I recently saw the movie Joker, starring Joaquin Phoenix. I was late in the game, as I just watched it a few days ago when in Europe it’s been out for almost a month now. This being the case, I saw a whole lot of Joker before actually watching it. Along with all the memes, pictures and critiques that my fellow cyber friends constantly posted, I noticed a slight undertone of romance towards the villain himself.
I got to understand the significance of the movie before even watching it. With a perfectly, purposefully, timing right before Halloween, I could already see dozens of friends dressing up as the Joker “harmlessly”.
Joker is one of those movies that keeps you thinking for a while. After watching it, I went home and opened Facebook. I suddenly understood that all of the people that were uploading their costume pictures and making big, redundant posts about Joker were coming off as not only fans of the movie itself, but of the villain and his illness. It was then when I understood that the people around me (and not excluding myself completely), to a certain extent, were glorifying the Joker not only because of his rebellious ways, but because of his mental illness and the ways that it affects him on the daily.
We have all felt like the sad protagonist of a movie at times, and we have all liked it. From the millions of “Harley Quinns” a few years ago with the movie Suicide Squad, to the victims of suicide, who left tapes explaining themselves like the character Hannah Grace in 13 Reasons Why, digital media proves over and over to affect us deeply. I can see it even in me, since after listening to my favorite band, Twenty One Pilots, whose singer mostly writes about depression and mental illness, feel a bit proud to be sad after listening to their music.
This can happen with cinema, music, and even photography. It was a well-known case a few years back that a girl died from Anorexia in the USA. When researching about the girl’s case, doctors found out that she had been inspired by a Tumblr account ran by a girl who drew anorexic bodies and uploaded her art to the platform, glorifying the disease.
After realizing that digital media rules this world since the moment it started ruling our minds, I read critiques, or comments, or react to pictures differently than before. Yes, many might dress as the Joker this Halloween out of love for the movie (and we have to admit that it makes a rather trendy and simple outfit for any party this season), but I am sure that many will dress as him because they are in love with the illness he stands for, even if that is twisted.
Glorifying mental illnesses may have been the goal of movies prior to this day and age, but with increasing cases of spectators actually giving the characters the power to affect their real-life decisions, movies that spark controversy have to give disclaimers and even change the perspective of the plots to make sure that the public understands the gravity of the situation. Personally, I thought Joker did a decent job of showing a true, raw reality of mental illness, for the most part. But I am aware that this might be the case for me, a healthy, reasonable spectator. In case I was in a more fragile state of my life right now, the Joker could have triggered sick emotions to imitate him, rather than enjoy and analyze his character, eventually forgetting him. Inspiration is one of the great virtues of digital media, except when it is not.