The Joker Controversy: A Classic Case of Backwards Media

There has been a lot of heated discussions that have taken place over 2019’s Joker film, with many claiming that its existence poses a terrible danger to society and will inspire violent acts to take place. Not only are these claims misinformed and ignorant, but they also end up reflecting the ugly side of the media as a whole. Yes, while the movie delves into serious and gritty subject matter, its depiction and execution of its message and themes could not have been more clear. I do not understand why so many sources derive the wrong idea.

Throughout my research, I have come across article after article that portrays Joker in a way that makes it seem like it was a malicious act of terror. The public outcry against this film pushed the idea that this movie was more of an invitation to imitate rather than a piece of art to be enjoyed. There are countless news reports of armed security guards stationed at movie theaters, with this fiasco even making the US Army issue a formal warning to be on the lookout for “incel violence,” as stated in this article from the New York Post. However, it came as no surprise when the release for Joker came, and no shootings or violent events occurred, making it clear that the media was misinformed.

Now, it must be stated that it is understandable how some of this paranoia surrounding this movie came to be. The 2012 Aurora movie theater shooting took place at a showing of The Dark Knight Rises, as reported here, and a connection was drawn between this event and Joker. Given how this movie provides an origin story for one of the most insane and cruel villains in the DC Universe, one would have every right to feel a sense of caution. However, media sources have made too quick of a conclusion and took it upon themselves to not only exaggerate the concerns out of proportion but have made other arguments that are flat-out irrelevant.

To those who have watched the film, myself included, there are indeed clear messages and clear background that Joker is trying to represent. This mainly revolves around the importance of human empathy and the awareness of mental health and class divides, all while placing this story in DC’s own Gotham City. For some reason, however, there are news sources that claim that this movie’s purpose was to glorify horrible violence and make the notion of going insane as some benefit. A tweet from user Heather Hauntos showed a message from one Rachel Miller, which detailed how they do not want Joker to be something that “paints mass murder as the logical conclusion of a socially isolated, debatably neurodivergent white man being failed by the system.” It is hard not to take this seriously as these “criticisms” seek to invoke some sense of disturbance with its audience. Sometimes, it can come off as chastising towards those who have seen the movie like they should be ashamed for enjoying it. The simple fact of the matter is that the film is supposed to be a tragedy and a cautionary tale for our time. We were not told to explicitly support all of what the Joker does nor imitate them. The film constructs itself in a way that has us essentially pitying the Joker into empathy. Not to praise his character, but to understand and analyze.

The claims made have even detailed that because Joker is a white male protagonist, this somehow factors into the central story and, therefore, negatively affects how we view the film. A NY Times article stated, “For it [Joker] is essentially a depiction of what happens when white supremacy is left unchecked. It shows the delusions that many white men have about their place in society and the brutality that can result when that place is denied” (Ware NY Times). Refinery29 stated, “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?… I think the answer to that question is no” (Newman-Bremang Refinery29). All of this completely misses the point of the movie itself and attempts to push their agenda onto its audience based on irrelevant details. The issue of race was never a part of the Joker’s character, nor a part of the movie. The movie is merely trying to tell a compelling story without shackling itself to political correctness.

Movies have the potential to be art. And as the saying goes, art is indeed subjective. I know that everyone should have their own opinion on movies like Joker. However, at such a scale of widespread controversy, it can be seen that the media is just pointing fingers at all the wrong directions. Not to mention, this kind of outcry never seemed to come up when similar caliber films were around. Movies like Taxi Driver, A Clockwork Orange, and Pulp Fiction all heavily feature villainous violence and disturbing subjects, but there is near-universal acclaim for these films. Ultimately, this controversy was unnecessary and ignorantly misinformed, especially considering how we are a few weeks past its release with no violent incidents to report and record-breaking box office numbers to boot.