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Occupy Gotham: Analysing the Dark Knight Rises Viral Campaign

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Mic check

MIC CHECK

Two new languages

TWO NEW LANGUAGES

Two new languages rose to prominence in the early 2010s. The first was the communal, crowd-speech of the Occupy movement, where a speaker had his or her words amplified by a human microphone. The second was also communal, but digital. It was the language of Twitter, where a hashtag became a sort-code, but also a thematic tag, serving a similar purpose to the italicised moral at the end of an Aesop's fable, or the chorus in a classical play: 'Cops bringing out pepper spray #SoundsLikeaChallenge'. 'Arrests have started #WhoseStreetsOurStreets'.

Of course, the two developed together, evolving from the 2009 Iranian election protests through the Arab Spring to Wall Street in 2011-12. And now they've slipped sideways, as if crossing the barrier between parallel universes, into the world of fiction, and Batman's Gotham City.

With hindsight, it seems obvious. The movie's first viral campaign was itself crowd-sourced; fans were invited to record their own voices chanting a rhythmic, enigmatic phrase (dey-shay bah-sah-rah, bah-sah-rah, though if you listen to it long enough, it sounds a lot like 'This is Gotham, Gotham'), which was compiled into a cycling soundtrack on the Dark Knight Rises website, in May 2011. That sound file, in turn, could be transformed into a visual pattern using the right software, and revealed the hashtag '#TheFireRises', which, when tweeted enough times, gradually revealed a mosaic image of Tom Hardy as Bane.

The second teaser trailer, released in December 2011, featured the chant again, with fan voices now incorporated into the fiction. But the focus now was on Bane's vocals, which went beyond Batman's adenoidal growl (to be fair, he was raised by Michael Caine) into a raspy mumble: online critics complained that his few lines of dialogue ("When Gotham is ashes, you have my permission to die") were distorted to the point of incomprehensibility. That voice has been adjusted to an eerily plummy, proper accent, still filtered by a face-mask, in the latest trailer, but to remove all the distortion would be missing the point entirely.

Bane is the voice of the early 2010s: the voice of the crowd, the voice of the people, the voice of the loudspeaker, the mic check, the megaphone. Bane's is the voice that leads the masses, that speaks to the group, that rises over the contemporary city. Bane is the voice of social media: articulate, mobile, fluid, powerful. He isn't just one man, but many. He can be everywhere at once, en masse as well as muscle mass. And his counterpart Wayne - fitting that 'Bane' crushes 'Bruce' (or 'Batman') and 'Wayne' together - is the voice of the 1%, the privileged minority whose time may have come and gone.

"There's a storm coming, Mr Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches," Selina purrs in the second teaser trailer. "Cause when it hits, you're all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large, and leave so little for the rest of us." In the most recent clip, she adds one further thought: "I'm adaptable."

And that, surely - rather than brains or brawn - is going to decide this final battle between Bane and Batman. Bane first appeared as a mosaic, pieced together from tweets; his chant was compiled from thousands of fan voices. Now Batman, to fight back, has to harness that contemporary crowdsourcing, too. The new trailer shows a snatched shot of a chalked bat on a wall; like the chant, that device crossed over from fiction into real life. The latest viral campaign sent people out across the world to find and photograph identical graffiti and tweet it, piecing together film frames in a collective effort.

Batman has to be more than just a man, to reclaim Gotham City. He has to be a myth. He has to be a folk icon, something that belongs to the people, someone who can be everywhere and nowhere. He has to be a mosaic. And that may mean that 'Bruce Wayne' has to die, so Batman can live forever, floating free of time and geography as an idea, rather than a single figure; a concept articulated in fiction by Grant Morrison's Batman Incorporated, and also in my own book Hunting the Dark Knight.

But as Jonathan McIntosh has shown through his stunning video mashups at RebelliousPixels.com, Wayne Enterprises is a "a monster company of truly Orwellian proportions...the largest, most powerful company on the planet." "You've given them everything", Selina insists. "Not everything," Bruce gasps back. Until Wayne gives up some of his immense privilege to the people, does he even deserve to triumph?

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