Some questions don’t ever get settled. That’s what’s exciting, and frustrating, about art and philosophy: you ponder the same sorts of things over and over again. Here’s a tough one: what social responsibility, if any, does art have? What sort of art can you appropriately make about reprehensible things?
I don’t remember that debate ever reaching the public mind quite as much as it has lately with Joker. Arthur’s actions in the film bear a resemblance to real, awful acts of violence, and it’s understandably made some people uncomfortable, and people have argued that Joker represents those actions in an irresponsible, even glorifying way.
I’m not here to take a position in that argument. Neither is Just Write, whose newest video, the first in a planned series on historical debates about art, uses the Joker as a lens to discuss the broader history of art criticism. In particular, he’s interested in how thinkers throughout history have tackled the question of social responsibility. Going through three significant theoretical positions, he weighs their historical basis and their potential merits and weaknesses. It’s a debate in which there are no clear answers, although we can probably all agree that Plato had it a bit off.
I still haven’t seen Joker, so my opinions honestly aren’t that strong about the movie either way. But I liked this video a lot, and I think it’s always worth putting these sorts of arguments into historical context. If we’re debating something now, we’re probably not the first to do so. And there’s a lot of insight to be garnered from that sort of past.
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