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Spotlight: The Joke’s On Us

Spotlight: The Joke’s On Us

Friend of the show, André La Roche, shines a light on the controversy surrounding the release of Warner Bros.’ Joker.

The story surrounding Joker‘s release is often as problematic and disturbing as the movie itself. Image source: Warner Bros.

By now, it’s safe to say that the movie Joker is unlikely to incite self-professed incels to violence—a fear that’s been well documented across the internet. What interests me is the question of why, when so little was known of the movie, was the fear amongst certain individuals so strong and so palpable? And now that the movie has been in theatres for three weeks, and the threat of violence diminished, what value can its skeptics find upon viewing it?

The teaser trailer for Joker. Source: Warner Bros./YouTube

It’s always difficult to enter a discussion on a topic when emotions have run high, hot, and intense. The emotions themselves that people felt leading up to Joker’s release—fear, anger, revulsion—are all obviously real and experienced, especially in light of the potential for politicized real world violence such as the death of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville. There is no arguing with the fact that those emotions were validly felt. However, there is plenty to gain in evaluating why we had those emotional reactions to this particular movie in the first place.

I remember first seeing this narrative of “Joker as inciting violence” when the first trailer dropped. Scenes of Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck sitting heavy with defeat in therapy or walking around the squalid streets of Gotham City. This contrasts with his voice-over telling the therapist how his mother thought that his purpose was to bring laughter and joy to the world. Fleck is presented as a man relentlessly abused by society and takes it with a quiet restraint: a victim. A wordless montage set to the crooning vocals of Jimmy Durante’s “Smile” depicts him dancing with his mother, on a date with a young woman, at Arkham State Hospital (or Arkham Asylum for the cool comics readers in the back of the room) before the chaos escalates. “I used to think my life was a tragedy,” he informs the viewer, as the montage cuts between scenes of his own personal deterioration and adoption of the Joker persona, and Gotham City’s wider descent into lawlessness. “But now I realize it’s a comedy,” he concludes, as he strides confidently down a white hallway, fully clad in clown face paint, green hair, and a purple suit, exuding a confidence that we can assume is only gained by fighting back.

The legal act of inciting violence essentially requires a specific call to violent action against specific targets in a specific manner…something that a movie about a fictional character living in an early 1980s fictional city is unlikely to do.

One of my friends wondered via Facebook posting, “Is this the right time for a movie about a loner white male out to get revenge on society?” From there, I only began to see more and more individuals pose the same or similar questions. All from just a trailer and description of a movie.

There were fears about a repeat of the Aurora, Colorado shooting conducted by an individual who was (erroneously) reported as having dressed as the Joker. But there were no concrete threats. At least not until after the narrative had gained traction and taken root in the public consciousness. But for the majority of time leading up to the film’s release. . . nothing. Much ado about that.

“Well,” some might say, “This film could have incited violence.” But again––“could”, devoid of any actionable evidence or credible threats seems like a large leap to make. Moreover, the legal act of inciting violence essentially requires a specific call to violent action against specific targets in a specific manner—such as saying, “I implore my listeners to find local attorney Joe Smith as he’s on his way from home and kick the living tar out of him.” This is something that a movie about a fictional character living in an early 1980s fictional city is unlikely to do.

The film’s focus was untethered to any single ideology, but rather promised an ur-mythology regarding a fall from grace of a favored son set against the backdrop of revolution. A paradise lost, if you will.

So, in the absence of evidence of a credible threat, or of incitement, why so much fear about a movie that was yet to be seen? Why so much fear about the mere artistic treatment of notions of alienation, loneliness, and violent reprisal? I’m honestly unable to provide an answer to that, because I didn’t count myself among those concerned about the film’s influence on society. For one, I simply didn’t see anything in the trailer that inclined me to think this movie was going to have a message that resonated with incel culture. Instead, its focus on personal deterioration, and a vague implication of social upheaval were untethered to any single ideology, but (as is the nature of comic books) rather promised an ur-mythology regarding a fall from grace of a favored son set against the backdrop of revolution. A paradise lost, if you will. These themes can be found in any and all political or religious doctrines. In short, I saw this film as promising to deliver tantalizingly dark cinema. By the time it arrived in theaters, I was not disappointed.

