- [Jack] Look, folks, if you're coming here and you're not
already a fan of my videos, I'm gonna level with you.
I am a full-on,
- Why won't you just shut up? (man screams)
- [Jack] You know the ones that have
to read political statements into everything they watch
and talk about how this thing you liked
as a kid is problematic for some reason?
You ever get recommended that video
about how the movie Sky High is actually fascist?
Yep, that's me.
(frog ribbits) - Uh oh.
- [Jack] So trust me, if anyone was going
to do a big, hot take about how Joker is secretly an incel,
red pill, alt-right propaganda movie, it's gonna be me.
And I'm here to tell you this movie, I really liked it.
You know what else I really like?
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Also, quick disclaimer: this video is going
to use the word society repeatedly.
I'm not gonna make a joke about it.
I already made a joke about it in a previous video.
I'm kinda sick of the joke.
I wish we could stop making it.
Now to get some out of the way before I move on,
it should be obvious to anyone who's seen Joker
that it resists easy and straightforward answers
about who it's for or what it's really trying to say.
Even beyond questions of what elements
of the film are even real
and not the wild fantasies of its lead character,
it's a film that isn't particularly interested
in sign posting any correct message
to take away from it, instead giving us a series
of both sympathetic and horrifying vignettes,
painting the picture of a man and the culture he's a part of
being driven to the absolute brink.
Joker is a deeply political movie,
but it isn't one interested in only giving lip service
to one possible perspective.
I think a lot of people are going
to be coming out of this movie not sure
whether the titular Joker was a hero or a villain,
which speaks not only to how much audiences
have been trained to see clear-cut moral rights
and wrongs in their storytelling as of late,
but a deliberate effort on the part
of the filmmakers to leave you as questioning
where their own line of acceptability is drawn.
With that said, I also don't think there
was the desire to leave you as apathetic about this,
to come away going well, I guess you can't say
who's right or wrong for sure.
Oh well, YOLO.
I feel like it's impossible
to be really engaging with the material here
and come away shrugging your shoulders about it.
It invites real conversation, and that's what I'm going
to be trying to do today by providing my take
and hopefully fueling something more constructive
than the usual fabricated two sides bickering each other.
The second thing I wanna get out of the way is what I mean
when I say this was not the movie we deserved,
even if it was the one we needed
because for the most part, this is going
to be a surprisingly positive video for me,
considering how critical I usually am
of the political messaging in big Hollywood fare.
So to be clear, I think Joker does a tremendous job
of illustrating very contemporary anxieties
about class divide and marginalization
in our current society,
and I'm gonna get to why in a second.
But I do think it missed the mark pretty profoundly
on aspects of marginalization that can't really be ignored
if we're talking about somewhere like the USA,
especially taking into account the film's period setting.
Namely, this film does almost nothing
with the clear racial and sexual aspects
of how marginalization has played out
over the last few decades, and in some ways,
I think it even opens itself up
to some very dismissive perspectives on things
like the ways black and Latino communities
have clearly been the primary victims
of overt systemic oppression.
Overwhelmingly, these are groups that suffer most
from many of the things this film has to talk about:
poor education services, poor social care,
job insecurity, and, as we're increasingly finding out,
pollution and negative health defects
at the hands of big industry on top of hindrances
like racial profiling and housing discrimination.
For all the film has to say about how the working class
and mentally ill are treated, these groups are boiled down
to token representation in the form
of cardboard cutout characters serving mainly
as hindrances to the white male lead.
Now for sure, you can respond by saying
that this is inevitable when you're making a movie focused
on the Joker, and the Joker is obviously going
to be a white guy until the SJWs get their way.
And to that I say absolutely, which is why,
for me, it's a somewhat minor criticism
among most of what I have to say.
Still, when a kind of unified uprising
against an oppressive system is the focus of your story,
I definitely wish more of an effort
to acknowledge this stuff had been made.
There's only so far a conversation can go
when you're ignoring half of it,
and frankly, I think that's a problem Joker 100% falls into.
Okay, now, fair warning, I'm about to gush.
The gushing is about to happen.
Are you ready for the gush?
Here it is.
So Joker is obviously not nearly the first movie
to deal with issues of poverty,
mental illness, oppression, or marginalization.
Yes, I have seen The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver,
and you should also, as well as everything Ken Loach
has ever made, everything Spike Lee has ever made,
everything Andrea Arnold ever made,
Sling Blade, Winter's Bone, Precious, Girlhood,
Moonlight, and Tangerine, but not The Florida Project.
I have some bones to pick with that one.
Also, maybe check out some Gaspar Noé films,
but try and do it on an empty stomach.
I think there's a huge amount of perspective missing
from anyone suggesting Joker is something totally new
when, even among flashy, stylized US dramas
about class divide and violent protest,
last year we got the absolutely incredible
Sorry to Bother You.
Once again worth recognizing so many of the films I
just listed both star non-white and non-male main characters
and were given far less investment and publicity
than Joker, and that probably isn't a coincidence.
But the point is Joker is doing incredibly well
both critically and commercially,
and I think that's a big part
of why it's worth talking about.
