“their moral, their code, is a bad joke, dropped at the first sign of trouble. They’re only as good as the world allow them to be – I’ll show you. When the chips are down, these civilised people, they’ll eat each other; see I’m, not a monster, I’m just ahead of the curve
In The Dark Knight the duplicity of the common people is exposed by the Joker who creates a defining ultimatum: the Batman takes off is mask, or people, in the form of government officials and other public safety civil servants, would be killed daily. After a string of murders, Alfred suggests that Batman endures Joker’s torment rather than cede to his demands, explaining that the Batman “can be the outcast; he can make the choice that no one else can make – the right choice”, and yet, terrorised by the “The Joker Killings,” the people turn on Batman. His main sympathiser, Harvey Dent – although similarly ambivalent – admits that although the Batman is an outlaw, the people were happy with his presence so long as it was in their favour. He explains that they only want him to cede so that they can again be safe, and yet, rather than face this, at the press conference, the mass pretend that their outrage is not born of fear. The Joker, however, in shattering their pretences, exposes their criminal duplicity, during the interrogation. It is during this scene that the Joker also untangles Batman’s attempts to pretend he is like the masses, when he says “don’t talk like them, your not, even if you’d like to be.” It is this theme that much of the movie rests upon: the manufacture of monsters, for even if it might be more convenient and assuring to imaginatively conceive of The Joker an aberration, this can’t be accomplished without viewing the Dark Knight in the same way, which itself, adds much context to the content. Evidently then, the issue is not with Joker, but the way in which the people respond to him and the Dark Knight, which is, inconsistency and incongruently.
It might be suggested that although a troublemaker – to recruit an overly modest euphemism – the Joker is also a truth-seeker: his concern is with the actual state of affairs as opposed to what things and people, purport and profess to be, and so, although Batman might prefer to maintain a degree of psychological distance, Joker explains that they are both different variations of the same theme, and that essentially, in this way, they will never be like the common people. If anything, their difference lies in the way in which they respond to the absurdity of the common people, or better yet, they games they play in negotiating their circumstances. For Batman, he lives by being guided by a primary governing principle: he can not kill, or better yet, chose who lives and who dies, whereas for the Joker, discerning that it is difficult to be absolute when others are so temperamentally relative, “the only sensible way to live in this world is without rules.” Although the mainstream and dominant discourse might prefer to describe this as anarchy – apparently in contradistinction to “law and order,” – the fact – as evidenced throughout the movie – is that there is no clear and honest distinction between the “good” and “bad” as, for the people, these “habits” are only dictated by how “the world allows them to be.” For the people then, their ethics are a game, and yet, if Batman and Joker similarly use games to navigate their world, how much of a “difference” is there between them. In terms of their main characteristics, it might be said that fundamentally, they are alike, but this isn’t the whole story, for this still fails to appreciate the similarities between the anarchy of joker and that the lawlessness of an “ordinary citizen.”
“I just do things” are the immortal words of Joker, when he explains to Harvey how “pathetic” the people and their “plans” are, describing them as “the schemers, trying to control their little worlds.” Indeed, when Joker changes the rules of the game, the people, who apparently were against vigilantism, suddenly adopt this practice, thinking themselves to be justified by the sense of “panic”, and yet, also exposing this other duplicity, when they should be outraged, the people aren’t. This being so, if we were honest, we might say that the people are, at least to an extent, latent anarchists, with their “rebellion” always lying dormant. This itself is a reality which evokes another one of Jokers games/scenarios which stage uncertainty: “Introduce a little anarchy, upset the established order and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos, and you know the thing about chaos? It’s fair.” Being concerned with Truth, it seems natural that Jokers concern should also extend to the realm of Justice. It might serve us better to view his desire for chaos as a desire to see people as they truly are, and yet, let us remind ourselves of the way in which chaos relates to instability. The panic of the people is born out of a sense of their world falling apart, even if this scenario is not induced by a natural disaster/catastrophe. In the film, when the people are confronted by the possibility of a hospital being destroyed, as it is warehousing their “significant” ones, they are distressed by a desperate sense of despair. We can only wonder if they would be so concerned if the people in there were strangers, and they could remain anonymous?