One of 2019’s highly successful films so far is Joker. The film focused on DC Comics’ most iconic villain, The Joker and explored his origins within an evocative setting that brought the ugliness of society to the forefront of cinema. Somewhat expectedly, the film’s subject matter earned notoriety among mainstream media. Thus, as a result of its infamy, a media campaign launched that attempted to frame the Joker (2019) as a deeply offensive film that could potentially incite violence.
Although this smear campaign failed, mainstream media’s reaction to the film is quite telling of a more nefarious issue: false narrative. A false narrative is one in which a complete narrative pattern is perceived in a given situation, however; it is not the actual narrative at work in the situation. Therefore, I think a discussion is necessary to understand why mainstream media saw Joker (2019) as a problematic film.
Mainstream media found fault with Joker under the guise that the film’s content, or its subject matter, would somehow incite violence. And yet, when delving into their arguments it became apparent that the film failed to align with most of their left-leaning expectations. The expectations I refer to are those being films should be stacked with identity politics, increased female leads or supporting female lead roles, more minority lead roles, and an over-arching progressive theme. This generally ensures that media outlets with similar views can have numerous discussions over-rife with “woke” talking points so they can virtue signal that they’re members of the “cool kids club” or the “in the know” crowd.
In recent years, films have shifted from entertainment to propaganda and political pandering. This is further emphasized by how mass media critics fail to evaluate films on their artistic merit and choose instead to prioritize a film’s potential political message; perceived or otherwise. Additionally, critics consider films promoting their political leanings worth seeing, while ones that fail to do so as merely mediocre. Joker fell into the latter category despite receiving fawning praise with initial reports.
Though, the controversy surrounding the film resulted from a sudden shift that took place across the media landscape. It was previously stated, however, it requires mentioning once again; mainstream media feared that Joker (2019) could inspire real-world violence. This “justified” fear led to reporters and critics alike singling out the main character, which highlighted their loner status, bludgeoning by society, and how all this led to him, Arthur Fleck becoming The Joker. However, they added a dimension that focused on Arthur’s race.
Joker (2019) attaches no significance to Arthur Fleck’s race, however; mainstream media, media critics, and more felt differently. Therefore, the film due to their perceptions led to an entirely different “Joker,” whereby Arthur Fleck became an “incel” (men who are involuntarily celibate and, as a result, prone to anger) and “problematic” white man.
My evidence supporting this is below:
- Time‘s far-left critic shared this mediocre attempt at a review. The author writes: “It’s not as if we don’t know how this pathology works: In America, there’s a mass shooting or attempted act of violence by a guy like Arthur practically every other week.”
- Valiant Comics editor Heather Antos boosted a tweet that viewed the film as “problematic.” One of the laughable reasons is: “I don’t want to be around any of the lonely white boys who can relate to it.”
- Refinery29 or better yet the uber-woke Refinery29 served up this love-letter on the film: “Did we really need a brutal movie about a white terrorist figure who uses gun violence to enact revenge on the society that rejects him? And did we need it now?”
- This Ph.D. student tweeted a take on the film that seriously cast doubt on their credentials: “In a time of increasing violence perpetrated by disaffected white men, is it really the best thing to keep making movies that portray disaffected white men doing violence as sympathetic?”
Joker (Unknowingly) Criticizes the Media
Joker focuses on Arthur Fleck, the man behind the makeup. The film presents Arthur as a sad, aging man whose life has always been characterized by abuse, rejection, and humiliation. This is all amplified by a debilitating mental illness. Though, Arthur’s status as a victim changes drastically due to two events: him no longer taking his medication and obtaining a gun. Arthur after getting severely beat up by three drunk Wall Street-esque characters in the subway pulls out his gun and shoots them all.
Mass media catches wind of the story and proceeds to build up Arthur as a “vigilante hero.” They praise him as a “hero” that stands up to “the rich and powerful.” Arthur revels in the attention, as he is finally getting the attention he’s been starved of. In one scene, Arthur is surrounded by people reading the newspaper with The Joker on the front page. Soon after, Joker becomes the face of a widespread uprising in the city as legions of people riot while wearing clown masks. Thereafter, Arthur’s notoriety reaches new levels, thanks to mass media. A popular TV talk show invites Arthur as a guest to make fun of his disastrous stand-up performances. Arthur goes on stage as The Joker, the interview ends with him shooting the host on live-TV. His actions prompt massive media coverage, which leads to further notoriety and adulation by his legions of fans.
This is where the film becomes “problematic” due to real-life mass media or rather mainstream media. The rioters in Joker who worship Arthur Fleck’s persona, are associated with specific real-life groups. In several scenes, the protesters held signs that said “Eat the Rich” and “Resist” – two slogans that are heavily used in actual protests by Antifa, Occupy Wall Street, and many others. Thus, Joker became “problematic” since mainstream media is generally sympathetic to these movements and the film then portrays them as both creators and supporters of villainous individuals, such as The Joker.
Joker has content that draws attention to the audience’s reality. The rioters in the film are associated with real-life globalist movements. These movements mimic and praise individuals like The Joker despite how antithetical they are to society. Furthermore, the relevance of such individuals is due to mass media or mainstream media building up the actions of them. This is notable with Joker because the film’s in-world media built a deranged man into something much bigger and dangerous, which led to one of The Joker’s supporters murdering the parents of Bruce Wayne (who would later become Batman) right in front of his eyes.
Thus, if one considers these messages, then they can understand why sources such as The Guardian antagonized the film. It conflicted with the numerous false narratives of mainstream media. This is further emphasized through Joker making it explicitly clear that The Joker is not, in any way, a hero. Although the people he murders have wronged him in one way or another, they still did not deserve a violent death. Furthermore, the final scene of the film, which happens immediately after Arthur Fleck is lifted as a hero by the rioters and cements him (The Joker) as an “evil” character: The Joker is seen walking in a hospital hallway with blood under his feet. His actions prove he is an “evil” character since he murdered a social worker without reason – the hero of the protestors is a heartless monster.
The claim asserted by many that Joker would incite violence was ridiculous, as the assertion was at its core an oversimplification and intellectually dishonest. Furthermore, individuals overlooked the complexities of violence, such as social, environmental, and psychological factors that contribute to people becoming violent. Studies supporting any correlation between violent media and real-life violence fair no better than those overlooking the complexities of it. This happens due to the researchers attempting to prove the claim tend to lack any real familiarity with media, which is seen with their lack of consistency when it comes to violent media; especially since Hollywood is excessive with it. Furthermore, the researchers behind the studies were not experts in media. Instead they are experts in other fields, such as psychology, sociology, and so on. Therefore, it was assumed their expertise in these fields made them experts on the effects of media. They were not.
In conclusion, Joker (2019) became a somewhat controversial film due to the reaction it garnered from mainstream media, cultural critics, and various other outlets. Although The Joker is a quintessential comic-book villain, the film focused on his human side, portraying him as a product of a toxic environment. The Joker came about due to the in-film’s mass media giving Arthur Fleck all the praise and attention he had always craved, but only after he committed numerous murders. The media turned Arthur, a nobody, into The Joker; a somebody. The film highlighted how mainstream media is reasonable for shaping false narratives that often prove to be problematic. Hence the controversy surrounding the film highlighted the crucial role media plays within our society and how it often abuses its role.