Very often, there comes a film that speaks deeply about and makes commentary of the psyche of the society for its time and its age. This year, Joker (NC16), directed by Todd Phillips and starring Joaquin Phoenix as the protagonist, Arthur Fleck, otherwise known as the Joker, is one such film.

Arthur Fleck is a member of a company of clowns and goes about his ordinary business trying to make others laugh. The film opens with Fleck  holding up a signboard for a company that is closing down, but is soon preyed upon by a group of raucous and mischievous teenagers who steal his signboard. Fleck chases them down, only to arrive at an alleyway dead end, where the teenagers are lying in wait for him. He is then viciously physically assaulted and left for dead.

Subsequently, we discover that Arthur Fleck is the sole caregiver for his aging mother, and that he is in fact suffering from clinical depression. While he admits to his therapist that he has never been at all happy, this goes against the front he puts with his mother, who has always asserted that “Arthur had always been a happy child.” As the plot unfolds, Fleck is fired from his clowning job, has his therapy sessions cancelled due to budget cuts by the Federal Government for the social services, and as he takes the train back upon finding out the news of his job dismissal, is taunted by drunk subway commuters – who eventually take to beating him up. Using a gun Fleck has in his possession, he fires at and kills the three commuters in his defence.

This violent act creates a frenzy in the city, as Fleck is hailed as a clown vigilante, inspiring other copycat acts of violence, as a people unhappy with the mayorship and governance of New York, take to the streets and incite other acts of violence. This follows the trajectory of dystopian chaos, as off medication and therapy, Fleck slips more and more into his delusory world, eventually turning more and more to violence, to do away with the people who have bullied him, or taunted him.

Joker, beyond its stoic commentary on society’s lack of mental health support and its chilling statement of the depraved state of society, is a poignant reminder to us of the dangers of what would happen to us without the presence of GOD.

The year 2019 reflects an age of desecration that society has become accustomed to.

Celebrities such as Alyssa Milano have publicly advocated abortion as being pro-choice and pro-feminist, touting and flaunting the fact on social media platforms that she has proudly had 2 abortions.

On the other side of the globe, 25 year old K-pop star Sulli was recently found dead on 14 October 2019, after having committed suicide from the pressures of cyber bullying and suffering a bout of severe depression. The follows other recent cases of K-pop star suicides or attempts such as Joonhyun’s suicide and more recently Goo Hara’s attempt. While Sulli’s death does not warrant celebration, the implications of glamourising her suicide as the media is wont to do, has consequences on a very young and naïve fanbase around the world, who may view suicide as the only solution to any problem that they may have.

The gritty, dark, restless world as under-painted cinematically by Todd Phillips in Joker, is a reflection of a larger societal unease and glorifies a projection of an inherent lawlessness and anarchy of 1970s New York. In corollary, this too is a metaphor for society today.

The millennial generation is the epitome generation of such restlessness. It is searching for meaning by poking fun at everything society has to offer, by glorifying banality and profanity, while at the same time, not realising that only GOD is the peace and the answer that they are searching for.

Take for example the popular culture trope of the meme. Meme creators use a multi-modal grammar  in the form of images, icons, captions to express and to share ideas and opinions. The internet meme as we know it today has evolved from the simple emoticon, to dancing hamster gifs, to the use of biting humour to delegitimise arguments of rival political factions. The “meme” is rooted in the academic study of evolutionary biology and was created by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene, 1976. According to Dawkins, the meme is “a unit of cultural transmission or imitation”: his examples include the concept of God, nursery rhymes and jokes, catchphrases and fashion trends. Etymologically, the “meme” can be traced to the Greek “mimema”, meaning “imitated”, which Dawkins supposedly shortened to rhyme with gene; a nod to the similarities between the survival of certain memes through the evolution of culture, and the survival of certain genes through the process of natural selection (Aslan, Erhan, The Conversation).

While memes may be cultural artefacts of an internet age, the issue is not so much the use of memes to find a form of generational connection, but rather the content which it espouses. In the light of mocking and parodying everything, some meme creators have also taken to using memes as a platform to mock and to blaspheme against Catholic teachings and the Sacraments. For example a pope meme was generated from a picture of him holding a chalice at consecration, and the chalice had been photoshopped to become a cat in a carrier bag.

This desacralisation of life is also found in popular app platforms today. The Momo Challenge is one such app which has gained a popular following by children and teenagers. Momo features a goth-like animation that dares the children and youth to complete certain stunts. However, this is a diabolical enterprise, for the stunts become increasingly depressive, to the point that Momo mocks the participant to committing suicide. The shocking thing is that this is not the only app that is available on the market. Momo, together with the other apps of such seemingly innocent fun, such as Blue Whale incite their users to commit acts of daring to the point of self-harm, eventually challenging them to take their own lives. Floating in the murky waters of the online world, are also seemingly innocent Challenges such as the Eraser Challenge, which encourage its participants to rub an eraser on their skin until it burns through and which leaves a permanent scar –  2 children were recently hospitalised for taking up this challenge, and the Charlie Challenge, which drawing from the seances of the occult and has reminiscences of the Ouija board, encourages its participants to invoke this spiritual entity “Charlie” to answer their questions by spinning a pen around.

What is the solution then? Beyond keeping our children and ourselves safe, there is a need to be informed, and to return with prayer and fasting, to the Word of God.

“Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8

By Brian Bartholomew Tan