increasingly focusing on what commentators say, about issues like Jets backup quarterback Tim Tebow’s Tweets. Rush Limbaugh is the master of saying things that get him noticed (Sandra Fluke’s a slut, Obama’s Arab), and Skip might be the Rush Limbaugh of sports. (ESPN Radio’s hideous Colin Cowherd is probably the closer comparison to El Rushbo, but that’s a whole other conversation.)

So with a keen eye on his own marketability, Skip Bayless this week made a stupid-but-guaranteed-to-be-controversial claim about Robert Griffin III, the Heisman-trophy-winning quarterback who was drafted No. 2 overall this summer by the Washington Redskins. RG3 is black.

“I’m going to throw it out there,” Skip said. “You also have the black-white dynamic and the majority of Redskins fans are white. And it’s just human nature, if you’re white, to root for the white guy. It just happens in sports. Just like the black community will root for the black quarterback. I’m for the black guy. I’m just saying, I don’t like the dynamic for RG3. It could stunt his growth in the NFL.”

You’re “for the black guy”? Asshole. Anyway….

That is so completely, utterly wrong. White-power Nazis root for the white guy over the black guy, but that’s because “human nature” is alien to them. The rest of us know that white people are ridiculous, for reasons already detailed.

And sports fans? Herein lies the glory of sports, a glory that sadly escapes people like Skip and Stephen A., because they have made careers from saying stupid things that get them notoriety. The glory of sports comes from athletes excelling at a game, and most of the best athletes in America are black. Redskins fans are pulling for wins, for a Super Bowl. They couldn’t care less if their quarterback was white or black or puce, so long as he can beat the Giants and win more games than he loses.

Skip Bayless’s rant about RG3 was essence of racism, but that’s by design. Maybe he is actually saying something important and even profound about race and fandom within the sprawling universe of American pro sports, but he is not serious about “dynamic.” He is Skip Bayless. He called LeBron James a “dog” and then had this exchange with the show’s host:

Skip: “I’m offended when people dismiss me as a hater. I don’t like that term when it comes to LeBron. If you want to use it in the big picture that’s fine.”

Host: “And it’s used towards you a lot, when it comes to LeBron James and… and others too.”

Skip: “As God is my witness, I don’t hate LeBron.”

It is weird that you get paid to say things like that.

The book “Boys Will Be Boys,” by Jeff Pearlman, chronicles the drug-and-sex-powered Super-Bowl run of the mid-1990s-era Dallas Cowboys, led by Michael Irvin, who stabbed a teammate in the neck with a pair of scissors and loved sleeping with two, three, four, five (yes, five) women at a time in precisely choreographed orgies. It’s a modern classic. An excerpt:

Through all the drama, the biggest bombshell of 1996 came with the release of a book, Hell-Bent, written by local scribe Skip Bayless. Billed as a biography that would spill the ‘crazy truth’ of the ’95 Cowboys, the prime rib of Bayless’s text emerged out of a six-page span in which the author suggested (Cowboys star quarterback Troy) Aikman was gay.

Wrote Bayless: “I had heard the rumor since 1991. An off-duty Dallas police officer who traveled with the Cowboys and worked security at their hotels first told me that ‘the word on the street’ was that Troy Aikman was gay. Over the next four years, I heard the rumor from two more police officers who worked around the team (and I know they mentioned it to team officials). One officer told me Aikman ‘was supposed to be’ having a relationship with a male member of a country-western band.”

While Bayless attempted to ward off critics by noting that Hell-Bent featured 284 pages not dealing with Aikman’s sexual orientation, he had broken two written-in-blood journalistic tenents:

A. Don’t out people for the sake of book sales.

B. If you decide to ignore Rule A, know what the hell you’re talking about.

Aikman had dated his first girlfriend for seven years, and arrived in Dallas in 1989 in the midst of another serious relationships. “I know for a fact that Troy was having sex with women who, quite frankly, he knew he would never call,” says Dale Hansen, the veteran announcer. “Skip thought it was suspicious that Troy had spoken of taking an AIDS test. Well, knowing some of the women Troy slept with, I’d have gotten an AIDS test too.”

In short, if he was gay, Aikman was putting on one hell of an act.

