The Year Of The Mask: The Joker Journals

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To recap: I had been keeping a record of “Joker-inspired” crimes that had cropped up since the death of Heath Ledger in 2008. It was sort of a macabre “hobby” of mine…following how a comic book character may (or may not) have inspired a series of incidents ranging from pranks to mass-murder.

When I started, was I already subconsciously anticipating the senseless rampage of James Holmes that summer night in 2012 at a screening of The Dark Knight Rises?

Or was I just like the dilettante fanboys and fangirls I increasingly felt myself distanced from, and even disgusted, by? Were the Joker Crimes nothing more to me, in the end, but a grotesque-yet-fascinating bit of meta-narrative that distracted me from my own aimless (yet lucrative) career as a promoter of “geek” media?

Let’s start with 2008…and 1994.

I. Heath Ledger, Brandon Lee, and Thoughts On The Panic of ’94

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Twin Clowns: Brandon Lee and Heath Ledger

(Originally written 1/23/08)

15 Years Ago: Brandon Lee dies at 28. In his last film he portrays a dark-themed comic book character in white makeup. The film comes out after his death.

2008: Heath Ledger dies at 28. In his last film he portrays a dark-themed comic book character in white makeup. The film comes out after his death.

I had a good friend who used to be obsessed with Brandon Lee. Would watch the interviews he did that came with The Crow DVD over and over again. She nearly went psychotic over her fascination with Lee and his death. It wasn’t pretty. She thought he was talking to her from beyond the grave.

1993-1994 was a weird time. We saw River Phoenix, Kurt Cobain, and Brandon Lee go in rapid succession. I think everything comes around again, that life happens in cycles. Perhaps life does not really happen in cycles, but the grouping just a way we humans try to make sense in a senseless world.

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Cobain, Lee, Phoenix

Brandon Lee apparently had his own death obsessions. He reportedly drove around in a hearse and was fixated on the untimely death of his own father, Bruce Lee. The role met the actor in The Crow. He threw himself into it.

Similarly, Heath Ledger threw himself into the role of The Joker. Tired of being typecast as the Hollywood hunky leading-man, he tried in his later years to choose roles that challenged that image, such as Brokeback Mountain. I’m sure the chance to play the Crown Prince Of Crime held the same allure; a way to break out of a mold.

If Ledger was indeed having issues with depression, throwing himself into such a potent role might have been disastrous for his mind & physical constitution. That’s the elephant in the room that some news reports don’t want to address. The fact that, by all accounts, Ledger was brilliant in The Dark Knight only makes it worse for us all to deal with; makes it all the more painful to watch on screen.

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Brad Renfro, who died of a heroin overdose only a week before Heath Ledger. Renfro got his big break as a child actor in Joel “Batman and Robin” Schumacher’s 1994 film “The Client”

The whole phenomenon of celebrities and their prescription & non-prescription drugs is another thing all together. Didn’t Brad Renfro die like a week ago? These things if not taken correctly WILL kill you—or at least make you wander about the streets half-naked babbling to yourself. And this rehab stuff—the thought that you can dry out after a month when you were taking 25, 30 pills a day is more than crazy, it isn’t even possible. It’s just that proper treatment would mean not only abstaining from ALL drugs and alcohol, but staying away from work and their social life for an extended period of time. When you’re in that lifestyle, it’s hard to do.

The press loves it, though, don’t they?

I’m jaded about it. I think that these “sacrifices” to the larger pool of popular culture and the imagination of a generation will keep happening. The Dark Knight will be a sensation. Hey, who knows, the pseudo-goth movement, that got such a boost in 1993-94, might start all over again…but this time with a splash of color.

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Anyway, I hope my old friend doesn’t get hooked on Ledger now. That sort of obsessive emo morbidity looks kinda cute on a 21-year-old, less so on a 33-year-old.

II. The Killer Who Was Obsessed With The Joker

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Kim De Gelder (left) and how he looked like at the time of the attack.

(Originally written 1/26/09)

Kim de Gelder—now known as “The Joker Killer”—was arrested last Friday for storming into a Belgian daycare center (or “creche”) and stabbing several children and a caretaker. The caretaker and two babies died from the attack.

De Gelder wore black-and-white clown makeup, and apparently his only words to police was a quote from The Dark Knight:

It has emerged that when he was arrested, Mr De Gelder’s only words were: ‘I have a question’….The words echo a scene in Batman: the Dark Knight when the Joker violently gatecrashes a party looking for a the fictional attorney general of Gotham City, Harvey Dent….‘I only have one question: where is Harvey Dent? I’ll settle for his loved ones,’ says the character played by Ledger, before threatening a woman with a knife.

and…

Some reports said De Gelder laughed at police interrogators in an echo of scenes from the movie.

The attack took place a year-and-a-day after Heath Ledger’s death, and it is suggested that “Gelder” is an anagram for “Ledger.”

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de Gelder

The crime is now referred to in the European media as “The Joker Killings.” The Wikipedia entry for the comic book character The Joker now refers to the killings as well (editor’s note: this has since been scrubbed from the page).

