Why the Joker Appeals to Fringe Fans
With the news last week that Joaquin Phoenix has agreed to play Joker in a DC standalone Joker film, fans of “Batman” comics and related TV shows, films and other media have had mixed reactions. The new film will be separate from the current “Batman vs. Superman,” “Suicide Squad” and “Justice League” extended universe. Fans of Jared Leto’s psychopathic goth, punk style version of the character had already expressed outrage last August when they first heard that DC was planning a standalone film with Todd Phillips as director and Martin Scorsese as producer with the creative slant more like a dark, gangster Scorsese film. So far, rumors suggest that this new film will offer a view of the Joker’s rise to power that share’s tone similarities with Fox’s AU prequel “Gotham” and Tim Burton’s “Batman” film with settings and costumes out of the 1980’s or a mash-up of time periods.
Although the Joker has reigned as the supreme villain against Batman since his first appearance in 1940, his appeal has baffled some critics. Over the years, the character has ranged from a hard-nose, insane gangster to a mysterious anarchist with a joy for bloody violence and mayhem. Why does the Joker appeal so much to a wide range of people, especially with certain underground groups?
For mainstream fans, the Joker offers a bit of escapism and a perfect foil: The character gets away with doing insane things that many people wish they could do. He usually escapes into the shadows to rise again. By testing Batman’s “goodness,” he helps prove that Batman has the right to continue as Gotham’s protector. On the other hand, his appeal to members of fringe groups seems to come more from the fact that he exists outside of normal and expected cultural boundaries. His clothing, style and demeanor shout “outsider” and “freak.” Whether he wear’s a purple suit or swathes of tattoos, the Joker refuses to stick to the rules set by society. He also usually points out the hypocrisy of those who claim to follow the rule of law and social expectations. Since many fringe groups are treated badly for being different, the Joker appeals because he points out how even the most “good” people are hypocrites or worse. To some fans, he also represents the general self-reflection and upheaval that they see as necessary for members of fringe groups to become more excepted by the majority.