Such details mattered not to the attention-obsessed Bayless. Hell-Bent was neither righteous nor journalistic, and neither was its author. “While he was working on the book Skip would call me all excited and tell me that he got information about Troy being in the back of a car in a gay area of Melrose,” says Dean Blevins, the veteran Dallas radio host. “My reaction was, ‘Why are you telling me this? And why are you so happy about it?'” As a former muckraking columnist for Dallas’s Morning News and Times Herald, Bayless was one of the first scribes to hire an agent; one of the first scribes to be featured on billboards; one of the first scribes to negotiate for perks like a company car and stock options. It was often said the best way to torture Bayless was to remove the I key from his laptop. Frank Luksa, a local columnist who refused to speak with Bayless, nicknamed him “Baby Jesus.” The tag stuck.

“Skip Bayless could have been one of the really great columnists,” says Dave Smith, the legendary Morning News sports editor. “But as a columnist, if you’re going to beat up on someone, it better be from your heart. You better feel that way. Skip attacked people just for the sake of doing it. His take on Aikman was the most unfair thing in my forty-five years in journalism.

So this is the type of person we have in Skip Bayless – someone who’s grown rich and famous trashing athletes to such an extreme degree that he actually delights in spreading gay rumors. People like me will, in turn, trash him. Attention accomplished. Hard to begrudge someone his living, I guess, but these angry, reactionary ESPN opinion guys (their numbers grow daily) are making sports worse for both athletes and fans.

The athletes hate Skip. (Charles Barkley: “I hate Skip Bayless more than any person in the world.”) We hate Skip. He’s a dope. The problem is there’s a market for these Skips, a vast audience of sports-crazed morons who happily inhale thoughtless, race-tinged generalities. And you better believe that audience is mostly white guys.

“The Dark Knight Rises” Review, Part 2: What’s Bane’s Deal?

James Holmes, the man who murdered innocent people at a midnight premier of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Colorado, fits one of three types, according to a recent article in Newsweek. He may be delusionally insane, incapable of discerning reality from the voices in his head (the Virginia Tech shooter was like this). He may be suicidally depressed, so consumed by sadness and despair that his mind decides to exact revenge on a world he misinterprets as so much worse than it actually is. And it’s possible he’s a psychopath, delighting in the suffering of others. Psychopaths can’t empathize, and are the sorts who harm animals as children. They want chaos.

Sound familiar? From the Newsweek article by Dave Cullen: “Psychopaths are not crazy in the sense that they don’t know what they are doing. They are hyperrational – they just don’t care about our pain. Psychopaths are remarkably like Health Ledger’s Joker in ‘The Dark Knight,’ if you strip away the costume and theatrics. But psychopathic killers have one Achilles’ heel: they revel in glory and like to brag. Look for clues as James Holmes’ history comes to light.”

Heath Ledger’s Joker is evoked without irony in a serious national-magazine article about the “Batman” movie shooter. That’s how amazing that character was as a villain – he is the perfect example of a psychopath.

This sign became popular at Tea Party rallies a few years ago, where right-leaning citizens protested wasteful government:

Creepy, right? The idea is that a single ambitious psychopath can effect profound change. Joker murdered anyone he wanted, burned millions in hard cash and put an entire city (Gotham, standing in for New York) into a state of panic. Hard-core Obama haters like this image because it turns our president into the perfect example of a psychopath. Rush Limbaugh delivers the same sort of message daily, that “Obama is destroying the economy on purpose.”

This is why the new series of Batman movies has been so amazing, particularly in this modern era of countless countless comic-book movies. “Iron Man” may have buried deep within it, somewhere, a moral about using genius for good rather than weapons manufacturing, but the depth gets buried beneath the film’s real goal: showcase Robert Downey Jr.’s charisma, stage a few special-effects scenes where the armor’s abilities get showcased, and set up sequels.

Nolan’s “Batman” flicks are filled with great effects, but they blend with the literally and figuratively dark pseudo-reality of Gotham City. Batman’s toys are fun, particularly the tumbler car, but the real point of these films comes through the complicated conversations between characters, like when the mob boss Carmine Falcone points a gun at Bruce Wayne in a seedy bar during “Batman Begins” and says ….

