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The Manic Maniac: Agents of Chaos, Agents of Change

Batman’s a Hero, but the Joker is What We Need

By Joe Crosby     July 24, 2008

The Joker(Heath Ledger) going for a joyride, cop-style, in THE DARK KNIGHT(2008).
© Warner Bros.


Spoiler Alert—This column contains significant plot details on the The Dark Knight.
It's been easy to become intoxicated by The Dark Knight movement. We've been bingeing on the press and speculation and trailers for months, and for the last three weeks, you could barely encounter a friend, foe or stranger without talking about it. Critics and marketing gurus alike were feeding us heaping spoonfuls of Batman and the Joker to the point where, if you saw Christopher Nolan on the street, you would very seriously consider ambushing, kidnapping and torturing him until he offered you a private screening. And finally, after last week's record-breaking opening and the ensuing acclaim frenzy, we've reached utter catharsis. All of our twittering and tittering and antsy spitting can finally come to rest in inebriated bliss. But I'm afraid we were so drunk with it—myself included—that we failed at first sight to recognize one undeniable flaw, which leads to one debatable outcome: Batman might be the hero, but the Joker is the revolutionary we need.
The enigmatic Joker's one moment of honesty, of exposure—in fact, his most important moment—is when he sits bedside of the wounded Harvey Dent, coaxing him into an existential crisis. He explains that he, the Joker, doesn't have a plan, that he's "a dog chasing cars." He hates plans, he says. "The mob has plans. The cops have plans ... You had plans," he tells Dent, not so subtly implying that the world is run according to a perceived order, where both good and evil subsist on a foundation of rules and an expectation of results. And if the world doesn't operate in accordance with this order, this overriding plan, it folds in on itself, "everyone loses their minds" and chaos ensues.
But the snag there—the film's flaw—is that despite his admission, the Joker did have a plan. From the opening robbery to his overtaking the underworld, one pencil trick and one body bag at a time. In truth, his diatribe about "plans" was the lynchpin of his plans—the coup de grace in a carefully calculated sequence. By forcing the fall of Gotham's archangel, he would destroy the city's hopes, its dreams ... its plans.
What he says about chaos, though, is absolutely true. We don't panic when things go according to plan. But we do lose our minds when our order falls to pieces, if only for a moment. In a real-world narrative, it's the very motivation of terrorism.
So, if that logic holds true, and the Joker had a plan, and his plan didn't come to fruition—as it never could in a world that has to see good prevail—what does that mean for us?
In our world of order, we have criminals, our personification of evil, and we have "upstanding" citizens who, if told that "tomorrow a gangbanger will get shot" then "nobody panics." That's what our plans do for us. They divide us, pit us against each other, place us in classes—rich, poor, blue blood, blue collar, good, bad—who scarcely acknowledge or care about the other.

In the Joker's plan, he counts on that. He took our plan and "turned it on itself." He pits our classes against each other, giving the criminals and the citizens each the choice of who lives and who dies. But things don't go according to his plan. Suddenly, in a moment of truth, a criminal and a yuppie each act in selfless compassion, deciding not to outdo the other with the flip of a switch. And when his lynchpin is never exposed as the Two-Face that he is, Gotham can continue to believe in an idea of hope.

That isn't a world once again falling into order, rather it's the Joker's plans spiraling into chaos. Because you have to imagine, if the Joker never existed, then the city would continue to live out its life in a caste system, where one life has higher value than another, where they can put away all the Maroni's they want, but they still don't look a passing stranger in the eye.
And that's the world that Batman is so persistent about protecting. Certainly, it's an imperfect world, and their order is likely preferable to absolute tyranny, but in preserving that order, Batman insists upon preserving imperfection. But when the Joker enters the fray, when an agent of chaos is making the plans, it's then that the best in people emerges.
So, Batman isn't really the hero for trying to protect Gotham's plans. He's the hero for putting a stop to the Joker's plans. Maybe the means don't justify the end, but the Joker forced Gotham to look outside of itself. It's the Joker who's responsible for change, not Batman.
The world needs Jokers. As much as we think it hurts us, in the long run, we need agents of chaos to remind us of our humanity. Indeed, maybe we do need a new class of criminal.