III. Fourth Confirmed Joker-Inspired Attack This Year

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Christopher Lanum

(Originally written 3/13/09)

A soldier in Virginia who was obsessed with the Joker stabbed a fellow soldier and was later killed in a shootout. The soldier, Army Spc. Christopher Lanum, was dressed in the Joker costume he wore on Halloween, which included a green vest and face-paint. He also had masks and pictures of the Joker in his apartment.

His girlfriend confirmed Lanum’s obsession with the character of the Joker from the movie The Dark Knight, and also noted that Lanum,

…said everything the Joker did he did for a reason, like killing people, and that he agreed with the philosophy of doing things for a reason.

2009 has been a busy year for Joker-inspired attacks, with incidents in Belgium, Indiana, and Wisconsin.

IV. Interlude

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As I continued to document the Joker Crimes on my blog, I started receiving a very intense “blowback” from fans who believed that by the simple act of shining the Bat-Signal on these stories, I might be “threatening” their Batman (and, one would assume, their Joker).

What was I insinuating…that there was possibly any connection between the mass-produced Image and the Public Acts? That was preposterous! That was the type of dangerous rhetoric that started the whole Seduction of the Innocent craze in the 1950s!

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No—the Image existed in a vacuum, obviously. I mean…except for things like organized religion and shit like that. That stuff was truly dangerous to the public psyche, genocidal poison to the zeitgeist.

But the Comics? The movies? The video games? Hahaha, there was no political or ideological or dare-I-say spiritual meaning there!

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(I mean…you’d need to actually believe in a “spirit” to be spiritual, and we all know that’s just more of that Jesus-freak irrational bullshit we’re all trying to move away from)

Man…just a couple of lone nuts doing stupid shit and…

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And so I said “okay.”

And so I continued to keep a private journal of the Joker crimes and other related news items and phenomena.

Let’s go back to 2008.

V. Heath Ledger: “At The End Of The Day…”

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Heath Ledger’s final portrait, by Vincent Fantauzzo

(Originally written 1/23/08)

Mr. Ledger’s death shook Warner Brothers, which is scheduled to release his next film on July 18—‘The Dark Knight,’ a big-budget sequel to “Batman Begins.” Mr. Ledger plays the Joker, Batman’s arch nemesis. The studio had already started to roll out a multimillion-dollar marketing campaign. The film’s dominant marketing image, cheered by fans when it was unveiled late last year, shows Mr. Ledger in costume, painting the question ‘Why So Serious?’ in what appears to be blood.
The New York Times

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I’m on a f—ing journey. I’m on a walkabout. A lot of people think ambition or success, and they think dollars…. My success is getting underneath that. At the f—ing end of the day, that’s the only thing you’re going to carry with you when you die.
Heath Ledger

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Of the publicity for his role in A Knight’s Tale, he told me, ‘They put my face on a poster with ‘He Will Rock You’ written underneath it, which I certainly didn’t think I was going to.. and what if I didn’t?’ He added, ‘That freaked me the f— up. That’s where I really felt like my destiny was in somebody else’s hands, and it was all being masterminded.’

Time Magazine

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Heath admitted it was an ‘extremely difficult’ role and the aforementioned article said he lived alone in a hotel room for a month to develop his performance. This exercise gave him insomnia. Now, I can’t help but parallelly imagine him rehearsing Joker lines in a messy room, while reading about him lying alone and naked in a Manhattan apartment, with a massage scheduled yet never to happen. It seems lyrically tragic. While I’m not suggesting that the role drove him to suicidal depression, I do believe self-willed dementia is a more potent force than most of us imagine.
Rediff.com

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I warned him.
—Jack Nicholson

VI. Postscript: The Once And Future Joker

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(Originally written 2/13/16)

On August 6, 2016 Jared Leto will play the Joker in the movie Suicide Squad.

The movie will premiere in a world post-Aurora—a world where mass-murder committed by “lone nuts” who apparently get most of their information and social contact on the Internet is now a commonplace thing.

It will premiere in a world where a reality-show celebrity and WWE honorary Hall-Of-Famer might become President of the United States. It will premiere in a world where cheeky shit-head corporate villains mug Andy Kaufman-like for the cameras, a world where being a “Flat Earther” is apparently a “thing,” a world lurching ever-further towards a virtual-reality posthuman society.

But not to worry. I’m just, as I said, a dilettante like all the rest; jerking off to my own headcanons as I flit manically from website to website, cobbling together some ephemeral patchwork pseudo-journalistic paranoia gumbo that might only be of use for some rando Internet browser looking for grist for their own Illuminati theories.

I mean, heck…a couple of years after the original 1989 Batman movie came out, I dressed like the Joker for a costume party. It was just as a lark, because that was the cool character at the time. You go to the party, you have your (illegal, ’cause you’re a teenager) drinks in the red plastic Solo cups…you come home and let the shower just rinse away all that clown-white and clown-green, colors blending together in snaky rivulets down your skin and rushing down the drain.

You wash all that off, you laugh at the pictures later, you lose the pictures, and then you just move on.

The Image has no power, no residual archetypal magnetism, no inherent hypnotic ability to persuade or seduce or convert.

I mean, to suggest otherwise is simply…crazy.

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