The graphic novel The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Bryan Bolland is an interesting take on what constitutes a good enough reason to go crazy. The Joker has quite a bad day, in which his wife and child are killed and then he’s framed for robberies he didn’t commit. His subsequent dump into chemical waste that designed his current look didn’t help matters any. The Joker’s response was to plead insanity and embark on a life of crime.
I think it’s important that The Joker had already agreed to commit the burglaries before his day went south. He made an informed decision to walk on the other side of the law. Even though he didn’t go through with that crime, the decision marked the point at which he could have still returned to the side of right and decided not to. Most people have murderous thoughts and worse, on a daily basis. But most of us also know that acting on those thoughts come with repercussions and we aren’t willing to deal with the fallout of those actions, so we restrain ourselves from doing the worst of things. Most times.
Others of us give in to those impulses and don’t care about the results. We don’t care who we hurt or what laws we break because we just want to do what we want to do. Some people can’t help acting on those impulses. These are the truly insane. They have no way of filtering their actions from those of the majority of society and they don’t really seek to avoid capture. When someone can determine that what they’ve done is wrong and attempt to evade law enforcement and getting caught, they aren’t truly insane.
The Joker is not truly insane. I’m still struck by how much he knows about going crazy. I think he has walked on the crazy side of the track before, but never really went the whole trip. He has been treated like an insane person because as Kevin Spacey so eloquently states in the movie Se7en, “It’s more comfortable for you to label me as insane.” The rest of the world doesn’t know what to do with a person who willingly hurts and kills others, so it’s much easier and cleaner to deem them insane and treat them as such.
We could just make them superheroes like Batman. He’s no stranger to insanity, and suffers from the same thoughts and inclinations that The Joker does. The difference between the two characters is that Batman chooses to turn away from his dark side and indulge instead in martyrdom. By channeling his energies into capturing bad guys like The Joker, Batman can provide a release for his urges and still maintain a semblance of sanity and law abiding citizen.
I do agree that one little thing could break the boundaries that stand between some people remaining on the right side of the law and then crossing over into a life of crime. I especially think of the movie Set It Off that chronicled the adventures of four black women in California who, because of financial hardship and racial injustices decide to rob banks. It could be argued that the women had no real reason to commit the crimes, but I can see how watching a younger brother for whom you’re responsible get gunned down by police officers when he hasn’t done anything wrong might make someone snap. Especially after you raised him with little to no money and in the middle of other hardships. Not having anything else to lose could make someone opt to go left.
The Joker had nothing else to lose. Neither did Batman.