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There is reason in the Joker’s Madness

Posted on 17 October 2019

Guest post by Niall McCrae

The authorities are on guard. Joker is taking cinemas by storm, and there are fears that it will inspire shooting rampages by ‘alt-right’ Trump supporters or sinister ‘incels’. Since its general release, millions have been shocked, startled and invigorated by this dramatic departure from the ‘woke’ Hollywood agenda. The New York Times and Guardian loathe it. As observed by Fraser Myers on Spiked, ‘the backlash has been madder than Joker himself’.

Joker offends critics not only because it glorifies guns, but because it stigmatises mental illness. Some sensitive souls, according to the Daily Mail, walked out of cinemas on being triggered by the conflation of extreme violence and ‘mental health issues’.

Although most mental disorders do not cause aggression, it would be reckless to deny the risk posed by severe madness. The mental health system, having legal responsibilities and secure units for the safety of patients, is undermined by idealists who deplore involuntary treatment and any association between psychosis and homicide. State-sponsored mental health campaigns reinforce the positive message, but the steady reduction in psychiatric beds has a heavy price. The toll of killings by inadequately monitored recipients of care in the community is rising.

Ironically, the officially-endorsed positive view of mental health is contravened by Western governments’ determination to declassify acts of terrorism. Last week in Manchester, for example, five people were randomly stabbed by a ‘lone wolf’, who was detained under the Mental Health Act. According to an early Daily Mail report, the machete swung to the cry of ‘Long live the caliphate’. But the perpetrator was given anonymity as a NHS patient, and the Islamist motive was suppressed in further media coverage. In Sweden and Germany there are restrictions on newspapers in reporting the religion of a crime suspect, and it seems that similar constraints are being applied here.

About twenty years ago, shortly after the horrific murder of film director Theo van Gogh in the Netherlands, I sympathised with two Dutch scholars about their country’s introduction to Islamic extremism. But these liberal progressive chaps berated me: the killer was certified mad, and the incident had nothing to do with Islam. A narrative was written in opposition to the facts.

Ironically, while the public is educated against ideas about the mentally ill being violent, the state is redefining terrorism as mental illness. The vagaries of mental health are being used to cover up threats to society. This echoes the Soviet Union, where dissidents were diagnosed with ‘sluggish schizophrenia’ and dosed up to the eyeballs with potent tranquillisers.

In Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, it was folly for a convict to plead insanity. As portrayed by Jack Nicholson in the movie, admission to a state mental hospital was an indefinite sentence to a milieu of madness; he should have served a prison sentence instead. But today there are no asylums with lifelong incarceration. The Manchester knifeman will be given drugs and counselling and soon be back on the streets. And neighbours will be unaware of his doings, and his dangerousness.

The state response to terrorism is not only to mask the act as mental illness, but also to manipulate a desired public response. A march is organised and vacuous slogans are posted everywhere in the city: ‘We are Manchester’ and ‘Love not hate’. Photogenic young women are shown as antithesis to the imagined ogre of right-wing reactionaries. And so the authorities succeed in turning the tragic loss of innocent lives into a political campaign not against the Islamist menace but anyone who complains about the Islamist menace. Multiculturalism, diversity and tolerance must prevail. Note that the psychiatric explanation is selectively applied: instances of far-right terror are never attributed to mental illness, but are used to demonise anyone expressing concern about Islam or mass immigration. .

Muslim terrorists may or may not be mentally deranged, but arguably they are following scripture. It becomes the awkward task of the criminal justice and psychiatric systems to assess the rationality of an extremist’s belief, when the instruction of the Koran to slay the kuffir is clearly stated. This is contextual, and Muslims are not expected to take this literally. But it cannot be mad to be literal – that would be a blasphemous proposition.

The murderous Joker is similarly a mix of madness and reason. Downtrodden antihero Arthur Fleck takes revenge on arrogant bankers, a mayoral candidate who was his bastard father, and the smug liberal media. But he has a broader cause, as demonstrated by the film’s culmination in a mass riot. Although set in Gotham City in the 1980s, Joker mirrors the current social divide, warning of a mighty backlash by the common people against a self-serving metropolitan elite. The natives are getting restless, and they cannot all be sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

The word ‘mad’ has many meanings. It is distasteful to some mental health campaigners, but celebrated by others (as in Mad Pride). We can be madly in love, or madly angry at someone. Except at the extremes of psychiatric disturbance or criminality, the state need not judge whether there is reason to our madness. It is part of the human condition. But Joker shows the very dark potential of this potent force. Naïve mental health propaganda cannot stand in its way.


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