The Joker has been adopted as a symbol of rebellion against perceived corrupt power structures worldwide. If one makes the leap to understanding global protest movements as a systemic response to perceived institutional corruption, then it is not so far to see the connection.
It has been said that only the jester can poke fun at the king, which in our modern times can be viewed as the gatekeeper, the decision-maker, or any person of gravitas within a possibly corrupt organizational system. Arthur Fleck aka Joker stands in opposition as the ultimate nobody, the exemplar of the downtrodden or oppressed, as one Lebanese street artist explained to CNN recently about his own Joker mural.
Historically, the Saturnalian fool or clown gave the downtrodden of society at least a limited license to lampoon their masters. The Venice Film Festival with perhaps its much longer Continental memory of aristocracy and noblesse oblige awarded Joker its prestigious Golden Lion. Yet some North American critics have been, one might say, disturbed to the point of arguing the film is simply not worth discussing. One might observe this as the predictable management response to many whistleblowers, but please do not think that I would equate this murderous character on anything other than the level of meaning. Though obviously nonviolent, whistleblowers do nevertheless operate as critics of a social system.
Joker as social criticism is disturbing certainly but not, as some seem to suggest, because it is merely a competent yet ultimately mediocre film that is nonetheless popular. Any number of commentators it seems could care less until a superhero film pretends at being serious art.
No, the really disturbing thing about Joker is that the story is told from the perspective of the downtrodden, rather than from the perspective of the clerisy, the management or the decision-makers of society – who share the perspective of Batman, a hero distinguished largely by the privilege of his available choices: playboy or crimefighter, aristocratic buffoon or anti-corruption crusader. Batman stands apart from ordinary prosecutors, vigilantes, or even revolutionaries, because he is “not wearing hockey pads” as they say. The less fortunate sons of Gotham are not so lucky.
This reversal of perspective works effectively in the film and one could call it the reason that the Joker mask is being donned by protesters across the globe. Ultimately, as shocking as the violence in Joker is, the film’s depiction of Bruce Wayne’s father as anything other than a generous philanthropist with nothing but goodness in his heart is the film’s true subversion.
Can management ever see with empathy from the perspective of the whistleblower? This may fall to the compliance function, however imperfectly, to act as an observer differentiated from the usual corporate power structure.