Since his debut in 1940, the Joker, famed adversary of the Batman, continues to permeate the American cultural mediascape not merely as an object of consumption but as an ongoing production of popular imagination. Joker mythmakers post-1986 have reimagined the character not as superhuman but as “depressingly ordinary,” inspiring audiences both to empathize with his existential plight and to fear his terroristic violence as an increasingly compelling model of reactionary resistance to institutionality. This article examines the recent history of modern terrorism in conjunction with the “pathological nihilism” diagnosed by Nietzsche in order to elucidate the stakes and implications of the Joker’s legacy and popularity. Our analyses of the Joker lead us to conclude that “lone wolf” terrorism is an inherent affordance of a politically pluralistic society, a morally relativistic culture that stresses self-determination and authenticity as top priorities. These values impact “lone wolves” like the Joker in their function as media-driven auteur killers--striving for post-mortem recognition and dissemination. Todd Phillips’ Joker (2019) then proposes that this type of criminal can ironically result from a media-induced contagion, a discursive fear propagated by twenty-four-hour news cycles that incidentally creates a path for the socially impotent to make their television debuts.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.