Gone are the days in which a movie is just a movie. Cultural critics and the outrage media have achieved such prominence in contemporary culture that today, a simple comic book movie can inspire panic amongst even the likes of the NYPD.
Moviegoers in New York who are rushing off to see Joker afterits triumphant start at the Venice Film Festival will be accompanied by undercover officers deployed to select locations for the film’s opening weekend. The NYPD, reacting no doubt to the alert issued by the U.S. Army about the potential for a mass shooter during screenings of the Warner Bros. film, warn that the film could incite another event like the 2012 mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado. The U.S. Army claimed to have issued its warning as a precaution in response to “credible intelligence” pertaining to “disturbing and very specific chatter” that threatened the “targeting of an unknown movie theater during the release.”
Both the military and the police are reacting to concerns that Joker is, in fact, a call to arms for violent, alienated men. As noted by Time Magazine, critics who saw Jokerduring its run at the Venice and Toronto film festivals have called it “dangerous”, “deeply troubling” and “a toxic rallying cry for self-pitying incels.”
Director Todd Phillips refuted the claim that the film is an attempt to rationalize or empathize with white male violence—correctly pointing out that the panic (which has, if nothing else, served as excellent, free publicity for the film) is largely a product of left-wing outrage culture.
In the instance of Joker, outraged journalists , not internet memelords—or even “incels”—are the agents of chaos and fear.
WHAT EVEN IS AN “INCEL”?
The term “incel” is short for “involuntarily celibate.” It originates from the PUA or “pick up artist” movement that rose to prominence in the mid-2000s following the publication of Neil Strauss’ personal autobiography, The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists.
By the late 2000s, fewer young men were in romantic relationships than ever before. Self-proclaimed pick-up artists or “gurus” found a willing audience in lonely young men who desired female companionship. They held bootcamps and selling books laden with “techniques” for seducing women.
The tricks they were taught included things like “negging,” or undermining the confidence of the female “target” and increasing her need for personal approval from her pursuer. These men joined online forums dedicated pick-up artistry, where they shared tips and posted results of their various attempts to put into action PUA tactics.
As some of these men’s efforts yielded disappointing results, so too did their disillusionment and hatred—both of pick-up artists, as well as women in general. This led to the creation of numerous forums, including SlutHate (formerly PUAHate) and ForeverAlone—both of which were frequented by the 2014 Isla Vista mass shooter, Elliott Rodger, whose life and online activities were the subject of media attention following the massacre. Prior to the slayings, Rodger justified his actions as a retaliation against women who refused to provide him with the attention to which he felt entitled. He openly identified himself as an “incel” in his manifesto.
In this offshoot of the PUA community, members developed their own vernacular to help define their outlook on reality. Sexually successful men were termed “Chads,” and women who were out of their league were reduced to “Stacys.” Other, less attractive women who were nonetheless sexually successful were called “Beckys.” Racialized variants of these terms also took hold, as did the concept of the “blackpill,” which, much like the “red pill” in the Matrix, is a metaphor for a subscription to the incel mindset—a way to view reality through a darkened lens of inherent sexual hierarchy and entitlement.
The concept of the “incel uprising” took form after 25-year-old Alek Minassian, another self-described incel, committed mass murder in April 2018. Hours before he drove a van through busy Toronto sidewalks, killing 10 people, Minassian took to Facebook to post his intentions. Like Minassian, blackpilled individuals purportedly seek to overthrow the existing social order through a “beta uprising,” or “incel uprising,” openly advocating for acts of mass violence on these forums.
Elliot Rodger’s actions were glorified by members of the incel community as a sort of blueprint for initiating an inept mode of social revolution. Rodger became referred to as the “Supreme Gentleman.” “Private (Recruit) Minassian Infantry 00010, wishing to speak to Sgt 4chan please. C23249161,” he wrote. “The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”
MEDIA MYTHS AND INCEL REALITIES
Today, incel terminology has grown to accommodate ironic memes about the gaming community, which, while distinct from the manosphere, has some demographic crossover. In April 2015, someone made an image macro of the Joker with the words “when the nice guy loses his patience (sic) the devil shivers.”
