Joker and Wild tales: Narrative technologies for the recycling of social pressure

By Jada Sirkin

We all have a wound. We all suffer from the father's lack of recognition and the mother's disillusionment. We are all the Joker.
Alejandro Lodi
The playwright or the theater director would want the spectators to see this and feel that, to understand this or that and to draw from it this or that consequence. It is the logic of the brutalizing pedagogue, the logic of the direct transmission of the identical: there is something, a knowledge, a capacity, an energy that is on one side - in a body or a spirit - and that must be passed on to the other.
Jacques Rancière

I thought it was foolish to rejoice because someone else had not been interested in wild tales either. I got a strange satisfaction also when someone told me: Joker is not so good. I wonder if it's not silly to talk about what I'm not interested in. Why talk about what I'm not interested in? It is that, perhaps, I am interested in disinterest. It interests me (or I get interested in) the phenomenon of interest —for example, that of collective interest. Why are some things so appealing? Why am I often not interested in what is so appealing? Do I have a personal aversion to what is in vogue? If so, what does that aversion show me, and what does fashion show us?

Let's talk about the films Wild Tales (2014) and Joker (2019). Relatos salvajes was a widely seen and celebrated film —not only in Argentina, it was nominated to the Oscar awards. Joker was a globally praised film and received many awards. It took me quite a while to get to see both films, and when I got there, I did so knowing that on some level I would have to be disappointed. I understood that the need for disappointment might have to do with the expectation generated by millions of accolades. It is a commonplace: when you are filled with expectations, it is hard not to be disappointed. That's how it is, they said about the fictions of Wild Tales, that happens, that happens to you... I think people empathized with the narration of that impotence that leads us to explode and lose control. Who hasn't lived one of those situations in which life seems to turn against you and lead you to the inevitable? The narrative construction does not need great strategies to ignite the spark —flammable animals, we are not hard to ignite. As a perceptual experience, the film proposed to me to run along with these characters maddened by circumstances —become pure reaction, pure explosion or pure revenge. Who could not identify with this race without stirrups? Who was not, at some point, pure reaction? Who could not resonate with these humans "bestialized" by social pressure? Who is not a little bit that Joker humiliated by the different forms of socio-cultural authority? Are these new versions of the vengeful Maids? Slaves taking revenge for their masters' abuse of power. I guess we still need to narrate (live) that revolution.

If we think that these narrations arise from this need, we can say that they are narratives of survival: they come to give voice to a need to express (to draw out, de-contain, release) something specific —a discontent, a dissatisfaction, a discomfort, an anguish, a suffering. The level of popularity and endorsement of these narratives may be telling us about the level in which individuals and social collectives need to channel (eject) a contained energy. The carnival serves, among other things, to discharge that electricity accumulated during the year of work and effort. Carnival is like an ejaculation, carnival is like revenge.

The question could be what do we look for in a narrative experience —in fiction, in a film, in what we call art. Do we seek ejaculation? Do we seek revenge? Do we seek something? If we were not looking for something specific, the experience would neither give it to us nor not give it to us —it could neither give us nor not give us what we are not looking for. If we do look for something, even if it is unconsciously, experience either gives it to us or does not give it to us. We find or don't find what we were looking for; out of complacency or frustration, artistic experiences may reveal to us that we were seeking something we didn't even know we were seeking. Discovering a hidden need (a hidden myth) is a revelation. For such a revelation to take place, the narrative digs with surgical precision. The narrative scalpel is thin, sharp and linear. With Joker and with Wild Tales, we are left with little choice but to accept or reject the surgery.

The narrative procedure seeks the cyst, the accumulation, as if social pressure was fat that hardens in some corner of our psyche. That these interventions do not affect us does not mean that we do not have cysts. Different sensitivities are affected in different ways by different experiences —different sensitivities use different experiences to affect themselves. In my case, for example, these two films didn't work very well as a cathartic tool of liberation. That's not to say that there aren't any accumulations of social fat in me. There are. What happens, perhaps, is that in the films I look for something else —not only something else, it is true, I also enjoy when the films produce in me that surgical (emotional, cathartic) effect. But I think I don't enjoy it (and I don't allow it) when that effect is the main effect intended, almost explicitly, or explicitly, by the proposal. I think I let it happen when there are other things as well, when there is room for other readings, movements, creative displacements. Sure, in Joker I could enjoy the colors, the music, the acting, whatever, but the film was constructed in such a way that, in relation to my reading structure, what was perceived, very much in the foreground, too much in the foreground, was the production (or the attempt of production) of that precise effect. Faced with the perception/interpretation that I was being invited to something too specific, my system contracted. I guess I like it better (or it serves me better) when those emotional movements take place within a more complex and more subtle web of effects. I guess it's very personal, and very moment-to-moment. There are days to watch the crying ones, there are days to watch the laughing ones, there are days to watch the ones where we don't know how to react.

