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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 11/10/19

What's Joker's Joke?

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Joaquin Pheonix's Joker Look + Set Photos Officially Revealed!
Joaquin Pheonix's Joker Look + Set Photos Officially Revealed!
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"Cause how many times can you wake up in this comic book and plant flowers?"

Rodriguez, "Cause"

It's not funny, that's for sure.

When I went to see Joker, the new Todd Philips' film, there were five other people in the theater in the liberal, up-scale tourist town populated by wealthy second-home owners, exiles for the most part from Gotham City (NYC). When the cave's wall lit up, there was a string of shadows projected onto it, advertisements looping repetitively for the town's "advantages," specifically "living and working in the same community," something next to impossible in the town except for the affluent people who didn't want to see Joker, the story of a guy in New York City whose penurious and fragile existence belies the false innocence of the wealthy elites who deny succor to the suffering poor, as the obscene gap between them grows apace.

It occurred to me that Joker, with his keen eye for the ironic hypocrisies of all that surrounds him, would get a laugh out of these preliminary promotions, for he himself has a bit of a problem and no advantages living and working in NYC. And he would understand why the rich would shun his story, having no doubt heard that it was violent, since they are squeamish about violence directed toward their kind, but great supporters of violence directed toward the poor around the world by the American military and at home by the police, both of whom work for them. Such official violence, of course, is something that they never have to see because they live in doll houses constructed out of a vast tapestry of lies and illusions, where the windows don't open out onto the wider suffering world but reflect inward their self-absorbed lives where people like Joker are invisible.

The repetitive shadows on the wall in the theater were advertising local services. Real estate, landscaping, high-end jewelry and furniture, life style companies, architects all the amenities of the rich and famous. Like those who absented themselves from the theater so as to avoid a painful confrontation with truth, I knew violence was on the horizon and had to laugh at the services being offered before Joker made his first appearance. It was my last laugh. I imagined him laughing also.

Then he was there, big as life, Joker, a man emaciated like a Giacometti sculpture portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix, who from the moment he appears, brilliantly makes you realize that a poor and suffering thin man exists and attention must be paid. The viewer is mesmerized from the start as Joker, aka Arthur Fleck fleck: a small particle, a stain tells us that "I just don't want to feel so bad anymore," despite the seven medications he takes to ease his pain. This "stain" on the social illusion of fairness and decency is a guy with no money or jewels to believe in, no real estate, no amenities, a guy who has no grass to be cut or beautiful plants to be tended to in his sad concrete apartment where he barely exists with his ill and deeply depressed mother whom he cares for.

"I don't believe in anything," he tells us, ironically echoing the unacknowledged nihilism of the upper classes. But he has good reasons, while theirs are rooted in their worship of power and money that undergirds the capitalist system of exploitation that creates suffering souls like Arthur, whose mental illness reflects a social system that is insane and violent to its core. It is no joke.

As I watched his story unfold, I recalled the time frame of the movie, the late 1970s or early 1980s, when my wife and I lived in NYC, subletting various apartments. When we first arrived in our old car, friends put us up at their apartment. We had little money, and the first night when we stayed with our friends, we parked on the street and left most of our suitcases with all our belongings in the car overnight. In the morning, all the suitcases had been stolen. Welcome to Gotham City. While it felt like a liberation to me, as if now I could start a new life, my wife felt otherwise, as might you. But it was our introduction to NYC.

And while we were young and educated and had the wherewithal to get jobs to pay the rent and live reasonably well, unlike Arthur Fleck, our time there was a wearing one. The city seemed dirty, unsafe, depressed, depressing, and teetering on the edge of some sort of death. Hope seemed to have died along with the radical dreams of the 1960s when I lived there. After moving from one apartment to another all around Manhattan and Brooklyn, we had our sublet on West 103rd street broken into in broad daylight. We were worn down by it all, and when we took a walk one day along the Hudson River in Riverside Park, we saw ahead of us three very large cats cross the walkway and a woman scream in terror at the sight.

As we got closer, we realized the cats were rats, and we took it as a sign to make our exit, as if Camus' plague were encroaching. So we did so shortly thereafter, borrowing a tent and heading to the country, never to return.

