The Way the Media Handled “Joker” was Irresponsible
by Jonas Barnes
This last weekend, I went and saw “Joker” in theaters. I’d been looking forward to this film since the announcement was made from director Todd Phillips that he had cast Joaquin Phoenix to done the iconic greasepaint of The Clown Prince of Crime.
I was even more intrigued once he stated that the film would be a standalone, gritty R-Rated story that was disconnected from any “Batman” universe that currently existed. Prior to the films release, we were told by journalists that we needed to be careful at theaters because the film glorified violence and may inspire “incels” or other potential mass shooters to commit violence at screenings. Many of the articles that touched on this painted the film as some celebration of a violent rampage from an incel loner put on a pedestal on screen in front of us.
I should point out that these articles and pre-release reviews were written by people that had actually seen the film. These were not just knee jerk reactions to a trailer. Because of this, the theater I saw the film in was swarming with very bored SWAT officers. Why were they bored? Because what the media told us and what was actually on screen were two very different things.
“Joker” is the story of a man named Arthur Fleck. Arthur works as a clown for hire by day and spends his nights with his mother, caring for her and making sure she bathes and eats. He watches late night TV with her and fantasizes about becoming a stand up comedian like his idol, late night host Murray Franklin.
From the very first frame of the film, you see Arthur as a man that wants to smile but is beaten down by the world and reality he lives in. We see a tear go down his face before he has to go out and face the world that he is afraid of. Before the title even hits the screen, Arthur is assaulted in the streets by a group of Gotham City’s asshole teenagers, leaving him bloody in an alley.
Throughout the film, you are shown that Arthur is in therapy and on medication to help control his mental state. It’s no secret in the film that Arthur suffers from a great deal of mental illness that affects every second of his life. Even through this, Arthurs goal in life is to bring happiness to the world. He truly does want to make the world smile.
Without getting into spoiler territory, I’ll say that Arthur doesn’t “snap” until he is faced with a feeling he had never experienced before: Power. Arthur gets the upper hand on a group of finance bros that are assaulting him in the films first real scene showcasing any grisly violence (over an hour into the film, by the way) and he gets intoxicated by a new feeling of power towards those that had been beating him down.
Those men represented the upper class and the people that had been stepping on Arthur and people like him. The people that were considered “lesser than” and dispatched in comparison to those that were privileged were the people Arthur was representing. This was the reason Arthur snapped. He embraced a darkness inside of himself that was literally beaten out of him and forced to be put on display by a society that couldn’t have given a fuck less about those that were less fortunate or sick.
Now that’s where I’m going to stop the review portion because I truly think this film was almost brilliant in it’s exposition of a very real current world situation: How we treat the people we pass by every day that are sick, in pain, underprivileged, mentally ill or otherwise viewed as an inconvenience to our lives. I think people need to see this movie. And people have seen it because, even in the face of a media campaign that spun a fearful narrative about incel mass murderers, the movie made a metric shit ton of cash at the box office.
As a journalist, however, I can’t just sit back and celebrate the films success because I sat and read article after article that painted this brilliant takedown of how we look at the mentally ill as no more than an incel rage murder porn in clown makeup. Journalists have a responsibility when they report on things. And listen, I usually write dick jokes and articles about dudes fucking dudes with didgeridoos in Australian pornography. This isn’t my usual writing landscape. But whether I’m reporting about a Hollywood film or an Australian woodwind porn film, I feel like I have a responsibility to do it well.
What journalists did with this film prior to release was irresponsible because it was not only straight up fucking false, it was dangerous, They took something very serious (threats of violence) and implanted it into the media where it didn’t belong for clickbait headlines. That shit is fucking disgusting, you guys. Everyone that did that should be ashamed of themselves. They ran the risk of planting the idea into the heads of people that could have wanted to do that, to be honest, so they could get a hundred or so extra clicks on their piss poor article.
At the end of the day, “Joker” was a cautionary tale of what can happen if we push people too far that are already hanging on by a thread. It is a reflection of how we already treat the mentally ill and impoverished in our current society. It’s a film that makes US look at OURSELVES and how WE treat the PEOPLE we pass who are SUFFERING every day. But saying that “Joker” was a dark, haunting, beautiful dissection of extreme classism & how we look at the mentally ill wouldn’t get you as many clicks as telling people that “it’s a problematic film that could inspire incels to shoot up a theater”, now would it?