Joker is a movie of juxtapositions applicable to any number of real-world scenarios. Image source: Warner Bros.

So why the initial outrage? Instead of trying to answer the question, I’ll turn it back on those who were the most concerned about Joker’s impact. Why did the mere idea of this movie unsettle you so much? What was it about the vague descriptions and trailers of its themes and contents that caused this movie to register as politicized agitprop that would inspire alt-right and incel mass shooters as opposed to just being about a violent and nihilistic madman?

And dare I make the suggestion that the best, most honest way to answer the above question for yourself is by sitting down and just watching the movie. Now that Joker’s out, you know you won’t merely be consuming political propaganda that you disagree with. Observe how it depicts its fictional reality and characters, observing within yourself the moods that those depictions stir, and how they impact your worldview? And then maybe, just maybe, after walking away from the movie fully informed, reflect upon why you reacted as you originally did. Perhaps the answers and insights that you derive will surprise you.

Otherwise, if the reaction that was directed at Joker is indicative of what future “dangerous movies” can expect, it’d be enough to make an individual wonder whether it was just them, or if it was getting crazier out there.

Math That Works

Math That Works

WEEK IN GEEK: Taking a break from the news, Andrew and D. Bethel talk about the things that have been interesting to them over the last week or so. First, Andrew goes back to finish Unknown Worlds Entertainment’s Subnautica. Then D. Bethel finds much to appreciate––and much to make him uncomfortable––in the recent film, Joker. Then, to round things out, Andrew also gets underwhelmed but intrigued by the possibility found in Lazy Bear Games’ Graveyard Keeper.

RELEVANT LINKS:

RELEVANT EPISODES:

  • Shortcast 21 – Love the Stank (30 Dec 2016): Where Andrew harvests his experience playing Stardew Valley.
  • Episode 126 – Not Choosable Parts (10 March 2017): Where D. Bethel discusses another challenging comic book movie, Logan.
  • Shortcast 28 – Linguistic Bravado (11 Aug. 2017): Where Andrew and D. talk about Lazy Bear Games’ previous game, Punch Club.
  • It’s Always A Game (08 Feb. 2019): Where Andrew first talked about his time with Subnautica.
  • Tummy Drums (04 Oct. 2019): Where D. Bethel mentions “grotesque” art when discussing Warhammer 40,000 (the show notes also include a link to the Wikipedia explanation of “grotesque” in art and literature).

INFO:

FEATURED MUSIC:

Reliable Virtual Helmets

Reliable Virtual Helmets

WEEK IN GEEK: This week, Andrew watches the trippy but artistic and engaging new Amazon Prime show, Undone starring Rosa Salazar, while D. Bethel––amidst all of his academic toil––finds time to be challenged and charmed by the actual roguelike deckbuilding phone game, Meteorfall: Journey by SlothWerks.

RELEVANT LINKS:

RELATED EPISODES:

INFO:

FEATURED MUSIC:

Start With Doom

Start With Doom

CAN YOU SDCC ME NOW?: Though San Diego Comic Con is ostensibly about comic books, the biggest announcements that seem to come out of the show revolve around cinematic and televised properties. Andrew and D. Bethel focus on the announcements that not only ignited their excitement but also triggered their critical processes, from the Cats trailer to the next big DC/CW “Arrowverse” crossover event to the new Star Trek show to Marvel’s Phase 4 lineup.

RELEVANT LINKS:

Image Credit: Pocket Books/Marvel/CBS

RELEVANT EPISODES:

INFO:

FEATURED MUSIC:

The Future Is Only Forward

The Future Is Only Forward

WEEK IN GEEK: We start with Andrew getting a bit sick while trying to play multiple versions of Minecraft before D. Bethel gets charmed by the grimdark world of the 2017 NetherRealm hit, Injustice 2, and then rounding back to Andrew as he talks about Rodney Thompson’s heist RPG in a box, Dusk City Outlaws.

