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August 8

Really Dark Knight

Filed under: Psychology,Superheroes — posted by Amanda @ 10:25 am

I take it that by now most people with a pulse have seen The Dark Knight at least 1/5 as many times as my 18-year-old brother, not counting IMAX. Still, no spoilers here, except maybe of your jaunty “ain’t love grand?” mood. The Onion’s AV Club recently took up a topic from one of The Dark Knight’s IMDB boards — one that took what we over here take to be a bit of a disturbing turn. The question at hand: “Is The Joker ‘sexy’ — too sexy, in fact, to be an effective villain?”

Um, quick bio: The Joker is a deeply disturbed killer who shows no remorse for his actions. He takes perverse pleasure in chaos; he will go to any length to bring it about. My father, quaintly, compared The Joker to the Phantom of the Opera. Sure, some of us — uncomfortably — do find The Phantom a bit arousing, but he, let’s recall, is motivated by love. We know his sorrowful backstory; we develop sympathy for him, trapped as he is in an unbearable soundtrack. The Joker, by contrast, appears out of nowhere, backstory-, alias-, and fingerprint-free, motivated by nothing other than pure eeeeeeevil, to wreak havoc upon Gotham. No tragic story, just an appetite for destruction and a terrible hair day. So…”sexy!?” Yikes.

Yes, of course there’s the LedgerFactor. His divine Heathness is, it should be noted, unrecognizable as such — but maybe that’s still part of it. Says one IMDB commenter: “It’s harmless, but don’t you think REALLY you’re having a Heath Ledger fantasy with maybe a little bit of role playing going on? The Joker gets off on murder, mayhem, and utter destruction. From all accounts, however, Heath Ledger was a pretty nice guy, so it makes the fantasy safe. I don’t think any of you girls would really want to meet someone like the Joker.”

Fair point. But other commenters weren’t buying it. This one offered a little laptop psychoanalysis: “Ted Bundy had women swooning over him even though they knew what monstrous things he’s done. It’s that ‘bad boy’ charm that women fall for no matter what.”

Yeah, but not “no matter what.” Plenty of us may enjoy Killer McVillain as a character, but not so much as, you know, a boyfriend. As BG has said: “For every guy wondering why women are ‘into jerks,’ there’s a woman wondering where all the nice guys are.” (More on that here, and here.)

But, to be sure, there are women — people, actually — who are into, well, real-life Jokers. That’s where the AV Club piece reminds me of my own college women’s studies papers about abusive relationships: “His charisma lies in his total indifference to love, and, indeed, to all other humans. Thus, the sort of woman who’s typically attracted to emotionally distant men who don’t need or even want her inevitably finds herself drawn to him.” Yep, that’s pretty much how it goes (though I didn’t expect to hear it from The Onion): They are ignored and unloved by their partners, yet any response, positive or negative, gives the woman attention and makes her feel cared for. It’s a perpetuating cycle of needing love but receiving it only from abuse, and so they come to accept this behavior as what they are worth — and begin to consider the abuse as a separate form of love.

Still, it’s important to make a distinction between being all, “That’s hot” when you’re at the movies — and actually being trapped in a deeply-rooted cycle of abuse. The former: maybe understandable; the latter: so not funny. You can have one — maybe not your taste, but there are many reasons perfectly healthy women might enjoy the thought of a romp with a roughneck — without the other. (That, after all, is what fantasies are FOR. To have, not necessarily to act on.)

So the AV Club goes a bit far when it pronounces: “All sexual fantasies involving the Joker must be the result of some deep, disturbing insecurity that makes these women crave emotional and probably physical abuse from dominant men.” All? No way. But goddamn those guys, they still make us laugh (if nervously): “Furthermore, it’s dumb to even pretend, because you’d be all, like, ‘Let’s have sex,’ and then the Joker would be all, ‘Let me show you a pencil trick,’ and then bam, you’d totally be dead.”


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