The message of Joker appears to be very much coming through,
even among people who generally avoid stories
with this kind of focus.
But what is that focus?
Okay, so brief summary.
(man belching) Spoilers.
Joker 2019 tells the story of Arthur Fleck,
a clown for hire and failing standup struggling not only
with extreme poverty in a run-down Gotham City
but also severe mental illness,
resulting, among other things,
in an inability for Art to recognize basic social cues
and a pronounced tic forcing him to laugh
in inappropriate and uncomfortable situations.
Taking cues from the now famous Killing Joke story
from which the movie is mostly based,
we then track Arthur as he goes through one bad day or,
in his case, one bad week or so.
First, some kids steal his sign and beat him up.
Then he gets fired from his job for bringing a gun to work.
His mother gets sick.
He's openly mocked by his childhood idol
after a particularly bad standup set
goes the AT's equivalent of viral.
Lack of state funding means he loses access to any kind
of social care or medication for his various disorders,
and, with his mother's eventual death,
Arthur completely loses his grip on reality
as he embraces the violent alternate persona of Joker,
or at least I think it would be easy
to say this is Arthur losing his grip on reality.
The question ultimately posed by the film
is could we really imagine any outcome other
than this if we do factor in the reality Arthur lives in?
Which brings us to my first point of phrase, framing.
A common pattern when we look
at many big Hollywood genre movies,
especially superhero films, is a focus very much
on society as being made up of individuals who appear
to make the world a better place or to make it a worse one.
It's a classic framework.
We have the hero who we can put all
of our hopes and dreams into, and then there's the villain
who represents a disruption of the status quo
and who needs to be defeated to restore order.
Watch any Avengers movie, you see what I mean.
And this is a pattern that repeats
in a lot of fiction like this.
Sometimes, this bad individual will
at least represent ideas meaningful to the main character.
Lex in Batman V Superman might represent powerlessness.
Obadiah Stane in Iron Man One might represent greed.
Ego in Guardians of the Galaxy II might represent ego.
Joker in The Dark Knight represents chaos.
In this way, he probably lines up closer
with The Killing Joke incarnation
than the one we ended up with here.
As a villain, if, again, we could call Arthur a villain,
the one we get this time lines up with a second run
of villains who don't just represent abstract ideas
but specific contemporary issues in our society.
Killmonger in Black Panther is one
of the most obvious examples,
written to represent broadly the disenfranchised minorities
in the wake of colonialism,
more specifically the black community in the USA.
And then there's Spiderman: Homecoming, frankly,
the closest thing the MCU had to real acknowledgement
of the growing class divide in much of the world
with Vulture being a blue collar worker forced
into a life of crime to support his struggling family.
Sadly, Parker himself doesn't contribute much
to that conversation.
Unlike basically every other iteration
of the character usually seen as the working-class hero,
compared to heroes like Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark,
here he's the pet project of a doting billionaire
and will remain so for the foreseeable future.
But that's not the point here.
What I want to highlight with these examples
isn't just what these movies tend to talk about
but the way they talk about them,
namely that, with rare exception,
any time a social issue is introduced in these movies,
it's framed in the context of a villain
who might have a point but it still fundamentally wrong.
Vulture might have a point that the rich exploit
and quickly discard the poor, but he's a criminal
who kills people and threatens teenagers and steals.
He's wrong and needs to go to jail.
Killmonger has a very good point
about the indifference towards atoning
for our histories of colonization, but here,
yeah, he also kills people, and he wants to kill
all their children, too. (man screaming)
Ideas are boiled down to individuals
who can then be quickly discarded
so we never really have to consider
how broken elements of our society really are.
For more on that, check out my video on ideology in the MCU.
But then there's Arthur Fleck.
Now Arthur Fleck does do terrible things in this film.
He kills first in self defense,
but after that point commits murder more and more freely,
even suffocating his own mother
in a moment of bitter revenge,
all of this culminating in the brutal shooting
of a talk show host in front of a live studio audience.
These are horrific acts, and it'd be hard to empathize
with any real-world person who acted in this way.
But here's where the penny drops
and the question left by the film
that made me realize how much I enjoyed it.
Even if we agree that much of what Arthur does is wrong,
can we truly blame him for his actions
given the world that he lives in?
Even more pressingly, can we not
in some ways justify his hatred?
Arthur Fleck is extremely poor and severely mentally ill,
two groups usually the first to suffer
when social support fails a community.
When, say, a conservative government talks
about austerity, talks about a reduction
in public spending to reduce budget deficits,
these are the groups they are knowingly harming,
as indeed they do here.
Even his mental illness is to some extent alluded to
as being rooted in the same lack of support
with the revelation of his adoption and years of abuse
before being discovered by social services.
This is if we ignore the even darker possibility
that Arthur was actually the disowned child
of corporate mogul Thomas Wayne, here framed not
as the angelic father figure he's usually seen as
but just another indifferent multi-millionaire,
spouting tired rhetoric about how he's here
to save everyone, all the while chastising them
for protesting the reality of their social conditions.
