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Joker: from villain to product of modern society? (Spoiler alert)

What happened?

Joker, a film in the Batman universe, had the biggest October opening ever in the U.S. and could reach $1 billion worldwide (it is even more popular in Europe). The film has sparked controversy by potentially arousing sympathy for incels, populism or even gun violence. Based on its immense (but controversial) popularity, we should explore what the film has to say about our society and what this means for the future.

What does this mean?

The film ties together the Joker’s complete lack of social bonding to explain the origin of a populist uprising against the elite. On the surface, the film may seem like a simplification of modern day issues like mental health, loneliness and class struggle. Moreover, perhaps gaining sympathy for his origin as a villain is actually the type of twisted shrewdness that fits the Joker as a character. Nevertheless, the film tries to show that the type of mentally unstable loner figure represented by the Joker is not a pure villain, but a product of modern society and its inequality, breakdown of social communities and “bullshit jobs”.

What’s next?

Joker provides a lens to see beyond the urban-rural rift as an explanation for modern day populism. By only looking at final election results, the narrative of rural populism versus non-populist cities obscures the fact that in many big cities there is a lot of populist sentiment. In fact, in 2016, votes were split 49% for Clinton and 46% for Trump in cities. Indeed, Joker tries to show us that the frustration we associate with rural environments is deeply rooted in our cities too, which could, for one thing, mean that we’re still in the midst of a “deep political transition”.