In denouncing "The Dark Knight Rises" before he'd actually seen it, Rush Limbaugh dipped his big toe a little too quickly into the conspiratorial waters that usually serve him well.
In striving to be first with the most absurd conspiracy theory of the week about the final installment of director Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, Mr. Limbaugh was destined to lose his demagogic advantage early.
"This movie has been in the works for a long time, the release date's been known, summer 2012 for a long time," he said in his first rant about the film. "Do you think it is accidental that the name of the really vicious, fire-breathing, four-eyed, whatever-it-is villain in this movie is named Bane?"
Rush understands that his audience is more opinionated than it is sophisticated, so he knew very few of his callers would expect him to back up his silly notion with the stray fact or two. He took advantage of their ignorance and bellowed on:
"This movie, the audience is going to be huge, [a] lot of people are going to see the movie. And it's a lot of brain-dead people, entertainment, the pop-culture crowd," he said. "And they're going to hear 'Bane' in the movie, and they are going to associate Bain. And the thought is that when they start paying attention to the campaign later in the year, and Obama and the Democrats keep talking about Bain, not Bain Capital, but Bain, Romney and Bain, that these people will think back to the Batman movie."
The amount of mockery that fell on him within hours of that monologue must have really shaken the talk radio host, because the next day he denied he'd said anything of the sort.
His ears were probably still stinging from the laughter of mainstream Americans who weren't as gullible as his ditto-heads. He was also smarting from being called out for his ignorance by a self-described lifelong "right-winger," Chuck Dixon, who co-created the Bane character in 1992 and steered him into memorable battles with Batman, earning him the role as the prime villain in Mr. Nolan's new movie.
Once Rush realized he'd stepped in a batch of his own confection, he doubled down on the stupid and insisted he knew Bane wasn't a stand-in for capitalism all along, but that he was merely warning his listeners that Democrats would try to conflate Bane with Bain. By the end of his Wednesday broadcast, Rush was in full retreat. "Batman is Romney," he said. "The good guy is Romney." It was a remarkable evolution for the clueless talk radio host.
In the comic book as well as the movie, Bane is an anarchist whose politics are anti-capitalist. In the film, he leads a band of Jacobins who help him foment class warfare between Gotham's 1 percent and the rest of society. Bane empties the prison, deputizes the criminals, obliterates the police and establishes a kangaroo court to judge and execute the rich.
"There's a storm coming, Mr. Wayne," Selina Kyle, the Catwoman, whispers in the ear of Batman's alter ego during a charity ball early in the film. "You're all going to wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us."
If anyone should be paranoid, it should be folks on the left who could, if they were inclined, interpret the movie as a critique of Occupy Wall Street as filtered through the prism of Fox News and Breitbart.com.
"The Dark Knight Rises" is anything but a thinly veiled Hollywood plot against Mitt Romney and Bain Capital. Rush and his ilk are prepared to believe the worst because they've internalized the cliche that Hollywood is "liberal," when it would be more accurate to say that Hollywood is mercenary and amoral.
Whatever stands the best chance of making money will get made in Hollywood, even if the film glorifies a rich vigilante (Bruce Wayne/Batman) who takes the law into his own hands for a higher good.
The irony of Rush's rant is that his criticism completely misses the fact that the template for Mr. Nolan's vision of the character is based on "Batman: The Dark Knight" (1986), a series created by right-wing cartoonist Frank Miller that was reflexively paranoid and pro-authoritarian, which is right up Rush's alley. The comic book industry is full of right-wingers, unfortunately.
Recently, Mr. Miller explicitly criticized the Occupy movement as "pond scum," so don't be shocked if El Rushbo suddenly has a Damascus Road moment when it comes to the Dark Knight.
Tony Norman: email@example.com or 412-263-1631. Twitter: @TonyNormanPG.