|It starts here.|
Let me also preface by saying that I am a white male, and that I was, once, a young white male.
Of late, I've been harried on twitter and elsewhere for my decision not to see the new movie, usually with the argument that I cannot "have an opinion without giving it a chance." My position is that almost certainly, nothing about the basic character of the Joker is changed in the new film ~ and this, in my opinion, is borne out of the excitement and anticipation I heard from fans prior to the film's release, and the excitement and satisfaction of those exact same fans who saw the film. Clearly, these fans, prior to seeing the film, wanted to see more of the character they already knew, and clearly, they came away from the film having seen more of the character they already knew. I do not need to see a hammer fall to know that it will when I let go. Therefore, I do not need to see the Joker film to decide how I feel about the character, the Joker.
Unlike those who are most vocal about the character, I was alive and well and 25 years old when Tim Burton's version of Batman came out with Jack Nicholson playing the part. I experienced the fan-boy gushing about the "new darkness" of the character then, with all the hype and tribalism that created, in which my generation happily ditched the campy Cesare Romero character in favor of this exciting, bold, vicious, madcap insane version. It was blatantly clear in 1989 that this love-affair was pursued by a particular kind of white male, who gushed exhaustively about the character's free use of violence as a form of expression.
I did see the film and I considered it a vapid mess. It drove the coffin nail in the lid with regards to Tim Burton and me, beginning a long, unpleasant series of multiple experiences being in rooms with white males expounding the genius of a character that randomly and "cleverly" kills people for no particular reason except as a form of personal expression. It doesn't matter if they die, it doesn't matter who dies, all that matters is that they die in a way that's interesting. This baton was thereafter taken up by a host of serial killer movies that spawned throughout the 1990s, including Silence of the Lambs, Seven, Natural Born Killers, Citizen X, Kiss the Girls and Copycat. The genre began to falter after 2000, as the plots grew weaker and more esoteric, culminating in 2007's Zodiac, a serial killer film that hardly shows any serial killing.
With the passing years, Nicholson's version of the character grew less and less popular with the new generation, so that these conversations about the brilliant, wonderous magnificence of the Joker diminished ... and I might have been happy except that Christopher Nolan picked a very capable actor to play his Joker in The Dark Knight, where again the character was darkened with a sharpie sufficiently enough to inspire a whole new generation of specifically oriented young white men to again take up the Joker's cause celebre. Once again, I was told the new film would be "terrifying" and "brooding," just as I had been told about Burton's vision ... and once again, seeing the film, I found it a ghastly mess of plot holes, irrelevant philosophy, prattling bullshit and insipid dialogue and writing. None of that mattered, however, because the Joker was alive and well and deeply beloved again.
So, again, I found myself in the same round of endless crappy discussions in rooms with white males about how murder and irrational behaviour is really an exciting art form of a sort, or at least transformatively a form of release and structured anger against the establishment. I hadn't realized it at the time, but there were certain comparisons to be made with those white men who did not realize that Fight Club was a morality play against fighting, and not an invitation to stupidly fight in small darkly lit basements. I did not make that comparison in 2008. I had not yet been woke. I remember my principle thought at the time was that if we could simply castrate all the dumbfuck white men who loved the Joker's character, we could fix many problems of the world within a generation.
It was clear after 2008 that the Joker's popularity was gathering speed. Unlike Burton's introduction, Nolan's version had the benefit of youtube and social media. Nicholson was rebranded "camp," reducing that depiction to the level of Cesare Romero, and I did get some satisfaction from the world deciding, at last, that the 1989 film was actually shit, along with the three films that followed. I had said so from the beginning, and mostly using the exact same phrases that are often used today. Apparently, I was ahead of my time. Sadly, I'll have to wait until 2038 before the social version of today's media turns on Nolan and acknowledges that that movie was shit, too.
Is the reader, no doubt in love with the Joker, good and ramped up now? Well good. Buckle up. This is just the beginning.
Further clarity about the Joker's character was made possible by 2016's Suicide Squad, in which Jared Leto's character is presented with such bold, pornographic delight as to spectactularly outline with crystal clarity the innate fascination with the character of young white males. In particular, the flame war that ensued surrounding that character. I won't go into it. We were all there. Most importantly, the flame war demonstrated that the Joker was not merely a character, and not merely a series of artistic versions spawning back to the 1940s (literally, April 25th, 1940). The original was a psychopath with a warped sense of humor, who became Romero's goofy prankster as the comics industry was "cleaned up" post-war. By 2016, the Joker had grown into a form of political identification ... and one that could easily inspire direct violence and irrational stupidity on a deepened scale. Not only did Holmes want to be the joker; there were thousands of voices on the internet ready to defend Holmes' right to want that. We were through the looking glass.
