Joaquin Phoenix plays the failed comedian who becomes the Joker. courtesy Warner Bros

Threats regarding “Joker” raise questions about mental health

Controversy regarding mass shooting threats toward theaters screening “Joker” necessitates conversations about mental health.

“You don’t listen, do you? You just ask the same questions every week. ‘How is your job?’ ‘Are you having any negative thoughts?’ All I have are negative thoughts.” This bitter phrase spoken by Joaquin Phoenix in the final trailer for “Joker,” which has taken the internet by storm since its initial announcement in early 2019, are found by many to be profoundly relatable.

With a premiere at the 76th Venice International Film Festival in late August and a theatrical release in early October, “Joker” has arrived with thunderous fanfare and has been lauded by critics and audiences alike as a spiritual successor to films such as “Taxi Driver” for its depictions of social ostracization and mental health. The film follows a failed comedian and societal pariah who descends into madness and villainy.

With an internet sensation as large as this, there is bound to be some controversy.

The Fort Sill CID (criminal investigation command) received a memo of a potentially credible mass shooting threat pertaining to an undisclosed theater in the nation during the film’s premiere. The original threat may be traced back to Texas, but the threat did not specify a location and so may not have been Texas-specific.

Army officials later determined that this was a non-credible threat, but the Los Angeles and New York Police Departments have both reported catching wind of threats as well; both of these were determined to be non-credible threats, although increased precautions are in effect by many police departments across the nation. Although discussion of potential shootings took place amongst deep-web circles, especially amongst the “incel” community (an online collective of self-labeled involuntary celibates), there was no evidence of concrete plans observed.

So no harm no foul, right? Well, this is not to say that it is OK to post shooting threats ⁠— because it isn’t, for the same reason you can’t yell “fire” in a movie theater. When you give people cause to panic, they are liable to act rashly, and someone is likely to get hurt. In either instance, these threats are a call for attention. In this case, these shooting threats may reasonably be assumed to be a call for help. Although these crass threats should not be justified, they should be recognized as an expression of mental struggle.

To be perfectly clear, do not mistake my empathy for the members of the incel community — they are still living, breathing human beings, after all — for sympathy for their cause.

The incel community has a propensity toward spiteful, shallow, belligerent attitudes for society as a whole, particularly toward women. On account of that, it is no surprise that these threats were centered around a movie about social ostracization and deteriorating mental health.

Even though the incel community is obviously wrong to harass others with the threat of violence, these attitudes are a result of the fact that poor mental health is stigmatized in this nation (and in the world in general, for that matter). For instance, if you go to a doctor and a dentist every year, you are attending to your health, but if you go to a therapist, there’s something wrong with you; mental health care is stigmatized (don’t be afraid to visit the Alexander Health Center if you need someone to talk to).

This is why people resort to toxic and belligerent methods of expressing their sadness, because they can’t do it directly for fear of social ostracization or chastisement. In summation — and I think Joaquin Phoenix would agree with me here — mental health is nothing to laugh at.

Post Author: Dominic Cingoranelli