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The Three Faces of the Joker

2,872 words

One of my earliest memories of the theatre is a Christmas play about Santa Claus teaming up with Batman and Robin to protect Christmas from the Joker. I am near certain that none of the ticket proceeds went to DC, as it was staged in the early 90s in the former Yugoslavia. Even today, we have a cavalier attitude to intellectual property laws, especially the convoluted and unenforceable kind that American and Western European governments pass. Ever since then, I’ve been a Batman fan. And even more than that, a Joker fan.

Batman is a subject of many discussions on the Dissident Right, especially here on Counter-Currents, where we take a close look at the Caped Crusader and his antics in numerous articles [1] and even books [2]. And indeed, vigilantism, as well as vigilante fantasies such as Batman or Death Wish [3], are symptoms of a decaying society such as the one we currently inhabit. Vigilantism and the will to vigilantism arise when the state has failed in its role as keeper of law and order and has lost control over parts of its territory, as well as supremacy over those who would break the law. At the same time, the state tyrannizes the law-abiding citizen out of weakness, greed or outright collusion with the criminals. We call this sorry state of affairs anarcho-tyranny. Vigilante fantasies are a balm for the law-abiding citizen or the would-be lawman who find themselves powerless to fight either the anarchy or the tyranny.

The mirror image of Batman is the Joker. Where Batman seeks to harness the darkness in order to impose order, i.e. serve good, the Joker seeks to harness the light, the comical and the silly, in order to wreak havoc, unleash chaos and destroy the illusion of order. The Joker is the one who will quite rudely remind us that civilized life is, as per Joseph Conrad, a dangerous walk on a thin crust of barely cooled lava which at any point might break and let the unwary sink into fiery depths. The Joker is a societal gadfly, a psychotic Socrates armed with lethal gag guns and 10,000-volt joy buzzers. He is the man who will tell you that “life is but a dream” in your darkest hour. The best you can really do is laugh. There is something eerily Nietzschean about this merry acceptance of chaos and birthing of a new morality, which is governed not by good and evil, but by boring and fun.

Modern cinema gives us three Jokers worth thinking about: Jack Nicholson’s gangster-turned-gagster, Heath Ledger’s nameless lord of giggling terror, and Joaquin Phoenix’s gutter clown. All three have been discussed. All three have been analyzed as characters. But I’d like to think about them as mirror images of the man in Death Wish, who sees himself as either a law-abiding citizen craving the return of order, or the would-be lawman who cannot find his place in the current law enforcement environment and realize his true destiny. As in real life, the mirror can tell us a lot about what we really are, and it’s important to remember that there is such a thing as a face of a thug — indistinguishable from the face of a cop. Physiognomy is real, and oftentimes, a cop is psychologically just a gangster employed by the gang in blue, or as anarchists are fond of saying, the state is a gang of thieves writ large (and the converse is true as well).

You can buy Dark Right: Batman Viewed from the Right here [2].

In the 1989 Batman directed by Tim Burton, Jack Nicholson portrays Jack Napier, the second-in-command of Gotham’s crime boss Carl Grissom. He is cuckolding his boss with a floozy, the kind that goes after high-ranking mobsters. The boss responds by setting him up to be killed by a crooked cop, but Batman foils the assassination, leading to the death of the cop at the hands of Napier and the disfigurement of Napier in a vat of acid, leading to nerve damage which causes a permanent grin and complete bleaching of his skin. Upon seeing his new face, Napier completely loses his mind, assassinates his treacherous boss, and embraces the new identity of the Joker, rebranding himself as an artist and considering his crimes conceptual works of art.  The aesthete in me definitely picks the Nicholson Joker as his favorite, given that I, too, am given to respecting art done for art’s sake, no matter how much it offends the sensibilities of polite society. The Joker’s art doesn’t just offend — he uses men and women as material, transforming them in order to create, but the goal isn’t death. The death and destruction wrought are mere Bob Rossian “happy accidents,” the goal being art and through it, beautification of the artist.

Did somebody say “the beautification of the artist?” Sounds awfully narcissistic. And indeed, if the Joker as a character were to be realistically constructed, he would be a consummate malignant narcissist whose loss of identity (and literal loss of face) would result in the mother of all narcissistic rages, followed by a consolidation of an omnipotent and omnipresent false self. And what better way to become omnipresent and omnipotent than to transcend human identity and become a concept — comedy incarnate. Indeed, “Jack is dead, my friend. You can call me Joker. And as you can see, I’m a lot happier.” [4]

There can be nothing outside of the narcissist’s boundless self, so Joker Jokerizes the population of Gotham using poisons, gasses and lethal combinations of cosmetics, which then forces the news anchors to reveal their own ugliness through the inability to use cosmetics. Art, outsider art, has exposed the ugly face of the prevailing order.