RELEVANT EPISODES:

INFO:

FEATURED MUSIC:

Guestcast 03 – Muted Police Action

Guestcast 03 – Muted Police Action

A TAYLORED EXPERIENCE: With D. Bethel locked behind closed doors to grade the work of his beloved students, friend-of-the-show Taylor Katcher has graciously stepped in to help Andrew in his hour of need. Together, they run the gamut of nerdy topics, from Super Smash Bros. to Betrayal Legacy to Civilization VI on the iPhone to the most recent DC/CW crossover event, “Elseworlds.”

RELEVANT EPISODES:

  • Guestcast 02 – Ready Taylor One: Taylor’s last appearance on the last Guestcast. Also, in the “Related Episodes” section of the notes, you can find all of the other times Taylor has appeared on the show.

INFO:

For all intents and purposes, that was an episode recap.

FEATURED MUSIC:

-“District Four” by Kevin McLeod (incompetech.com)*
-“Disco Medusae” by Kevin McLeod (incompetech.com)*
*Tracks are licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Shortcast 45 – The Cure for Canon Shift

Shortcast 45 – The Cure for Canon Shift

THE LONG CON-TINUITY: After years of teasing the topic, Andrew and D. finally sit down to talk about continuity. It starts with the continuity issues surrounding Star Wars and Disney’s purge of their Extended Universe, before it descends into talk about its benefits, its setbacks, and why it can be used as a weapon.

RELATED LINKS:

  • The ending to St. Elsewhere (re: the reference to the “snow globe ending” in this episode, referring to the very end of the show, St. Elsewhere, where it was revealed that the show was actually just a fictional universe imagined by an autistic child):

INFO:

For all intents and purposes, that was an episode recap.

FEATURED MUSIC:

-“District Four” by Kevin McLeod (incompetech.com)*
-“Disco Medusae” by Kevin McLeod (incompetech.com)*
*Tracks are licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Shortcast 40 – Shortcast Your Mom

Shortcast 40 – Shortcast Your Mom

WEEK IN GEEK – COMIC BOOK TV SHOW EDITION: Andrew tunes in to the CW’s newest superhero premiere––Black Lightning––while D. Bethel looks back at the first season of Fox’s The Gifted. SPOILER WARNING

RELATED EPISODES:

RELEVANT LINKS:

INFO:

For all intents and purposes, that was an episode recap.

FEATURED MUSIC:

-“District Four” by Kevin McLeod (incompetech.com)*
-“Disco Medusae” by Kevin McLeod (incompetech.com)*
*Tracks are licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Episode 152 – My Own Finger

Episode 152 – My Own Finger

WEEK IN GEEK: Having missed last week’s Week in Geek, Andrew and D. Bethel decide to…skip it again so they can spend as much time with––

THE STATE OF THE DCEU-NION: Returning to the show is the resident DC expert, Taylor Katcher, to talk about 2017 in DC––movies, tv, and comics.

RELATED EPISODES:

WORKS CITED:

INFO:

For all intents and purposes, that was an episode recap.

FEATURED MUSIC:

-“Disco Medusae” by Kevin McLeod (incompetech.com)*
-“District Four” by Kevin McLeod (incompetech.com)*
*Tracks are licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Episode 149 – We Are Not Here

Episode 149 – We Are Not Here

WEEK IN GEEK: A Week In Geek extravaganza as both Andrew and D. discuss their respective forays in to Justice League-adjacent ventures as Andrew watches all four episodes of the CW’s “Crisis on Earth X” four-show crossover while Dan watches Justice League and they discuss––at length––what each interpretation does well and what could be done better.

RELATED EPISODES:

INFO:

For all intents and purposes, that was an episode recap.

FEATURED MUSIC:

-“Stayin’ in Black” by Wax Audio