“Joker”: A(nother) Violent White Male Narrative

Full disclosure: I have not seen “Joker.” I have no immediate plans to. As Grandpa says in “The Lost Boys,” “Read the TV Guide, you don’t need a TV.”

Honestly, part of me doesn’t even want to write this, because it will give the movie more attention. But ultimately, this movie itself doesn’t really matter. What matters is the context it’s deliberately insinuated into.

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A decade ago, writer-director Todd Phillips created “The Hangover” trilogy, which took the buddy film to its testosterone-laden extreme. By the time he got to the third film, his personal game of oneupmanship left him killing a fictional giraffe on a freeway, causing a multiple car pileup, probably killing some fictional humans, and definitely traumatizing several cars full of fictional children.

Phillips stopped making comedies then, because “woke culture” is so hard on comedians. It had zero to do with decapitating rare animals on film and everything to do with irrational PC warriors.

Full disclosure: I have not seen “The Hangover Part III” either. I did see “The Hangover,” which I didn’t hate at the time, but I’ve grown since then.

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Instead, Phillips’s next big thing is a film about a misunderstood comedian who turns to ultra-violence because society doesn’t understand him.

My first reaction to the trailer for “Joker” was that it was “Taxi Driver” fused with “Death to Smoochy.” Both of those movies are classics, and “Taxi Driver” in particular is a disturbing portrait of a white man who has failed within a society built by his peers.

Had I not already known that “Joker” was about the Batman character, I would not have gleaned it from the trailer. Perhaps there was a mention of Gotham somewhere, but otherwise, it looked like a once-interesting, now-boring character study about a white man who just can’t succeed, and it’s because of Everyone Else.

We sure like to tell that story a lot, don’t we?

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Maybe it’s because white men like to play the victim. We love what Timothy Leary calls “the United States prime time victim show.” In the Revolting Cocks track “Gila Copter,” he asks, “You want a soundtrack that’s gonna make you feel tense? Let you express your frustration? Make ya scared, wanna, wanna run out and buy a gun?”

Apparently, Michael Moore does. He lauds “Joker” as a cinematic masterpiece. “We’ve been told it’s violent and sick and morally corrupt,” he writes. “The greater danger to society may be if you DON’T go see this movie.”

He characterizes Phillips’s version of the Joker as “a person in need of help, someone trying to survive on the margins of a greedy society. His crime is that he can’t get help” after apparently equating him to the Sandy Hook and Columbine murderers.

And this is the true danger of the film. Not the violence, not any moral corruption of the character himself, but the message that it communicates.

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Perhaps Moore is just being sloppy and isn’t really trying to excuse the Sandy Hook and Columbine murders as a product of Daddy not giving attention or affection (a la Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy”). And sure, to a certain degree, mass shootings are a cry for help.

But we need to be extremely careful about giving support for the shooters themselves. Moore mentions “Taxi Driver,” “Network,” “The French Connection,” and “Dog Day Afternoon” as inspirations for “Joker,” but he leaves out an extremely important part of the message, the one communicated by “Falling Down.”

“Falling Down”’s message: Just because life treats you like crap, that doesn’t justify your explosion.

Absolutely nothing justifies the shootings in Sandy Hook or Columbine. And it is extremely telling that the mass shootings that make the headlines are almost always by white men. (Looking at the actual “mass shooting” statistics, whites are not disproportionately represented as perpetrators, but white shooters usually create more victims; meanwhile, 97% of mass shooters are men.)

Anyone who’s paying attention to the world doesn’t need a movie to tell us that white men are using a sense of entitlement and a belief that the world owes them something as an excuse to violently explode. The only new thing that “Joker” appears to add (at least, based on the volumes being written about it) is more fuel to the incel fire.

White men are the least victimized demographic, and yet we as a society kept telling stories about them as victims. As if that’s the only story to be told.

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The tide is changing. Even among superhero movies: Last year’s “Black Panther” laid out a villain in Killmonger who had a reasoned argument for his actions. Next year’s “Birds of Prey” features Harley Quinn, framed in the trailer as a violent feminist rising up against the male-dominated criminal underworld (“I’m the one they should be scared of!”).

But “Joker” serves as a reminder that white male narratives are still being predominantly centered by our society. And the fact that the messenger (Todd Phillips) seems to blame Social Justice Warriors for not laughing at his decapitated giraffe should give us a good deal of pause. If Phillips doesn’t get it, if Moore is too focused on his hatred of Trump to get it (even while exhorting us all to look in the mirror)… it’s a reminder of how deep the White Male Entitlement goes.

There was a lot of concern that “Joker” would lead to mass shootings in theaters, like “The Dark Knight” did. Why should it have? The movie appears, from its advertising and its reviews, to be a paean to mass shooters, an exoneration and celebration of them as the necessary end in a world what done them wrong.

“The Dark Knight” properly villainized the Joker. But Liberal Darling Michael Moore’s main takeaway from “Joker”? “His crime is that he can’t get help.”

That could be the tagline for white male mass shooters.

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Here’s a quote from “Falling Down”: “That doesn’t give you any special right to do what you did today.”

That has to be part of the message. Compassion is important, but so is accountability.

I support much better funding for mental health treatment. I support finding ways to help white men connect and improve the way they process negative emotions. I support gun laws and enforcement that makes it more difficult for dangerous people to get guns and ammunition.

I do not support excusing violent acts on the basis of “the world done him wrong.” Especially white men, since there are so many stories with that message already.

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Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

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