The Killing Joke
“Do I really look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I’m a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it! You know, I just, do things. The mob has plans, the cops have plans, Gordon’s got plans. You know, they’re schemers. Schemers trying to control their worlds. I’m not a schemer. I try to show the schemers how, pathetic their attempts to control things really are.” - Heath Ledger as the Joker, The Dark Knight.
“Nothing Wrong if it’s Funny!” That’s the tagline of one my favorite Podcast, ‘The Black Guy Who Tips’. The show, host by North Carolina satirist Rod Morrow and his wife, Karen. The show is a 5 day a week, two-and-a-half hour laugh track about race, pop culture and politics. The show tackles serious matters and leans political Left, but it’s a refreshing break from the world, as the comedic couple can often find humor everything from absurd to the macabre.
So, it’s rather jarring as a fan to listen to a comic so unnerved that he’s unable to make a joke. Recently, the hosts, graduates for a Historically Black College (HBCU), Fayetteville State in North Carolina, spoke the farce of a sit down between our current White House Resident and presidents of HBCU’s. Mr. Morrow, normally able to find humor in some of the most terrifying and troubling issues, simply broke down in tears from frustration. He lamented he couldn’t find humor in watching educators and academics having to grovel before a malignant, ignorant racist to ensure federal funding such that some of America’s most vulnerable students get the opportunity for an education and a better future.
Now, I share his frustration (I applied to Morehouse and Howard when I was in high school and of my three siblings who went to college, I am the only one who attended predominantly white institute (PWI)) that the picture of educators and intellects having to work with a President who can’t spell ‘tap’ is jarring and disheartening. But I differ with the podcast satirist one point: that image is hilarious. It’s funny to the point of rolling on the floor, gasping for air and fighting back tears. It is hilarious – if you think like Trump, his supporters, his not so secret foreign benefactor Vladimir Putin and aspects of the Left and Right fringe.
For those who share the core underling philosophy of Paul Ryan, Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, Briebart.com and a myriad of other horrible characters either brought forth, or in the case of the House Speaker, rejuvenated by the election of, as like to call him, Mango Mussolini. I bet Jill Stein and Gary Johnson are smoking bongs and nibbling on popcorn like the Michael Jackson/Thriller meme, gleefully watching liberals and moderates gasp in terror as Donald Trump and Paul Ryan offer economic policies specifically designed to make people die. It is the core philosophy that allows the Speaker of the House to regard stripping healthcare from the poor as “an act of mercy” that makes the entire affair a raucous delight. That core philosophy is nihilism.
The above quote at the start of this piece is from the Joker in the masterpiece of superhero and crime movies, Christopher Nolan’s 2008 Dark Knight. The argument that has been made about the Joker, Batman’s longtime nemesis, is that he’s completely insane and dissociated from humanity. He’s a character who is as likely to bake you a pie as he is to shoot you in the face. He is so unstable that he may do both at the same time. However, this is false. Or more specifically, it doesn’t cut to the core of who or what the Joker is.
Many philosophers and theologians have lamented that the character, a mysterious sociopath known as much for comedy-based crime schemes as his permanently green hair and chalk white skin due to a mutation that can only happen in science fiction, isn’t crazy. He’s quite sane and logically consistent.
The Joker could be classified as the ultimate nihilist. For those who fell asleep in philosophy class, Nihilism is the rejection of all religious and moral principles, often in the belief that life is meaningless. Rules, empathy and social norms have no value. Nothing matters, because life is a farce, a cruel cosmic joke. This core philosophy has been the undergirding for most interpretations of the Joker since the old Adam West TV show. This is highlighted, not only in Nolan’s work, but in Tim Burton’s classic 1989 Batman and Alan Moore’s seminal work, “The Killing Joke” (which DC ruined in animated film format recently, but that’s just me.) It explains why the Joker could, as mentioned before, bake a person a pie then brutally murder them. To the King of Knaves, we’re all gonna die anyway, so fuck it.
Now, that I’ve given you a rather nerdy tour through modern philosophy and comic books, what the hell does this have done with Trump and college presidents? Well, everything. The reason why Mr. Morrow couldn’t find humor in watching people who ostensibly are leaders in the black community grovel before a monster like Trump to protect the futures of children of color is because he, his wife and his audience and other liberals have high levels of empathy and hope. We want the world to be better, so it pains us to see the world at its worse. Trump and his executive branch as a crew of a pirate ship simply lack all hope and empathy. They don’t care, it’s all a joke.
Nihilism – the one word that makes all this insanity logical, if not acceptable. It’s the reason why Donald Trump cares more about Snoop Dogg mocking him in a music video that formally addressing and working with the Chancellor of Germany. It’s the reason why Trump can boldly lie about Obama spying on him. It’s the reason why parts of Trump’s inauguration speech contained the soliloquy from another fatalistic Batman villain, Bane. It’s why we have an Attorney General who not only was too toxically racist for Reagan, but is also on the payroll of a former KGB agent. Its why Trump can starve old people and children in his budget but build weapons nobody but CEO’s of defense contracters want. There are no true consequences, just a serious of unfortunate and hilarious events. Voltaire said, "God is a comedian playing to an audience that is too afraid to laugh". Donald Trump and the current Republican leadership are threatening to kill poor people in droves and saying "Why So Serious?!" Nothing is wrong to them, because it's all just funny.
It also the reason why so many working class nominally Christian white people rally behind an amoral, billionaire scam artist famous for publicly disgracing his first wife to marry his second and swindling contractors and creditors. The right in this country may claim to love Jesus, but their prophets are Ayn Rand and Nietzsche. They embrace a cruel meaningless vitriol – because if they can’t be kings of the world, they’ll simply burn the world down.
And if you think nihilism is simply a disease of the Far Right, think again. Elements of the far left may not subscribe to nihilism as a philosophy, but the results of their actions serve the same purpose. Their apathy has helped to seal our doom, because it only aids those who see doom all around them. It’s the reason why Jill Stein can blame Democrats for the Trump cabinet, despite being in the minority. Why bother to learn the facts? They’re all the same! It’s the reason why liberals cling to a Putin lackey dodging rape charges and a second-rate tech support guy who may have sold our secrets to Russia as voices of freedom. It doesn’t matter, nothing matters. And most importantly, for all their talk about Bernie’s revolution, his most vocal supporters sat out the most important election in a generation.
In The Dark Knight, Alfred Pennyworth, Batman’s butler, assistant and surrogate father, tried to explain the Joker's thinking to Bruce Wayne by relaying his experiences as a British soldier in Burma. Alfred laments to Bruce, “Some men simply want to watch the world burn.” He’s right, some men do simply want to watch the world burn. Unfortunately, two of those men, Donald Trump and Steve Bannon, now control one third of the world’s most powerful nation. This is all a joke, and I pray to God we all survive the punchline.
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