2019 has been a rather strange year for many people, especially here in the UK. It’s been a year of political uncertainty, a year of protests, a year of anger and confusion, and then Todd Phillips released his Joker movie, which many people felt might stir up these emotions and start a riot, like Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck does in the movie.
Well, as of writing, this hasn’t happened (and touch wood, it won’t happen), and there’s a good reason why it didn’t. It’s just a movie, and contrary to popular belief, people don’t start rioting or go on mass killing sprees after having watched a movie or played a video game.
That’s just not how things work. There are a whole host of reasons why people might want to do such things, and they tend to have nothing to do with violence in popular culture.
Don’t blame Joker, blame clickbait
If anything, the claims that this movie could be dangerous because it could end up provoking mass shootings and rioting in the streets were started by mainstream media, and a lot of it was outlets trying to get quick and easy clicks.
If you headlines such as: “Police shut down ‘Joker’ screenings in Huntington Beach after ‘credible’ threat“, “US cinema cancels Joker screenings after ‘credible’ threat“, or even “Cinema shut down after police receive ‘credible threat’ linked to new Joker movie“, it’s no wonder people are starting to worry.
These were all actual titles that I took from mainstream media outlets such as The Independent and Metro. Now, I understand why they ran these headlines, but they did nothing to help the conversation, because what exactly is a ‘credit threat’, and why are there these threats in the first place.
It has nothing to do with the fact that Joker has scenes of violence in it. It’s all to do with the fact that the media has spun the story into something much bigger than it is.
Joker is a casualty of modern journalism
Now, I’m a journalist. I have a masters in journalism and I’ve written for outlets such as The Express, Digital Spy, ShortList, Empire Magazine, Entertainment Daily and We Got This Covered, and have quite a few years experience under my belt, so I know what it’s like in the newsroom.
I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve been asked to change a headline because it wasn’t getting enough clicks, and that would really annoy me.
People at the very top of these organisations nowadays care about one thing and one thing only, clicks. They need the numbers to stay afloat. That’s the current state of modern journalism. People want it for free, which means the industry has to find another way to make money, and unfortunately, that’s through clickbait rather than deliberate, careful and thorough journalism.
I’m not saying that that sort of journalism no longer exists. On the contrary, there’s some genuinely incredible journalism going on nowadays, but it gets buried beneath the mountain of clickbait rubbish, and that’s how movies such as Joker become a target.
It’s all about the clicks
Editors and their bosses get excited by the fact that people are talking about the movie, but then the conversation gets distorted due to clickbait and SEO trends.
“What are people searching for at the moment?” One Editor will ask me. “Ummm. ‘Is it safe to see Joker?’,” I’ll reply after doing a quick Google Trends search. “Great, write an article about that and fill it up with as many ‘keywords’ as possible.”
The whole thing just snowballs and becomes what we are seeing now. People are now scared to see Joker because they think they’re in serious danger, and the stupid thing is that they wouldn’t be if it wasn’t for the articles and televised ‘debates’ (I used that term incredibly loosely) we’re seeing from the mainstream media.
So, ultimately, Todd Phillips’ Joker movie alone isn’t dangerous. Yes, it’s violent and pretty brutal, but so are plenty of other films. I would argue that Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver is much worse on that front.
Horror movies come out all the time and we’re not seeing articles about how it’s dangerous to go an watch those movies because people might start getting ideas.
Joker still made a lot of money regardless
Frankly, we’re living in sad times when things like this happen because it means that these artists – and yes, directors, writers and actors are artists – will be hindered. They won’t be able to make the movies they want to make because they’ll be worried about the public conversation, but more precisely, what the media and even politicians are saying about it.
Don’t get me wrong, I do think it’s an important conversation to have, but unfortunately, we live in a society of extremes. Something is either good or bad, safe or dangerous, right or wrong. There is no middle ground any more.
I blame the Internet – I write, as I’m about to post this ‘article’ (more of a rant) online. That said, Joker’s done extraordinarily well at the box office, so many all of this press has been beneficial? Although, I do believe it would have done well regardless. It’s a new Joker movie for crying out loud. Who wouldn’t want to watch it?
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