So, like many, I’ve been working remotely during these chaotic times, and it certainly seems that this is a golden age of memes, if nothing else.
There’s one movie scene that I keep seeing on my social media feeds, and it irks me every time I see it.
It’s from The Dark Knight, when Heath Ledger’s Joker is pitching his worldview to Batman and, well, anyone who will listen, really, because he knows that he’s like Patient Zero for insanity in Gotham City, and he will stop at nothing to infect as many people as he can. He tells Batman, “They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. I’ll show you, when the chips are down … these … civilized people … they’ll eat each other.”
Naturally, a lot of people who fancy themselves as the edgy, informative ones of their friendship circles, are passing this scene around like it’s, eh, like literally anything at Burning Man. It’s pervasive, is the point.
Anyway, the reason why this bothers me is similar to why it bothers me that people laud the newest Joker movie so much: they take the wrong lessons away from the film.
Keeping this focused on The Dark Knight: Yes, things went down in Gotham and forced its people into some terrible situations with the weight of their own survival as well as the collective sanity of a city bearing down on them. Yes, Joker played everyone, using his own instincts and knowledge of human behavior to reinforce his worldview, as a big, loud display of why he’s right about people.
Only, it didn’t work.
He set things up so that regular people felt like they had to sacrifice one another to survive. He established this psychotic Darwinian experiment to break Batman’s morality and, in the end, it wasn’t Batman who saved the day: it was a convict and an edgy loudmouth backing down from making a bad day worse.
And that’s all it takes. We have to be better than the lowest expectations of others and ourselves. We cannot dehumanize one another and allow ourselves to treat other people, our fellow citizens, and neighbors, as less-than’s who deserve to suffer. We cannot do this because, as much as we might think we, in our righteous anger, are correct, there will always be someone out there who tries to flip your worldview on its head to justify treating you poorly or mocking your misfortune.
Sometimes, doing the right thing takes sacrifice. And that sacrifice isn’t always the flashiest and loudest move. In this movie, Batman sacrificed his good name to allow a city to keep its hope in a better tomorrow alive.
Now, all that’s required is we stay home and look out for one another.
We can get through this together.
Joker said, “Madness is like gravity. All it takes is a little push.”
We just have to avoid leaning over the edge too hard when we examine the black hole of madness.
You don’t have to always be what you’re expected to be. Instead, be what we need you to be.