Poor Joker had no such option. He was trapped. Fired from his day job as a clown at children's parties and store closings, ridiculed and bullied by co-workers, friendless, he continues to dream of being a stand-up celebrity comic as he and his mother laugh at a late-night television talk show they are addicted to. They revere the host, and Arthur dreams of appearing on his show and making his breakthrough in comedy. Laugh or cringe as we may, their reverence for the host, played by Robert DeNiro, reflects American's dirty open secret: the adoration of celebrities and the wealthy.

Life goes from bad to worse for the two of them, becoming a total nightmare, and the viewer is drawn into its dream-like confusion, never being sure what is real and what are Arthur's hallucinations. Fact and fiction meld in a transmogrification that is film's specialty. Like life today in a screen culture, one's mind vacillates and one wanders through it or is it Arthur's mind wondering if what is happening in society is actual or virtual. The viewer feels like he is Arthur/Joker while observing him, a perfect experience of the schizophrenic state of American life today.

The suffering Arthur Fleck is abandoned by a cruel American society whose political order cares not a whit for its regular people, and in a penultimate scene when Arthur is appearing on a late-night television show where the snide and condescending host mocks him and his attempt at comedy, Joker says to the host:

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Educated in the classics, philosophy, literature, theology, and sociology, I am a former professor of sociology. My writing on varied topics has appeared widely over many years. I write as a public intellectual for the general public, not (more...)
 
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8 people are discussing this page, with 20 comments  Post Comment


Janet Supriano

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Your writing. Lovely, poignant, dead-eye analysis, deep exposition...whatever. Every time you post an essay here, I think it's the best one Curtin's ever done.

And then you prove me wrong. You write another one.

Gut wrenching is what you did this time.

It was intentional, I know. It worked.

Submitted on Monday, Nov 11, 2019 at 12:37:32 AM

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Edward Curtin

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Reply to Janet Supriano:   New Content

Thanks, Janet.

Submitted on Monday, Nov 11, 2019 at 3:21:24 PM

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Al Hirschfield

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Yes- this is some essay. I haven't seen the film yet. But hearing what I have about it I suspected that it had hit some chord in the Zeitgeist which which the elites would not like to hear (the reviewer for the New Yorker magazine actually said, " I happen to dislike the film as heartily as anything I've seen in the past decade..."). So, thanks for the confirmation. I must confess that I'm still straddling the idealized vision of this country you mention, and an intellectual knowledge of our many, many sins. Hence my reticence to actually see "Joker". But, eventually, sooner or later, I know I will.

Thanks again, and congratulations on a memorable and important piece of work.

Submitted on Monday, Nov 11, 2019 at 5:12:04 PM

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Al Hirschfield

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Reply to Al Hirschfield:   New Content

PS: On a vulgar, yet probably significant note: the film cost $50 million to make but has already grossed $1 billion internationally...

Submitted on Monday, Nov 11, 2019 at 5:27:03 PM

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shad williams

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Prescience:

The system that knows and controls so much decides human truth and what is good and evil, always of course, deciding in its own favor, even to suggest that all is woe and all hope is gone while heading to the bank with its ill-begotten lucre.

Submitted on Monday, Nov 11, 2019 at 8:26:55 PM

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Al Hirschfield

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"
...deciding in its own favor, even to suggest that all is woe and all hope is gone while heading to the bank with its ill-begotten lucre."


So is it art... or exploitation?


Or both (without at least my ever having seen it)?

Submitted on Monday, Nov 11, 2019 at 9:37:37 PM

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Edward Curtin

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Reply to Al Hirschfield:   New Content

Thanks, Al. The wealthy elites hate this film, for it conjures up the wrath of the struggling folks. The New Yorker is far from alone, and I read that one and others after I wrote my article. Their criticisms are snide and clearly filled with ideological bias. And many of them are simply dumb, showing a deep lack of intelligence.

Submitted on Monday, Nov 11, 2019 at 5:55:43 PM

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shad williams

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They deserve no civility or respect.