“Look around you. You’ll see two councilmen, a union official, a couple off-duty cops, and a judge. Now, I wouldn’t have a second’s hesitation of blowing your head off right here and right now in front of them. That’s power you cant buy. That’s the power of fear. … People from your world have so much to lose. Now, you think because your mommy and daddy got shot, you know about the ugly side of life, but you don’t. You’ve never tasted desperate.”

This is why Bruce Wayne left to turn himself into a batman – to taste desperate. He returns after years of training to fight corruption itself. Yes, he takes down Falcone and battles Ra’s Al-Ghul to save the city, but his true goal is acting as a symbol for the people to know fear can be overcome, so they don’t need to bend their knees to corruption. When Wayne, in “Dark Knight,” finally meets do-gooder district attorney Harvey Dent, he sees someone real who can take the torch and turn the people away from the symbol of Batman toward a real person willing to show his face as he’s battling real-world-style evil.

Then what happens? Dent becomes overwhelmed by the callously indifferent terrorism of Joker, and breaks. The huge lesson of “The Dark Knight” is that a truly crazy person, properly motivated, can take away the best things about ourselves if we let him. It’s true. Joker is cackling with glee at the end of that film, because he was at least a little right about us. So those people on the boats didn’t blow each other up. Big deal. He’d still stirred up an epic shit storm and corrupted the city’s savior.

Which is all a very long way to bring us to this question: What does Bane represent? The villain of “The Dark Knight Rises” is not like his character in the comic books, a hulking and hyper-intelligent brute who can super-charge his own muscles by injecting an experimental chemical into his blood stream.

This Bane is leading a revolutionary movement against the forces who think they control us through money. When the financier of Bane’s criminal enterprise, a douchey suit on the Wayne Corp. board named Roland Daggett, realizes Bane’s plan won’t help a very rich man get even richer, he demands respect from Bane because he’s given him so much money.

Bane’s response is important: “You think this gives you power over me?”

It’s Catwoman who says the line that best articulates what’s at stake in the world of “Rises.” She says it almost as a warning more than a threat: “There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you’re all going to wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.”

Bane’s men, it is demonstrated and said out loud, will happily die for him. They want to take machine guns onto the stock exchange and scare an entire metropolis with the threat of a nuclear bomb. They bury the Gotham police force, then free and arm all the criminals in prison (many of whom were denied parole under the “Dent Act,” a law built on a lie). They stage rowdy show trials, where their enemies are sentenced to terrible death without a hearing.

These guys needed a leader, and that’s where Bane’s genius lies. Yet we learn almost nothing about any of them as they execute a plan to destroy everything. Is that because they’re all just normal people?

“The Dark Knight Rises” is Fascinating and Terrible

In the world of fictional action, heroes are empowered to do whatever they can to hunt terrorists. The higher power in the world of fictional action is not our safety as citizens, because we aren’t a part of that world. The higher power is the Story, moving from beginning to middle to end with, hopefully, a series of exciting encounters punctuating the journey.

So we don’t care how Batman tracks down the Joker, because they’re both made up and because the people Joker is threatening aren’t real.

That’s a theory, anyway. Heath Ledger was so classic as Joker in “The Dark Knight” that even someone like me, who finds George W. Bush symbolism in everything I watch (except “Bowling for Columbine”), could dismiss how neoconservative Batman turned at the end of that flick, bugging everyone in the city of Gotham so he could track down a single terrorist.

That’s Bane as a little kid. His origin in the comic book is a lot more interesting than what we’re provided in the movie.

After watching “The Dark Knight Rises,” though, I have to wonder a bit more about Batman’s politics. One of the greatest weapons a movie can have is ambiguity, and so I found it somewhat thrilling to watch the villain Bane violently take over Gotham City’s stock exchange. We see a douchey banker in a pink-tinged suit getting his shoes shined and automatically think, “That guy’s a dick.” Turns out, though, that he’s the victim here, being tossed around violently by a muscle-bound populist. The guy shining the banker’s shoes is the actual monster.

In our real world there has been much clamoring from the political left for some of the top-level bankers in this country, whose fraudulent financial packaging cratered the economy, to be prosecuted. “The Dark Knight Rises” finds lower-class city folk actually enacting brute revenge on these banker types, and it’s sobering and scary to watch.

