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Character Development 3: The Joker as a Third Way Villain

Actor Anthony Perkins (1932-1992) as Norman Bates in Hitchcock's Psycho(1960). Image Source: IMDB.
Modern stories conflate villainy with mental illness because psychiatrists and psychologists have replaced the clergy as society's listening post. Psychological development has supplanted religious faith. This modern rationalization of mental experiences outside the ordinary has provided solutions where organized religions have fallen short.

Old Diagnoses, New Diagnoses

But for each modern answer, an older insight was lost and returned back to the realm of mystery. There is a price for each gain made, paid through some renewed blindness. For the extreme mental illness of psychopathy, a modern mental health professional would use the Hare Psychopathy Checklist as follows:
Do you sense you are someone extremely important?Would you say you need constant stimulation?Do you find pleasure in manipulating people?Would you lie in order to get your own way?Do you never say sorry?Are you know…

Fiction and Truth Inside the Broken System


Shock SuspenStories #12 (December 1952/January 1953) shows a drug addict; in the story, he murders his father to get his fix. Image Source: eBay.

In times of censorship, oppression, disinformation, willful self-deception and amnesia, art and fiction become repositories of truth, through which a harsh reality can be exposed.

Good examples are found in pre-code American comic books which were published before 1954, and also in 1970s' American horror films. In these cases, several creators had seen World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War first hand. They revealed the aftermath of war as servicemen and -women came home. Contrary to the primary portrayal of prosperous and progressive societies, there were frightening and shameful truths at hand, about damaged people entangled in crime, brutal sex, rape, self-violation, drug addiction and madness.

Literary fiction and the other arts provide a kind of digestive system for mainstream society, in which the most difficult truths are processed. Risky artworks come out like so much fecal matter. This is an unpleasant simile, but an accurate one. You can see the bowel-analogy evident in a Fourth Wall pun in the script of the 1979 film, Alien, which is filled with body imagery and anatomical terminology.

Alien 1979 720p HDTV 04 (18 December 2017). Video Source: Youtube.

A snippet from the Alien script as it went through several edits is preserved on the blog, Alien Explorations; in the opening scenes, a spaceship crew is awakened from hypersleep to deal with an emergency. They realize they are not home yet when their navigator, Lambert, checks their location:
"LAMBERT: Found it. Just short of Zeta II Reticuli. We haven't even reached the outer rim yet.
KANE: Hard to believe.
LAMBERT: I don't know. What the hell are we doing out here?
KANE: What the hell are you talking about?
RIPLEY: That's not our system.
LAMBERT: I know that. (Final Alien film, 1979)
Lambert could be referring to the binary star system, Zeta Reticuli. However, the astronomical names make a pun on anatomical names. The reticulum (plural: reticula) is the second stomach of a ruminant animal. The "outer rim" hints at the anal sphincter and defecation. Even if most of the audience would not notice or understand this play on words, they are subliminally or subconsciously reminded here that the crew have not yet been shat out of deep space and they are still deep inside the belly of the beast.

The Alien films were part of a mass cultural explosion in the United States in the fifty years following the Second World War. While slasher flicks presented audiences with the gore which soldiers had witnessed, the Alien franchise dealt, and deals, with the fact that from the 1940s onward, doctors agreed under military orders to conduct physical and psychological experiments on human beings.

Alien 3 (1992) focuses on vulnerable, imprisoned characters. It is the only film in the franchise in which the science officer is a positive character, and that is because the prison's doctor is a former drug addict and criminal. Alien 3 (Special Edition) (4 November 2014). Video Source: Youtube.

This was the outcome of the 20th century, during which war tactics overflowed beyond the arena of battle, where operations were conducted by professional armies. War games were turned directly on domestic populations. Total war allowed medical researchers to cross all boundaries of ethics, humane treatement, and decency, thereby gathering data from forbidden areas of inquiry. This turn of practice occurred first during wartime, then peacetime. Physicians under these orders acted on targeted or enemy civilians during war. In post-war periods, they set their sights on vulnerable citizens such as prisoners - the subject of the Alien 3 (1992). This history is a hidden taint, from which the modern medical profession has never recovered.

The secret lab with Ripley-alien clones in Alien Resurrection (1997). Image Source: Stack Exchange.

The Alien series squarely faces this concealed legacy. Its fiction casts light on real ongoing projects, usually under military-medical auspices, which historians are still having problems revealing. In Alien Resurrection (1997), the series makes marked references to black budgeted labs, genetic experimentation and bio-weapons projects.

The film states a plain truth: "My mommy always said there were no monsters, no real ones. But there are." Alien Resurrection (1997) Opening Scene (16 November 2017). Video Source: Youtube.

The series is still slowly revealing the mythical hypothesis that the fierce alien antagonist species was not just desired by Earth-based corporations for their weapons division, as was the focus in the second film, Aliens (1986). The alien was also an experiment gone wrong, designed - ironically - by the (alien) engineer progenitors of humankind, as depicted in the film, Prometheus (2012).

The opening of Prometheus shows an engineer seeding himself into a planet (possibly Earth) to spawn humankind. Prometheus extended first 20 mins (26 January 2015). Video Source: Youtube.

Humans are the 'positive' experimental species built by their Promethean creators, and made in the latter's own image. The alien was a 'negative' result from a bio-weapons project, a species created by the same Promethean alien engineers. All the same, the engineers are trying to destroy both of their experimental species, because the humans and the aliens have escaped their planets-as-labs environments and are getting out of control. The engineers' true aim - according to a close reading of scenes cut from the screenplays and other analyses - is to procreate when they have lost that ability sexually, by seeding parts of themselves into new species on new worlds. The engineers as hapless overseers of Big Science gone wrong provide a bird's eye view of our current, real world problems.

These films are part of the effort to absorb the unspoken impact on the medical profession of the horrors of human experimentation during the Holocaust and at sites like Unit 731 in Manchuria. All of this speaks to a society struggling to become even vaguely aware of what has already occurred in covert research, much less what is being planned for the future.

In May 2013, PM Shinzō Abe sparked outrage in China and South Korea when he sat in a new Japanese military jet with the number 731 on it, clearly supporting the infamous Japanese medical experimentation camp. Image Source: Time.

The need to face our demons and digest our most unpalatable truths about scientific and technological expansion gives initial rise to the arts over the social sciences as tools of assessment. But if that is so, which arts will serve? It seems that the traditional institutions of the arts are corrupted.

Just another day in Rome.

Image Source: Red Bubble.

UN: Assange exposed to "psychological torture" – UN official (15 October 2019). Video Source: Youtube.

In a secretive society with a broken system, the professionals who guard and interpret the truth - the members of the press, the political scientists, the  historians - cannot speak freely and are recruited based on their willingness to kowtow to the official line. If mainstream investigative journalists release real information, they - like media whistle-blowers - are fired, or even jailed and tortured. The alt-media have been suppressed over the past year.

The 2018 Social Media Purge: One Year Later (26 October 2019). Video Source: Youtube.

Political scientists failed in their vocation when they allowed science to become politicized. The historian is denied access to documents, which may anyway have already been altered, destroyed or erased. It is a sobering thought that these professionals must become fiction writers if they want to expose the truth, because fiction is the only place where they can describe reality accurately without being censored and without being dismissed by a socially and politically conditioned public. George Orwell understood this. This is how and why non-fiction and fiction overlap, and connect, in response to larger, social and political contexts.


- All images and clips from Alien films belong to copyright holders, principally Disney and 20th Century Fox. They are reproduced here non-commercially under Fair Use for purposes of discussion.

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