Joining the 'Joker' conversation, whether you've seen it or not

Today, we've got a lot of opinions, whether or not we've done the homework

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

There's been a lot of talk about "Joker" in recent weeks, and now that the movie has been released, many of those who have had opinions on it can actually see it. 

What a novel concept. 

It's natural for a movie like "Joker" to get people talking. It is not, by any stretch, your average comic book tale. It's designed to provoke and strike a nerve.

Joaquin Phoenix in "Joker."

What was perhaps unexpected was for it to strike as many nerves as it did before it was even released.

The conversation surrounding "Joker" is emblematic of how we talk about a lot of topics today: loudly and forcefully, whether or not we know what we're talking about.

It comes from the top down: President Trump's tweets about the film "The Hunt," which is described as a satire of the political divide in our country, led to the film being dropped by its distributor. Trump said the film aimed "to inflame and cause chaos"; the fact that he hadn't seen it was immaterial. 

Review: Feel-bad 'Joker' one of the year's best films

Social media not only encourages but rewards opinions on issues we might not be qualified to speak about intelligently. The chatter surrounding the corporate arm wrestling over "Spider-Man's" ties to Sony or Marvel, for example, had many fans choosing sides when they knew nothing about what was essentially a decision to be made by shareholders.  

Oh you have thoughts on Taylor Swift's master recordings and how they're being used? Cool, and how long have you studied entertainment law?

When the upcoming WWII satire "Jojo Rabbit" premiered at last month's Toronto International Film Festival, it won raves from audiences and critics in attendance at its premeire. By the next morning, buzz on it had soured, and many weighing in had not seen the film and were aghast that it casts a bumbling version of Hitler in a comedic role. So within 24 hours the film was championed and then experienced a sharp backlash, all weeks before it opens to the general public.

A similar cycle happened with last year's Best Picture winner "Green Book." The film became a poster child for a certain type of Oscar-season movie, though many lambasting it never bothered to see it before rolling their eyes at it. Why do the homework when you can just send out a tweet instead? 

And those tweets have power. "Joker" has been tagged "Citizen Kane for Incels" in certain internet circles, a tag which taints the viewing experience of the film before it can be seen.

Often the bloviating leads to big business. Thursday previews for "Joker" pulled in $13.3 million, an October record. And the bad pre-release buzz on "Captain Marvel," centered on the casting of internet lightning rod Brie Larson, didn't stop the film from eventually pulling in more than $1.1 billion worldwide. 

But what emerges is a discourse that defines a work thru the lens of certain people's personal biases before it has a chance to be seen, rather than allowing it to be judged on its own merits.

Chances are you have an opinion on "Joker" without having seen it, or maybe the amount of conversation surrounding it has made you want to skip the film altogether and go see "Downton Abbey" instead. That's understandable.  

It's the neverending scrolling screen-ization of our society. We've all got an endless void to fill, which means we've got to talk about something, whether we know what we're talking about or not.

But it's OK to opt out of the conversation, or better yet, log off.