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Deadfox 7/24/2008 2:31:30 AM
Can't say I agree with your argument Joe. I don't live in a world where people are so unenlightened that they need to be suffering atrocities before they acknowledge each other's existence. That's a pretty pessimistic view. Get past the doom and gloom of the nightly news hour and the newpaper's front page and you will see there is a lot of hope out there. The very last thing we need is a new class of criminal. What we need is to take the spot light away from the celebrity circus for a moment and start to recognise our everyday heroes-our teachers, charity workers, nurses, police. I'm really disappointed in your comments. Further to that, the Joker's admission of having no play when he clearly did does not constitute a flaw. I thought it was obvious that nothing the Joker said could be taken 'seriously'. He merely said and did whatever he had to to cause more chaos. Do you really think that the film's writers and director would be so stupid not to recognise that the Joker obviously had some sort of plan? Remember the line, "It's all part of the plan"?
hanso 7/24/2008 4:44:40 AM
"You had plans..look where that got you" love the JOker. TDK owns son!
spiderhero 7/24/2008 5:04:41 AM
I'm with you SilverSmith. The owner of the comic shop where I used to live claimed to be an anarchist, but he owned a business, paid employees (though not always on time)& had his merchandise in a nice logical order. You can't escape order & reason. To object to them is to merely rebel against something, not to offer anything better. At his core, the Joker was just some guy that couldn't see beyond himself. His thoughts, his feelings, his wants. All destructive to be sure. Does Joe actually want MORE people like this? As a Christian, I know that the way to improve the world for everyone is to put others first. To care for others & inspire them with love, not hate. Though I do this quite imperfectly, I know it is the only way to truely do good by & for others. Romans 12:17-21 says "Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,â€ï»¿b says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.â€ï»¿ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." Sometimes people will respond to evil with good, but you CAN'T encourage people to do good by doing evil.
Bmfstunner 7/24/2008 5:25:35 AM
<INPUT id=old_body_113287 type=hidden value="I agree with Silver, you could never trust the Joker, he constantly lied about his past. The Joker knew that Batman was going to try and save Rachel hence why he lied and gave him Harvey's location instead.The Joker wanted Harvey to lose Rachel, no matter what Rachel was going to die. The Joker never had intentions that Harvey would become disfigured, but he knew Harvey cared deeply about Rachel. We know this bc in the room he tells Batman that he really did think Harvey was Batman bc of the way he threw himself after her. Joker knew once Harvey lost Rachel, he could corrupt him thus turning Harvey " so ? Harvey. kidnap could wuertz obivously caught, get to wanted Joker the said, Gordon Like hope. Gotham?s destroying and guy bad a into Knight? White The>I agree with Silver, you could never trust the Joker, he constantly lied about his past. The Joker knew that Batman was going to try and save Rachel hence why he lied and gave him Harvey's location instead.The Joker wanted Harvey to lose Rachel, no matter what Rachel was going to die. The Joker never had intentions that Harvey would become disfigured, but he knew Harvey cared deeply about Rachel. We know this bc in the room he tells Batman that he really did think Harvey was Batman bc of the way he threw himself after her. Joker knew once Harvey lost Rachel, he could corrupt him thus turning Harvey "The White Knight" into a bad guy and destroying Gotham's hope. Like Gordon said, the Joker wanted to get caught, obivously so wuertz could kidnap Harvey and allow them to choose who to save.
unleasht 7/24/2008 6:27:32 AM
pessimistic? did someone say pessimistic? I agree with Joe, metaphorically. Our society is numb. People are becoming sheep, daily. Nothing is ever fixed for the better, unless money is being lost. We are not concerned with the condition of peoples lives or the state of our country, we are concerned about our portfolio and Paris Hilton. We watch the news to get our fix of depression and then just change the channel to a reality show. Our system has been flawed and is now finally breaking down around us but we are so complacent and fat, that we do nothing at all but talk about it, never inducing change. Politicians, the good ones, are powerless to do anything against the top 1% of the wealthy in this country. We need a revoLution in this country. Not only against the unstoppable system that lies to us but also against the immovable institutions that steal from us. I believe the Joker dwelled on these aspects became completely deranged and insane from all of this and then spawned from the overwhelming hatred he has of our flawed system of society. The Dark Knight is one of the greatest movies made to date, on many different levels. But, I really appreciated the implied metaphor of todays society within Gotham.
hanso 7/24/2008 7:08:20 AM
Batman song to the popo for part 3: I'ma make these suckers recognize I ain't playin' hoe If you violate off the top trick you gotta go I den held in a lot of shit and I'm bout to flip Now I think it's time to show you bitches who you fuckin' with BATMAN that's the name and I came to bring the pain Ana on my chest got me bustin' at you lemon lames You ain't know you fuckin' with a street nigga From the gutta pimp tight slash drug dealer Born and raised in the "G" Gotham City Before it's said and done you bitches gon remember me This only the beginning I got a lot to say It's been a long time and you got hell to pay Ain't no love hoe just bring it the door I'm bar none let my nuts hang to the floor So if you want some this is your death wish Better come correct cause I came to break you off trick
jorson28 7/24/2008 7:49:28 AM