The aesthetic of the Joker presents itself readily to a narcissist. His signature color is purple — the color worn by Roman emperors. His face is instantly recognizable; there is no way to mistake him for anyone else. And through his criminal actions, he is everywhere; on every magazine and every newspaper column. And his position at the top of Gotham’s criminal hierarchy ensures a steady supply of underlings to push around and dispose of at will. And that laugh is something that’ll haunt lesser men even in their uninspired dreams.

In this mirror, we see the dark demons of the vigilante or wannabe vigilante. He can never be sure if his drives are a genuine desire for justice or his own hubris. Further, the fact that he is not a part of the corrupt but nevertheless ruling order indicates to us that this is a man who doesn’t do as he is told. Could it be that he is obstinate and unyielding not due to his own inner sense of right and wrong, but merely because of narcissism or antisocial tendencies? We certainly have no shortage of narcissistic or antisocial personalities here on the Dissident Right, who are — for the time being — our comrades in the struggle against the corrupt prevailing order. But how long can we rely on them, and more importantly, is our own struggle based on such vain glories rather than a sense of right and wrong? Even if you are true, you must search yourself and answer this question, but search yourself with a critical eye. Egotism can be a powerful motivator, but is it welcome in an organized and necessarily hierarchical movement which sometimes must act without the full consent of all members? Are you ready to subsume yourself to a greater will, for a noble, larger cause?

If you thought Jack Napier was bad, wait till you get a load of Heath Ledger’s Joker, from Christopher Nolan’s 2008 The Dark Knight Rises.

This Socratic Joker doesn’t quite shock by creating transgressive art or by imposing his own untrammeled ego on the world, but by poking directly at the lava crust on which civilized society stands. The central premise of Joker’s position is that normal people, even ostensibly good people, turn into monsters when given the right incentive. This is, of course, also the premise of The Killing Joke, one of the best Batman comics out there. But unlike the comic book Joker, who follows a methodical path to driving Commissioner Gordon insane, in the Nolan film it is taken to a whole new level, where the Joker pushes forth his thesis by starting random acts of chaos, allying himself with the mob against the Batman, planting bombs around the city, manipulating the police and Batman, and allowing himself to be captured. Being a pure avatar of chaos, he has no coherent plans. He is by his own admission, “just a dog chasing cars — I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it.” [5] The introduction of this chaotic persona into the city of Gotham aspiring to order is all it takes. Why so serious? Don’t you understand, silly rabbits, that life is but a dream, that you’re all insane rodents in a cruelly designed maze? Poke, poke, poke.

In the end, Joker’s thesis defeats Batman’s antithesis, even though Batman defeats Joker — Batman is forced to become monstrous. He lies about the true nature of Harvey Dent in order to fully empower the Gotham police to crack down on crime. This functions as a nice jab against the hypocrisy of a bourgeois liberal society which depends on the very fascist military and police in order to survive when faced with the chaos of criminality and insanity. This spiritual and metaphysical defeat of Batman is apparent in the sequel, where he and his Gotham are easy pickings for Bane and his organization. Even after the defeat of Bane and the League of Shadows, Batman must die, even if Bruce Wayne survives.

Tellingly, Ledger’s Joker is even less human than Nicholson’s Joker, who retained some traces of Jack Napier in the wake of his plunge into the chemical vat. Whatever made him doesn’t matter. He accepts it, just as Nietzsche’s Ubermensch accepts all that led to his creation, laughing at such inane concepts as “good” and “evil.” Much like the dog chasing cars, he is a force of pure chaos, acting and reacting on instinct, in contrast to the civilized man who is self-aware and reflective.

The second mirror presents us with the shadow of the vigilante as someone who likewise pokes at the edifice of society until it reacts. The very presence and effectiveness of a vigilante lead the populace to ask: “if this guy can do it, why can’t the cops do it?” And in good time, “why not me?” But “why not me” has a very good answer — because you can’t hack it. This question is very rudely answered by Batman in the beginning of the Nolan film, when he kicks the crap out of an obese Batman impersonator acting as a wannabe vigilante. Most people aren’t cut out for vigilantism and moral crusades against anarchy, tyranny or anarcho-tyranny.

