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Books & Culture

The Cruel Joke of Hollywood’s Sanctimony is Seen in Reaction to ‘Joker’

Whether “Joker” is good art or not, few know at this point. But one thing is sure: whether it’s a flop or it outearns “The Avengers,” it’s still just a movie.


- October 3rd, 2019
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Hollywood loves four things: sex, guns, crazy, and money. Quentin Tarantino has made a career of amping up all four brilliantly in his movies. Have you seen “John Wick” 1-3? The entire entertainment industry feeds off them, and as the saying goes in local news, “If it bleeds, it leads.”

But Hollywood and its media sycophants also love to criticize violence, men, and independent thinking while sexualizing everything including our children and castigating “the rich”—as long as those rich aren’t entertainers or their patrons. They orbit the likes of Harvey Weinstein or Jeffrey Epstein and trash traditional values. Pretentious, preening Hollywood is the epicenter of #MeToo.

And Hollywood just loves mental illness and reveling in it. From “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” to “Fight Club” to “Silver Linings Playbook,” exploiting mental illness is a constant Hollywood theme. Sometimes they even make it a superpower like on the FX show “Legion” or in M. Night Shyamalan’s “Glass Trilogy.”

But there’s nothing in Hollywood that is a bigger draw than a good guns blazing action flick. At the same time, however, throw a stick in any direction in Tinseltown and you’ll hit someone who criticizes guns, gun owners, the Second Amendment and the NRA.

They can’t have it both ways. Still, they try.

The True Tragedy of Horror Are the Lies About It

The madman who dyed his hair red and killed a dozen innocent moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado in 2012 never called himself “The Joker.” He didn’t color his hair red to emulate the Joker—whose hair is green. He didn’t mimic the Joker in any of his actions.

This fact doesn’t stop the New Republic from maintaining there is a direct link from reality to the comics in its hit on “The Joker,” a new film that debuts today. TNR warns darkly about the film:

The shooting was a national story, and at the time it was reported that Holmes had referred to himself as “Joker” and dyed his hair bright red to more closely resemble a cartoon villain. Officials later refused to confirm that report, but the association between Holmes and the Joker was drawn clearly on the news, adding another facet to the Joker’s political identity: this time as carnage- and chaos-inducing domestic mass shooter.

The Joker has no “political identity.” He is a fictional villain and nemesis to the fictional hero, Batman. If conservatives identify with anyone in this scenario, it’s Batman, the unappreciated shadow who patrols the night to take on criminals the system is too weak to handle. But neither character is inherently political. If anything one represents chaos and the other stands for order.

It’s a given that most of what’s reported as fact in the moment and the immediate aftermath of a breaking horror like a shooting is wrong. The news got the Joker link wrong in 2012 and never bothered to correct it with adequate force despite its duty to do so. Because the madman targeted people who happened to be watching a Batman film (“The Dark Knight Rises” which, by the way, posits Bane and not the Joker opposite Batman), and because speculative statements from people a thousand miles from the crime injected the Joker into the killing spree, this nut and that character have been indelibly linked.

Dredging Up Old Horrors and Lies

Now seven years later, Joaquin Phoenix stars as the comic villain in a new film directed by Todd Phillips. This rendition of “Joker” takes the villain out of the comics and places him in a much more realistic world, with realistic plot points such as his loss of access to medication speeding his descent into violent madness. If only the Joker had Liz Warren’s Medicare for all, we could avoid this tragedy!

Since the Christopher Nolan directed trilogy, the trend of comic book films—especially those related to Batman— has been to get more real. Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker remains the most realistic to date. The erroneous yet ironclad popular link to Aurora, and the more recent spate of mass killings, has some in the media and even in the military on edge as the film lights up screens around the world.

Theaters are banning costumes and face paint—as if cosplay leads to violence. But is this concern justified, or are the media spewing selective fear ultimately rooted in old politics?

Did Julia Roberts inspire young women to all run out and become prostitutes by starring in Pretty Woman? No serious person would argue that she did.

“‘The Joker’ is a problem, and it’s on all of us,” writes Digital Trends. And we’ve all learned a new term of identity, “incels,” short for “involuntary celibates,” who we’re told are men who idolize the Aurora shooter (again, a non-Joker) and may be set off by Phoenix’s portrayal of the Joker in the new movie.

It goes without saying that not all so-called “incels” are mentally ill, own guns, are sure to see “The Joker,” or are primed to go on a spree. It also goes without saying that the media, nevertheless, will use all of these non-links to question the movie—at least as it concerns guns and male violence, exposing its hypocrisy on the other point that bears examination with regard to mass shooters: mental illness. The argument seems to be that if the movie inspires even one violent act, society has a problem and the guns and movies are at fault.

By that logic, literally everything is up for hand-wringing and possible banning. Mentally ill people who are prone to violence—a very small percentage of the mentally ill, by the way—may be triggered by almost anything. It is impossible to predict or prevent it, of course, because they are mentally ill. The connections don’t make sense to any well person.

A book, a movie, a song, even a ham sandwich may trigger someone dealing with serious mental instability. The risk rises if, as was the case with John Lennon’s murderer, strong drugs are involved. On the eve of “The Joker,” people who consider themselves serious are prepared to blame a movie that is not yet out for crimes that have not yet occurred and may never occur—over a falsely cherished connection to a past crime and movie. And get ready: they’re always ready to blame guns.

Blaming Everybody but Themselves

The media always want someone and something to blame—in this case as in most it will be guns and men—the fictional man in the movie, and the men Phoenix and Phillips who made it, and the men who are most likely to see it because of its comic book origins. And of course guns.

What Hollywood and the media are not willing to do is look at themselves and their own role in profiting from and glorifying violence and division, sowing frustration, and stigmatizing mental illness. For anyone who pushes back, the media have rigged the argument so that you can’t win. If it looks like you could win—that is if your jabs, to use a metaphor, draw blood—odds are they’ll just doxx you.

The answer here is not attacking art which, after all, is made both for its own sake and for the livelihoods of the artists. The answer is realistically to examine both guns and mental illness. The examination of mental illness must come before the guns, though, for the obvious reason that it seems likely one must be in the throes of some kind of mental illness or evil delusion in order to be inspired to take a gun or any other weapon for the purpose of committing mass slaughter of innocents who have done one no wrong. While one mentally ill person does this, millions more own guns and never ever harm a single soul. We cannot anticipate what will trigger people inclined to commit these horrors.

As for guns, more than 2 million Americans use firearms for legitimate self-defense every year. The media must surely educate itself on guns before offering opinions about them. Semi-automatic guns are not more powerful than other types of weapons, a “clip” is not a magazine, and actual automatic weapons have been severely restricted from civilian ownership for decades. Let’s start there and work forward. Media, do your homework.

None of this is to question whether art or the media have the power to influence through imagery and portrayals. Unquestionably, they do. From the kids who will dress as Batman for Halloween this year to the grown men who wear the jersey of their favorite football player, to the girls and women who have cut their hair to style themselves after Megan Rapinoe or Alex Morgan or JLo, image is one of the most powerful beacons on earth. As Andre Agassi famously said, image is everything. And we all want to belong to something.

Hollywood profits from this power. The media both siphons and amplifies this power. Whomever they glorify receives glory; whomever they scorn is cast out.

If there is a responsibility among the critics with regard to “The Joker,” it’s to be fair, un-rig the game they have rigged, and stop the incessant drive to curb the rights of the law-abiding. As for the artists, their responsibility is to make good art and make a living. Whether “Joker” is good art or not, few know at this point. But one thing is sure: whether it’s a flop or it outearns “The Avengers,” it’s still just a movie.

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