Dan Kois get it right: How good a film is Joker?
We certainly have our suspicions. Objectively, though, we have no idea.
We say that because we haven't seen Joker. At Slate, Dan Kois apparently has.
At present Kois may or may not be Slate's Books Editor—reports seem to differ—but he sometimes sees films. Yesterday, he performed an important service when he reviewed Joker under this pair of headlines:
Joker’s Oscar Nominations Are a JokeKois used the word "dumb" again and again as he described the Oscar-nominated film. Here are some of the term's deployments in the text of his piece:
Stop the madness. This movie is dumb as hell.
KOIS (1/13/20): Today—as Joker receives 11 Oscar nominations, the most of any movie, including Best Picture and Best Director—is the day that someone must stand astride the tracks and say: Enough. Stop the madness. Joker is not the best picture of the year. Joker is dumb as hell.Is Joker "just as stupid as can be?" Is it relentlessly "dumb?"
It’s OK that Todd Phillips wanted to make a Batman movie that looked like Taxi Driver! That’s a fun thing to do in the context of a comic book story. The result was exactly as entertaining and dumb as you might expect. What the result was not was one of the 11, or 21, or 51 best pictures of the year. To reward it as such is, well, not smart.
From its dumb yellow title card to its antihero’s dumb delusions of grandeur to its dumb absolute belief in its own transgressiveness, Joker is just as stupid as can be. It is a movie designed to seem impressive to anyone without much of an understanding of film history, who’s maybe seen clips from Taxi Driver online. It’s a movie designed for people who must rush to get on Twitter to see if everyone catches the reference.
The film’s many fake outs? Dumb, dumb, dumb. Are viewers seriously meant to believe that Arthur’s cute and funny neighbor, played by Zazie Beetz, actually enjoys his stand-up routine and welcomes him into her life? We’d have to be idiots to think so. Or are we meant to believe that the filmmakers intended, all along, for us to know we’re watching Arthur’s delusions? Well, that would be even dumber, considering how big the movie plays its dramatic Tyler Durden–esque reveal that actually she was never there.
We aren't in a position to say. But Kois is performing a major service when he aggressively uses that term.
Wide swaths of our ongoing national discourse are just stupendously dumb. The dumbness is all over cable news. (Another new Iowa poll! Proving that we were wasting our time when we discussed the last one!) It's all over cultural criticism.
The dumbness infested our mainstream political journalism a very long time ago. In the broadly cultural realm, is anything dumber than Aaron Sorkin's claim that Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird ends with Atticus Finch "covering up a murder?"
Nothing could be much dumber than that! But Sorkin has been a very important cultural player, and the stunning dumbness of his commentary was put in print, and affirmed, by The Atlantic.
Our view? Donald J. Trump sits in the Oval because of this decades-old culture of dumbness. For the record, we aren't referring to possible dumbness on the part of Trump voters. We're referring to the dumbness which has long since taken control of our "liberal" and mainstream discussions. That dumbness put Trump where he is.
Reactions to yesterday's Oscar nominations were often stupendously dumb. Surely, though, no one was surprised by that. We'll look at examples tomorrow.
That said, liberal cable is massively dumb. So is much of the liberal Internet. For these reasons, we badly need the concept of "dumb" as a basic analytical category.
Trump is crazy, but we've long been dumb. Our dumbness helped send him to power. We're badly in need of more anger like Kois', this time aimed at the tribal gods who have massively failed to serve us.
Dumbness is our tribe's middle name. We're deeply invested in Dumb.