Arthur Fleck, for all he supposedly loses his grip
on reality, in some ways simply sees things
for what they are.
He sees a marginalized public being constantly mocked
and derided by a privileged elite
with no real knowledge or care
of the life he's had to struggle with.
And he says fuck you, no more.
And against all odds, the public picks up that message.
Fuck you, no more.
And the film smartly does the thing these types
of movies rarely do.
It lets that idea fester.
We don't get a Batman showing up
to calmly moralize how he understands Joker's frustrations
but can't endorse his violent methods,
to take him down and throw him in jail
to restore order for another day.
The film essentially presents us with an idea
that if this is the material reality of the world we live in
this is outcome of violent, desperate protest
is the only one that makes sense.
And, well, this is the material reality
of the world we live in.
At the climax of the film, Arthur himself pointedly claims
that he believes in nothing,
and I think that's important here.
I think if Arthur were framed as a more straightforward,
revolutionary idealogue, more of a Killmonger figure,
it would risk inflating his nihilistic bloodshed
with the 99%-style resistance protest movements the film
is clearly nodding to with its conclusion.
At the end of the day, Arthur is what you
might call pure ideology, a man so consumed by the feeling
that the system will not give him a voice
to change the reality of his condition
that he resigns himself to the small victories,
the ability to put a face to every privileged asshole
who told him he was nothing more
than a punchline and to pull the trigger.
This is the actual outcome
of the individualistic rhetoric I talk about
in these types of media in which we desperately try
to play along with the fantasy
that there's one bad figure representing all the ills
of the world who we just have
to put a stop to to end the problem.
And Joker 2019 says no.
Actually, these problems are the result
of a series of much more wide-reaching,
interconnected systems, the result of a class system upheld
by a state, most of the time upheld by corporate interests.
It's a simple equation.
If you take these communities and you remove the systems
in place to care for them and you remove any real ability
for them to change that or, in many cases,
care for themselves, this is the result.
And frankly, yeah, I think we really need that right now.
And it gives me hope that a film that acknowledges all
of this is currently doing absurd numbers
all around the world.
Here we have a multi-million dollar project
that doesn't cast a moral judgment
on violent revolt against a broken system,
that doesn't say maybe you have a point
but you went too far.
And by the same token, it doesn't spell out this
is good, it's a good thing this is happening
because frankly, we know that it isn't.
Nobody out there protesting right now wants
to be fighting tooth and nail out
on the streets for their rights.
People who just wanna wreck shit
and cause chaos are a slim minority
against a population that simply wants
to be listened to and treated fairly.
It's a film that's willing to stand up
and say that this is, like it or not,
the predictable outcome of what the powers
that be choose to do with its people.
And I don't care if you're coming at this
as someone who already believes all the same things I do.
Hell, maybe you usually find yourself
in political opposition to me more often than not.
I just feel like if there's anything
that's going to get us all to realize
that we're all fighting the same enemy here,
it's going to be stories like this one,
stories that don't seek to police the line
between justified and unjustified acts of protest
but simply say this is our world, here are its outcomes.
What could we do together to change that?
And sure, that could be naive.
There will, after all, always be people like Thomas Wayne
or De Niro's Murray Franklin, insisting that,
despite all we know about Arthur
and the society he's living in,
he should've just worked harder
or made different choices as an individual,
people who want to ignore how these are predictable outcomes
of marginalization like we see in the film,
people who, as Arthur says, won't get it.
But who knows?
Maybe just once, we can basically agree things need
to change rapidly and fundamentally
if we have any hope of making it out of this thing alive.
Now a few things I wanna touch on before I go.
One, once again, I think it's evident
that this film doesn't give us a transparent,
correct interpretation of what it has to say.
This is my reading, and I've ready many others
that differ pretty fundamentally to it.
I've seen some argue the film,
quite contrary to my pro-revolutionary read,
has a deeply conservative bend.
It does, after all, conflate anti-fascist movements
with literally the most famous supervillain in the world.
And yes, to anyone who says the film plays
into the trope of demonizing the mentally ill,
I definitely see where you're coming from.
I do think the film really goes out
of its way to underline that Arthur
could have been a perfectly functioning member of society
had he not been so relentlessly shat on
by the systems in place that were supposed to protect him.
By the end of the day,
he is still yet another severely mentally ill man
committing random acts of ultra violence
when we know full well
that the overwhelming majority of these kinds
of attackers have no history of ill mental health.
Finally, I want to acknowledge again yes,
I think the film drops the ball drastically
when it comes to acknowledging the other intersections
of oppression that clearly play a role,
especially if we're talking about the USA.
I think it's sad to imagine that may be part
of why the film has succeeded is because
of its reticence to acknowledge things
are more complicated than class.
In any case, I do hope that if you've stuck around
through this, you hear where I'm coming from.
And even if you disagree with my reading,
which I'm very much prepared for,
we can have a sincere conversation
about it in the comments here and elsewhere.
I don't know, worth a shot, right?
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You can also check out The Serfs,
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And I guess I'll catch you next time.
As always, love you all, and stay safe.
(pleasant upbeat music)