In 2017, ironic image macros of Jared Leto’s Joker from Suicide Squad were accompanied by cringeworthy text that associated gamers with incel sexual entitlement. Much of these memes were then regurgitated, often by gamers themselves, to mock the such statements, as an active criticism of incel philosophy.
This in turn spawned mutations—the beta uprising became “Gamers Rise Up,” and both “Stacy” and “Becky” became “Veronica,” a girl who friend-zones the gamer in favor of a jock. The phrase “We live in a society” was a common refrain that preceded most ironic (or unironic) statements about the gamer joker, who, true to the ironic nature of the meme, is both deliberately sexist and racist—and feels incredibly entitled to sexual attention. It is a stereotype of toxic masculinity in gaming, in other words.
It’s all tongue-in-cheek, but that hasn’t stopped an out-of-touch media from conflating the ironic Gamer Joker with unironic incel-dom. Given the occasionally violent outlook of the incel community, the mainstream media has aligned the motives of the 2012 Aurora mass murderer James Holmes with that of Elliot Rodger and Alek Minassian.
At the time, NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly remarked that Holmes claimed to authorities that he was the Joker. Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates could not confirm this to be the case and says that Holmes did not wear makeup to look like the Joker. The Joker has green hair—Holmes’ hair was dyed bright red.
Incels have come to be defined not by their ideology as “involuntary celibates” but by the actions of at least two individuals who received massive attention from a media that seeks to manufacture a narrative of the dangerous, lonely white man.
But the reality is that these incels have found in the “community” the only place where they can commiserate their sense of shared victimhood. Rather than isolate them further, the responsible thing to do would be to pull them back from the edges of society, back into the mainstream—which is precisely what psychologist Dr. Jordan Peterson is trying to do.
And in doing so, he has been unfairly maligned by the press as a “gateway to the alt-right” as well as by extremists who seek to influence and use the untapped anger of the incel community toward their own ends.
WHO IS THE JOKER HERE?
The derisive connotations of the term “incel” have allowed it to become the catch-all term used by the left and their outrage-prone media to insult anyone with whom they disagree.
Both the media and politicians like Ilhan Omar, who stated in 2018 that people should be “more fearful of white men” than jihadists, have successfully manufactured the mythical threat of an “incel-gamer-joker” whose violent predisposition will be inflamed by the release of the Joker movie, which centers around a disenfranchised white male who “rises up” against the broken society that has marginalized him.
This irresponsible narrative ignores important aspects of the DC Comics supervillain, who himself is not an incel, to create genuine social fear and stigmatize a great film.
Moreover, this strategic conflation allows the media to collapse distinct social media events into one general category of “male toxicity.” Gamergate becomes Incels, becomes rape culture, becomes mass shooter attacks, becomes anything and everything the left finds problematic. This catch-all category then justifies treating the most mundane cultural threat—playing a first person shooter game, for instance—as though the individual is responsible for mass shooter violence.
As the saying goes, “If it bleeds, it leads.” Outrage and fear sell newspapers. Much like the media scare of violent video games in the ‘90s, the fear of incels provides the media endless fodder from which to profit.
Beyond potentially impacting the movie’s sales, this media’s efforts have the effect of further stigmatizing the average young white male, many of whom already feel disenfranchised and alienated by a media hostile to their existence—and in doing so, are driven into the open arms of white nationalists.
White nationalists have successfully used the identity-based disenfranchisement of white men to recruit others into their agenda. Pandering to the incel mindset, women—“feminists”—are rendered the source of all their problems. Not only are women unwilling to sleep with them and give them social company, they’re also actively working against all men to put them down. Add a bit of bona fide bigotry from politicians like Rashida Tlaib and it can seem like the whole world is conspiring to put down white men—with the outrage media is sowing the seeds of social discontent.
Ironically, the media is behaving very much like how the Joker would were he an institution. The Joker is a free radical, a force of nature that sows chaos and discord wherever he goes—and benefits from it.
Just like the Joker, the Fourth Estate is operating as a force unto its own, creating its own narratives about dangers to society, and then reporting on those dangers after they manifest—all for the sake of views, clicks, and engagement metrics on a quarterly sheet. Joker will cause incel violence, they argue, and then goad the violence: “hey, incels, don’t do anything violent. Wouldn’t it be terrible if you did, and we gave you the infamy you wanted all along?”