The Penguin’s plot to become mayor of Gotham in Batman Returns worked in 1992, but that would be pretty crazy now. While the Penguin’s ultimate goal was to get deadly revenge on Gotham City in response to his parents’ rejection as a child, he spent part of the film running for mayor, backed by the unscrupulous Max Schreck. Batman foiled his plans in a way that perhaps fits more with the generational and political climate of the early ’90s than that of the late 2010s and early 2020s.
With Schreck’s help, the Penguin (born Oswald Cobblepot) posed as a selfless outcast who would save Gotham City from the vicious Red Triangle Gang of former circus performers (of which Penguin was secretly the leader). For a while, Cobblepot enjoyed the feeling of acceptance enough to almost put his mass murder plot on hold, until Batman turned the people of Gotham against him. Returning to his penguin moniker, Cobblepot resumed his nightmarish master plan, which Batman also foiled.
Using recordings of the Penguin insulting the people of Gotham City, Batman and Alfred hacked into the Penguin’s speaker systems during one of his gatherings, revealing to attendees that Cobblepot thought little of them. Realizing that their favorite politician had swindled them, they turn on Penguin, causing him to flee Gotham and return to the Sewers and the Red Triangle Gang. The eagerness of the citizens of Gotham to accept a seemingly oppressed downtrodden champion, but the equal speed of realizing he was a fraud reflects the real end of yuppyism of the day and the rise of Gen X. Sadly, it does. It’s extremely hard to imagine Batman turning them against Penguin in today’s political climate.
The so-called postie generation of adults who would constitute the majority of Gotham’s electoral population in 1993 would have been tired of the excesses and late-stage yuppie institutions at the time, as a reflection of the real world of the early ’90s. And as clearly unfit as the Penguin was for the office, he performed perfectly in the generation’s blind spots, describing himself as the ultimate underdog. He was the antithesis of the politicians Gen X saw piling the social burden of the homeless, rampant unemployment rates and the deficit on them, when their parents grew up enjoying excess that they could never emulate. . Penguin’s tragic backstory and his rise up the gutter made him the ultimate poster for a provocative vote in his favor. Even without obvious qualifications for the office, the citizens of Gotham during the 1993 era were more than willing to accept the seemingly idealistic Cobblepot. But they were also more tuned in to the scandal, having grown up during the Watergate era, and as soon as the flaws in Cobblepot’s idealism appeared, the citizens of Gotham turned around.
In today’s post-truth society, it’s hopelessly unrealistic to assume that the people of Gotham (or anywhere for that matter) would have the critical thinking skills to reassess their favorite politician when introduced to them. incriminating factual information about them. Especially with a financier with the financial power and weight of Max Schreck behind him. In a modern Batman movie, it’s sadly easy to imagine the leaked Penguin tapes being declared “fake news” by a population unwilling to question their chosen leader. If anything, Batman may inadvertently get Penguin’s constituency to support him more fervently.
What appears to be a cynical commentary on politics and herd mentalities ultimately turned out to be an idealized representation of voters, at least by today’s standards. Even the most ardent supporters of Danny DeVito’s Perfect Penguin have reacted to the facts and abandoned him upon discovering his cunning. What worked in 1992 would be blatantly unrealistic today, and perhaps Batman should have sabotaged Penguin’s mayoral campaign in another way in a modern version of Batman Returns.
Next: Batman’s New Penguin Inspiration Reflects Burton’s Genie Thing
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