The iconic image of the Joker by Brian Bolland in the Killing Joke had me thinking for a while now. I have it as a desktop wallpaper and I have read the comic a bunch of times. I have seen the image hundreds of times but only recently did I look at it, really looked at it and felt disturbed.
I’m not the type of person to get lost in a work of drawn art. I’m more of a literature guy, it’s the reason I dropped drawing when I was 14 years old for writing, even if I was told I had some talent as an artist. But I believe drawn art has an effect on us as humans, on our consciousness. It’s a way of communications. When we still lived in caves and lived from one day to the other we drew on walls to communicate and share our experiences and feelings with others while also leaving a mark. That has in my eyes never changed, it has become a more complex way of communication but that’s a result of the world becoming more complex each day.
It’s easy to look at art or the world and be so overwhelmed by the complex set of strings, the subconscious thought and the layers that create and hold both – a great piece of art and the world together. You almost have no choice but to either boil the whole thing down to one cause or try to write it all off as meaningless coincidences. It’s exhausting to not do it. The brain doesn’t have the ability to go through all that information. At the end believing in coincidences is quite a hard task and there is a reason that not believing in them is a well known saying. That’s why we get trapped in ideologies that try to boil all the world’s problems and motivations to one cause. Which is nonsense but can be convincing and is easier to comprehend.
Alan Moore, the writer of the Killing Joke is famous for thinking his work on the Killing Joke is unimportant garbage because it’s just two fictional archetypes going at each other. What he seems to ignore is that it being about to archetypes made it so great. Alan Moore while seemingly not caring for archetypes wrote a brilliant archetypical story and one thing that has been seemingly true since humans started telling stories, we love archetypes. It’s how our mind works. Listen to yourself telling some friends about an event in your life and you will notice that you tell stories from your own life through archetypes. You will be the hero who encountered some level of villainess opposition that you overcame or failed to overcome if you are a person that can self-reflect you might even be self-conscious enough to accept the fact you were the villainess force to another person’s hero but that’s a hard thing to do. It’s basically impossible to tell or listen to an objective story where the storyteller or the listener doesn’t subconsciously assign some archetypical roles to the people in it.
The Killing Joke is one of the best modern depictions (I’m aware of) between the fight of meaninglessness (Nihilism) and meaning (Existentialism). Something you might say aren’t archetypes, but they’re the motivations of a destructive villain and the saving hero.
Those two archetypes going at each other has never been more important in our history since each generation is becoming more atheistic and doesn’t have at least the traditional form of religion to hold onto.
The struggle between Joker and Batman in that Comic is an internal struggle we all have when we are confronted by meaningless tragedy. What are you supposed to tell a child whose father dies from cancer or has a sudden stroke? It’s meaningless tragedy and you have two options in the face of meaningless tragedy.
You follow the Joker by embracing the meaninglessness and destroy and torture others because why not? It’s all meaningless. Right and wrong, good and evil they’re just ideas. Do you want to kill a man? Do it, life is meaningless, even the consequences are meaningless, the only reason to be afraid of punishment is if you think it matters and could stop you from something that is meaningful, but there is none so screw it. That’s the Joker.
But you might rightly think, that’s no way of living. That’s nothing and you’re right. It’s an empty way of living and a wasteful way of living in your short existence in this Universe. You can decide if you see your life as meaningless. You can give your life meaning, you can give others a reason to live. Batman stands for that, he has seen the meaninglessness of life but has turned that into a weapon to give his life a meaning and protect others from what he experienced. He became caring through meaninglessness while the Joker became bitter.
Tom King quite brilliantly wrote about that in his second Batman arc in which Batman describes how he couldn’t commit suicide because he understood the worth life has so instead of cutting his wrists he became Batman, a productive and meaningful suicide if you want to call it that.
Now at this point you might ask, “Interesting, but what does this all have to do with this image of the Joker and you getting disturbed by it”
It’s quite simple. I looked at the image and for the first time, I realized his eyes are empty. They’re empty and he is smiling, for the first time I acknowledged that he is the personification of meaningless and empty chaos. I knew he was but this time I felt it. He smiles at you because meaninglessness smiles at you. If your life has no meaning, the life of nobody has and you can do what you want.
Why do we laugh and why is the Joker’s laugh so disturbing? That’s was the next question in my mind while looking at the HAHAHAH. I found this statement regarding the evolutionary perspective of laughing.
Apes laugh in conditions in which human laughter is produced, like tickle, rough and tumble play, and chasing games. Other animals produce vocalizations during play, but they are so different that it’s difficult to equate them with laughter. Rats, for example, produce high-pitch vocalizations during play and when tickled. But it’s very different in sound from human laughter.
When we laugh, we’re often communicating playful intent. So laughter has a bonding function within individuals in a group. It’s often positive, but it can be negative too. There’s a difference between “laughing with” and “laughing at.” People who laugh at others may be trying to force them to conform or casting them out of the group.
Laughter is a reaction to a harmless play. It’s why we laugh after a jump scare. Our brain sees it first as an attack but then notices it’s just harmless play so we relax and laugh. On the other hand, I want to point out this passage from the quote;
There’s a difference between “laughing with” and “laughing at.” People who laugh at others may be trying to force them to conform or casting them out of the group.
The reason the Joker’s laugh is so disturbing is because first, he casts us out, we’re not part of his group. He doesn’t have any respect or empathy for the idea that we’re all human. He laughs at us all but not only that, he laughs at the value of life. He sees life as an unimportant game that has no value, while at the same time he wants us and specifically Batman, to conform to his idea of life.
That’s why the personification of meaningless chaos is a laughing clown, because if everything is meaningless, then everything is a meaningless game that we can laugh at and that’s almost not human, the fact we can take sports games serious should tell you how human it is to give meaningless things meaning.
The Joker breaks that and this iconic drawing by Brian Bolland encapsulates all that to me and that disturbed me.