Long Live Fictional Journalism

The Dark Knight Rises
The Dark Knight Rises

My biggest problem with The Dark Knight is that part where the weaselly employee figures out that the Batmobile tearing up Gotham’s streets is of Wayne Enterprises design, and connects his playboy billionaire boss to the mysterious caped crusader. Morgan Freeman is able to deflect this revelation with a nice little Morgan Freeman joke, about how he shouldn’t blackmail Batman lest he get bat-punched or whatever, but I’ve always wondered: why didn’t that dude go to the press?

It isn’t the first time I’ve wondered, while watching a movie, where all the reporters were. The Batman movies are perhaps the prime examples of fictional reporters failing their duty. Their city is captivated by the exploits of an unknown superhero, and no enterprising journalist can be bothered to snoop around and realize that Batman’s using a suspicious amount of Wayne Enterprises technology? Or that he has a habit of appearing right after Bruce Wayne disappears? The weaselly Wayne employee figured it out, and he was a real goober.

A plucky Gotham City reporter does a little investigating, and that story’s blown wide open. Fictional Pulitzer for sure. And we know that Gotham has some prominent and fairly unscrupulous news outlets – the Joker keeps sending his crazy hostage tapes to the local TV stations, who just go ahead and put that disturbing shit on the air to create widespread panic.

Most movies, you would hope, are constructed around a plot that’s compelling enough that, were the story to take place in the real world, at least one pretty interesting feature article could be written about it. If I like a movie, it’s likely I’d also enjoy it as a longform magazine piece if its plot were true.

But some movies rise above the rest, by creating such a complete and elaborate world, or by featuring such interesting characters that would make for such good sources and give such great quotes, that it’s hard not to be a little envious of the fictional reporters who also hypothetically inhabit the movie’s world. Some movies are goddamn fictional journalism goldmines, and yet these fake reporters are blowing it.

Gotham is the first film setting that springs to mind, because it’s a pretty fleshed-out world – organized crime, police corruption, and the rise of reform-minded politicians are just some of the many, many ongoing local narratives – and also because really traumatic, disastrous things keep happening to it. Any superhero movie, really, creates all kinds of stories that reporters should be all over (shout out to the Daily Bugle and the Daily Planet, two truly terrible news organizations), from investigations into the lax security at biolabs to man-on-the-street-that-Spider-Man-just-flew-over interviews.

Plenty of other films are also rich with opportunity for the crusading fictional newshound, though. Imagine working for the Las Vegas Sun in the Ocean’s movies, for example. What’s the city doing to stop the rash of blackouts and earthquakes triggered by criminals? How did the Bellagio heist change insurance companies’ policies toward the robbery protection for casinos? Does Terry Benedict really have people murdered?

Or let’s get a sportswriter to cover the T.C. Williams team’s tense-but-triumphant preseason camp in Remember the Titans! Where was all the liveblogging during the storm of the millennium in The Day After Tomorrow? Could a magazine have embedded an undercover reporter with Project Mayhem in Fight Club? All those buildings could have been saved!

These are hard enough times for journalists, and the public’s perception of the media is at an all-time low. We don’t need fictional journalists consistently failing to provide the kind of coverage that their audiences deserve. TC mark

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