Information and the media: how do they influence our opinions?

When talking of media and information we cannot keep out of our consideration the deep mutations of technology and society. These mutations have been accelerating like never before in human history in the last thirty years. If we make a quick excursus of the history of information during the last two centuries, we can notice that the way this has been vehiculated has changed over time by following the pace of technology and society. In this imaginary time travel, we would start with newspapers (that initially were published once every second week[1]). We would continue with radio and newsreels – that in Italy were under governmental control[2]. Then, we would get to television and see a proliferation of sources of information thanks to private radio and television broadcasts. Finally, we would arrive to our days with information vehiculated through the internet and social media accessible at any time from our phones.

As we can see, there are at least two types of radical change in the fruition of information: the first refers to the speed and to the increasing number of sources and media (from a newspaper published once every second week to many online news sites publishing news constantly), the second refers to the access to information: before, users had to reach it by going to the newsstand or tuning in to a specific radio or television channel at a given time, now this relationship has been reversed as it is the information that reaches users that are always connected. The result of these two factors is that users nowadays are bombed by many different stimuli competing to grab attention.

How do we face this kind of information in the media?

To say that we are at the mercy of information might sound banal and, after all, it is not that true. This evolution did not happen overnight, even though it is true that it has been really fast and that it is easier to face it for digital natives than for the elderly who had to adapt to a world in constant evolution. In the same way, it is also true that we do not control our reactions to information: how do we form our opinions? Why do we select specific information and open a particular link instead of another? How is it possible that there are people defending so strongly opinions that sound absurd to our ears? How to explain some reactions to the current pandemic? I will try to give some explanations here, although we have to bear in mind that the topic is much complex and full of facets and aspects embracing different disciplines such as communication science, sociology, psychology of groups, and psychology of persuasion that cannot be summarized and set in order in just one article.

The research on how we process information got along with the development of information technology and social psychology in general. The question social psychologists tried to answer is: how does a message become persuasive?

Among predominant theories, there is the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) by Petty and Cacioppo (1981) and the heuristic-systematic model by Eagly and Chaiken (1984). These models have in common the fact of forecasting that the change of attitude in front of a piece of information can be the result of two different kinds of processes[3].

According to the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM), when receiving a piece of information, the user starts an elaboration process placed in a continuum having on opposite poles a central path and a peripheric path. To elaborate via the central path, the recipient needs to activate a set of attentional skills and resources for active reflection on the arguments of the message, which in turn also requires to activate the previous knowledge s-/he owns on the matter in order to get to a final evaluation of the message. Instead, the peripheral path does not require considering the content of the message to elaborate the information but the way it is presented (let’s think of the background music on TV reports having the function of “helping” the audience classifying the info as positive or negative). Hence, the central path is a more demanding process requiring motivation (the message has to be relevant for the user in order for him to invest resources), cognitive skills, and previous knowledge, while the peripheral one does not require any effort[4].

Similarly to the Elaboration Likelihood Model, the heuristic-systematic model states that there are two types of processes to elaborate information: a systematic process – corresponding to the central path of the ELM (so with the investment of resources for a deep elaboration of the message) – and a heuristic process leading to the formation of an opinion through the simple application of a heuristic, a rule for judgment certifying the validity of the message (e.g.: the message comes from a person I trust, the message should be valid)[5].

According to both models then, in order to elaborate on information with accuracy, it is necessary for the recipient to use a set of resources. First of all, this requires the motivation to use such resources and to make the effort of reasoning, then it requires to use cognitive skills and to activate counterarguments to validate or to refute the thesis as well as the presence of previous knowledge on the matter to do it. Now, it looks clear that such central-systematic elaboration requires time and resources: all things that modern hectic life, television pace and the abundance of stimuli make hard to use.

How do we respond to these stimuli?

The way we face information nowadays has much to do with our reactions to these stimuli. In other words, we need to recognize and respond quickly to many stimuli without the chance of deepening and elaborating, something that – as said – would require time and effort.

When it comes to catalogue news as true or false or even just worthy of our attention, some clues we use more or less consciously come into play.

Above all, we need to consider the fact that news mould the way we conceive reality. According to the cultivation theory by Gerbner[6], the information provided by the media has on one hand the effect of creating a common interpretation of an event (the so-called mainstreaming effect), on the other hand to amplify reality: by emphasising the event, it assigns to this a greater frequency than the actual one just because of speaking about it on the media (the resonance effect). In his experiments on the relationship between violence in the media and actual violence in real life, Gerbner could note that the participants believing that in their neighbourhood there was a higher level of violence than the actual one were the same having the habit of watching more violence scenes on television[7].

