The latest Warner Bros offering Joker, which opens across the US on 4th October, is mired in controversy. Critics have expressed horror at the savagery depicted, and yet it’s garnered some rave reviews. It’s won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival, the Golden Lion for Best Film, so opinion is divided.
As a loss mother whose son was beaten to death by a man who’s never shown remorse, I’m clear on where I stand on the subject of murder as entertainment.
As a stark reminder, in the US, as of 1st October, there’s been 316 mass shootings this year alone. Dare I ask, in the current grief-stricken climate following El Paso and Dayton, do we really need yet another film that glorifies violence?
Like the film’s most ardent critics, I fear that its central message is dangerous. Described as “irresponsible propaganda for the very men it pathologizes,” it’s also been referred to as “a toxic rallying cry for self-pitying incels.”
For those who’ve missed the flurry of reviews, the protagonist, Arthus Fleck, is a narcissistic white male terrorist who’s depicted in a sympathetic light. He’s Batman’s nemesis who becomes deranged and eventually turns into a mass killer.
Films such as Joker not only encourage misplaced sympathy for murderers but can also inspire violence.
Make no mistake: they normalize brutality to the point of making evil ‘banal’.
As history repeatedly shows, environmental factors can and often do affect the behavior of individuals.
Add to that, the story is based on a comic book character
I’m not the only one who’s worried. In the US, major cinema chains are enforcing a ban on masks, costumes and toy weapons at screenings of Joker. Landmark Theatres have said they’re working with law enforcement.
And it doesn’t stop there. At the Joker Los Angeles premiere, journalists were prohibited from the red carpet and security was high: Hollywood Boulevard was closed off, there were restricted areas, and security staff patrolled each floor of the parking complex. You get the picture. The LAPD has said that while there are no credible threats it will nonetheless maintain high visibility around movie theatres when it opens.
Is this the world we want for our children? Where murderers are the protagonists of box office hits? And costumes are banned at movies about fictional, comic-book characters?
Mass media that helps normalize violence has the power to distort people’s perception of what is acceptable in a civilized society.
Viewers become desensitized to brutality the more they’re exposed to it. We may not want to admit it, but we’re all open to influence without realizing it. Some people, especially youngsters, are more impressionable than others.
It’s worth remembering that since the Columbine High School shooting, about 223,000 students attending 229 K-12 schools have experienced a shooting on campus during school hours. Gun violence is the second most common cause of death for people ages 1–19 in the US.
That’s what scares me. We live in a world where politics and the media have become blurred, where none of us can be certain whose interests are being served. I can’t help but imagine those in the NRA rubbing their hands as Hollywood does their pro-gun advertising for free. The latest figures suggest that R-rated Joker will collect between $82M-$90M on its opening weekend. This is a record for October.
Yet, like it or not, it’s us who are the problem.
Yes, us, the moviegoers. It’s John Public who’s putting the dollars in Hollywood’s pocket, who’s dictating what kind of movies are made. It’s the collective ‘we’ that’s the driving force behind all of these violent films.
The more we go to see these types of movies, the more they’ll get made.
The simple truth is that Joker would never have been produced if Warner Bros didn’t think they’d make millions, if not billions out of it.
No one in my homicide grief tribe will be going to see it. That’s because we have first-hand experience of what it means to lose a child to murder. The families and friends of victims killed at the Aurora theatre shooting in 2012, have gone as far as to write a letter to Ann Sarnoff, CEO of Warner Bros. In it, they condemn gun violence in the film and ask the film company to withdraw funding from politicians who oppose gun law reform:
So true. Big movie corporations do have a huge responsibility precisely because they have the power to influence the mind of the nation. Yet seemingly they wash their hands of this responsibility. They’re in the film business to make a profit so they don’t need to care.
So long as there’s demand, they’ll carry on making movies that buy into society’s fascination for violence and murder. There’s far too much money at stake for these corporations to stop making films like Joker.
Warner Bros has responded to the Aurora parents by stating that the film does not endorse “real-world violence”.
Phew! Well, that’s OK then.
Meanwhile, Director Todd Phillips has announced that he’s “surprised” by the controversy. And Joaquin Phoenix, who plays the lead character, walked out of an interview with The Telegraph when asked if he thought that his character could inspire “exactly the kind of people it’s about, with potentially tragic results.”
It’s clear that those in the movie industry aren’t going to pass up the chance to make big bucks. Everyone has a price. So what can we, as parents, do?
Refuse to pay to see violent movies. That’s where we start.
Until we, as a society, say ‘No More’, it’s a given that the media will continue making what sells, however careless and irresponsible the product they’re providing us with. There needs to be a paradigm shift in how society perceives violence and entertainment.
We have normalized violence onscreen when, to my mind, it should be anything but normal to pay to see mass murder depicted as entertainment.
So, I ask as a loss mother, a co-victim of homicide — please consider making a stand. Be the change. And as parents, this is a conversation we must have with our children.
We may not be able to stop Hollywood from glamorizing killing sprees but we can definitely make it less profitable for them to do so.
Katja Faber is the mother of three amazing children. Following her 23-year-old son’s murder, she used her legal training to work closely with private lawyers and the State Prosecutor in her fight for justice for her dead son. She hopes to inspire others in seeking justice for their loved ones and through her writing break the taboo of homicide loss and child loss grief. She runs her own farm, a magical place where she hosts private retreats for those in need of support and healing. Katja recently completed the Certification for Compassionate Bereavement Care® through the Center for Loss and Trauma in partnership with the MISS Foundation and the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Family Trust.
To read her blog and further articles by Katja do please follow the link to her dedicated webpage in honor of her son KatjaFaber.com. You can also connect with Katja on her FB writer’s page.
Her farming IG account where she reflects on daily life in the country and the healing process of grief is on Instagram.