As for Wild Tales, it saddens me that the word wild is used to name something so human, too human —so human that Shakespearean. Those more or less calculated forms of revenge, those violent retaliations, those poisons, those traps, those settling of scores, those old resentments exploding, is that what we call wildness? As I write these lines, I see a rabbit out the window. It is just at the edge of the woods. It is gray and has the color of the day —I am told that such gray rabbits come out when it is foggy. I get excited and come to think that maybe it's the gray rabbits that create the fog, so they can come out camouflaged. I know rabbits are sneaky and don't give much time. Still, I grab my cell phone and reach for the camera. In the time it takes me to get to the video function, the rabbit dives into the trees. Shit, I say, I missed a few more seconds of rabbit looking for the record. That is the wild!, I think later. Not the rabbit, not the woods, but that impossibility of capturing the sneaky, that impossibility of discerning what is fog and what is rabbit, that indistinction.

As for Joker, I think the psychic movement that putting the attention on the villain's side means is no minor thing. If we always narrate from the hero's side, moving to the other side is still an important gesture of balance. From this side, from the side of "evil", little Bruno is perceived as part of the universe of privileged people who humiliate the poor humorist —the clown is not recognized by his father, who does not celebrate then that the father is killed? He is humiliated by the person he admires, who does not celebrate the fate of de Niro's brain? Fiction allows us to celebrate it! It allows us that solace implied by revenge, retribution, settling of scores, reversal of hierarchies. If only for a moment, we are grateful for that spilled blood. The authority figures, the tyrants, those guilty of the suffering of the clown (of the madman, of the creative) must die.

Revenge is almost a narrative genre. Many stories are structured on this search for balance manifested by the hitting back. I've been hit so hard, now it's my time to strike. And when I do, I will do it twice as hard. Human history could be thought of as a domino of revenge, an avalanche of settling of scores. That way of working is charming and that is proven by the spell that these narratives produce in us.

It is not difficult to recognize that the dynamics of settling scores in the long run is neither healthy nor sustainable. What I wonder is not about that dynamic in life, but in narrative fiction. I wonder if these narratives, which function as cathartic relief and dissipation of the cysts of social pressure, to some extent sustain and reproduce the perceptive proposal that gives context of possibility to the formation of those same cysts. A few days ago someone proposed to me to think that the philosophy of recycling, at some level, can promote, justify or sustain, even if unconsciously and involuntarily, that we continue to produce, for example, all the plastic that is produced. Let's continue to overproduce, then we will recycle. Not that recycling is not important. Not that it is not important to have these narrative technologies for the recycling of the social psychic load, here we are just proposing to ask ourselves why we need these technologies, and to what extent these technologies justify or sustain the existence of the contexts that give them their raison d'être. At some level, the linear and univocal narrative functions in the same way as the authoritarian and coercive sociocultural grammar. Linear narrative generates pressure. To follow the thread, one has to cut the reading —the readings. Linear narrative creates that pressure with the goal of reaching, at some point, if all goes well, the orgasmic outburst of catharsis. It is pleasurable to see the humiliated clown finally unleashed (finally unleashed) doing his disjointed, antisocial little dance on the burning car —over a burning society. I wonder about the nature of that pleasure. I wonder how ecological the catharsis is.

Which brings me back to the question: does it make sense to question the existence of something that has a function or a raison d'être? Does it make sense to question the cathartic recycling function of some narrative experiences? Maybe yes, maybe no. Perhaps the call is not to confuse the roles of things. If the individual/collective body needs to relieve tensions, it will find a way to do so. Whether with movies or carnival, whether with sex or alcohol, whether with a scream or a gunfight, accumulations of electrical potential find a way to precipitate. Perhaps then the most ecological thing to do is to assume that things are as they are. Assuming that things are the way they are does not imply, however, removing from the game board any critical look at the way things are. It is true, if there is inertia, sooner or later there has to be a crash. The curves of destiny become sharper and sharper so that the system, sooner or later, recognizes its inert progress —its autopilot. Accepting this fact does not imply denying ourselves the possibility of recognizing that the exaggerated and painful pronunciation of the curve is a technology of destiny (of the inside/outside system) whose main function is that the inside (the identity) recognizes its inertias, its automatisms and its ways of creating outsides (garbage). This was one of the most revealing things I have ever been told in my life: garbage is an invention.

It is inertias and automatisms that lead us to accumulate load, tension and garbage. Tension is the attempt to prevent that which we invent as garbage from wanting to enter back into the organized garden of identity. Even if it is secretly, it is inertia and automatisms that lead us to create shocking destinies. The curve, the tree, the pole, the carnival, the recycling, the film, are there for us to crash, to unload. The hangover is the sign (the leftover) of an unloading experience perhaps not so (ideally) ecological. Can ecology be an ideal? If getting drunk is the best we can do, then go ahead. If over-producing and then recycling is the best we can do, then go ahead. If watching enchanting movies is the best thing we can do, then go ahead. What we should (or can) know is that these kinds of experiences, while helping us to unload, also anesthetize and injure us. To say that watching a movie can injure us may sound like a lot. To say that it can anesthetize us is more acceptable. Anesthesia, in any case, is not a mild form of injury? Doesn't anesthesia injure sensibility? About the need for linear and enchanting narratives much remains to be said. For now, this question: do we need to injure sensibility to relieve the tension/trash accumulated by the inhibiting socio-cultural life? Yes and no. Perhaps all these words will find their synthesis in that: yes and no.

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