News and Commentary

CNN Op-Ed: ‘Joker’ Validates ‘White Male Resentment’ That Made Trump President
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 03: People walk past a billboard displayed for the new film 'Joker' on October 3, 2019 in West Hollywood, California. Security measures have been tightened in some cities around the film's opening weekend following concerns of potential violence at theaters.
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After berating the box office champion “Joker” for allegedly glorifying incel violence, Jeff Yang of CNN has offered a different line of criticism: The Todd Phillips-directed comic book movie about Gotham’s arch-nemesis affirms the straight white male rage that led to President Trump’s success.

“While many reviewers have focused on [Arthur] Fleck as an ‘incel’ hero — his status as a sexless loner who turns to violence — the true nature of the movie’s appeal is actually broader: It’s an insidious validation of the white-male resentment that helped bring President Donald Trump to power,” writes Yang. “‘Joker,’ at its core, is the story of the ‘forgotten man,’ the metaphoric displaced and disenfranchised white man whose goodwill has been abused and whose status has been reduced. A man who has been crushed underfoot by the elite, dragged down by equality-demanding feminists and climbed over by upstart nonwhite and immigrant masses.”

To underscore this point, Yang highlights statements made by director Todd Phillips in the lead-up to the film’s release, during which he blasted woke culture for ruining comedy. “Go try to be funny nowadays with this woke culture,” Phillips said. “Comedies don’t work anymore. So I go, ‘How do I do something irreverent … Oh, I know, let’s take the comic book movie universe and turn it on its head.'”

With this quote, Yang says that Phillips essentially drew from “the same well of resentment that Trump strums with his racist rhetoric at his rallies,” which stems from “the fear of no longer being at the center of the political, social and cultural universe, with everyone who isn’t you positioned at its perceived edges.”

Yang takes particular issue with the fact that everyone on the peripheries of the Joker’s life are people of color, from his neighbors in the run-down apartment complex in which he resides to the thugs who accost him on the street:

It doesn’t quite seem like coincidence that Fleck and his mother reside in a run-down building that seems otherwise occupied by nonwhite tenants (prompting mother Penny to assert that if her old employer Thomas Wayne saw how they were living, he would be disgusted), or that the movie opens with an attack on Fleck by black and Latinx youth, referred to by one of Fleck’s fellow white-male clowns as “savages” and “animals.” This man subsequently offers Fleck a gun — “Gotta protect yourself,” he says.

It also doesn’t quite seem accidental that all the incidental characters Fleck encounters are black: The social worker who tunes him out during counseling sessions, the woman on the bus who fearfully shoos him away from her toddler, the admin who tries to prevent him from getting his mother’s hospital records, and the object of his desire, played by Zazie Beets.

Tying this into the rise of President Trump, Yang then notes that both the Joker and President Trump are similar in the sense that they can manipulate mobs through the degradation of law and order. “White men, in particular, responded to his rhetoric and persona — seeing in him a disruptor of oppressive correctness who could lead them back to the top of the heap and the center of the world,” writes Yang.

“At the end of the movie, a triumphant Fleck — seemingly dead, but magically revived by the cheers of a throng of clown-masked rioters — does a grotesque soft-shoe on top of a shattered cop car, literally dancing on the destroyed remains of the rule of law,” Yang concludes. “Imagine Fleck as Trump, shrugging off impeachment, rebounding with his roaring red-hatted supporters, winning reelection against every prediction and probability.”