It’s been about a month since Joker opened and not one person has been killed because of it. In fact, it’s close to making a billion dollars worldwide and is already the highest-grossing R-Rated film of all time. This is somewhat surprising to me, because I was basically promised that dozens if not hundreds of people would be murdered if this movie about a children’s cartoon character was allowed to open in theaters. I would describe some media outlets as almost giddy at the prospect.
Here are a few examples of the sort of rhetoric surrounding Joker before it released. The Telegraph’s film critic Robbie Collin said he was afraid Joker was going to get someone killed.
— Robbie Collin (@robbiereviews) August 31, 2019
Scott Feinberg from THR said the film “could incite real-world problems.”
JOKER is very well made and Joaquin Phoenix is incredible—yes, Oscar-worthy—but I must say that the film is also deeply disturbing and, I fear, could incite real-world problems. Gun violence, mental illness and random senseless killings don’t play like they used to at the movies.
— Scott Feinberg (@ScottFeinberg) September 10, 2019
Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson said “But from a step back, outside in the baking Venetian heat, it also may be irresponsible propaganda for the very men it pathologizes.”
And so on. Not every critic was wrong, and I particularly enjoyed Leslie Lee III’s deep dive into how Joker had an explicitly left-wing political message, but he was on of the few voices of sanity on this.
Joker is not even the first movie of its kind, it’s in the vein of Falling Down or Taxi Driver. Now, it is true that someone tried to shoot Ronald Reagan after seeing Taxi Driver, but that was just because he wanted to sleep with 13-year-old Jodie Foster, not to mention he was also all hopped on the hard stuff: The Catcher in the Rye. No single piece of media has had as many people carry out violent acts claiming they were inspired by it as The Catcher in the Rye, aside from every single religious text.
But really, no study has ever shown a link between media violence and real-world violence. People assume it must be related because of course someone who plays a game where they run around shooting people will actually start shooting people, it makes so much sense. Except 250 million people play Fortnite so even if media violence did cause real-world violence it would have to be at an absolutely minuscule rate or else we would have Fortnite players running around shooting each other or pickaxing each other or building stairs or whatever Fortnite players actually do. Seems like it’s mostly buying skins.
Knowing this, news organizations and people with large platforms still spread the idea that the character of the Joker was somehow uniquely capable of warping the minds of an audience even though the first guy to play the character did so with grease paint over his mustache because he refused to shave it.
The only thing irresponsible here is news organizations spreading this sort of insanity, mostly based on a long-debunked rumor about a mass shooter who targeted a movie theater that was coincidentally playing a Batman movie, one that the Joker wasn’t even in. The story that we were presented with never even made sense. We were told that the content of Joker made it likely that someone would be inspired to carry out a mass shooting, and that the time and place they would do it would be in a movie theater playing Joker on opening weekend. How does that even make sense?
What the media did with Joker was far more likely to cause a mass shooting than the content of the movie itself. You could practically see the drool on the corner of the mouths of some of the cultural critics champing at the bit to make the person who proves them right famous.
Think about the people who actually believed these stories for a second. Not only is it unethical to cause people that much undue stress for something with no basis in reality, it has to hurt the trust people have in these institutions. And if they had any decency at all, they’d apologize to us for it.