Joker: entertainment imitating life.
Pop culture has always been an interesting measure of current and perhaps future cultural self-reflection. While not alway conscious, there are tendencies that emerge when examining specific pop culture fads and tropes in the context of the time they are produced.
One example is the recent Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga remake of A STAR IS BORN. We understand we live in a time where narcissism is a cultural pastime. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and other social media are in essence platforms for self-advertising and disturbing self-promotion urges in our era. The film was wildly successful, but the fact that it is indeed an exercise in grotesque self-aggrandizement should not escape us. Cooper plays a fictional version of someone who he wishes to be, even though he is already a very successful actor. He wants to be seen also as a tortured artist of integrity in the film. The casting of Lady Gaga in the film was not only a no-brainer, but a further celebration of self-glorification. Together they “starred” in a movie about stardom, being stars themselves. Then the Academy Awards, yet another ritual where the most narcissistic people in America give themselves awards, showers the film with trophies. Pot and kettle engage in a bizarre incestuous celebration. A film for our time indeed. Just check anyone’s Instagram feed for confirmation or glance in horror at the Kardashians.
JOKER reflects another kind of cultural self-awareness. Troubled, incoherent rage is a phenomenon that infects out society from lone “Incels” behind trolling computer screens all the way to the office of the presidency itself. Concerns about rage fueled violence at the multiplex adds a layer of the surreal to this state of things. In some ways that makes the film simply a reflection of the unfortunate times we live in, and in other ways it indulges it.
Canaries were indeed used in coal mines to warn miners of toxic gasses that might kill them. Hollywood is far less sophisticated than canaries, but there is enough sense even there to bring forth films that get at something in our society. From the genre of the Western and its connection to American myth, to Film Noir and its budget examination of the dark side of the American Dream, Hollywood has always been a warped mirror in which we see ourselves.
As The JOKER stares into the mirror, who does he see looking back? We have met the enemy and it is us. We keep looking, but perhaps we just cannot see.