While everyone and their cousin has been falling all over themselves to either praise or denounce Todd Phillips and DC’s ‘Joker’ film, I have found myself in a much different head space. I have let it be publicly known in the past that, among the members of Batman’s rogues gallery, Dr. Jonathan Crane, better known as The Scarecrow, is my favorite, and the character with whom I have always closely identified. Fascinated with fear and terror, always looking to toy with people and drive them mad with horror, Crane is my kind of guy. For the most part, I had assumed I had more in common with Crane than everyone’s favorite Clown.
But this film has thrown a gray blanket over that notion, one that has been layered in filthy water and leaves me thrashing as if drowning. You see, in this depiction of the character, I find an uncomfortable number of parallels to my own life. I was born and raised in New York, reality’s equivalent to Gotham; my brothers and I were walloped about by our father, while our mother stood silently aside, choosing to not see what was going on. All three of us eventually took up martial arts, and in turn each of us put a violent stop to THAT nonsense, but some of the damage had already been done. Like Arthur, I have a condition I don’t much like to advertise; I have Borderline Personality Disorder and schizotypal delusional symptoms. I’m working poor, always have been, and my chief accomplishment goal is to entertain people, with stories rather than jokes.
In short, I have far more in common with Arthur Fleck than can be considered healthy.
Thankfully, I have kids who love me, and a darling wife who lets me be myself. I have a handful of friends, and though my job is neither glamorous or even remotely related to my artistic endeavors, it helps me pay the bills. I am no longer on the exact same plane of Hell on Earth as Arthur, and thank God for that, because without my wife and kids, I could easily see myself devolving into what he becomes.
When a moderately damaged individual finds themselves without a support system to rely upon, they can degenerate quickly into something monstrous. They can only control so much of their reaction, and despite my usual view of self-accountability, even I understand that exterior factors can pummel a person into dust. And we know that, per T.S. Elliot, fear can be shown in a handful of this stuff. Now, that applies to moderately damaged persons; just imagine what happens to someone like Arthur, who comes to us immensely damaged in advance. Well, they become an absolute nightmare, which is exactly what we know the Joker to be.
Having outlets for aggression is vital. I have access to videogames, a gym membership, and a punching bag. What did Arthur have?
It’s always uncomfortable, coming face to face with the realization that we have the potential to be horrific. More disturbing is recognizing that we might be only a step or two from the edge, and that it would take the barest push to send us over. To quote the comic book incarnation of the Clown Prince of Crime, most people are only one bad day away from becoming just like him.
I know I’ve been disastrously close to that myself.