“How is it possible that one human can slaughter another human like that?”. Comments like these are thrown around after school killings, mass shootings and murders Have you had thoughts like this one? Well, how is it possible…
It is difficult to accurately communicate the subtleties and nuances that moulds a developing mind, but certainly the person that you become is the result of innumerable, minute and often unseen events in your life that interacts with your body, your DNA. It is difficult to describe psychological wounds and accurately communicate the tremendous disabling effects they have on a person’s life. One only sees the behaviour of people, which is most of the time an inappropriate reaction to the trauma. One often need to look deeper to see them. The movie ‘JOKER’ managed to communicate this exceptionally well – as art often does. While it might come easy for some to understand the root of people’s behaviour, others might find it more laborious to understand. The director definitely succeeded in creating a sense of empathy for a person that would otherwise have been labelled some name and dismissed as another sorrowfully, mad criminal. It is almost impossible not to feel some kind of empathy for the main character after having killed two bullies on a subway station watching the condemning crowd and the highly fascinated media on television. Yet that is what most of us would have been doing. This time around, however, we know the story behind the criminal, the person behind the mask, and it changed our perceptions and affected our feelings.
What about the story behind the person on the news that got sentenced to life for murder. It is broadcasted as a victory and brings great joy to the crowd outside the court room. It might equally be a victory for justice as it is a failure of society. This is another fact that this movie shed light on so effectively – not all bad guys were born bad. Some were made. Because criminals come from communities I feel that each time someone from our midst gets sentenced to prison, each of us should be reflecting on what we could have done to prevent it! How did we associate with the boy at school that got bullied for being poor, odd and different, because his mother was mentally ill, father in and out of jail and moved from one school to another as his parents failed to pay his school fees? How do we see the person visiting a psychologist or taking psychiatric meds? Sure, we cannot prevent everything, but did we play our part? It is easier to become angry and condemn than it is to reflect on the broken villain inside us.
I believe the reason that so many people go out to watch this movie is because it projects so much of our repressed selves onto something as acceptable as a cinema screen – whether it be pain, loneliness, chaos, fear or a longing for empathy – and brings some sense of connectedness and relief with it. A few years ago Batman was the hero and we identified with him, because he wanted to get rid of the bad guys; today, seemingly, many people feel more like the misunderstood and broken villain. None of us chose our cards, we all play the hand we have, good or bad, as best we can.
It got me thinking about those in South Africa that got dealt the ‘Joker-card’ as well. Those ones pitching up with weapons at schools or sniffing glue at the traffic lights or murdering their own loved ones? If the fragile soul of a child can be injured so easily by emotionally absent parents (eg. because of mental illness), inconsistent parenting, ostracism or purely by being treated differently, then how devistated must the souls of those children be who grew up here in poverty, violent neighbourhoods and lacked adequate access to education and health care – in other words…around 4 million South African children (1). We seriously need to change our mindset regarding the prevention of crime, as well as mental illness in this country. We need a huge effort and very soon.
So, how to play the cards? Let’s all walk away from our defences and start addressing the hurt and chaos inside; let’s have empathy with ourselves. This would effect a greater change around us. Let’s look at our own mental health, and get treatment for our own wounds. Listen to each other. Or let’s just be nice to our neighbour in general. Let’s advocate for good morals, prioritising family, compassion for the marginalised. Society’s moral standard should be measured by how good they take care of their children and of their mentally ill…
- Hall, K., Sambu, W., Berry L., Giese, S., Almeleh, C. and Rosa, S. (2016). South African Early Childhood Review 2016. Cape Town: Children’s Institute, University of Cape Town and Ilifa Labantwana.