It seems clear that the media play a key role in shaping the perception of reality (and how we mould our opinions and, in turn, behave). The agendasetting theory goes in the same way. According to this theory, the media establish which topics are relevant to society by giving each matter more or less emphasis[8]. Therefore, they do not directly suggest to the audience how to think about something but rather what to think of. So, the importance and relevance of an event are not specific characteristics of the event itself, but they are assigned by the emphasis the media use when talking about it and, therefore, by the relevance they give to that event.

To make a few concrete examples of the impact of this in real life, we can think of the case of the volunteer for the trial covid-vaccination programme who died a few months ago in Brazil, a case that had great resonance all over the world with extraordinary coverage on the media, still – after the news was given – it was discovered that the volunteer never got subministrated the jab[9]. Another clear evidence of this is provided by the recent case of the fear that the media generated by the great emphasis they gave to the blood clot cases on people who had received the AstraZeneca vaccine. A fear having no scientific foundation and – therefore – no reason to be: if we look at actual data[10], we discover that this event is way rarer than what the coverage on the media lets us think.

“They do not tell us!!”: dissidents and sub-cultures

However, as said, we need to consider the fact that nowadays information is fast and plural. On the one hand, this is certainly something good as it allows to defend the freedom of speech – and so democracy -, on the other hand, the proliferation of news sites competing to get the users’ clicks (see the phenomenon of the “clickbait”[11] ) leads to the risk of fake news and makes it hard for the user to recognize the authority of a source and of an opinion dividing it from the mass of comments and news.

What pushes a person to look for a specific kind of information and defend so strongly opinions that look absurd to us? According to the uses and gratifications theory[12], the information received is not a passive actor, but s-/he selects the information that gives them more gratifications. S-/he addresses the choice and invests attention and time resources in those programs and information channels that satisfy his/her needs. What needs are we talking of? The need to get useful information helps not only in the management of his/her actions but also with emotional needs and the need to define one’s own identity[13]. This takes us back to what stated here above: we dedicate more time to information channels in which we recognize ourselves and – at the same time – we tend to catalog stimuli quickly by assigning them attributes of authority or non-authority according to the kind of stimuli (e.g. the source) and not after a deep elaboration of the message. This leads information to be part of ingroup-outgroup dynamics. Users will seek and give more attention to that information corresponding to their own group as they recognize themselves in that group having a common key to read reality. At the same time, they will not give attention and will be very hasty in dismissing those information and thesis belonging to outgroups. As we can guess, this does not help the debate and boosts polarization within each group. In this way, groups will shift more and more towards extreme positions. Let’s think, for instance – beyond what one thinks about – at the dualism between anti-vax and pro-vax during the pandemic or the role of the social media on Capitol Hill’s assault in the US.

Social media do not help with this. As their scope is to keep users’ engagement high[14], they tend to display thesis and information reflecting the ideas in which the user can recognize himself because it is thanks to these that s-/he will stay connected on the social. If we close our eyes and – for example – imagine to be firmly convinced about the fact that vaccines are good and suddenly discover that our Facebook or Twitter walls are invaded by news coming from anti-vax news sites, we can guess that probably we would not click on those links and that we would quit the social media way before what we usually – unfortunately – do. 

The docu-movie the social dilemma produced by Netflix is very informative on the matter. “Try to type on Google ‘ climate change is ‘ , you are going to see different results depending on where you live and the particular things Google knows about your interests

In light of the impact that these mechanisms in the social media have had on people – that then turned into actions and political decisions (see the Russiagate and the Cambridge Analytica scandal[15]), Facebook is taking countermeasures aimed to increase the plurality of information displayed to users, with the aim of stopping the spread of fake news[16][17], although it looks like there is still a lot to do[18].

Media and information: what to do then?

Nowadays, the media are in the tricky situation of being forced to inform people by summing up in a very short time the news from a world that is complex and constantly changing. Dedicating the time required to deepen and elaborate the diverse thesis is just not an option as it would require the recipient to use time and attention and – at that point – one would most likely switch to another channel. What to do then?

Above all, we should ask ourselves why a person moves towards a specific thesis, running the risk of getting involved in that ingroup-outgroup vicious circle described above that leads to label information without elaborating them. So to say, we should check what is there at the root of a person’s reaction in front of a message, seeking what leads a person to acknowledge a piece of information as more authoritative than another.

It is awe-inspiring to look at the studies of the early ‘50s of the past century – studies looking more actual than ever – on that peculiar persuasion strategy that Hovland and his colleagues at Yale’s university called fear appeal[19]. In their experiments, Janis and Fisherbach – colleagues of Hovland – exposed participants to messages regarding dental illnesses and what behaviours to adopt in order to avoid them, dividing participants into groups according to the intensity of fear of the message which they had been subministrated. Differently to what they could expect, those who – after a few weeks – had actually changed behaviour in a more relevant manner were not those who had received the scarier message but those whose message had a weak fear appeal.

