Why the Joker Has Provoked a Backlash

The moral ambiguity of the Joker – which encourages us to pity the Joker’s sad life, even if we are repulsed by his subsequent actions — provides a new twist on the iconic evil bad guy story

Predictably, many American reviewers couldn’t resist references to incels and mass shootings, to try to make their reviews relevant to the cultural moment. In a sneering review for Time, Stephanie Zacharek refers to Arthur Fleck as “the patron saint of incels.” Slate’s Sam Adams likewise argues that, “the movie plays right into advance fears that it could act as a kind of incel manifesto, offering not just comfort or understanding to disaffected young men angry at the world, but a playbook for striking back at it.” Adams also adds, with unselfconscious drama, “it feels like a risk to feel too much for him, not knowing who might be sitting next to you in the theater using his resentments to justify their own.”

The idea that The Joker is some kind of poster boy for incels or mass shooters has popped up in other reviews as well. Unlike the right’s knee-jerk efforts to (falsely) blame video games for mass homicides, most of these critiques seem to come from the left. Given that ultra-violent R-rated movies are released almost every week— The Joker contains far fewer on-screen deaths than other recent releases like Rambo or Angel Has Fallen — to little fanfare and without provoking anything remotely like imitative crime, why are so many movie critics decrying the supposed moral vacuity of The Joker?

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