Indeed, just as by physiognomy alone we cannot reliably tell the difference between a policeman and a thug, so it is that the neurotype of the vigilante is eerily similar to that of the chaotic criminal who only wants to see the world burn. So-called accelerationists in the Dissident Right would very much want to see the present order burn, as would I and any other sensible person. The difference is that I am more worried than them about the well-being of the innocent who’d be destroyed as the old order burns. Batman is always only one misstep, one momentary lapse of discipline from becoming Joker. As we know from The Killing Joke, not Gordon but Batman snaps and becomes monstrous. In the Nolan film, both Harvey Dent and Batman — and even the venerable Lucius Fox — are forced to become monsters.

To be a dissident rightist is to walk on the bleeding edge of sanity as we go against all we know, all that our family members and friends hold dear, as we dare doubt the religion of our tribe. No wonder many fall off the edge. Such content that can hold our boys grounded in reality, or “based,” so to speak, is invaluable.

Which brings us to our third Joker, Joaquin Phoenix’s contemptible, physically repulsive stick insect of a man. [6] Trevor Lynch hated the film. Stefan Molyneux called it a disgusting spectacle of nothing but pain. Devon Stack called it a hack copy of Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. Nick Fuentes wasn’t so giddy about it that he started “schmooding” in his Dlive streams. A lot of people I respected had divided opinions about it. And I realized before even seeing the film that they were all right, in the sense that they were all reacting, in their own various ways, to the same thing: the mirror image of a vigilante as a chain-smoking, mentally ill loser.

You can buy Return of the Son of Trevor Lynch’s CENSORED Guide to the Movies here [7]

Even in a film without Batman, the funhouse mirror reflects back at us the existential fear that yes, the man who dresses up as a flying nocturnal mammal and jumps on rooftops at night might indeed be insane. To be Batman is to doubt one’s sanity every day. Because he cannot, unlike the Joker, embrace his insanity, Batman’s always on the precipice thereof — and not on the precipice of Nicholson-Joker insanity which includes running the city as a personal art project, or Ledger-Joker insanity which includes terrorizing the city into barbarism — but on Phoenix-Joker insanity, which mostly consists of having laughing ticks and being robbed on the subway. The vigilante fears, always, that he is not quite the prince of dark justice he imagines himself to be, but indeed, just another loser unable to adjust to modernity.

What if you really are the Joker of the 2019 Joker? Is your revolt really just atavistic scratching at structures you cannot even comprehend? Are you, in keeping with the mirror as a motif, just a right-wing mirror image of the pathetic antifa thug, noodle-armed and orbiting an average woman? Are you just mentally ill, substituting paranoia and cluster-B personality disorders for leftist schizophrenia and body-dysmorphia? Are you a loser who is about as deserving to participate in the modern world as the illiterate Mexican or Arab peasant who is coming to replace you?

You tried your hand at politics in 2016. You memed Donald Trump into the presidency. Now he has abandoned you and your ideology and endorses Charlie Kirk. Just like your father, he looks disapprovingly on your “wignat” antics. You can’t even punish him by withdrawing your support — he has too many MAGApede boomers in his pocket, and if he doesn’t win, the Democrat who does will probably pass a law mandating you chop your dick off. So why not take the black pill? Why not descend into despair, and then start fedposting and then. . . well, I don’t think I have to say it.

Scary, huh? You know what’s even scarier? There’s sufficient circumstantial evidence for that eerie yarn I just spun for you to push you over the edge. This is why the stick-insect of a man repulses and attracts the big heads of our movement. His disgusting nature repulses the older men, who prefer to think of themselves as accomplished and in control. His ultimate subversion and victory over the prevailing order inspires the young ones, many of whom have internalized — at least subconsciously — part of the story of abandonment I just told you.

You want to give yourself a good, godly fright? Wait until 03:45 in the morning and look at yourself in the mirror, illuminated only by a candle. Then smile. If you’re alone in the house, start laughing, and then continue laughing despite yourself. Bear in mind that some people believe that looking at yourself in a dimly-lit mirror will summon demonic entities. I’ve yet to test this hypothesis.

When we look at the Joker, we are looking in a dimly lit funhouse mirror. The demonic entities we summon are our own darkness, our own capacity for chaos and evil. Jung was right when he claimed that the roots of the human soul reach all the way to the bottom of Hell. Whether as narcissist, chaos vector, or pathetic loser, the Joker unleashes demons we’d rather keep well-buried, preferably chewed at by the three heads of Satan himself.

The Joker of my childhood Christmas play threatened to ruin Christmas by switching off the city’s power supply through a light switch sewn into his pink jacket. Children are instinctively afraid of the dark and the monsters it may contain. Batman is, at his core, a frightened child cowering before the darkness. But adults are afraid of the dark because they know exactly what is concealed by it. To be an adult is to understand that one is a monster struggling to escape the constraints of society; that darkness is a temptation to let the monster run free upon the world.