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Please Stop Saying the New Joker Movie Will Cause Mass Shootings

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Okay, before you write this off as some fanboy wailing, let me be perfectly clear: I’m not a superhero movie guy.

I know I’m probably not making a lot of friends for saying this, but I more or less checked out after the first “Avengers” movie. When I realized that I was more compelled by the petty bickering scenes where Tony Stark and Bruce Banner trade insults in some sleek control room than in the multimillion-dollar explosion-filled CGI climaxes, I knew I was seeing the wrong kind of film – so from then on I’ve mostly saved my money to support movies in genres and styles I’d like to see made more. 

Have you seen Hustlers? I liked it for reasons other than how alarmingly hot Jennifer Lopez is. But also for that reason.

Based on rave reviews and the insistence of several people I knew that more progressive-leaning superhero movies like “Black Panther” and “Wonder Woman” were worth it, I did give those a chance… but they still didn’t work for me. 

Sure, there was a little bonus good feeling of seeing better representation in a blockbuster of that size, but it all had the same kind of feeling to me as that Pepsi commercial with Kendall Jenner: the same stuff we’d already been consuming repackaged as progress and sold to people desperate for it.

It’s a class-crushing revolution of Pepsi Flavor!

“Wonder Woman” was as far as I went into the DCU, because I didn’t like the Marvel movies everyone thought were good… and not even those people could stomach whatever pretentious shadow-covered schlock DC was shitting out. Still, I have to admit, when the first “Joker” trailer dropped, my interest was piqued. 

What I saw when I first viewed the trailer wasn’t some kind of call to arms for incels, but a possible olive branch from the Superhero Movie industry to moviegoers like me who have been left feeling kind of alienated by the mainstream direction of the genre. Here was something not engineered to be franchised infinitely, or to play for mass appeal in the Chinese market by prioritizing special effects that aren’t diluted by culture or language barriers. 

Then some victims and families of victims of the 2012 Aurora Shooting in Colorado sent a letter to the Film’s distributor:

“If you’re going to make a movie with such violence, at least be donating to those of us who are trying to stop the violence and survivors who have been affected by gun violence.” 

wrote Sandy Phillips, who lost her daughter Jessica Redfield Ghawi in the shooting.

Now, I made sure to let you guys know I’m not a superhero movie guy to start, and it’s time I think to do another caveat: I’m not a dog-whistling right wing goblin either. I think when the Aurora victims and families did this, they did it with the best intentions. They may have even gotten some positive results, with Warner Bros. releasing a statement saying they will partner with business leaders to directly pressure policymakers to address the mass shooting epidemic. 

I also think Todd Phillips (no relation to Sandy), the director of the film, showed his aged ass when he said “Woke Culture” has killed comedy. That’s what every formerly funny old man says when he’s too lazy or complacent to learn how to be funny today.

That being said, the overall mass shooting narrative around the new “Joker” movie strikes me as misguided, reductive, and potentially very harmful.

Aside from showcasing how most other stars age SIGNIFICANTLY less gracefully than Jennifer Lopez, the trailer for “Rambo: Last Blood” is an NRA nerd’s wet dream. Doused in Americana imagery and stockpiled guns in its first few seconds, the rest of the trailer details an old white guy’s homestead being attacked by a hoard of vicious Mexican drug dealers, and a montage of violence framed as vindicating, orgiastic satisfaction.

Is this a pretty unforgiving reading of the trailer? Yes. I’m not here to aim the outrage cannon at “Rambo” – But I do think it’s worth pointing out the disparity between how this extremely violent movie with blatantly right-wing themes was received, and how “Joker” was received. 

The violence in the trailer for “Joker” is mostly directed AT the Joker… and there are no instances of gun violence depicted whatsoever. Guns are present, but only peripherally, and while there is a very unforgiving reading of the trailer that says Joker uses guns as a “solution” to his problems with society… I think that takes a pretty big leap from what we’re presented with as the main focus of this film. 

So why is this movie at the front of the gun violence and mass shooting discussion?

“Well, Max, you absolute fucking idiot,” you explain, “Maybe it has something to do with the guy who dyed his hair green like The Joker and shot up a movie theater while it was playing a movie about The Joker and even announced I am The Joker while he did it?”

James Holmes – shooter

Okay, that’s a great point. Or at least it would be, if most of it wasn’t almost completely false.

The narrative that Holmes was inspired by the Joker has been traced back to a rumor started by New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, and is not based in fact. Holmes was a Batman fan, but a psychiatrist that interviewed him has stated that it was far from the fixation point of his delusions. 

Also, he dyed his hair red. The Joker’s hair is green. The ONLY connection between Holmes and the character based in reality, then, is his choice of location for his act of terrorism. We don’t blame Country Music for the Las Vegas shooting and warn people about the potential dangers of supporting Jason Aldean. Why do we do this with Joker?

After the El Paso and Dayton shootings, a barely sentient wad of Tic-Tacs and mayonnaise burbled a lie so old it felt borderline RETRO to hear again: 

“We must stop the glorification of violence in our society. This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace. It is too easy today for troubled youth to surround themselves with a culture that celebrates violence. We must stop or substantially reduce this and it has to begin immediately.”

Like I already went off about it a previous article, this is a bunch of appallingly condescending bullshit. We’ve known it’s bullshit for years, which is why I was so surprised to see so many people who rightly bashed trump for his lie turn around and say the same kind of thing about Joker. 

Violent Video Games don’t cause mass shootings. Violent movies don’t either. 

I plan on seeing “Joker” opening weekend, and I have to admit I’m worried. 

I’m worried it will end up being heavy-handed derivative garbage, sure, but I’m also worried about getting shot. Not because “Joker” is actually an inspiration for mass shooters, but because the narrative has become so prevalent online that it may have turned him into one. 

For misguided reasons, “Joker” is now THE mass shooting movie in the American zeitgeist. You can barely mention wanting to see it without someone bringing it up, and that kind of thing does have an effect. I just keep imagining a person with psychiatric problems like James Holmes or Stephen Paddock reading headline after headline in a torrent of misinformation that basically shouts “this is the #1 movie to shoot up this year!”

Because of this, I’m afraid to see the movie when I wasn’t before, I’m quite possibly at greater risk of getting shot when I do see the movie, and Hollywood may be more careful in the future about straying from their standard superhero mold. 

So please, stop saying the new Joker movie will cause mass shootings. 

I’m sick of superhero Pepsi, and I’m worried you might make yourself right.

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Max Bruno

Max Bruno

Editor, writer, comedian. My Myers-Briggs type is BDSM-SJW.