Theme: BD1, delusional disorder, pseudobulbar affect
Spoiler alert. Trigger warning: bipolar disorder, mania, substance abuse, and trauma.
Ever since DC released the first Batman-related comic back in the 1940s, the Joker became a much-despised character that lacked proper development. However, as the years progressed, we, as an audience, got to see more of his backstory and the actual extent of his rather numerous mental illnesses which included bipolar disorder and the pseudobulbar Affect. In this case study, I will be analyzing the Joker’s psyche as a character from the original DC comics, not affiliated to any movie/video game adaptations nor the Gotham TV show.
Firstly, to fully understand the Joker it’s important to know his backstory. The story around the Joker shines a painful yet realistic light on the impact of childhood trauma, which helps the audience better understand his actions. Growing up, the Joker, born Jack Napier (aka Arthur Fleck since sources differ), faced intense trauma from his adoptive father’s substance abuse. As an adolescent, the Joker strived to deprive people of sadness and loved to make them laugh. Therefore, he quit his job at a chemical plant and tried his hand at becoming a comedian–hence, where the clown makeup came from–but failed numerous times. Feeling rejected, he gave up on his dream of becoming a comedian and went on to live his life, even getting married and expecting a child with Jeannie Napier. Since he was unemployed, he had no source of income and would have a hard time providing for a family which is why he resorted to becoming his alias: the infamous Red Hood who was, in all senses, a mobster. You can tell that relating to violence brought the Joker PTSD of his past abuse from his father. What made things even worse for him was that his wife and unborn son died in a house fire while he was busy mobbing people. As a result of the accident, the Joker seemed to create a false reality where everything was perfect, to get away from the past experiences that literally scarred him for life.
Bipolar disorder, aka manic depression, is a perilous psychological condition in which a person has periods of depression and periods of extreme happiness that are crossed or irritable. There are two different kinds of bipolar disorder–bipolar 2 and bipolar 1–and the Joker seemed to exhibit signs of the latter. Those who have bipolar 2 experience extreme mood swings which are either lowered (depression) or elevated (mania). Changes in the mood occur in cycles and are referred to as ‘episodes’. Episodes can be depressive, manic, or a mixture of both. As most of us know, the Joker has obvious shifts in mood and is known for his mania. He’s hyperactive and restless, frequently pacing around whenever he gets the chance, and is openly aggressive, however at times can be passive as well. In all, the Joker showed all signs of bipolar 1 disorder, which makes sense considering the environmental factors of his past.
Pseudobulbar affect- Why does the joker laugh a lot? The Joker tends to laugh a lot because it’s what makes him the joker, It’s what he is remembered for. He also tends to laugh uncontrollably in inappropriate situations. These fits of uncontrollable laughter is actually based on an actual disorder called Pseudobulbar Affect or emotional incontinence. The condition causes bursts of uncontrollable laughing or crying and usually manifests in people who have neurological conditions or traumatic brain injuries. This is shown when Arthur goes from being suppressed by society and descent into his madness. Where he releases himself from the rules of society and becomes the joker. Pseudobulbar Affect also laugh uncontrollably when they are frustrated or angry. Sometimes when someone is having an episode they may start crying uncontrollably before dissolving into fits of laughter. Which is shown throughout the movie. And it’s used to show when he starts descending into the joker.
The Joker has sparked the interest of so many people. He is everyone’s favorite iconic supervillain. But why? He is the walking incarnation of our biggest fears, emotions, wants, and needs. We see him as the patron god of chaos and it attracts people. I am not saying that people want to murder people but for some, he portrays this freedom that society usually restrains people from doing. He represents the idea that you are not controlled by society and laws. You do what you want whenever you want. You are free to be as wild and disorganized as you want. Underneath all that paint we have a man who is absolutely free from society.
In conclusion, the Joker may be an iconic supervillain. He is beloved by many and we still love him even though he is the god of chaos and very unstable at times. He still went through a lot of bad and with no one to help he became the way he is. I do not condone murder but that doesn’t mean I do not sympathize with him.