Why the New Joker Movie Should Actually Terrify You

Photo: DC Comics

You should be afraid of the new Joker movie, but not because it might inspire violence. Not because it might create copycat killers. Not even because it might lead to a revolution of masked clowns seeking to kill the rich. You should be afraid because it’s already happening. Joker may seem like a dystopian 1980’s set in Gotham City, but it’s more like our modern society than we’d like to admit. And we don’t have Batman around to solve all our problems.

Occupy Gotham

In the movie, Arthur Fleck is a man tortured by his own existence, a man always down on his luck. One day, when he’s at his lowest, he takes the lives of three Wall Street bankers on the subway of Gotham city. The media coverage portrays the killings as the poor masses rising up against the Wall Street elite, united under the chant of ‘Kill the Rich.’ Sound familiar? This setting is a lot like our own world. In 2011, thousands of citizens took to the street in the protests known as Occupy Wall Street in New York City. The global economic crisis was in full swing, so there were a lot of unemployed people ready to take to the streets. It didn’t take much to get them out there.
Income inequality in our country remains on a steady course. One-quarter of Americans make less than $10 an hour. That’s hardly enough to pay for health insurance, much less provide food and housing for any size family. The top ten percent of Americans make more money than the bottom 90 percent combined. If you deal with severe psychiatric issues, you might make less than $10 an hour. Because of that, you might not have the income to seek treatment. This extreme income inequality leaves you to deal with…

A Dysfunctional Mental Health System

In the movie, Fleck suffers from a form of delusional psychosis that leaves him prone to hallucinations and delusions of grandeur. Due to a lack of funding in the mental health system, he loses access to his social worker and psychiatric medications at a time when he needs them the most.
Joker takes place in 1981, the perfect setting to portray such a character. In the 1950s and 1960s, states moved away from the use of long term psychiatric institutions for people like Arthur Fleck. At the time, state-run institutions became synonymous with abuse and forced institutionalization. State and local governments dealt with budget issues, so they cut these unpopular programs. Unfortunately, they failed to replace them with anything and left these people in the hands of the criminal justice system.
This movement away from inpatient facilities left people with severe mental illnesses out in the cold. Sometimes literally. If you were the type of person that might need such a facility, you likely ended up homeless. Poverty and mental illness are part of…
Photo: DC Comics

A Vicious Cycle of Loss

If you currently deal with mental illness in our modern society, healthcare and employment can be a vicious cycle of loss. Here’s how the cycle works: You are employed in the first month. Yay, you have a job! Life is good. At this point, you have insurance, but because of your spotty work record, or lack of access to education, or a million other reasons, you only make $10 an hour. You live paycheck to paycheck. Then something bad happens. Your car breaks down the next month, so you have to cut back somewhere so you can fix your car and still get to work. You decide you’ve been doing well mentally, so you go without some of your psych medications for a few weeks to save money.
Next month, you are on the verge of a psychotic break, but not quite there yet. You’re on edge, but you need something to tip you over. You yell at a customer at work, and your boss fires you. You still have insurance till the end of the month, but now you have less money than before to seek out treatment. By the time your insurance stops, you’ve ceased taking all your medications, because you can’t afford them. You also skip your regular psychiatric appointment, and in no time you’re in a full-blown psychotic meltdown.
At this point, it can get worse. You can do something stupid and get arrested, which is where a lot of people with severe mental illness end up. Or, if you’re lucky, a family member that loves you might notice and convince you to talk to your doctor. Whichever path you go down, many times this leads to a hospital stay, something you also cannot afford. You make it through the hospital stay and walk out with a handful of pills, no job, and thousands of dollars in medical bills from your weeks at the hospital. Yes, it might take you multiple weeks to recover. That’s a fact you might not know until you or one of your loved ones goes through this.
You should be afraid because the movie Joker hit the head on the nail with the awful state of our mental health system. You should be outraged. You should care that our system allows people like this to fall through the cracks. If you have a severe psychiatric diagnosis, you shouldn’t have to worry about paying for its treatment. We all benefit when you get the treatment you need. You’re able to work and live a happy life. You’re able to be there for your children and family. You have a lower chance of committing a crime, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg of the benefits.

Mass Shootings are all the Rage

We live in a society where mass shootings and gun-related crimes happen daily. In 2018, there were over 340 mass shootings. There are only 365 days in a year. That’s a lot of headlines about horrible, horrible events happening down the street, and that doesn’t include all the robberies, assaults, and other violent crimes. I do want to be clear, though. Most people with mental illnesses are not mass shooters. Most people with mental illnesses do not walk around with clown makeup on and incite riots. Unfortunately, most murderous clowns have some form of mental illness. Most mass shooters do as well. These are some of the people that fell through the cracks.
We can squabble about the causes of mass shootings all day. We can argue about gun control. We can talk about violent media, like that crazy Joker movie with all the shooting and stabbing and the blood and the swearing, oh my. But what we should be talking about are the simple solutions to the root cause: isolation, poverty, and a lack of access to opportunities. Guns are the tools of the mass shooter and the career criminal, not the cause. Similarly, the media merely holds a mirror up to our society and shows us who we are. It doesn’t cause crime.
Having a severe psychiatric disorder isolates you from much of society. People look at you like you are a threat. People avoid you because you don’t follow social norms and you might cause conflict. Isolation has a simple cure, and it’s a community. If a psychiatric patient has adequate treatment, integration into society is much easier. If they get treatment and still can’t integrate, we still should find a way to make them a part of our society.
Joker should scare you because it’s a reflection of the world we live in. And no one with the power to make these changes seems to care. You should care. You might not have a severe mental illness. You might not be prone to wearing clown makeup. You might not suffer from any illness at all. But your cousin might. Your brother might. Your father, your neighbor, or a friend might.