Why So Serious? Taking a Lesson from the Joker
Here at Gilder Press, in the Daily Prophecy, today is movie day.
So, go get a scoop of popcorn and settle back with your loved ones and your spreadsheets for an investment date flick.
In a puffy reclining couch at the mall, you can undergo the end of the world in fire or ice and then saunter out into the scintillating streets of a Babylonian-American phantasmagoria, with zero interest rates and teetering yield curves and bubbalicious markets.
Entertainment can be serious when it embodies a suitable sweetie and a “system of the world” — a set of ideas that pervades a society’s technology and institutions and informs its civilization. A “system of the world” shapes the future of both culture and technology.
The question of how and where to invest is ultimately a question of whether our civilization and all the low entropy carriers that bear us into the future, can be sustained, while our creative investments mature over the years.
Looking at America through the Lens of the Joker
These are big heavy-lifting mental exercises suitable for my Chinese associate Habi, the Purdue political scientist who translated and interpreted my speeches and interviews in China and guides my view of its history and politics.
Now she says I have to go to “Joker”, the blockbuster art-flick of the day that depicts America as a tortured “Gotham” seething in the shadows of its collapsing empire. Made by fashionable director-auteur Todd Phillips of the prestigious “Hungover” series, Joker is agitating, agitpropping, baffling, and inflaming malls and theaters across the country.
When I saw that Phillips had also been a screenwriter for the manically defiant and politically outrageous “Borat,” I agreed to join Habi under the pixel-guns at the AMC 16 in Tyson’s Corner near a Philadelphia Society meeting we were attending. The Philadelphia Society is an assemblage of deep-thinking conservatives contemplating such questions as: “Can we sustain the system of the world summed up as the American dream?”
Perhaps responding with a cackle of cynical negation and nihilism is “Joker.”
The question is whether this film is a metaphorical extravaganza, conveying the idea that the United States today has fallen into an extreme condition fraught with poverty, inequality, and random violence? Or does Joker satirize this view held by the American left?
Is “Joker” the devil or a clown or a victim or a prophet? Or is he Donald Trump, ravaging the constitution and economy?
Is Todd Phillips upholding the leftist screeds and squeals of Antifa or is he satirizing them?
Should the film be banned for an appeal to “kill the rich”? Or should it be celebrated for its depiction of young white males as so many demented and violent clowns? So many “deplorable!”
Or should the film academy ratify Joker’s triumph as best film at the artsy Venice Film Festival?
Anthony Lane, the venerable film critic at the New Yorker, has a rare moment of blunt opinion. He concludes: “I happen to dislike the film as heartily as anything I’ve seen in the past decade.”
But this is the New Yorker, so he has to bring in Trump: “I realize, equally, that to vent any inordinate wrath toward [the film] is to fall straight into its trap, for outrage merely proves that our attention has been snagged. Just ask the President of the United States.”
Walking out of the theater, I heavy-breathe to Habi the view that Joker represents the utter blindness of the Hollywood elite toward the fabulous country that sustains them.
Habi says I’m full of popcorn flatulence. I don’t have a clue to the meaning of the movie.
Phillips, says Habi, is making fun of the left, of Antifa, of the view that America is thronging with deplorable racist clowns. After all, he is a critic of the “woke culture” of the media and academy, who blames them for the eclipse of comedy.
“Go try to be funny nowadays with the woke culture,” he complains, “There were articles written about why comedies don’t work anymore — I’ll tell you why, because all the [effing] funny guys are like, ‘F… this s…, because I don’t want to offend you.”
Habi points out that the counterfoil to Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker is Robert DeNiro’s Johnny Carson figure, talk show host Murray Franklin, who dismisses the Joker as a pathetic whiner “victim” claimant, “full of self-pity.” He concludes: “I think we have had enough of your jokes.”
So maybe Phillips is septic-sucking on our side. I don’t know, but he seems to splash around in the sugary shallows of an upper-class atheism disguised in designer denim and staccato “f” word waffle speech.
What I do know is that a film like this is what could not be shown in China. It could not be shown in the United States afflicted with fascist stagnation and oppression. It is full of crazed rebellious ideas and ululations.
“Joker” epitomizes the anarchic extravagance of current-day America, which we know from our time-prices — how many hours a worker has to expend to buy goods and service — is undergoing a fabulous technological boom.
To sit in those sumptuous couches in the mall theater (replacing the hard-backed cup-seats of yore), relishing the resonant acoustics and the super high-def images of today (replacing the flakey cinemascope of the past) costs the average worker roughly 70% less than the inferior video did in 1980.
As I left the theater, I noticed no raging or scowling attendees. Rather everyone seemed preternaturally polite and nice to one another as we queued up to leave.
I think our investments will survive the Joker.
Editor, Gilder’s Daily Prophecy