Fears of The Joker Movie

The movie “The Joker” starring actor Joaquin Phoenix opened actually last night at the time of this writing (Friday, Oct. 4, 2019). It opened nationally for regular time movie-goers today. And before it opened there was a national flap arising among the nervous types and realistic worriers about the potential effects of this movie.

I want to just reproduce, I hope with appropriate credits for a presentative piece that is and has been appearing in the media nationally warning about this movie. It is of course as referenced in the below article that I have included a URL link for, prompted by the fears that this could set off copycat to the Aurora CO movie shooting by James Holmes at the showing of the Batman movie with a Joker character, “Batman: A Dark Night Arising.” So please read, use the URL link if you wish to go the original article then continue below:

The Joker’ raises concerns about mass shootings; Hosted by Madeleine Brand Oct. 03, 2019 HOLLYWOOD of the KCRW website:

A scene from “The Joker.”

A scene from “The Joker.”Photo credit: Warner Bros

“The Joker,” starring Joaquin Phoenix, opens on Friday. It’s been hailed as one of the best movies of the year, and there’s Oscar buzz around it. 

But in an era of frequent mass shootings, critics (including families who’ve lost loved ones to gun violence) say the sympathetic Joker fits the profile of many mass shooters. He’s lonely, he feels rejected by society, and he picks up a gun to make a public point. 

The film isn’t showing in a theater in Aurora, Colorado, where in 2012 a gunman killed 12 people during a screening of another Batman-related movie, “The Dark Knight Rises.” The Joker isn’t in that movie. 

Law enforcement and the FBI say they were tipped off to a threat of a copycat shooter at an unspecified theater. Some theaters, including in LA, are also beefing security and telling fans they can’t wear any costumes.

At the start of my psychiatric career way back after I finished general psychiatry training and two fellowships, video games started to come out and well as Dungeons and Dragons board game. After full-blown computer graphics hit at the introduction of Windows 95, the new iMac computers in the mid-1990’s, as the video games became more colorful and had decent graphics far beyond the incredibly crude games like Pong and text-based games, the more violent games came out to satisfy the aggressive impulses of teenage boys.

And “lament was heard across the land” to paraphrase some Old Testament warning. The media went nuts over the supposed harmful effects of the early and later (i.e., ever since) shoot’em up games, gory monster and zombie games and all the other genres and game franchises that had non stop violence, dismemberment, blood, gore, splatter bones and dissected spinal cords to name a few. And I cannot get into this subject without mentioning the greatly reviled game franchise, “Grand Theft Auto.” Without which my teenage son now 19, would go ballistic if it were taken off the market…

Back to many years ago. As the video game craze took over and played into a massive market, teenage boys, it became clear this was NOT going to disappear like the overly liberal hair on fire types, AND the right-leaning conservative and especially fundamentalist moralist types wished so fervently. I remember back then when the liberal enclaves thought that such video games would spawn waves of mass murderers as the early Arkansas school shootings had happened by them. Teen boys would be getting guns, pistols and long rifles from devious sources and shooting anybody in sight they were mad at, teachers, parents, their bullies at school, and the guy who had stolen their girlfriend. The fundamentalist right-wingers thought surely the souls of American teenage boys were at risk especially if any of the games had The Devil, Mr. Satan himself in them enchanting players to go out and kill and claim souls for him or whatever.

Like any therapist in mental health, I saw lots of boy gamers. Nobody I emphasize, none of them ever transferred their gaming entertainment reality from the gaming machine and controller at home to shooting somebody in the real world. And that is the nubbin of the issue. The hair on fire types of any political or moral-religious persuasion tends to forget that almost all gamers in my view, are able to keep a solid perceptual and experiential boundary between what is real and what is not real. Games are not real, they are fictional entertainment. Even my patients ranging from neurotics to very troubled kids did not fail to be able to exercise this essential function of the ego, a concept and capability we in psychiatry and mental health call, “reality testing.” That is the ability to distinguish between what is real and what is not real.