Submitted on Monday, Nov 11, 2019 at 8:17:17 PM

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Edward Curtin

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Reply to shad williams:   New Content

I agree, Shad

Submitted on Monday, Nov 11, 2019 at 9:12:33 PM

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Al Hirschfield

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Reply to shad williams:   New Content

And we just tear ourselves down. It may seem like "integrity" and "courage", but it's way to easy to be that. There's just no risk, wisdom or real strength in it. Particularly when done on the Internet.

Submitted on Tuesday, Nov 12, 2019 at 7:47:12 AM

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Floyd Tolar

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Thank you for informing me of this. I'm not a fan of Wealthy Elites. I wouldn't shed a single tear if they all died.


I don't go to theaters anymore as I lack transportation. But I do buy

movies, and this one is on my list.

Submitted on Monday, Nov 11, 2019 at 8:40:59 PM

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Edward Curtin

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Reply to Floyd Tolar:   New Content

Thanks, Floyd. You have plenty of company, including me, with dry eyes at their demise. The film is intriguing!

Submitted on Monday, Nov 11, 2019 at 9:15:28 PM

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Lois Gagnon

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Reply to Edward Curtin:   New Content

"When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser."


~Socrates~


The elites have lost the argument and they know it.

Brilliant essay.

Submitted on Wednesday, Nov 13, 2019 at 4:52:37 PM

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Thanks, You got me thinkin again.

Submitted on Monday, Nov 11, 2019 at 7:44:35 PM

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Reply to Jim Glover:   New Content

Thunking's always good, right Jim?

Submitted on Monday, Nov 11, 2019 at 9:13:31 PM

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Janet Supriano

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Reply to Edward Curtin:   New Content

I''ll bet a nickel that thunking is way better than thinking...at least in my book. Sometimes thinking ties me up in knots..good slave; bad master.

But thunking; well thunking is great, cuz it's always in past tense. And that sets you free to dance or kiss a tree right now!.

Submitted on Tuesday, Nov 12, 2019 at 6:16:03 PM

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David Watts

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You end your wonderful article with,

But where are the rats?

Quick, send in the rats.

Don't bother, they're here.

I know where you got those words. :)

Judy Collin's song, "Send in the Clowns,"

But where are the clowns.

Send in the clowns.

Don't bother, they're here.

Submitted on Wednesday, Nov 13, 2019 at 11:51:32 PM

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David Watts

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Reply to David Watts:   New Content

Another song that I think fits in somehow with your article.

"Death Of A Clown"


The Kinks - Death of a Clown (Official Audio) The Kinks - Death of a Clown (Official Audio) Death Of A Clown was originally released as a single in the UK on 5th July 1967 and August 2nd 1967 in the US.
(Image by YouTube, Channel: The Kinks)
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My makeup is dry and it clags on my chin

I'm drowning my sorrows in whisky and gin
The lion tamer's whip doesn't crack anymore
The lions they won't fight and the tigers won't roar

La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la
So let's all drink to the death of a clown
Won't someone help me to break up this crown
Let's all drink to the death of a clown
Let's all drink to the death of a clown

The old fortune teller lies dead on the floor
Nobody needs fortunes told anymore
The trainer of insects is crouched on his knees
And frantically looking for runaway fleas

La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la
Let's all drink to the death of a clown
So won't someone help me to break up this crown
Let's all drink to the death of a clown
La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la
Let's all drink to the death of a clown
La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la


Submitted on Thursday, Nov 14, 2019 at 12:00:36 AM

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Edward Curtin

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Reply to David Watts:   New Content

Yes, David. Click on the link at the end of the aticle for the film. Sinatra sings "Send in the Clowns" Thank you.

Submitted on Thursday, Nov 14, 2019 at 12:25:50 AM

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David Watts

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Huh. I have heard of people "seeing things." But now, I am thinking I have a case of "not seeing things." I swear that when I read your article and left my comments the embedded Frank Sinatra video was not there. But when I pulled it up just now, it is there plain as day. And, since the only person I have ever heard sing it is Judy Collins, I assumed it was her song... guess not.

Submitted on Thursday, Nov 14, 2019 at 12:52:42 AM

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