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The pale man who laughs at us

Posted July 30th, 2016 at 3:03 PM by Shamol
Updated July 31st, 2016 at 2:49 PM by Shamol
Tags batman, ethics

To say my knowledge of the fiction genre is limited would be an understatement. The only fiction I've gotten around to reading are comics and graphic novels. That said, I just watched Batman: The Killing Joke, and it reinforced my belief that the Joker is indeed the greatest villain in all of fiction.

The Joker is ubiquitous in the Batman mythos, not just as a character but more prominently as a philosophy, a set of anti-ideals. To properly analyze this philosophy in any significant depth would require a larger scope. But here are some quotes made by or about the Joker as representative of what he personifies:

You know you are involved with a sick man who will see you die? He will stand over your body, with your blood on his hands and I promise you he will laugh... not because your life means nothing to him -- but because death, for him -- is the punchline. -Harvey Dent, Brian Azzarello's Joker
See their morals, their 'code' -- it's a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign of trouble. They're only as good as the world allows them to be. I'll show you- when the chips are down, these- uh, these 'civilized' people? They'll eat each other. See I'm not a monster. I'm just ahead of the curve. -Joker, Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight
I've proved my point. I've demonstrated there's no difference between me and everyone else! All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy. That's how far the world is from where I am. Just one bad day. -Joker, Alan Moore's The Killing Joke
There are so many layers to the Joker's philosophy. This is a blog post on a pokemon forum, not a literary treatise, so I can only scratch the surface of the surface. At the core of the character of the Joker is moral nihilism- the idea that there is no objectivity to ethics, to values, to any sort of moral excellence.

Joker's argument for this is empirical. Based on his observations of people and life's experiences, he concludes that no one really believes in ethics of any sort. They pretend to ascribe some values to them to make them feel good about themselves, but at the end of the day, it's all a "bad joke". Their code, their principles- they are all contingent upon life's conveniences. "When the chips are down", civilization itself falters (exactly what we see in The Dark Knight Rises, by the way). Joker's generalization is extremely radical- he believes there's absolutely nothing good to be said about any of mankind's achievements.

Truth to tell, if you can relate to this line of thought, the world does seem extremely funny. From the Joker's point of view, no matter what our actions- we are just putting up an act. Society with all its rules and customs and progress is fundamentally self-deceptive. Joker is able to see through all of this self-deception, which is why he thinks he's "ahead of the curve". And think about the irony of all this a little more- not only is the deception enormous and obvious, there's very little that separates the common man from this realization. Just one bad day. That's all it takes.

There's no semblance of effort in the Joker to be a part of this condition, to do something- anything- which would better his ordeal. No fiction is pious enough to affect his worldview.

And here's why the Joker, to my mind, is the greatest villain of all of fiction. The Joker doesn't just accept moral nihilism at an intellectual level. He doesn't just grudgingly lend ascent to it. He lives it. He revels in it. He celebrates it. His very soul is wrapped up in contemplation of the sheer farce that is the human condition. Which is why he can't stop laughing.

People have historically claimed to subscribe to different forms of moral nihilism. Nietzche is one example- probably why it's said he could never smile, but only sneer. Dostoyevski's Ivan Karamazov had the gall- or the foresight?- to say- Without God, everything is permissible. But in the Joker, and in the Joker alone, do we see such utter, submissive, unrepentant celebration of nihilism. No other character, whether in reality or in fiction, have embraced this philosophy at such an unnervingly reflective level.

I'll leave you with yet another quote from Alan Moore's Joker.

Memories are what our reason is based upon. If we can't face them, we deny reason itself. Although, why not? We aren't contractually tied down to rationality! There's no sanity clause! So when you find yourself locked onto an unpleasant train of thought, heading for the places in your past where the screaming is unbearable, remember- there's always madness.
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  1. Old Comment
    Her's Avatar
    on a side note i was really disappointed at how bad the adaptation of the killing joke was
    Posted August 1st, 2016 at 10:15 PM by Her Her is offline
    Updated August 2nd, 2016 at 10:05 PM by Her
  2. Old Comment
    Shamol's Avatar
    Originally Posted by Harley Quinn View Comment
    on a side note i was really disappointed at bad the adaptation of the killing joke was
    Especially the first half was totally gratuitous. It becomes a little better when they start following the story. But let's just forget that ever happened, we have the graphic novel.
    Posted August 1st, 2016 at 10:37 PM by Shamol Shamol is offline