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Written by Phemelo Motseokae
Featured in our uManyano lwaBasebenzi publication
Joker was first portrayed as a criminal mastermind: a psychopath with a warped, sadistic humour and audiences grew to know him as the archenemy of Batman. In the 2019 adaption of Joker, he is the alias of a character named Arthur played by Joaquin Phoenix. A child abused by his father and neglected by his narcissistic mother who is oblivious to his suffering, he develops severe mental illness and is rejected and mistreated by society. Arthur resides in a ramshackle apartment, taking care of his disabled mother and barely surviving as a clown in precarious work. He has been to a psychiatric prison and is unstable. Unable to receive essential medical services due to budget cuts, his hopelessness turns into rage and drives him to become a murderer and a working class vigilante. He correctly identifies his class enemy as the “men in suits”. In our society, we’ve seen this anger and bitterness be directed against women, immigrants and queer people.
When the richest man in the city contests for mayor, expressing his disgust for the poor calling them lazy and “clowns”, a riot erupts. Working people rioting in clown masks remind of the Yellow Vests in France or the masked protesters in Hong Kong challenging state power. Arthur joins the crowd chanting slogans and thrusts his fist in the air with anger. He revels in the noise as if he has found a remedy for his fury and loneliness.
A capitalist society sees to it that people believe their suffering is their own making, despite society’s soaring wealth, inequality and the exploitation of workers earning less than a living wage. We see Arthur commit crimes, but he was not born a criminal. He was turned into one by a criminal system.
Joker is human, and the movie exposes the pitfalls of capitalist class society. As it falls short of pointing towards an alternative, it potentially leaves the audience feeling despair. In real life, we can fight for a worker-controlled economy which ensures that science and resources cater for humanity’s needs instead of being commodified. We must struggle for socialism – for permanent change. Together, we can organise to break from this capitalist system that alienates us from our work; from ourselves, and from each other.