This function tends to be diminished or lost in the state of psychosis. When one is hallucinating, one often cannot tell for instance if a voice coming out of the tv, or on the street somewhere, is real or not. Some teens who are psychotic also lose this ability. There are a few cases, but a very minuscule number, of teens who have gotten “lost,” in graphic violent video games in the past 30 or so years that they have been with us. They have taken the stories, legends, narratives, and themes too much to heart, make them a reigning guidance system (if I can coin a term/concept) and committed crimes. They are very very few in truth. Perhaps at most, a few dozen since the phenomenon of mass crimes and shootings have started to be a feature of our national life since Charles Whitman in 1966? at the University of Texas at Austin Bell Tower. I always use that as the start of all this since it was the first one on national tv and for me the first event of its kind in my memory.

I have only seen forensically one teen/young adult who committed a crime that was even peripherally to his involvement with his loner immersion into video games. Forensic psychiatrists with fellowships in that subspecialty which I do not have, and who see such mass crime patients as part of their practices very likely have seen somewhat more, but they are still very rare birds.

So years ago, for the local paper where I had trained and practiced for 20 years. I went out on a limb, or so it seemed in those days with the mass media hysteria starting for the first time about the dangers of violent video games. I had only daughters back then. The main complaint they had back then was that their boyfriends were starting to spend too much time playing video games with their male friends and not dating the daughters enough! But none of their boyfriends committed any crimes. And in chatting with them before or after the dates as I always did, the boys did not show any proclivities toward such and viewed video games with great enthusiasm as they described their games, their point scores, their “winning,” and newfound prowess. And they all talked of a growing telltale marketing and economic phenomenon. They were all saving up their part-time job earnings to buy MORE video games. I realized then that this new entertainment form was going to be a massive moneymaker, even more than it was back then.

My article on video games back then tried to reassure the worriers of all stripes. I talked of teen boys seeing it all as just entertainment. I expressed faith in their abilities to keep the unreality of gaming separate from the reality of everyday life. I talked of my own sampling experiences back then of gaming, trying out a daughter’s boyfriend’s game machine he brought over for me to try out. My daughters and wife were aghast…I later bought one of the earliest machines and proceeded up through the Playstation 3, PSP3 machine. I learned that as an adult, the games quickly became “old,” to me and I habituated to them fairly soon, tired of them and did not show the teen boy continuing interest and some would say, “addiction.” (I grant that some can become overinvolved in gaming but that is another discussion for another post.)

I remember that I received in the local newspaper a number of irate letters castigating my opinion paper. I was a bad or naive psychiatrist. My training program had erred in letting me out to practice. My soul was in danger. One writer wondered if I had been “saved.” A couple of my daughters’ boyfriends followed all this out of curiosity as I had quoted them with permission and notice in the article and they were greatly tickled over the letters to the editor. They also had many teen sarcastic jokes and takes on the whole affair. It was great.

On another note, my 19-year-old son, long a gamer, has not shown any bad proclivities from his gaming except one. He has learned it can make him procrastinate and be late in approaching school homework in past years. He almost had a few academic disasters in high school. That was useful as he learned to master all that mess and now has the science of “time management” in hand, a benefit in my mind resulting from “gaming.” And yes he spends a bit too much money on new games, but it is better than spending it on drugs. And he and his many friends who congregate in our basement gaming and huge computer networking lab, are not secretive or hiding Dark Net exploits. They are forever dragging down there to game with them, and listen to sophomoric humor shows on YouTube that leaves me gasping for breath after my laughter subsides.

The final sentiment-observation in all this. My son and his gang went last night to see the early screening of The Joker movie at some ungodly hour, perhaps midnight. It was a special occasion on two accounts. First, they are all diehard Batman and Joker aficionados. So they went decked out in the best Batman and Joker clothing, Tee-shirts, some had masks (which they had to take off before the theater would let them in; they understood why but were stilled insulted, affronted and miffed since all their masks were very “cool.” Second, the oldest in this gang of friends who have known each other going on 9 years was celebrating his 21st birthday on that very night! They all thought this was the very best way to celebrate, not going out for his first beer, etc. The movie was IT. They had a great time and came right home after it was over, to wake me up to regale me with the details of the movie from start to finish. That took an hour. I was blotto but now I don’t have to see the movie, since I know it for the most part, from start to finish. Eight guys worth of spoilers after 2 a. m. But I will see it with my son for his safe and wishes for Batman-Joker father-son bonding time.

Then they all adjourned to the kitchen so they could raid the refrigerator, eat all our leftovers and massive snacks my wife had cooked for them and relive the movie once again in between or with full mouths of food.

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