I sincerely wish this wasn’t a subject that I would ever need to discuss. The Joker is one of my favorite fictional characters ever created and I am eagerly anticipating the release of the film “Joker” on October 4th. But as much as I love comic books and movies, the real world strikes again to remind us that there are some dubious characters out there. It has been reported that there have been credible threats made against and inspired by the character Joker in response to the movie’s release, with some theaters even deciding to ban the film for safety concerns. It is also incredibly relevant that on July 20, 2012, a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado was the victim of a deadly mass shooting during a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises”, a Batman film that was the direct sequel to a film that also starred the Joker. The shooter, who I will not name, claims he related to the character of the Joker and the narrative around the shooting is that the character inspired the actions. Families of the victims of that shooting have written a letter to Warner Bros. executives expressing concern about the content of “Joker” as well.
Having understood the circumstances that surround this film, we are presented with the question of whether or not “Joker” should be released to the public over concerns of safety. With respect, I believe it would be morally wrong to ban the film. I fully support anyone who chooses to not see it for any reason because there is no reason you should participate in something if you feel less safe doing so, however, I can’t in good conscience be in favor of censorship of any type.
I know I have ranted about censorship in the past, so I apologize if I am coming off as a broken record, but I am insistent that this is an issue of morality to me. The idea of blocking someone from expressing themselves or withholding art or information because someone else has deemed it too dangerous for them is dangerous in itself. Perhaps it seems like a jump, but it is similar to that of a book burning. Let’s create a hypothetical scenario. Pretend we live in Communist Russia or another country where religion is outlawed. Citizens are not allowed to read religious texts because it may inspire rebellious thoughts about the government and that would make it difficult for them to maintain security in our communities. The government fears an outbreak of rebellion and rioting. Do you think that no one should be allowed to read the Bible for concerns about safety or that everyone deserves the right to freely practice whatever religion they want? I would wager that you wouldn’t be in favor of outlawing the Bible or Torah or Qoran. Or if that example doesn’t relate to you, should a religious society ban the teachings of science to preserve their society? If the content is troublesome, I propose you release something to counter that content and begin a dialogue. Who are anyone of us to decide what other people should be exposed to and what is important to them?
It has been suggested that “Joker” glorifies and creates a sympathetic image of an evil man, and that is the reason why it is wrong to show it to the public. To that, I say, “What is wrong with making a troubled person sympathetic?”. We, as a society, are currently struggling mightily with gun violence. Half of the country thinks it is a problem with the easy access to unregulated weapons and the other half insists it is simply a mental health issue. Regardless of what you believe, we have deemed it almost a taboo to begin to understand the logic behind these madmen. We think it makes us safer because the concept seems so foreign, but in reality, we are actively choosing to not understand what the problem looks like and therefore cannot recognize it in our lives before it is too late. Perhaps a character study is what we need so that we can recognize this in our world at the stages it exists before it coming to a head.
Let us not pretend this is the first film to ever depict violence either. Violent films are so abundant that we as a society are pretty much numb to the idea at this point. And most films have an antagonist that is morally “bad”, so why is this film different? If “Joker” glorifies violence because it makes the killer too stylized or cool, then I fail to see any difference between this film and something like “The Godfather”. Violence in films is a type of expression, and we as a society should know that the expression of said violence is not acceptable in real life. If there is someone who fails to recognize that, they needed help before they saw the film.
There is also a common misconception in society that art influences actions. It is the same belief that violent video games cause violence in real life, and it simply is not true. I am still waiting on the millions of Super Smash Bros. fans to start throwing each other off of roofs and hitting each other with hammers. If a person is just one movie or video game away from committing an atrocity, they needed serious help before that. Nonviolent people do not become violent instantaneously. I will tell you a story as an example and maybe you’ll see my point. Just the other week, it was my Grandfather’s 90th birthday and we took him out to a nice steak dinner to celebrate. A week later, he is sick in the hospital with a minor cardiac episode. My dad asks the doctor if it is it his fault for taking him out to a steak dinner a few nights before, and of course, the doctor’s answer is no. If my grandfather was simply one steak away from a heart attack, then that heart attack was likely coming at some point anyway, whether he had the steak or not. You see, one incident alone is not enough to dramatically shift one’s disposition, and similarly, if a person is that close to being willing to commit violence, chances are they don’t need a specific film to push them over the edge.
I wholeheartedly believe that art is simply an expression. Everyone can freely interpret its message in whatever way resonates with them personally, and that is the beauty of being an individual. If someone is expressing violent thoughts and tendencies, seeing a movie or playing a video game is not their problem. But I understand this is the real world. Moral philosophy aside, if there is a credible threat to the safety of civilians, by all means, take the necessary steps to neutralize that threat and protect people. But people deserve the option to decide what is best for themselves, and as cynical as I am, I trust people to see a violent act in a film and understand that it is still wrong to commit such an act.
But perhaps I am missing the point of everyone’s outrage. Maybe it is something greater than putting violence up on a pedestal. That is what makes this such an imperative conversation to have. No one benefits from not understanding what the issues are. What do you guys think about this situation? If you think that I am misinformed, please share with me your reasoning. Normally, I don’t bring up subjects that are this controversial but it is very relevant to major film release so I thought it would make for a good discussion. I would love to hear your thoughts about it! “Joker releases on October 4th in theaters.