Friday, March 16, 2012

Why I Am Leaving Gotham City

TODAY is my last day as a clown. After over 50 years with the Joker's gang — first as an unnamed mime, then as an unnamed thug in a satin jacket and sunglasses, and now as an unnamed thug in a rubber mask in Gotham City — I believe I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its people and its identity. And I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it, which is saying something, considering how much we work with toxic, destructive gas all the time.
To put the problem in the simplest terms, the interests of the Joker continue to be sidelined in the way his gang operates and thinks about stealing money. The Joker is one of Gotham’s scariest and most dangerous villains and he is too integral to crime and general mayhem for his henchmen to continue to act this way. The gang has veered so far from the place I joined right out of clown college, when all I really wanted was my own ice cream truck/rape van, that I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for.

It might sound surprising to a skeptical public, but culture was always a vital part of the Joker's success. It revolved around teamwork, insanity, a spirit of homicide, and the colors of green and purple. Always green and purple. The culture was the secret sauce that made this gang great and allowed us to steal art and jewelry and money from Gotham's wealthiest citizens for the last half century, which is not to be confused with the secret sauce that causes muscular convulsions, facial paralysis and laughter until the point of death by asphyxiation that we used on hamburgers during our brief, ill-advised foray into the restaurant business (murdering people with fast food is McDonald's turf and they put a legal beatdown on us that made anything Batman could ever dish out look like a tongue bath). It wasn’t just about taking money; this alone will not sustain a gang of hoods for long. It had something to do with excessive, grandiose, elaborate schemes and utter unhinged lunacy. I am sad to say that I look around today and see virtually no trace of the culture that made me love being a part of the Joker's gang for many years. I no longer see the excess, or the schemes. I will say the lunacy is thriving though. So there's that.

But this was not always the case. For more than a decade I recruited and mentored candidates through our grueling interview process, which mostly consisted of pitting them against one another in fights to the death with broken pool cues. In 2006 I managed the summer intern program in Gotham for the 8 college students who made the cut, as in cutting the rest of those who applied for the program into little tiny bits.

I knew it was time to leave when I realized I could no longer look my fellow clowns in the eye because I was standing behind them, shooting them in the back.

When the comic books graphic novels are written about The Joker, they may reflect that he lost hold of the gang’s culture. I truly believe that an increase in the gang’s moral fiber represents the single most serious threat to its long-run survival. Well, that and absolutely savage beatings from Batman, of course.

Over the course of my career I have had the privilege of robbing some of the largest banks and museums on the planet, I had a green and purple company car and sprayed acid in the face of some of the world's most beautiful women. I have always taken a lot of pride in spraying acid in women's faces, even if it means taking an absolutely savage beating from Batman. This view is becoming increasingly unpopular among my peers within the gang. Another sign that it was time to leave.

How did we get here? The gang changed the way it thought about taking absolutely savage beatings from Batman. Batman used to be much less threatening than he is now. At times, he was downright campy. He wore blue bikini briefs over gray tights with knee-high leather boots and might punch you in the mouth if you made him really angry. Today, he wears black body armor and will break seven of your ribs just to make sure you're paying attention. Plus, there's no room for advancement. Even if you're a complete sociopath (and maybe an ax murderer) you're never going to be promoted into the position of Assistant Joker.
What are three quick ways to become a superhero's nemesis? a) Develop a scary 'schtick', ideally by shifting an existing paradigm and perverting something relatively benign (such as penguins or clowns) into something twisted and evil. b) Attempt to kill that superhero. c) Kill plenty of other people in the process. 
Today, many of these villains display a willingness-to-take-an-absolutely-savage-beating-from-Batman quotient of exactly zero percent. When I sit around our hideout playing cards, not one single minute is spent plotting unnecessarily elaborate schemes with gigantic exploding props. It’s purely about coming up with catchphrases and how we can incorporate more black into our outfits. If you were an alien from Mars and sat in on one of these meetings, you would believe that stealing a bunch of money or art or weapons or whatever was not part of the thought process at all. It's also much more likely that you'd be in Metropolis in the first place, visiting Brainiac's henchmen at their hideout.
It makes me ill how callously people don't talk about ripping off the citizens of Gotham City. Over the last 12 months I have seen five different evil henchmen plan an outing to go see “The Muppets,” sometimes over internal e-mail. Since when do evil henchmen communicate via email?!? I don't want any part of those stupid 419 scams. I mean, come on. I'm a brainless goon but I'm not an idiot. I don’t know of any legal behavior, but will this new breed of villain push the envelope and not steal coins from the "leave one, take one" cup at the gas station or sort their recycling? Absolutely. Every day, in fact.

It astounds me how The Joker himself doesn't get a basic truth: If citizens trust you they will eventually stop being terrified of you. It doesn’t matter how smart you are.

These days, the most common question I get from young gang members is, “So even though Batman has sworn an oath to never take a human life, has he ever so absolutely savagely beaten you that you wished you had died?" It bothers me every time I hear it, because the answer is yes. Hell, he once kicked me so hard, I swallowed my own pancreas. Now project 10 years into the future: You don’t have to be a rocket scientist or an evil scientist with a rocket-powered motorcycle to figure out that the kid hanging quietly around a street corner watching Batman punch a thug in the spine through his stomach as he whimpers, "not the face!" probably doesn’t want to turn into the next Scarecrow.

When I was a first-year henchman I didn’t know where the bathroom was, or how to tie my shoelaces. I was taught to be concerned with learning the ropes and how to tie up the daughter of the mayor with them, finding out how to self-adminster antidotes to toxic gas, understanding explosives, getting to know the citizens of Gotham City and what motivated them, learning how they defined abject terror and what we could do to help them get there.
My proudest moments in life — gassing the Gotham Museum of Modern Art, spraying acid on the mayor, spraying the mayor on the Gotham Museum of Modern Art, gassing the Gotham Museum of Acid — have all come through hard work, with no shortcuts. The Joker's gang today has become too much about shortcuts and not enough about achievement. It just doesn’t feel right to me anymore.

I hope this can be a wake-up call to the Joker himself. Make the citizens of Gotham the focal point of your villainy again. Without them you will not make money. In fact, you will not exist as a criminal, and since it's not as if you're all that funny to start with, well then...
He's right behind me, with an acid gas pistol of some sort, isn't he? Shit. I really should have seen that coming. Oh well. No more absolutely savage beatings for me, I guess.

(Inspired by "Why I Am Leaving The Empire" and other similar parodies which were originally inspired by "Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs", originally published in the New York Times on Wednesday, March 14)

1 comment:

Debbie Aitchison Brooks said...

Too funny!! I never knew you swallowed your pancreas!!?? Great writing by my favorite Super Hero-- Clark! Writer Extraordinaire!!