Joker, one of the most controversial movies of 2019. | Photo credit: Warner Bros

The Joker – Human And Not A Saviour

The character Joker hails from Gotham, a fictional city in the United States. But the problems the city faces are very much real. What can we learn from this man’s descent into madness?

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“Born of the Father before all ages, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not made….” These are the words of the Nicene Creed.

Jesus Christ? No, the Joker.

A pseudo personification of the saviour of the world, the Joker has become one of the most iconic villains of all time. We have heard of Bane and Two-Face – all these are Gotham’s notorious villains. But Batman’s greatest rival of all time is the prince of the clowns, the one who yearns for recognition. And yet, the story of his origin is quite often neglected and forgotten, as opposed to Batman’s. 

Bruce Wayne’s parents were killed by a common criminal behind a theatre, and the criminal was never caught. Young Bruce was so traumatised that he became Batman out of his strong need to enforce the law.

The Joker, on the other hand, is often never granted the same courtesy. His origins vary by author, and as exemplified by the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, the Joker may have multiple origins within a single characterisation.

Joaquim Phoenix’s Joker, on the other hand, provides us with an in depth look into the Joker, and rather than being an embodiment of chaos, as he is often portrayed, this Joker is a victim of circumstance, a pawn in this war of all against all, and between classes. 

Arthur is as human as everyone else, and he is not a saviour, although he may be a voice for the oppressed and the marginalised. The stark contrast of a poor neighbourhood against a rich neighbourhood, representing injustice and inequality, is a reality that is still present in contemporary society despite measures to reduce the gaps. 

Major political theorists ranging from Karl Marx to John Locke remain relevant in driving society in various directions.

Karl Marx is well known for his theories on the interactions between the social classes, particularly the proletariat or working class, and the capitalists, the ones who own the methods of production, and are often rich. This division is evident in modern civilisation and certainly in the movie. The disparity shown in the movie is a mirror image of economic and social cultures represented in society. Not only is there a separation and distinction of ideas of elitism and social class, but class struggle, even violent class struggle, is overtly clear and very much present.

In Singapore, majority of the citizens do not have to make ends meet. However, inequality of wealth is inevitable and according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Singapore is the third richest country in the world. If the Joker was a real character, Singapore would be paradise, akin to the high living standards in Gotham. However, the Middle East is another story.

The Middle East is a social fabric heavily entangled by history and culture, yet it is hindered by weak governance and corrupt officials. It is devastating that what the Joker witnessed in Gotham is tangible in the contemporary world.

The different indicators for social class include GDP per capita and quality of living within states such as Kuwait and Sudan. Both have deep cross-cutting cleavages resulting in differing levels of wealth and living conditions. It will be difficult to objectively measure and compare the Middle Eastern states to Singapore due to its diverse factors such as culture and upbringing of the state. However, in quantitative terms, it is a little easier with the statistics given. 

The IMF report in 2019 states that GDP per capita at Purchasing Power Parity measured in Kuwait is worth US$ 66.39 thousand while that of Sudan amounts to US$ 4.07 thousand. Moreover, Quality Living Standards 2019 ranks Kuwait at 126 and Singapore at 25. From these figures, the rising level of wealth inequality and the standard of living within states and globally are present and crucial issues of the 21st century.

The movie V for Vendetta, inspired by Guy Fawkes and his failed Gunpowder Plot in 1605, focuses on the protagonist V, who swore vengeance upon the government for using him as a human experiment, became a rebel.

V’s visage is one eerily similar to the Joker: a smile too wide to be fully human, pale, with unreadable eyes. Perhaps unintentional, but nonetheless, an appropriate juxtaposition. Both represent vigilantism and antiestablishmentarianism, were controversial during their times and contexts, and even now, remain controversial.

Joker was neither an assassin nor a demon. He was an ordinary person with ordinary dreams, but circumstances forced him to become what he is today, and he cannot be entirely at fault. Marx’s idea of class struggle purports that because classes have conflicting interests, tremendous revolution in societies will occur. 

Hobbes argued that human nature is “selfish, egoistic and indifferent”. This is demonstrably true for Thomas Wayne and his company. They possess social and economic privileges which others do not acquire. Yet, they lacked empathy towards the poor, belittled them and called them “clowns”. This commotion sparked social unrest, hostility and vehement protest. 

Just as John Locke argued that a revolution is a right when the government fails to protect the natural law, the citizens of Gotham are overthrowing the elites.

If Arthur were to view situations from a positive angle, he would find that being poor is a gift and not a curse. This aligns with what was taken from the Guardian article titled Life on the breadline: when you live in poverty, you are given a secret gift. Amethyst DeWilde, who suffers from mental illness and suffered for much of her life, remains grateful for the little things in life: her dog, her family, and acts of kindness by strangers. In contrast, Arthur elected to turn to murder and blame the world for the misfortunes that he suffered. In essence, Arthur’s actions are a result of him failing to imagine Sisyphus happy, and being content in poverty.

If Arthur has gathered and understood the beauty of poverty, he likely would have been kinder to himself and more understanding toward the people around him, holding on to strong family ties and friendship. Despite living in harsh conditions, he would have become a flower that blooms in adversity. 

Thus, if there were a change of the current environment or a positive exposure to culture, friendships, perhaps the idea of becoming a villain would be close to zero. 

It is not in his nature to become a villain but rather the nurture that brought him to the path of becoming the Joker.

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