Why the Joker movie is so controversial
If you've been on the internet at all over the last couple of weeks, you won't have missed the controversy over the latest comic book movie, Joker.
The maniacal clown with a propensity for violence's new movie is a dark and nihilistic film which has got people's hackles up on both sides.
US military personnel were told to be on alert in case of a mass shooting during Joker screenings (based on dark web chatter) while police officers have been posted to theatres, sometimes undercover.
All press were banned from the LA premiere and then the families of the victims of the 2012 Aurora mass shooting (in which a murderer supposedly dressed as Joker shot up a screening of The Dark Knight Rises) came out with their concerns.
US movie chains banned costumes at Joker screenings.
And that was all before the movie was even released anywhere in the world outside of festival screenings and media previews.
Once it finally opened these past few days, a cinema in California cancelled all sessions on Thursday night when it received a "credible" threat.
Not that any of the negative attention seems to have wounded Joker much - it's on track to rake in almost $US200 million globally by the end of the weekend. Guess that old idiom, "There's no such thing as bad publicity" seems to have worked its magic here.
So, what's all the fuss about? We breakdown both sides of the debate.
SPOILERS AHEAD FOR JOKER (Even though it's not a particularly plot-driven movie)
THE CASE AGAINST JOKER
There is violence in Joker - including a bloody stabbing, an all-in punch-up and a shooting rampage - but that's hardly new in cinema. Most thriller or action flicks have some kind of bruising fight, but the criticisms of Joker's violence isn't so much that it's violent, but rather what that violence is rooted in.
Arthur Fleck/Joker is a downtrodden man who is beat-down and put-down by one too many people, and by the system, and Joker explains it as a snap - when life's indignities pile up and you lose it.
He kills several people and is embraced by Gothamites as an anti-establishment figure for the disenfranchised to rally around as they chant "Kill the elites" in increasingly violent rioting.
As a comic book character with a long history in pop culture, Joker has always been a murderous, anarchic villain, but he's also Batman's archnemesis, which means he has a counterpoint on the side of good.
Joker has no such balance. Bruce Wayne is just a child at this point and Todd Phillip's movie doesn't feature any characters that serve as the "hero" to Joker's psychopathy. In fact, save for two extremely minor characters best described as neutral, pretty much everyone in Joker is irredeemable.
Which makes for a very grim movie.
Instead, Joker is presented as almost an anti-hero. The movie certainly isn't at pains to condemn his behaviour - at best, it's ambivalent about the morality of someone from the ignored lower classes murdering the callous rich folk that have created an unequal system in Gotham.
Though, it should be noted that Joker says repeatedly in the movie that he's not political and his murderous rampages seem more like personal revenge than any real stab at class warfare - but positioning it within this commentary about wealth inequality lends it more credence than it really deserves given the movie's own confusion about its raison d'etre.
When Joker premiered at Venice Film Festival in late August, two narratives emerged. First that it's an Oscar-worthy performance from Joaquin Phoenix.
The second is that this character maligned by wider society could resonate with those squatting in the darker corners of hate-fuelled subcultures, and become an inspiration for groups such as incels (generally classified as self-loathing misogynists who blame women for their own failings in attracting a romantic partner).
Given that incels are responsible for several mass shootings - including the one at the University of Santa Barbara - the idea that Joker could spawn more violence among a group of illogical maniacs is something that gives people pause.
That a previous Batman movie has become associated with a mass shooting, even though Colorado prosecutors debunked reports that James Holmes had come dressed as Joker (Holmes had orange hair and a wild look), makes Joker an easy target for hang-wringing.
Family and friends of those among the 12 Aurora victims sent Warner Bros a letter expressing their concerns that Joker gave this murderous character a sympathetic origin story and called on the studio to be part of the solution to gun violence.
THE CASE FOR JOKER
Attempting to link screen violence with real-life violence is nothing new.
The likes of Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver, Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange and Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers have all been the targets of the same kind of controversy over movie violence and anti-heroes, though, arguably, they are better movies with stronger themes and execution.
And filmmakers such as Alfred Hitchcock would often place the audience's perspective behind that of his antagonists.
Latching onto a movie and pointing the finger at two hours of entertainment is easier than to reckon with the threats society faces, and for Americans, that includes effective, legislated gun control.
Joker's supporters would argue that the controversy is a distraction from the real work to be done.
Marilyn Manson came in for a beating after the 1999 Columbine shootings while Taxi Driver is still linked to John Hinkley Jr's attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan because the would-be killer related to Travis Bickle and became obsessed with Jodie Foster.
But common sense would tell you that Manson, Scorsese and Foster are not responsible for those acts.
In responding to the Aurora families, Warner Bros released a statement saying that Joker does not intend to "hold this character up as a hero", and Phillips has been vocal in defence of his film.
He told The Wrap: "I think it's because outrage is a commodity, I think it's something that has been a commodity for a while. What's outstanding to me in this discourse in this movie is how easily the far left can sound like the far right when it suits their agenda. It's really been eye-opening for me."
Though that sounds more like combative deflection, rather than thoughtful engagement with the issues people have raised.
Phillips also said: "Isn't it good to have these discussions about these movies, about violence?
"We didn't make the movie to push buttons. I literally described to Joaquin at one point in those three months as like 'Look at this as a way to sneak a real movie in the studio system under the guise of a comic book film'.
"It wasn't, 'We want to glorify this behaviour'."
For his part, Phoenix told the Associated Press: "If you don't know the difference between right and wrong, then there's all sorts of things that you are going to interpret in the way you want."
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