Send in the clowns: twisted masculinity, supergendering and the aesthetics of populism in Todd Phillips’ JOKER (2019)

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The proposed chapter will explore the complex interplay between the aesthetics of masculinity and populism in Todd Phillips’ JOKER (2019). At the heart of Phillips’ movie, the first R-Rated production to gross in excess of one billion dollars at the global box office, lies a confrontation with problematic masculinities. In their prefacing script note from the original screenplay, writers Phillips and Silver tell us that: ‘It's a troubled time. The crime rate in Gotham is at record highs. A garbage strike has crippled the city for the past six weeks. And the divide between the "haves" and the "have-nots" is palpable. Dreams are beyond reach, slipping into delusions’ (Phillips andSilver, 2018). Set against this backdrop, our protagonist, Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), exists in a fractured, twisted and dysfunctional mode of masculinity, far from the super-gendered norm of the conventional superhero genre (Behm-Morawitz andPennell, 2013; Pennell andBehm-Morawitz, 2015). It is through this lens that Phillips encourages the viewer to, at best, understand, or at worst, empathise with, Fleck’s metamorphosis into the accidental leader of a populist movement. As such, the proposed chapter will identify and explore the nexus of problematic masculine representations that structure the JOKER, demonstrating how Fleck’s ‘othered’ and ‘defective’ masculinity, and the problematic masculinities of those around, and in opposition to him, function as the catalyst for Fleck becoming the revolutionary champion of the ‘disillusioned’ and ‘oppressed’ male. In doing so, the chapter will focus on the performativity of masculinity, the aesthetics and socio-cultural role of ‘othered’ bodies, the of disillusionment of social inequality, and the intertextual relationship between the dystopian narrative of the JOKER and ostensibly progressive narratives of the contemporary films of the wider superhero genre as an articulation of, or perhaps cautionary tale about, or potentially even, a problematic celebration of, masculine populism.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Culture and Politics of Populist Masculinities
EditorsOuti Hakola, Janne Salminen, Juho Turpeinen, Oscar Winberg
Place of PublicationWashington DC
PublisherLexington Books
ISBN (Electronic)9781793635266
ISBN (Print)9781793635259
Publication statusPublished - 30 Apr 2021


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