Friday, August 08, 2008

On Thuggery, trolldom, and the Joker ethos

I've seen a strange, dare I say providential, convergence of articles and themes in the past week or two, all centering on what I am loosely dubbing the "Joker ethos". The Joker, for those not in the know, is the pasty faced amoral sociopathic villan of this summer's Dark Knight film.

In the film (forgetting for a moment the background we assemble from the comic book franchise), the Joker appears out of no-where. The police can trace no background on him, all his clothes are hand stitched. He gives different stories about how his face became horribly scarred. He uses terrorist plays directly out of Al-Jazeera's book. His interest is entirely in watching the world burn. As Batman/Bruce Wayne and his butler/advisor Alfred talk about dealing with the Joker, we get this very telling exchange that I believe is the most important in the film:

Alfred Pennyworth: When I was in Burma, a long time ago, my friends and I were working for the local Government. They were trying to buy the loyalty of tribal leaders, bribing them with precious stones. But their caravans were being raided in a forest north of Rangoon by a bandit. We were asked to take care of the problem, so we started looking for the stones. But after six months, we couldn't find anyone who had traded with him. One day I found a child playing with a ruby as big as a
tangerine. The bandit had been throwing the stones away.

Bruce Wayne: Then why steal them?

Alfred Pennyworth: Because he thought it was good sport. Because some men aren't looking for anything logical, like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.

[later in the film] Bruce Wayne: Did you ever catch that bandit in Burma?

Alfred Pennyworth: Eventually, yes.

Bruce Wayne: How?

Alfred Pennyworth: ...we burned the forest down.

Fair enough that the villan of a summer fantasy movie should be terrifying, glorying not in rational theivery, but simply in the thrills of destruction. However, Les Newsome has some interesting thoughts over on Common Grounds Online. He relates sitting in the theater watching the film as four teenage girls behind him talk about how awesome the Joker is. Les writes:
It would be wrong, however, to say that the Joker represents this culture’s fear of terrorists. That’s too shallow. No, the Joker is what we fear about terrorists. A terrorist comes without warning, without consideration, like a dishonorable kamikaze, set on nothing other than upsetting the plans of those who think they have a plan. They destroy hope and safety and the idea that your life will go well in pursuit of “the good.” Harvey Dent is driven to madness as Gotham’s “White Knight,” a crusader who must feel the futility of his best-laid plans and live in the insanity that flows from the knowledge that we are helpless before the darkness of fate.
Remember how the line goes, “Madness is like gravity.” The terror is in the inability to stop the evil that will come upon you if you believe in something, anything, to save you. (emphasis mine)

Les nails it....the Joker ethos lies in destruction, not just for kicks, but as a prophetic statement that belief in anything is an illusion. The Joker ethos aims to make us all aims to reshape us all in its own image: "what which doesn't kill you only makes you.....stranger"

The troubling truth is that there are plenty of people out there who subscribe to their own version of this Joker ethos. I've been following for a while the efforts of Anonymous to take down Scientology. Anonymous is a nameless, faceless, and pretty amorphous group of hackers who play pranks, sabotage websites, and operate on the fringes of civility (and sometimes the law). However, someone in this group has decided to take down the church of Scientology. They have anonymously put together worldwide protests (with hordes of people showing up wearking Guy Fawkes masks), they have flooded YouTube with anti-Scientology propaganda. And they're scaring Scientology.

The question is 'who are these people?'. The New York Times Magazine ran this very telling article showing how these people (called internet trolls) harrass mock and ruin lives. They do it for the "lulz" ... a satirical way of saying there into it just for the fun of watching overly sensitive people get upset at them. The article gives an explanation of how this works "Another troll explained the lulz as a quasi-thermodynamic exchange between the sensitive and the cruel: “You look for someone who is full of it, a real blowhard. Then you exploit their insecurities to get an insane amount of drama, laughs and lulz. Rules would be simple: 1. Do whatever it takes to get lulz. 2. Make sure the lulz is widely distributed. This will allow for more lulz to be made. 3. The game is never over until all the lulz have been had.”"

The author meets with one of these people and we get a telling reply to the whys of it all:

As [he] picked up his cat and settled into an Eames-style chair, I asked whether trolling hurt people. “I’m not going to sit here and say, ‘Oh, God, please forgive me!’ so someone can feel better,” [he] said, his calm voice momentarily rising. The cat lay purring in his lap. “Am I the bad guy? Am I the big horrible person who shattered someone’s life with some information? No! This is life. Welcome to life. Everyone goes through it. I’ve been through horrible stuff, too.”

“Like what?” I asked. Sexual abuse, [he] said. When [he] was 5, he said, he was molested by his grandfather and three other relatives. [his] mother later told me, too, that he was molested by his grandfather. The last she heard from [him] was a letter telling her to kill herself.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Joker, live and in person. The abused who is so horribly scarred that he decides that he must remake the world in his own image....not because of some vengance thing, but simply because it is. There is no right and wrong, bad or good, there just is. Deal with it and quit your whining. That my friends is the essence of the Joker ethos. Beat you until you quit your whining and become a Joker yourself.

The full article is a must read....the stories are sobering. I could go on with stories about Chineese Hackers, Jihadists....all of whom, in some shape and form, are fascinated with watching the world burn....only to reshape it in their own image.


Soli Deo Gloria

See other posts on the theme of builders vs. destroyers