Hello and welcome to In Too Deep, where I over-analyse a certain section of pop culture.
Where there is a hero, there is the villain. Their nemesis. The other side of the coin. Batman, the dark vengeful vigilante of the night, fights against the Clown Prince of Crime himself, the Joker. But why do so many people like the Joker? Why has he appeared in almost all the adaptations of Batman? Why does he just keep coming back? Well join me as I work out why the Joker is such a popular bad guy.
First off, lets analyse the Joker’s character. As someone once said (and I’m too lazy to reference): â€œThe Joker is the mix of the school-yard bully and the class clown.â€ He is essentially a murdering psychopath that makes us laugh. We know we shouldn’t, but we find it hilarious when he kills someone with a joy buzzer. There’s something about the character that makes every situation so funny. He is a monster, that can not be denied. But he has a charm about him not found elsewhere. Now intellectual and witty villains aren’t anything new. Shakespeare wrote a few good ones, as I presume Iago is (I’ve never read the Merchant of Venice, or all that much Shakespeare really). Charming, sophisticated evil. The Joker is no different. He’ll kill you, but he’ll do so in a way that makes you laugh. It helps that he’s fictional, but there are times when he’s killed someone in a generally funny way. Or caused a generally funny crime. So while he may be evil and horrible, he’s also damn funny. And everyone loves a good laugh.
But it’s more than that. There are plenty of villains out there that have caused us to laugh at their monstrosity. It doesn’t make them all that unique. The Joker’s shtick is actually rather clichÃ© when you think about it. Evil clown. Ever since clowns were invented the idea of them being evil was a prominent one. It’s not exactly new. Okay perhaps it wasn’t a clichÃ© in his first debut, but it certainly is now. The character should be seen as lame nowadays. In fact he did disappear for a bit primarily because he’d gotten old. So what else is it about the Joker that makes him so popular?
Is it his pessimistic world view that we find so easy to agree with? He often states that there is no justice or purpose to life, so you might as well laugh and have fun. Alan Moore in particular loves this ideal, what with the Joker monologuing about how World War Two was started over an argument about telegraph poles. This Joker in particular tries to convince both Commissioner Gordon and Batman that life is ultimately meaningless and that you should laugh it up. So perhaps the appeal comes from the fact that it is so easy to agree with the Joker about the futility of life? But likewise the appeal of Batman comes from the fact that even from tragedy good can happen and that we should always fight on.
Well to analyse the Joker lets first have a quick look at why Batman is so popular. I’ve asked my friend who his favourite superhero is (this being a man that’s never touched a comic book in his life) and he said it was Batman. Because Batman has no superpowers and yet can still do all the cool stuff. Well perhaps this works for the Joker too. The Joker has no superpowers, but he can do some amazing stuff. He can orchestrate and kill hundreds of thousands in a single day with no real trouble. He seems to be able to have superhuman resistance to pain. He does seem to be a supervillain with no superpowers. So do people like the Joker for being a man without powers for the same reason they like Batman?
But there’s one more crucial step that’s missing from this equation. Something that most people don’t seem to notice. We’re not aliens from outer space. We can’t fly or shoot lasers or move big boulders. We’re unlikely to be doused in chemicals or bitten by radioactive spiders or given magic rings. We accept that such fantastical things will never happen to us.
But we can accept the idea of someone training super hard and making their own weapons. We can accept this idea and believe in it. Furthermore we want to be it. Batman is the ultimate of wish fulfilment. A man with no superpowers still going out and saving the day. That is the appeal of Batman. He is the man we would so want to be. That’s what keeps up interested in the character. But the same can be said for the Joker. Batman is the hero we want to be, Joker is the villain. We all secretly long to be able to destroy our enemies, those that have hurt us. It is human nature. The Joker is simply man unfetted. Freed from the shackles of society and empathy, the Joker can do what we wish we could do. He can kill and torture those he doesn’t like because at its core that is what humanity is. The appeal of the Joker doesn’t solely come from the fact that he’s funny, or that he’s just a standard man. No it comes from the fact that we, as human beings, wish we could be as free as him. He is the animistic urge inside all of us to get vengeance against those that have wronged us. While Batman stands for the vengeance in terms of civilisation and justice, the Joker is the vengeance on a more personal level. The Joker is man left off his leash. He even says so himself.
If any interpretation of the Joker exemplifies this, it’s the Joker from the Nolan films. He says his goal is to prove that everyone is as sick and twisted as him. The Dark Knight is essentially a film about morality, about whether humans are good or evil. The Joker is the hidden urge to be evil released. He wants to prove that everyone is secretly as crazy as him and can be pushed into madness. It’s the reason why he corrupts Dent. It proves his philosophy true, that a sane man can be maddened into misanthropy. Likewise his obsession from Batman comes from the fact that Batman refuses to give up on his principles. Batman stands for Justice, something that baffles the Joker since there is no justice in the world. But time and again the Joker has proven that when push comes to shove people act like him. And that the day he can finally make Batman see his world view is the day he finally wins.
So there you have it. The Joker is popular because we’re all secretly evil and wish to remove those that annoy us. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.