That was my take, anyway. But check out what Matt Taibbi had to say about “Rises.” Taibbi has been covering financial and political corruption for years in Rolling Stone, and he is my single favorite reporter.

“The film doesn’t disappoint,” he wrote in the new RS, “despite its ‘message,’ which one could almost describe as a Hitlerian whack-off fantasy about an unfairly maligned billionaire who sneaks out at night in bondage masks and Kevlar underpants and uses secret military technology to beat the living shit out of the Occupy movement. Most of the ‘messaging’ in this direction is so idiotic that it goes way over the edge into unintentional comedy – like when Bruce Wayne loses his money and discovers the true meaning of poverty (he answers his own doorbell), or when ‘Batman Begins’ villain Cillian Murphy appears in a cameo to run the neo-Soviet show trials that naturally begin as soon as our billionaire protector is expelled from Gotham.”

Batman is not a lovable everyman, in Taibbi’s view, like Spider-Man or Superman, fighting to protect us against an evil few.

“The new Batman is just the opposite. He’s a brooding, self-serious douche who lives in a mansion, drives a Lamborghini and acts like he can’t even imagine wanting to get laid, unless it somehow helps him fulfill his mission of protecting Gotham from its lurking proletarian criminality. … What depresses Batman is us: our decadence, our disobedience, our refusal to appreciate and treasure the gifts of civilization given to us by noblesse oblige types like his father.”

Think about it: Wayne is years into a self-imposed exile at the beginning of “Rises,” even though his secret identity remains a secret. We’re supposed to believe it’s all because a girl he liked got killed? No way. He can’t come out of his mansion, as Taibbi puts it, because “we suck so much.”

After the fall as a kid, he becomes obsessed with getting as strong and intelligent as possible. He also becomes obsessed with conquering his fear, personified by Batman.

Let’s first acknowledge what the movie’s awesome director Christopher Nolan told the same magazine previously: “We put a lot of interesting questions in the air, but that’s simply a backdrop for the story. What we’re really trying to do is show the cracks of society, show the conflicts that somebody would try to wedge open. We’re going to get wildly different interpretations of what the film is supporting and not supporting, but it’s not doing any of those things. It’s just telling a story.”

And now circle back to the beginning of this post. Who cares about the politics if the action’s good, right?

The action isn’t good, though. It’s kinda awful.

Batman getting totally creamed by Bane was one of the best scenes in the movie. Batman coming back at the end, able to overwhelm Bane in a straight-up fist fight, felt like criminal laziness to me. Bane’s army is warring against the cops all around them when hero and villain come together for their final battle. “What the hell is gonna happen here?” I wondered, excited.

What happened was Batman beat Bane up, punching his mask over and over again until the hulking super-ninja couldn’t keep his dukes up any more. Forget that it’s already been established, conclusively, that Batman can’t beat Bane in a fight. Grrrr.

Is that nitpicking? What about Talia Al-Ghul’s plan to spend years becoming an environmental philanthropist so she could one day seduce Bruce Wayne into giving her his entire company so she could use his fusion reactor as a nuclear bomb? That works for you? What about the time clock on a bomb that supposedly is primed to explode because the materials inside are slowly degrading? What about Batman fixing his protruding vertebrae by hanging from a rope in his cell, so that within a couple months he can rattle off hundreds of pushups and not only climb out from prison on an unclimbable wall but also, miraculously, beat up the giant ninja who easily kicked his ass and broke his back in the first place? He’s supposed to be a normal man, but in “Rises” Bruce Wayne has Wolverine’s super-powered healing abilities.

There should be some limit to the number of lame, nitpicky oddities a movie, even a “Batman” movie, is allowed to feed us. “The Dark Knight Rises” has way too many, and it doesn’t have anything like Ledger’s performance in “Dark Knight” to counterbalance all the dumb suspensions of belief we’re required.

The football field collapsing was a scene that made no sense, but still managed to be the good sort of stupid we can expect and accept from Nolan’s “Batman” trilogy. Even this, though, contained a glaring and infuriating impossibility: There is simply no way Hines Ward could ever return a kickoff for a touchdown.

“The Dark Knight Rises” is a well-made, well-acted, terrible movie. Creepy political messaging is one thing. Terrible plot devices are another. Combine them, and you’ve got something special, and especially weird.

Create a free website or blog at