The real nightmare in “Joker” is austerity

Chris Harrell, Opinion Columnist

If you told me a few years ago that the guy that made the “Hangover” movies was going to make a film about the horrors of economic inequality, I would have laughed at you.

But that’s exactly what happened. The new “Joker” movie flips assumptions of the Batman universe.

In this version, Bruce Wayne’s father, Thomas Wayne, is a billionaire villain despised by the masses of Gotham.

And the Joker’s power of chaos doesn’t stem from evil plans or senseless violence but from the anger of Gotham citizens at the austerity and poverty that plagues their city.

Austerity is a political term: it refers to when governments implement a combination of tax increases and heavy spending cuts in order to reduce the cost of government.

It has been a mainstay of liberal policies across the world for the past 40 years, according to a July 2015 New Politics article.

By liberal, I don’t mean our typical definitions of “liberal” and “conservative.” Liberalism, and more recently neoliberalism, is based on free trade, deregulation of private business and privatizing government services.

Neoliberal policy found its roots in the U.S. academic community post-World War II and has spread across the world.

Organizations like the International Monetary Fund, a global program to fund development in poor countries, have requirements that those who accept their loans and aid must impose spending cuts.

In “Joker,” Gotham’s austerity is evident in social services cuts. Arthur Fleck, the “Joker,” loses his psychiatrist and medication when the city defunds programs in the name of budget cuts.

“Joker” could help American viewers understand austerity and the dangers of its implementation.

Chileans are rising up against their government after decades of austerity. The tipping point was an increase in the cost of subway fare, according to an Oct. 26 Slate article.

In Ecuador this month, indigenous leaders revolted against spending cuts, according to an Oct. 23 Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting article.

The people of Lebanon are currently in revolt against a proposed WhatsApp tax that would disproportionately affect the poor, according to an Oct. 23 CNN article.

It’s not just me drawing the comparison between the austerity in “Joker” and the protests that have struck across the globe.

Protesters in Lebanon have started wearing the Joker makeup donned by Arthur Fleck as a symbol of the anger and rage they feel at their governments for leaving them behind, according to an Oct. 19 International Business Times article.

I hope that what American audiences take away from “Joker” is that a cold and inhuman government breeds anger and resentment.

And I hope, looking at the protests. they see this suffering is preventable by compassion and robust public services.