Mental illness has long been a subject of taboo in our society. Pop culture has a major role in spreading misinterpretations about mental illness as being responsible in causing violence. One such example is the critically acclaimed movie Joker that has garnered significant attention for drawing on themes of mental health awareness.
News attempt to establish that mentally ill individuals are likely to engage in gun violence as noted in Trump’s speech in regards to the El Paso, Dayton and Ohio shootings when he said, “Mental illness and hatred pull the gun. Not the trigger.” Psychiatrists and psychologists worldwide claim that this can stigmatize the ones diagnosed owing to misinformed conceptions of mental illness.
In western countries, the relationship between mental illness and violence has taken on great importance especially in today’s pop culture. The critically acclaimed movie Joker is widely disputed around the myth that having mental illness perpetrates violence. The film is a riveting tale of Arthur Fleck’s gradual descend into violence turning him into the relentless Joker, Gotham’s Clown Prince of Crime. Fleck’s psychiatric disability invites struggles that are said to accurately portray the life of mentally ill patients, according to psychiatrists. However, the notion that mental health and violence is linked is problematic.
Once Arthur loses agency, he embarks on a killing spree. The Joker’s distinct quirk – his uncontrollable laughter is actually a neurological condition known as pseudobulbar affect potentially caused by his childhood trauma. This and many other symptoms contribute to a stigmatized and fearful image of the mentally ill – one that paints the patient as extremely violent rather than vulnerable to harm.
We misinterpret and misunderstand the theories attached to mental illness and this is precisely what haunts the viewer after watching the film. The witnessing of an individual fall into a psychiatric disarray feels unsettling, at the very least. Societal isolation gives rise to feelings of helplessness in an individual and causes them to become violent.
The audience sympathizes with Arthur’s journey from a stand-up comedian to a killer. It becomes a haunting image at best when Arthur appears as the villainous clown on a killing rampage laughing hysterically on a bus. The influence pop culture has on avid movie-goers is highly significant which is why this quivering depiction of mental illness in the film is something to be considered.
As a lesson, society should cater to the needs of the mentally ill before it is too late. The point at which it seems impossible for an individual to regain control of reality should be prevented. Perhaps this will help us see mental illness as what it is in a clearer way.