Destroying Gotham

Judging from the trailers, it looks like the final installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy will engage in a time honored literary and artistic trope:

Why do we fantasize about blowing up New York so much? Andrew Potter writes in his The Authenticity Hoax:

One of the most enduring developments of declinism in popular culture is the ritualized destruction of the great cities of the world in film, literature, and art. Whether it is worries over economic dislocation, fears of urban alienation, or inchoate anxieties over moral and spiritual softness, we like to take it out on cities such as London, Tokyo, Washington, but, above all, New York. Historian of architecture Max Page wrote an entire book about the portrayals of New York’s destruction, on paper, film, or canvas over the past hundred-odd years, showing how each era uses the city’s death as a way of defining its social concerns and exorcizing its specific demons.

There’s a common thread that underlies it all, though: the deadening of experience in advanced society, the banality of everyday life mixed with the precariousness of the capitalist economy. And so we use our art to destroy New York, “to escape the sense of inevitable and incomprehensible economic transformations … to make our world more comprehensible than it has become.” Page goes on: “A disaster, even when mediated through images or words, still retains an authenticity that has been the quest of modern society for two centuries.”

But why New York? A clue is to be found in the way in which, in the years after 9/11, the attack on the Pentagon has almost completely faded from popular remembrance. Washington, D.C., may be the capital of the American empire, but New York is the capital of modernity, or as Oswald Spengler put it, the “monstrous symbol” of the modern world. Whether it is King Kong making his final stand atop the Empire State Building or the lizard in Cloverfield ripping the head off of the Statue of Liberty, it is something significantly more than a tourist attraction that is under assault from these monsters of nature. (70-71)