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Making Murder Great Again

Many reviewers have praised the controversial film "Joker," arguing that its violent protagonist is leading a revolt against a cruel, unjust society. But is the normalization of mayhem in popular culture fueling indifference questions of right and wrong in politics and public life.

ATLANTA – The recent film Joker tells the story of Arthur Fleck, a lonely psychopath and party clown who tries to build a career as a stand-up comedian but is rejected and humiliated. He then takes revenge on society by becoming a murderer and provoking riots “against the rich.”

Although Joker won the prestigious Golden Lion award for best film at this year’s Venice International Film Festival, it has divided opinion. Many reviewers praised the movie, arguing (predictably) that its violent protagonist is leading a revolt against a cruel, unjust order. The Joker, they say, is a downtrodden hero whose violence constitutes a courageous act of self-expression.

Others take a dimmer view of the main character, pointing to his madness, cruelty, and vicious intent. Unlike the conflicted murderer Raskolnikov in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, the Joker is a vengeful maniac who commits his crimes in cold blood, feeling no responsibility, much less remorse.

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