Joker, and the politics of hate

AFP Photo

What happens when there is steady social ostracization, hate and neglect? What happens when you are nothing more than a tool for someone else’s humour? When you don’t see yourself at all? When you could well be a pebble on the roadside, kicked around and noticed that it exists only when it hurts someone on the underside of their feet. Joker.
When you look at the film in the dystopian reality that is already here, you realise that socially, we are already sitting at that breaking point.

The rise of majoritarian politics, pandering to the rich, squeezing everyone else out, including the last rays of hope of the have-nots, is dividing us more than ever today.

But this division is not just on the lines of privilege alone. It is deeply seated now in apathy. Apathy of the rich and privileged, unconcerned, unwilling to understand what ‘the other’ needs. And we have identified so many ‘others’ in our world, and articulated them as our enemies, that we fail to see the larger damage we are creating.

Imagine the plight of an underprivileged Muslim in India. Survival is probably what he/she can hope for at best. Respect, recognition could be distant dreams, with the idea of equal opportunity mockingly staring at him/her from every corner, while more stories of mob lynchings reach their ears — lynchings of those who resemble them in many ways.

The impunity enjoyed by the lynch mobs is striking, and what ensures that is their privilege of being the majority, the muscle of the current political discourse in our country, which threatens the survival of every kind of minority, including women. ‘Achhe din’ is for the privileged alone.

There is a shot in Joker, as protest flags are waved, where the placard bears an extraordinary likeness to Donald Trump. How different is the situation of immigrants in the United States, from that of Muslims, including Kashmiri Muslims, in our country? Parents separated from their children, children held at detention centres, with no access to their parents. Are we not in the middle of an empathy crisis?

One that is bound to spawn anger, violence and retribution? Why must we accept things the way they are, just because they’ve always been that way? What gives some of us the right to opportunity by mere birth? The gender movements are testimony to constantly having asked and sought answers to this question. Sometimes violently, sometimes stoically.

For activists fighting for an equal, just and a happy world, that fight is taxing, and having to keep the balance in our own minds and narratives takes courage. To deeply and relentlessly question the rulers of the world and be threatened at every opportunity requires immense love for our nations, empathy and humanity.

Values that are today sought to be discounted by divisive discourses in which dissent is treason, as leaders confuse themselves with the State. And it’s all done so smoothly and seamlessly that our ability to question is being stifled, our voices silenced. But despite that, we continue to feel the constant simmering anger around us, and as dissenters as a minority ourselves. How many choices will be left to us other than to just bear the ‘reality’ or revolt?

Joker looks at this politics deeply. And is nuanced in its storytelling. The apathy faced on an everyday basis, from the privileged that are unknown, to leaders seeking power, it insists on looking at life through the idea of humanity, truth, lies and anger.

For those who think the film seems to justify violence and villainy, they need to go deeper to understand the genesis of it all. The inherent lack of acceptance, recognition and opportunity to survive, and through it all, live a little.

Joaquin Phoenix’s transition into the Joker, his underlying angst, his willingness to keep giving chances and getting thwarted more and more brutally every time, is symbolic of everyday struggles that many around us face, that we could well be blind to. It’s time to look beyond the coloured glass doors that have rendered us blind, and genuinely see the world we inhabit, beyond the world we are used to.

Joker is perhaps the impending truth we are headed towards. And yet, one that we can avoid. Where social ostracization, hate and anger can make way for acceptance, kindness and empathy.

Because all everyone really seeks, is to be loved. A little appreciation, a little love, a little hug that tells you that you are valued.

A simple, secure space that assures you of your place in the world, and that you matter, in some way, to someone at least. Let’s try and make fewer Jokers in our world.

(The writer is a poet, gender activist and ad-woman)

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