So I began to pick the matter apart from this new perspective, not having any real answers to provide. I already did not like the character ~ so anything I was going to say would undoubtedly be biased ~ as surely, the Joker-loving reader considers me to be now. And yet, what is a Joker-lover except biased?
I am not being bombarded with demands that I see the new film, Western Stars, despite my not liking Bruce Springsteen, either (who is also hallowed by a particular kind of white male).
True enlightenment came about a year ago, when I was working at a retail store as a writer and client manager. One of the co-workers there learned of Todd Phillips' coming film and at once proceeded to orgasm all over himself about the choice of Joaquin Phoenix as the character. Phoenix has a peculiar reputation and it was assumed that he, in particular, would really be able to relate to the Joker character. This was encouraged by this teaser trailer released in 2018, that my co-worker played repeatedly on his desktop without headphones. The English version seems to have been scoured from the net, but it was alive and well last year.
Nothing about this teaser suggested I had any interest in watching the film.
Because my co-worker was willing to argue, and being a young white male, we had about a dozen back and forths about the Joker, what the Joker stood for, who liked him, why, what the best sort of movie about the Joker would be and so on. My co-worker was, yes, a white male, 33 years old, but somewhat less than grown-up because of his age, having spent his life mostly in jobs that enabled him to play at being an I.T. guy. He had most of the characteristics of this sort of person.
I began to organize a theory. The Joker, I reasoned, appeals to white men because, as a whole, white men feel dissatisfied by the present political state of the world. They are told day and night that they have a certain "entitlement" on account of being white, which they don't personally feel as they look around at their minimum-wage, heavy labor jobs in which they have no actual power and for which they receive no appreciation or attention. They do not realize that their expectation of power and attention is, itself, a function of the entitlement they feel. If they weren't white, they wouldn't expect these things, or get mad when they don't manifest. But they cannot understand this. They just know they're unhappy and that they hate what they see as a constant, rancorous persecution of their innocent existence.
And, in fact, it is innocent. They did not choose to be white and they did not choose to be entitled. It was foistered on them without their complicit approval. But innocence in birth and status does not translate to social responsibility and educated awareness. Their innocence is not the crime, but their insistence of being innocent, their declarative shouting that they have a right to be innocent, the facile resistance they have towards having anything but innocence, determines ultimately that they really aren't any more and that they're using this bullshit innocence as a shield, protecting them from waking the fuck up and realizing they are still responsible for the sins of their parents.
In the Joker, these white men see something they can identify with: a character who resists the system, but not for political reasons, not for class reasons, not for the sake of money or authoritative power ... but purely for the priviledged right to resist, in part because that resistance doesn't have to be justified or explained or defended. White men want to be angry and to fight back, but they don't want to talk about it, because talking only leads to arguments they cannot produce logic against. The Joker doesn't argue. He doesn't explain. He doesn't have "reasons." He is pure rebellion, in the can. He is the angry white man's poster boy.
For non-white men and for women, the Joker is way, way too close to the toxic, randomly encountered white male asshole who decides today is the day to gang together to mock a woman, push a black man down a hill, paint 'slut' across a woman's doorway, torch a Semite's car or pour a milkshake over an Oriental's girlfriend, while grinning and strutting like a cock on the walk ... much like the post Burtonesque Joker tries to look in every fucking scene of every movie I've seen. When combined with cruelty and violence, laughter and fun-times are cruel faces stuck on top of cruel intentions. This was made more than clear decades ago by Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange.
In the short run, white men can really warm themselves to the character ~ but in the long run, the Joker is a really lousy poster boy. There's no real pay-off to emulating or behaving along the Joker's example. As much as white men might identify with him, most are smart enough to know they can't randomly and creatively kill strangers. Most white men aren't really this character. They know where the line is. They go and see the Joker and gush about him vicariously. Not realistically.
Still, that installs an awareness of how impotent white men who bow to the system are. That's fine for a guy like me, who finds other reasons to feel empowered, but for a lone white male who can't find a better icon that the fucking Joker, this is a bleak, scrubby, salt-sown field. Not one damn thing is going to grow here except an inability to take effective action and a pervasive sense of being unfairly judged.
Sooner or later, that's going to result in violence: violence against others or violence against self. And this is not good for anyone's soul.
But I am not going to take a political stand on this issue, or promote censorship or tell anyone else to see the newest film. At the same time, however, I am not going to be told that I cannot make up my mind about something toxic just because I haven't swallowed this shit. I've swallowed enough already, to know what the fuck it is.