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What does the new 'Joker' movie have to do with incels?

by Matthew Yapp Disclaimer: The following contains conversations of violence, rape, sexism, and racism. The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the opinion of Byte or Byte’s editorial board. On Oct. 4, Todd Philips’ Joker was released worldwide. The film is an origin story of DC Comic’s infamous Batman villain, the Joker. The film was met with praise and success at several film festivals, including a massive win at the Venice Film Festival. Some critics, however, believe that the film was not only subpar, but even problematic. Certain critics felt that the film was glorifying violence.  In an article for Time, critic Stephanie Zacharek stated that the movie portrayed violence as something that made the protagonist feel “more in control, less pathetic. Killing—usually with a gun, though scissors or a good old-fashioned suffocation will do just fine—empowers him.” She also felt that the film made the Joker seem less like a villain, and more like someone the audience was meant to feel bad for. “In America, there’s a mass shooting or attempted act of violence by a guy like Arthur [Joker] practically every other week. And yet we’re supposed to feel some sympathy for Arthur, the troubled lamb; he just hasn’t had enough love. Before long, he becomes a vigilante folk hero.” Fear resulting from this movie wasn’t just based on its content alone. The US Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation released a joint-intelligence bulletin to the police, later obtained by CNN, stating that there had been a number of violent threats posted online, including calls for mass shooting at showings of the movie. This led to the NYPD increasing police presence at several theaters. The Century Aurora and XD movie theater publicly stated that they will not be showing the film at all. The Century Aurora theatre was the location of the 2012 mass shooting, which occurred during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises.  The bulletin notes that the threats make references to the incel community. This may have to do with, as Zacharek stated, the film depicting the Joker as someone who could “easily be adopted as the patron saint of incels.” But what exactly is an incel? The term incel is an abridged version of the term “involuntarily celibate,” meaning someone who would like to be having sex but is unable too. Incels are an online culture centered around the concept that they want and deserve to have sex, but women are withholding it from them. Because of this, they believe themselves to be victims of society. Incels create communities on sites like reddit and 4chan, but are often removed for misogynistic language and attempts to incite violence against women. Below are several posts found on different online incel community forums. While I find them disgusting and disagree with them entirely, I am adding them to get across the severity of many incels' radical beliefs. 

Image from Reddit
These communities hold almost shared beliefs and encourage men to “take the blackpill,” or adopt their way of thinking. This way of thinking, being that life is unfairly stacked against men who are not traditionally attractive, and being without the love of a woman, they have no purpose and therefore are useless. They’ve even gone so far as to develop their own language over time, which if read by someone who isn’t involved in their communities, it would seem like gibberish. Below is a short list of commonly used terms in the incel community. 
Image by Matthew Yapp
Incel’s toxicity has not stayed strictly online, however. Incels have been perpetrators of a variety of violent crimes in the past few years. In 2014, Elliot Rodger murdered six people and injured 14 near the University of California. Prior to the attack, Rodger uploaded a video onto YouTube titled “Elliot Rodger’s Retribution,” in which he explained his plan for the crime. He explained how he planned and acted on the crime in order to punish women for rejecting him and punish men who were able to have sex with women because he was jealous of them. He also sent a 141 page manifesto continuing to explain his incel ideology to his friends and family. Despite this horrific crime, incels actually praised Rodgers,  coining the phrase “Going ER” to refer to folks who committed violent acts like him. It is not just a term; many incels actually did follow in Rogers footsteps.
Image by Matthew Yapp
In 2018, a man drove a rented van into a crowd of pedestrians, killing 10 people and injuring 16. After his arrest, the perpetrator stated that he had spoken online with Rodger, describing him as the “founding forefather” of incels and saying Rodger’s crime was the inspiration of his own. The killer stated that the reason for this heinous act was for retribution against society and an inability to have sex. The police publicly released a video of the interrogation of the criminal, in which he states he was hoping to “inspire future masses to join me in my uprising.”
Image by Matthew Yapp
And this seems to be the fear with Joker. Critics describe the film as something that incels would find relatable. In his article from The Guardian, Jordan Hoffman describes the film as “really just a drama about a mentally ill man with no friends who is targeted by bullies, lives with his mother, is ignored by the attractive woman down the hall and only finds purpose in mass murder.” There is an understandable fear that if Joker’s titular character has the same characteristics that fit a typical incel, and the movie centers around him invoking mass violence to feel in control, then this could inspire real-life incels to do the same.  Not everyone is completely convinced, however. In her review, Kayleigh Donaldson stated, “In my opinion, Joker is not incel bait, nor do I think it is encouraging anyone to commit and celebrate violent deeds.” In Vulture Nate Jones also stated, “I’ll just say that, while this Joker could be taken as an avatar for the incel movement, the film does do away with one particular misogynist trope that popped up in the script. There is still a lot of masculine rage in Joker, but it’s directed more at society as a whole than at women in particular. Also, for what it’s worth, the majority of the Joker’s victims are men.”  All of this to say, while it certainly plays with the themes of inceldom, not everyone seems to think that Joker is going to incite incel rallies. Others, myself included, felt after seeing the film that Joker created a clear portrait of an incel hero, that was something to be admired. That, coupled with the fact that we’ve already seen threats for mass shootings at showings of the movie, paints a very disturbing picture.  Joker, intentionally or not, has managed to not only cast a sympathetic light on the disturbed madman, but also cause those whose ideologies line up with his to feel empowered. 
Sources: CNN, New York Times, Twitter, Time, NBC, The Denver Channel, The San Luis Tribune, BBC, Vice, YouTube, The Guardian, Syfy Images: Matthew Yapp  Featured Image: IMDb

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