Unleasht, Gotham doesn't represent "today's society," it represents what most human "society" has been at its core for centuries. For someone like you to blame the "wealthiest 1%" for any of society's problems (which, by the way, you don't list specifically) only proves that you're as obsessed with money - and who has it - being the end-all solution to everything as they supposeldy are. As far as a government that lies to us, consider that any government, particularly a democratic one, only really represents the people it governs. How often do we tell little white lies to people in the name of tact? I've been disabled my entire life and you cannot imagine how much I was lied to as a child, told I was better than I really was only to grow up and find out otherwise. That's not self-pity, that's fact, and if you think it's no big deal, try it. I knew someone years ago that talked like that, hated the Bush Administration and the Iraq war and, most likely, capitalism, talked about how the public was lied to and how evil conservatives are (because, really, you are talking about the right wing conservatives, even if you don't say it explicitly). Yet, at the same time, he was stealing and illegally redistributing software en-masse, doing street drugs WHILE trying to explain to me why he is right (even used the drugs as an excuse for why he might not be so clear), objectifying women by bragging about his sexual exploits and being every bit as amoral as those he railed against - and he's not alone. Sure, government should set an example for its citizens - having said that, if in a democracy the people really have the power, is it not the people that decide what kind of example it they want their government setting just by how they vote and what they tolerate? At least in that you're correct - perhaps someone should do something - but what? Those against the U.S. president of the last eight years have been employing the same tactics of "change" all this time and where has it gotten us? Nowhere. Why? Leftist, pacifist tactics DON'T WORK - at least, they don't any better than right-wing "warmongerers" tactics. I know things aren't perfect by a long shot and that they can be better, but perfection in humanity does not exist. Your alternative to the U.S. way of life is, in all likelihood, one in which no matter how hard you work, you never earn more than your wealthiest neighbor (who wouldn't be that wealthy at all) and, ultimately, the government decides how you live your entire life - where you get your healthcare, how much money you can make (tops) - everything. You all think the government is intrusive now - wait until you have that little leftist revolution you say you need. You won't be able to take a piss without the government's say-so, and it will all be in the name of equality and the common good, just as the Bush Administration's activities have mostly been all in the name of security. So, if you think America is so bad, by all means, try going to Cuba. I'm sure with all the people sailing to Miami in cardboard boxes there's more than enough room in that dictatorial, Communist / Socialist country for someone like you. Until then, if you want to talk about change and revolution, do something more than just talking - even if you get arrested for it. Otherwise, you're just part of a lot of noise made by mostly spoiled ingrates every bit as blind, ignorant and impotent as those they protest.
unleasht 7/24/2008 9:38:56 AM
"Until then, if you want to talk about change and revolution, do something more than just talking - even if you get arrested for it."<BR itxtvisited="1" />-You almost sound like a little anarchist yourself. 8]<BR itxtvisited="1" /><BR itxtvisited="1" />I am not Leftist, or Rightist. I chose not to pick a side because the system is bought and paid for by whoever is interested and has the money to enforce their interests.<BR itxtvisited="1" />Ras Al Gul talks about corruption as if its a virus. This country is weak and sickened with corruption. Aside from poisoning Gotham, I appreciated most of his views on fighting corruption and empires.<BR itxtvisited="1" /><BR itxtvisited="1" />In this idea of democracy there are supposed to be checks and balances to prevent failures or even imbalances in the government and in business. It is weighted down, influenced and tainted by abused loopholes and corrupted bureaucrats. "Executive privileges", "Sub Prime loans","Oil Speculation" and "The Patriot Act" comes to mind...<BR itxtvisited="1" />This system is supposed to provide avenues for the people to take control and steer this country in the right direction by way of voting. <BR itxtvisited="1" />It has failed. <BR itxtvisited="1" />Voting, your congressman, special interest groups, your lobbiests, they are all paid for. And the result is, the people are powerless to change anything by the avenues that are allowed to use. <BR itxtvisited="1" />Which is why we need a Boston Tea Party v2.0 and it is also why I liked Ra's and the Jokers approach to change.<BR itxtvisited="1" />
shaaza 7/24/2008 1:12:53 PM
The world does need reminders, and Americans are getting it now with the economy the way it is, and a dramatic shift in lifestyle looming for the middle class. But this article is bordering irresponsible, if not already naive. And I can't believe I am taking time to respond to this. "The world needs Jokers. As much as we think it hurts us, in the long run, we need agents of chaos to remind us of our humanity. Indeed, maybe we do need a new class of criminal." Really? When were you born Joe Crosby, 2002? I live in NYC and I see the reminders every day about "new classes of criminal" when I pass Ground Zero. We don't need further of these. We need big companies and the sports and entertainment businesses to stop paying gargantuan amounts of money to people who don't deserve it, realistic or not. We need to stop being spoiled, which is something everyone will admit, but do nothing about. I don't think we need the threat of a terror zone to remind us. We need to see long standing institutions and businesses and processes break and improved, measured ones rise up in their place. Chaos is not the answer to everything, angry young man.
jerichoraine 7/24/2008 1:20:37 PM
Dude, you're thinking about it way too much. Kickass movie, that's all there is to it.
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