Why I enjoy the joker

“I think we take a vicarious pleasure in the problems that they present, in the pain that they inflict, and not least of which in the demise that they suffer at some point,” says Stephen Lang, who plays the vengeful, scar-faced military officer Miles Quaritch in Avatar.

“It’s like having a vaccine,” says Karen Sternheimer, a sociology professor at the University of Southern California. “It’s a low dose of something that you really don’t want to experience in real life, a way of experiencing something really awful about the human condition from a safe distance.”

Oscar Embraces the Dark Side, Toronto Star

“It’s not about the money, but sending a message.”, “why so serious?”, “if you are good at something, never do it for free.” and “Madness is like gravity, all it needs is a little push.” are just some of the joker’s lines that I quote every now and then when joking around with my suitemates. Though it’s been over a year, my fascination of the joker has not faded at all.

I see similarity between him and me. His opinion about money, for example, perhaps are the same as most young scientists’. And his anarchic nature is also present in some of the destructive impulses I have and perhaps all humans share. I was also drawn to his meticulous planning, including the scheme that converted Harvey Dent to the dark side, and the final dilemma he presented on the two boats. He is not someone who does bad things just for the sake of being bad, which would be superfluous. His profound interpretation of his “complementary” relationship with the Batman, his masterful manipulations of human greed and fear, and his vision, albeit vicious, of anarchy provide a deeper and darker characterization of human nature, best described in his own words “these civilized people… when the chips are down, they will eat each other”. As one movie critic suggested, the director Chirstopher Nolan likes to linger in the dark, but doesn’t want to stay there. I think it’s true for all of us. What a relieve to have some faith again in the bright side of human nature after seeing how people on the two boats respond, and that the joker’s last experiment failed.

A few days ago, I read of this news article on “Oscar Embraces the Dark Side” in Toronto Star, and felt a certain relief that someone actually said something I found very difficult to say (or maybe confused by a my own feelings): we like villains for a completely different reason why we like heroes; it is not because we want to be like them, but because “we take a vicarious pleasure in the problems that they present, in the pain that they inflict, and not least of which in the demise that they suffer at some point” and because we want to experience something completely different from our own life, something “really awful about the human condition from a safe distance”.

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Wendong Wang

A chemist who blogs

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