Opinion: The Joker controversy is dangerously stupid

OPINION: I haven't seen Joker yet, but I'm already sick of hearing about it. The problem is, most of the people getting outraged on your twitter feed haven't seen it either. 

Since the first trailer dropped there's been some steadily escalating online discourse denouncing this new Batman spin-off as 'a love letter to mass shooters', a 'rallying cry for incels' or that old favourite, 'problematic'. 

What's problematic is judging a movie you haven't seen based on its worst possible interpretation and then encouraging others to do the same. 

To be clear, most of these angry voices aren't talking about the movie's substance - they're yelling at a pair of trailers. This is a fetid whirlwind of controversy primarily fueled by a few individual's reading of an unreleased film's marketing. 

In fairness, a handful of legitimate critics have reviewed Joker and questioned the need for a story following a deranged loner resorting to gun violence, given the current global climate. There are also many, many reviewers falling over themselves in fits of praise.

But as often happens, the controversy is starting to dominate the whole discussion. Now Joaquin Phoenix is storming out of interviews and director Todd Phillips is spending a lot of time defending his film to media instead of promoting it.

This is insane. 

Does the movie seem to have some unsettling parallels with real-world violence? Sure. Does Arthur Fleck, Joaquin Phoenix's proto-Joker, have some disturbing similarities with actual killers? Perhaps. Again, the film isn't out yet.

But if so, then good. Provided it's handled well by the filmmakers,isn't this exactly the kind of confronting cinema we need to help navigate a scary time?  

If we start critiquing creative work solely based on what the worst people can take from it we'll quickly have no art of value left. It's hard to imagine someone telling Martin Scorsese that he shouldn't have made Taxi Driver because Travis Bickle was 'too problematic'.

The Joker outrage uses the same kind of muddy logic as politicians pointing fingers at Grand Theft Auto following a mass shooting. But the science showing a causal link between exposure to violent media and increased aggression is, at best, extremely murky. 

So without any firm evidence base to justify this pushback, what's left but a nebulous discomfort suggesting that making a film about an evil person is somehow endorsing or encouraging evil people. 

But using film as a lens to understand monsters doesn't mean you excuse them, and it certainly doesn't mean you create them. 

This outrage isn't just stupid, it's dangerously counter-productive. I can't think of a better way to entice exactly the kind of people Joker's critics are concerned about than by both social and mainstream media crying 'danger'.

If you don't want troubled young men seeing Joker as a hero then don't goddamn tell them he's their hero. Don't surround the film with a grim mystique of real-world violence before it even releases. 

I can absolutely understand why someone might find some of the subjects Joker apparently tackles upsetting or triggering. But there's a very easy fix for that - just don't watch it. Or watch it and hate it. Watch it and love it. Just do anything except take to social media to call a movie you haven't seen 'dangerous'. 

Because that's a bad joke the mad clown himself wouldn't stoop to. 

Finn Hogan is the host of NerdPLUS, Newshub's pop culture discussion podcast.