Hysteria over the Joker movie is unjustified

Paranoid media drums up controversy over false parallel to mass shootings

According to Nathan, the media is overplaying fears about Joker-inspired violence.
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Before the new Joker film was released on Oct. 4, critics feared the filmmakers’ choice to sympathetically portray Arthur Fleck, the character who would become DC Comics villain Joker, would inspire real-life loners to carry out mass shootings at screenings of the movieor elsewhere.

This was based on US military and FBI warnings of credible threats based on “chatter” by incels (self-titled involuntarily celibate males) on the Internet.

Director Todd Phillips responded to these criticisms by citing how Joker is far from the first film to feature a violent protagonist. He referenced John Wick in his justification, in which the titular hero kills hundreds of enemies and is heralded as a hero.

However, context matters as much as the content itself. The controversy surrounding Joker is overblown, as is its potential to provoke dangerous behaviour.   

Unlike other movies, in Joker, good and evil are not clearly delineated. In a film based on Batman’s arch-nemesis, Batman, the clear ‘good guy’ is nowhere to be found. Instead of black-and-white morals, the film offers a murky grey.

Arthur Fleck is victimized by a highly stratified society, not unlike our own. He lives with his mother in a grimy apartment, visits a social worker, and takes medication to supress his delusions. His greatest delusion of all is his dream of being a stand-up comedian, as he’s painfully unfunny.

When Fleck starts killing, his tragic backstory justifies his actions.

Once he gets away with three murders, he realizes he feels no remorse for the killings, which catalyzes his transformation into the Joker. Where Arthur Fleck was miserable and downtrodden by society, the Joker delights in destruction and anarchy. By the end of the film, a mob of clown-masked rioters cheer for him.

Turning evil finally earns him the recognition he’s always wanted.

As such, part of the media’s concern is that the movie will inflame those who already have reasons to view society as the enemy. They fear it will convince those people that reward follows revenge.

These anti-establishment sentiments echo the “We live in a society” and “Gamers rise up” memes which have come to be associated with the Joker character. These memes espouse misogynistic views and bitterness towards the fact that women allegedly prefer “cheating jocks” over men who play video games. While many of these memes are undeniably satirical, that satire is based on the sincere beliefs of the incel community.

For all we know, the threats identified by the FBI may have come from chatrooms that trade in these memes. Thankfully, no screenings of Joker have been attacked so far.

A second unfortunate association exists between the Joker and the real world. In 2012, a man opened fire and released tear gas in a screening of The Dark Knight Rises. It was widely misreported that the shooter was imitating the Joker because his hair was dyed a garish red, and because the movie being shown was the third in the Nolan Batman trilogy.

However, the shooter never made any reference to the Joker (who has green hair) nor did he have Joker makeup on his face. He dyed his hair to match a friend’s, and chose to target a screening of The Dark Knight Rises because he suspected the theatre would be full.

The idea that the Batman franchise or the Joker character itself specifically encourages mass shooters is preposterous.

Films often portray the gritty, weird, and dangerous aspects of life, but real-life violence is often a result of various circumstances, not of what’s shown onscreen. Moreover, there were no concerns expressed when the Joker was brought to the big screen once again in 2016’s Suicide Squad.

To be fair, it’s not ludicrous to argue that deranged people could be inspired by fiction. It’s happened before. When John Hickley shot Ronald Reagan in 1981, he was inspired by Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, which Joker is influenced by.

However, it’s absurd to suggest these films encourage the mental illness and social alienation that give people the capacity and motive for violent attacks. That idea says more about the viewer who identifies with Joker and thinks his actions are worthy of being replicated than it does of the film itself.

If the box office numbers for Joker are any indication, audiences haven’t been scared into hiding by the mass paranoia surrounding the movie.

It’s best we don’t let past perpetrators scare us into avoiding something as simple as viewing a film.

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