Clearly, I haven’t been stressed enough so I’ve decided that I’m going to challenge myself to write about one thing I read, did, wrote, bought, saw, etc in 2017 every day for the rest of December.
For December 1st, I’d like to talk about…
I hate the Joker.
I think it’s practically a part of my identity this point like I’m known for my intense Joker dislike back in meatspace (and like… obnoxious conversations about cannibalism but like… whatever).
To me, the Joker represents some of the worst things about superhero (villain??) narratives and his fanbase is generally super annoying to me because they claim to like him “as a villain” but then jump through hoops to talk about why he’s “just misunderstood” or “totally a badass”.
So why am I writing my thesis about him?
In part, it’s because I like to challenge myself. It would have been easy to write a lengthy thesis all about how (for example) the Robins were easily subject to a queer reading and to argue that Dick Grayson can be read as bisexual even if you ignore Devin Grayson’s run on Nightwing. It would’ve been easy to write a paper about Superman/Clark Kent’s positive and intimate relationships with women as a super feminist side to the character that many people don’t talk about.
I could’ve just expanded my original paper about how Batman’s queer readings come about from fan desire for rep and that space of nerdy heterosexism centered on a fear of “losing” their masculinity as nerdy dudes.
I could’ve complained about fandom racism… again.
But I went with the Joker.
I am a staunch believer that Batman could (should) totally kill the Joker for good, just once. I think that the Joker isn’t worth the ink he’s printed on and I’m still a little grouchy about the fact that I lived with two die hard Harley and Joker fans for like a year back in undergrad. (They were decent folks, but man… the amount of Joker-positive conversations I was subject to… Yech.)
Here’s the thing though: as much as I hate the Joker, what I hate even more is that fans of the character just seem to accept this weird queer coding that many of the (straight male) creators who’ve worked on the character have injected into him. I hate that I’ve noticed this, frankly negative, queer coding done for laughs and a quick “how do we know that he’s truly evil” commentary and his fans… don’t seem to see it.
And I mean, I get it: maybe they’re not looking.
Maybe they’re not into picking up on harmful queer tropes or stereotypes in their work.
That’s fine. This is exactly my kind of nerdery.
Especially when, through my research and writing, I can carve this academic space to actually interrogate how the Joker could be a better character, not just to me, but to queer fans who have wound up identifying with him due to coding.
I’m writing about the Joker because, like many villainous figures in fiction, he’s frequently tagged with queer signifiers that are really just stereotypes and it’s expected to just… be a thing. We’re not expected to look deeper and criticize DC’s long history of allowing creators to load the Joker with stereotypes about what it means to be a queer man.
I don’t like the Joker like at all.
The closest I’ve gotten is in the animated series and then the Lego Batman film.
That’s… kind of it.
While I like villains and think that they’re typically super interesting… there’s none of that with the Joker. He’s an edgelord who exists to do totally shocking things and barely get a serious punishment for it. He also… has no backstory, no motives, and barely a personality beyond “oooh i want Batman to focus on me alone”.
Color me bored.
However, there are some things I wouldn’t wish on my least favorite character and being boxed into queer stereotypes in order to ping hypermasculine fears of an infringement onto their hetero-ness… is one of them. If I can do one thing, it’d be to make a proper argument for why (and how) the Joker should (could) be written in a way that doesn’t reinforce straight male fears of queer men because… well… that’s what the Joker does for many nerds and in many of his appearances and it’s unacceptable.
Y’all, I’m really proud of my thesis so far.
Yes, I’ve got… basically the same amount of content for it that I had back in April after I finished the Thesis Workshop in my program, but I’ve also got an outline, three core questions driving my argument, and pages of notes from my thesis committee that I’ll totally type up at some point…
Definitely though, preparing my thesis proposal and starting to write it has been one of the 2017 experiences that I’m super proud to share with y’all!