Pelish at the Movies – ‘Joker’

~By Randy Pelish and Norm Robins~

No one could have predicted that Todd Phillips, director of all 3 Hangover movies, would have made one of the most socially relevant films of recent years, but that is precisely what he did.

Joker is a tale set in a city named Gotham, Gotham of Batman fame that is. A figure named Thomas Wayne is the principal antagonist of our mad protagonist. Capitalism is the enemy. Wayne, running for mayor of Gotham is the nexus between the corporate state and its citizens. Corporations enslave, imprison, murder, and drive mad the helpless millions. Our abused and marginalized hero strikes back, and the oppressed millions join him making his personal madness a national sickness. This cautionary tale argues that anarchy may be preferable to slavery.

Joaquin Phoenix in a role as tortuous as I have ever seen is brilliant. He dominates this film. His performance is a never ending nightmare. It is extraordinary and frightening.

The script is less successful. Will corporate greed or anarchy prevail? A Gotham city police license plate suggests the underclass will lose. The plate reads “Industry First”.

This film mirrors our current national debate: capitalism versus socialism. Or so Hollywood would have you believe. Does one of our two choices have to sound like The Communist Manifesto? “Workers of the world unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains!” Do we have to have only two choices? Who said so?

Let’s look into this dichotomy deeper. Has there been any government or any people anywhere anytime that has established anarchy? No, there has not. An example of anarchy was when a bunch of San Franciscans let their hair down on Baker Beach and had a weekend romp free of constraints and very light on morality. Then at the end to expiate their sins they burned a wooden stick man on the beach, and they all left clean and pure as the new snow in the high Sierras.

Then came popularity. Then came more participants. Then came a move to an empty space in the Black Rock Desert north of Reno, Nevada. And the numbers grew and grew some more until finally an informal government had to be established. The number of participants had to be capped. Rules had to be implemented, and an administration had to be established to set down those rules, and a police force, non-violent though it is, had to be established to enforce those rules. And the anarchy some people purport to love so much vaporized and disappeared into the atmosphere.

One problem Hollywood hasn’t solved is that we think in the language we speak, and this language is the language Marx created to further his class struggle theories. Let’s take capitalism as an example. There are three factors of production, land, labor, and capital. Capital is what makes labor productive. Within reason, more capital means more productive labor means more production for any given amount of labor. Andrew Carnegie built United States Steel with large amounts of capital. Josef Stalin built the Soviet Union with large amounts of capital. That makes both of them capitalists. Stalin built his industrialized state with the state owning the capital. That is communism or its variant socialism. Carnegie built his empire in a free society.

The opposite of communism is not capitalism. It is freedom, freedom from central planning. But Hollywood cannot admit this is so. No one dare attack freedom. It is embedded too deeply in our national psyche. Instead they set up a straw man, wrongly call it capitalism, and knock it down.

This line of reasoning Hollywood presents us gives us a false choice. This is a superb piece of film craft and should be viewed as such, but it is a comic book version of economics and of history.

Joker is now playing in movie theaters in the Reno area.

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