Op-Ed: Take Us Back to Gotham!

Using Alternate Reality to get us back in touch with Actual Reality.

The following is an opinion piece written by Vincent Marone, a friend of Batman-News.com.

It surely wasn’t your typical mid-Spring day.  A steady hum pulsated through the air across cities, states, and a whole country.  We were in the midst of something big and we would settle for nothing less than to be a part of it.

It was a Friday Afternoon in Center City Philadelphia.  Droves of people bustled about the busy intersections, horns scolded those that went astray, and the sparkling spires of this splendid city ripped into the sunny sky with proud pomp.  It was at 17th and Chestnut Streets, the epicenter of Liberty Place, where an unusual crowd started to gather for seemingly no reason at all.

We were young and old and all shades of light and dark.  We were jeans and t-shirts, slacks and ties, premature sundresses and bundled too tightly for spring.  Through the awkward glances and guarded body language we knew we were there together.  Dozens of strangers uniting for one sole purpose: to take back Gotham City.

At about a quarter after three a white Ford Economy van peeled down 17th and screeched to a stop near the corner.  The mass of people felt their pulse combine into one rhythmic beat; one prideful call.  A strange voice cut through the city’s soundtrack to join in on that call,   “I BELIEVE IN HARVEY DENT!  TAKE BACK GOTHAM!”

Within an instant, Center City Philadelphia transformed into Downtown Gotham City.

The crowd of oddities and strangers burst to life and started to rush the van!  T-shirts, stickers, posters and buttons were being distributed bearing the face and slogan of Gotham City District Attorney hopeful, Harvey Dent.  We were no longer random tenants of Philadelphia gathered aimlessly at a corner.  We felt the change.  We were now citizens of Gotham and we were immersed in the thick of a campaign that would change the scape of our city forever.

We answered in harmony to the calls of the man with the bullhorn, “I BELIEVE IN HARVEY DENT!  TAKE BACK GOTHAM!”  Passersby had no choice but to hear our cries for change.  They too were now citizens of Gotham and they too needed to be a part of what was going down.

Some called it “alternate reality”.  We called it a symbol of hope and unity.

In theory, it was nothing more than a marketing campaign for a tent-pole franchise film for an already uber-rich movie studio.  To us it was a chance to be a part of something bigger than anything we could ever accomplish on our own.

In the summer of 2007 an up-and-coming marketing firm called 42 Entertainment was subcontracted by Warner Bros. to create hype for film director Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight by using what Chris Lee of the L.A. Times called, “advertainment”.   What they wanted to do was raise awareness.  What they got by the time the film was released was an unexpected (and well deserved) outpouring of appreciation from fanboys and comic geeks to film critics and newspaper editors.  Over 10 million unique users participated in one fashion or another during the game.  That ain’t small potatoes.Participants in 42 Entertainment’s Dark Knight Alternate Reality Game not only got a bunch of really cool free stuff.  They got substance.   Along with something much, much deeper.

During a time in a country that is hard pressed fiscally and economically, morale is at a near all-time low.  People are struggling.  Times are tough and smiles (willingly expressed or forcefully carved) are few and far between.  The excitement of this ARG created such a buzz on the internet that a genuine camaraderie was formed between bloggers, drifters and message board trolls who are generally imprisoned behind their keyboards and monitors.  Men and women of all ages, races, sects and creeds left their laptops and desktops and took to the streets to engage in something they were passionate about.  They were able to shake hands, hear one another’s voice, and build friendships that still last today.

Sure.  Harvey Dent may be a fictional character whose political views and standards apply only to a fictional world.  But his message was real.  Hope.  Unity.  Prosperity.  Those principles were at the foundation of his message and those principles are what brought all of us together on that mid-Spring Afternoon in Philadelphia.

With the recent developments on Christopher Nolan’s final Batman film The Dark Knight Rises (slated for a U.S. release on July 20, 2012) we can all but wonder: Will we have a chance to gather ourselves once again for the sake of Gotham City?  This reporter is certainly on a mission to find out sooner than later.  But in the meantime, what’s stopping us from starting now?  What’s stopping us from smiling bigger, working smarter, or unifying for a common purpose?

42 Entertainment CEO Susan Bond described their ARG’s intent best during an October 2008 interview for the Webby Awards.

“It gives you an opportunity to create conversation.  On our panel was Ken Eklund who did World Without Oil.  He was trying to create conversation to think about the oil crisis and what it might mean to us.  We’ve created experiences like, ‘What would it be like to be a citizen of Gotham?’  Bringing Gotham City to life was the spine of that structure.”

She then elaborates further on how participation in their ARGs could result in real people having real conversations while addressing real issues.

“The opportunity to create these worlds and see people get involved in them… and really have them reach out and touch their lives I think is really exciting.  We won a Webby this year for Year Zero which was Trent Reznor’s concept album and that challenge was kind of to bring an (apocalyptic) vision of the future into today… it makes us think a little more seriously about the world we live in and not to take it for granted.”

Bond went on to say that 42 Entertainment only “scratched the surface” in regards to an ARG’s potential.  Whether this means we will once again have the chance to be engrossed in Batman’s “Nolanverse” or not is yet to be seen.  But just like Batman has endured a seventy-one –year history and has filled gaps between generations The Dark Knight Rises can once again get us out from behind our keyboards, monitors and smartphones and start putting our efforts together for one common purpose.  And, who knows?  Maybe when it’s all said and done we’ll have reason to transpose our hope-filled cries for change from an alternate reality to our own.

Vincent Marone is a life-long Batman fan and a Batman-News.com contributor. Views expressed here are his own.

To relive the TDK virals (or learn more) visit WhySoSeriousRedux.com