Way back when, before most of you were even born, Gotham City was a bankrupt whirlpool of depravity, and it was glorious. I can still smell it when I close my eyes: a pornography store on every street, a mugging at every corner, a nefarious impresario demanding you answer his riddles before he lets your family go free. The scent of danger cut through the night air like a sweet jazz riff. Every block was a rich symphony of hustlers, pushers, junkies, johns and tiny, sinister men dressed as penguins.
Truly, Gotham City had it all.
Could today’s youth ever comprehend the smutty majesty of the city in its prime? It was certainly not the corporate, Disneyfied Gotham we have nowadays. No, sir. There was no M&M World back then—we made do with just the Green M&M, and no matter how much you pleaded, those heeled boots stayed on.
Sure, it could be a little rough at times, but that was simply the price of admission to the delirious house of thrills that we called home. To today’s softened sensibilities, I’ll bet the Joker seems pretty crazy with his razor-tipped playing cards and his tailored waistcoat. To us, he was simply part of the scene. Who among us has not been cornered by a fiendish clown in a bodega? That’s Gotham City, baby!
So what the hell happened? It doesn’t take a genius to figure that since a certain caped billionaire began occupying the towering eyesore that is Wayne Manor, things have certainly gone southwards. The changes wrought by this one-percenter, assisted by his handy trust fund and—you guessed it—his own personal butler, have transformed our rat-infested paradise into a tawdry swamp of kitsch.
It all happened so quickly. First—Kapow!—he took away our pornography. Then—Thwack!—he came for the smokers in the restaurants. Finally—Boink!—he locked away the villains. Suddenly, no more henchmen, evil lairs or dastardly plots. Suddenly, our city was neutered, plundered of its charms.
Just yesterday, on a morning stroll in futile search of pornography, I barely recognized the pigsty into which I was born, such was the senseless proliferation of dog-grooming salons sandwiched between gleaming condominiums. Look, that sweaty porno theater became a Chase Bank. Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane is now just a CVS for the Criminally Insane. That Arby’s on the corner, well, some things never change.
Everyone around here is now a plodding, map-waving tourist. Where are the children cavorting in the spray of busted fire hydrants, or running for their lives from some hulking pervert in breathing apparatus? Sure, the Batman has made the city safer, some might even say better. That is, if “better” means that your morning commute doesn’t involve acting as a hostage in a heated standoff. What was wrong with the occasional packed streetcar being wired with dynamite and left hanging from a bridge? Most of us managed just fine before this “crusader” came along.
Nothing better exemplifies this city’s slide into dull mediocrity than the fate of the theater district. Catching a matinee back in the seventies used to be a trip. You’d weave customarily through a riot in the lobby and duck a volley of flaming projectiles just to reach your seat. It didn’t stop there—included in the price of a single ticket, some young, hustling low-life would dispatch both your parents in the alley behind the theater right after the curtain fell.
Compare that with my experience attending a show last week, when I was assaulted only by the blinding cacophony of candy-colored crap that now comprises Gotham Square. Reader, I sank to my knees in despair. It used to be here that a sexy villainess in a skintight cat costume would entice you into a grimy alley and swipe your wallet. Today, she hands out flyers for some Andrew Lloyd Webber production she’s appearing in.
Gotham City was, and I can not stress this enough, awesome until the Batman rolled into town. Here once stood a city of dreamers and trailblazers, bohemians and renegades, a fleeting nirvana of enterprise, ecstasy and world domination. We weren’t chained to listless desk jobs, in thrall to The Man. We did not get wrapped up in quandaries of “political correctness,” “health and safety,” or “child protection.” It was a truth universally accepted that at any moment, day or night, the Penguin could abscond with your children, yet nobody complained. That was simply the way it was, an occupational hazard of residing in the greatest, smelliest, most dangerous city on Earth.
Gotham City has gone soft now. It’s rotten. It’s awful. I’m never leaving.