It’s All About the Punch(line): The Crossing of Masculinity’s Border as Portrayed in Todd Phillips’ Joker
Catcalls, rapists, dick jokes, and risky business are only a handful of symptoms of the current worldwide viral epidemic dubbed “toxic masculinity.” Focusing on toxic masculinity in Todd Phillips’s film, Joker, this essay recounts the toxic behaviors associated with America’s hegemonic masculine system and addresses how party clown and failed comic Arthur Fleck’s journey across masculinity’s border—and transformation into the famous villain, Joker— glorifies the adoption of these toxic traits.
Phillips’s film is an unhealthy influence on young, nontraditionally masculine males. Fleck’s character arc teaches them that using violence, sexually asserting oneself, and withholding emotions all come with serious social benefits and lack any consequences. Phillips claims through Joker that the oppressed unmasculine man can overcome his social hardships by simply replacing his weak, effeminate personality traits (such as crying openly, solving conflicts without physicality, and sexual passivity) with mainstream toxic behaviors. This personality change is necessary to cross the border into mainstream masculinity and elevated social states, according to Phillips’s character study. Phillips’s catch-all solution is a claim I contradict with evidence of the failing health of young men in real-world America, concluding with a plea for the creation of safe spaces for healthy male identity exploration.