Life Lessons You Can Learn From The Joker
Batman’s most infamous nemesis, the Joker, has been a longstanding archetype for prankish mayhem, and the late Heath Ledger’s masterful performance in The Dark Knight has only elevated the character to new heights. Despite the Joker’s unforgettable acts as a sociopathic murderer, many people are intrigued by him, and even find this Clown Prince of Crime to be maddeningly charismatic.
So what’s there to love? A lot, and here’s why:
In “ye olde days”, humankind had myths and fables. Today, we have comic books and graphic novels. A central part of the human condition will always be an interest in motivation: whether it’s why someone killed another person or how someone came to be the deranged maniac they are today — that someone for the purposes of this illustration being the Joker — knowing the “roots of the tree” is a persuasive, compelling hook. Even if the person telling the story is a lying psycho, if they’re convincing, you can’t help but want to believe. Clearly, this can be used for nefarious as well as positive purposes.
A central thrust of successful marketing, emphasized by everyone from guerilla pioneer Jay Conrad Levinson to newer mavericks like Seth Godin, is that people love to be told stories. They don’t necessarily have to be nice stories, but they must be memorable. Whether you’re babysitting kids or closing a big deal, telling a story that’ll stick with your audience is key: a story is a soft shell that seals in the facts and livens up hard data.
And even if the “facts” are subject to reinterpretation as we’ll see, it doesn’t change that people love a good yarn. And always will.
Reimage yourself while keeping your core!
This is also known as “reinventing your image”, but I figured that was too long: plus, since the Joker is our example and his origins are birthed in visuals, it makes sense to say reimage.
Changing your mind too often is a bad thing and would result in more flip-flopping than Two-Face in a penny fountain. But spaced out over time after people have gotten used to change, reimaging — or even reimagining — keep things sparklingly fresh, as long as the core of who you are is consistent and earnest.
The Joker’s origin story has changed many times over decades, and portrayals of him range from zany to disturbing (or a mix of both). But he’s most commonly recognized as having a pale or white skin, an impossibly wide grin, green hair, and a mostly-purple suit. Those visual aspects combine with his characteristics as a crazy killer clown. If we were to reinvent him as, say, a kindly fireman and not set it up as a trick, the readers would feel betrayed and all manner of YouTube-quality comments would erupt.
The same is true for all popular characters who’ve been reimaged, from Sun Wukong (the trickster Chinese “Monkey King” now being featured in Olympics ads) to, well, Batman’s other villains. And it’s true for you too: whether you have a personal reputation to uphold or are representing a company, your focuses can change over time, but your core values cannot — the Joker wouldn’t be the Joker without a demented sense of what’s funny.
Use wild humor and capture it!
By “wild”, I don’t mean “disgusting” or “death-inducing” as the Joker tends to do, but I do mean these attributes which the Joker flaunts: visceral, raw, spontaneous, and passionate.
Here’s the problem: I’ve often heard people improvise something brilliant and wickedly humorous mid-conversation, and then I egg them on to write it down for later. They don’t, and that gem gets lost. This saddens me, because maybe you’ve heard a friend say something like: “I’ll get around to it someday?” but never does? Same emptiness here.
The people who do end up recording their flashes of brilliance are able to expand on them later: witness the tide of Internet phenomena, on “tape” for the whole world to see. And even on a personal level, you can work through life’s problems more effectively with a sense of perspective, and there’s no more reliable way than keeping a journal — so you can clearly refer to adversity you dealt with before, and stay on track with ambitions you’ve got up ahead.
So why is “humor” important here? Because jokes ease idea transmission; you’re more likely to remember amusing conversations than boring ones. Most people get more impact out of 30-secnd prank videos than 2-hour C-SPAN snorefests.
The Joker knows the value of capturing his ideas: for example, he takes cruel pictures to taunt Commissioner Gordon in The Killing Joke. And while I certainly don’t recommend going down that dark path, having tools to document your genius will lead to your future self thanking the present you. It can be as simple as a paper notepad, or a PDA. In fact, our own Dustin Wax wrote a great article recently, “Back to Basics: Capture Your Ideas“.
Pick a strong color scheme!
Quick, what colors do you think of when the Joker comes to mind? Chances are it’s predominantly green and purple. (Incidentally, my fave colors are green and pink like a neon watermelon, and it’s helped me many times.)
If the Joker was, say, orange and yellow, you might as well blurt out, “That’s not the Joker!” This principle is true of superheroes and world flags — colors are associated with certain things, and also help ease idea transmission.
Here, “Pick a strong color scheme!” means to apply this whenever appropriate. If you’re setting up a new blog to capture your ideas, consider the tones and tints used your theme. If you’re organizing files in folders, color-coding can help you distinguish between them faster. If you’re dressing up for a night at the club, colors again come into play. Be coordinated — but don’t take every color of the rainbow: 2-4 solid colors will do.
I covered this last week, and it’s important to bring up again: people have finite time, attention, and memory. If you can easily embed yourself into someone’s head (and pleasantly, I’m hoping), you can have a better relationship because they remember you. You’d rather be called upon by name than thought of as, “Uh… who’s that guy/girl again?”.
The Joker has many notable quotables. Just about every incarnation has a catchy saying. Some of them, like the meme-birthing “Why so serious?” (currently with almost 1.3 million Google hits and a Facebook app), have been used to market The Dark Knight and accelerate the film’s popularity. Others are much longer and not fit for printing in a single dialog bubble, but are unmistakably part of the Joker’s identity.
Don’t use catchphrases as a cheap joke: do use them to extend your identity and build interest in the rest of you. Like the Joker’s calling cards left at crime scenes, catchphrases create curiosity.
HA HA HA… I hope that’s given you something to laugh and learn about — now, tell me, what otherwise deplorable, fictional characters have you learned life lessons from?
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