According to researchers, this should be due to the recipient’s reaction to messages threatening the se. The recipient, feeling threatened, would reduce such distress by seeking answers able to loosen the tension. To do that and feel safe, the user is in front of an (unconscious) choice: s-/he can go for using the behaviours suggested by the message or can activate defensive answers such as denial[20] or discrediting the message itself and the envisaged consequences of the dangerous behaviour. In this case, the users will think something like “well, maybe the message was a bit exaggerating, this behaviour is not that dangerous”.

Then, we can see that when it comes to face fear situations such as the pandemic, the presence of people denying the virus may be partially caused by an unconscious defence mechanism used by some people. These persons might have moved towards negationism because they feel reassured by denying the situation. Their reassurance is then strengthened by the fact that other people share the same view and create in this way a group that legitimates and reinforces these theses, sometimes polarising positions.

One of the developments of these thesis refers to the motivation protection theory by Maddus and Rogers (1983)[21]. According to this theory, a threat represents distress for the individual that then needs to put in place resources to use a specific behaviour. If s-/he perceives risks as relevant or if s-/he feels to be able to cope with that behaviour, the user will feel motivated to respond with the desired adaptive behaviour; if instead, the situation requires resources that are too onerous compared to the ones at disposal, s-/he will use another behaviour to deal with the situation, but not always will go for adaptive behaviour.

By knowing this, we see that the recipient of the information is not a passive subject and that much depends on the characteristics of the person and on the relevance that the message has for him/her. The media should focus on the importance of the light under which they expose information, then, being aware that fear is not always the best weapon to broadcast effective messages. If it is not accompanied by positive messages and specific and clear indications about what behaviours to use, it can have detrimental effects as it could activate defensive reactions (denial, discreditation, etc).

On the contrary, the media would better use clear information avoiding rhetoric, focusing on positive aspects of behaviours to put in place (e.g. highlighting the positive effects of lockdown on reducing the curve of cases and deaths, rather than constantly focusing on – supposed – negative effects of outdoor walks…), and providing clear information about behaviours to adopt. This would help people to cope with the situation and reduce the distress and the uncertainty related to the situation, it would enable the audience to elaborate information in a clearer way, reducing the need for the seek of alternative answers and non-adaptive behaviours.

Filippo Paggiarin

Sources & References



[3] ”introduzione alla psicologia della comunicazione” – “introduction to communication psychology”  by L. Lotto and R. Rumiati, 2013, il Mulino, p.91

[4] ”introduzione alla psicologia della comunicazione” – “introduction to communication psychology”  by L. Lotto and R. Rumiati, 2013, il Mulino, p.91

[5]  ”introduzione alla psicologia della comunicazione” – “introduction to communication psychology”  by L. Lotto and R. Rumiati, 2013, il Mulino, p.91


[7]  ”introduzione alla psicologia della comunicazione” – “introduction to communication psychology”  by L. Lotto and R. Rumiati, 2013, il Mulino, p.151

[8]introduzione alla psicologia della comunicazione” – “introduction to communication psychology”  by L. Lotto and R. Rumiati, 2013, il Mulino, p.151




[12]introduzione alla psicologia della comunicazione” – “introduction to communication psychology”  by L. Lotto and R. Rumiati, 2013, il Mulino, p.155

[13] On the matter, i suggest to listen to the TED talk by Guadalupe Nogués (it is in spanish language)

[14]  The docu-movie the social dilemma produced by Netflix is very informative on the matter. “Try to type on Google ‘ climate change is ‘ , you are going to see different results depending on where you live and the particular things Google knows about your interests” . 





[19]  ”introduzione alla psicologia della comunicazione” – “introduction to communication psychology”  by L. Lotto and R. Rumiati, 2013, il Mulino, p.86

[20] this does not happen only with health-related topics like damages caused by smoking or by junk food or the need for anti-covid measures but also with many other topics such as the climate change

[21]introduzione alla psicologia della comunicazione” – “introduction to communication psychology”  by L. Lotto and R. Rumiati, 2013, il Mulino, p.87

The Uncanny and Humoristic Joker’s Laugh

The unheimlich, according to Freud, is something not familiar, extraneous or unknown. Nonetheless, it is characterized by some familiar, intimate, known features, taking a different form. Unheimlich is the stranger within your house. It is uncanny exactly because the malaise and the fear related to it are determined by the faint borderline between foreignness and homeliness. Within the gap of this dualism, which is proactive because it unveils what is supposed to stay hidden, T. Phillips’ Joker’s laugh breaks out. Speaking of his character’s laugh, J. Phoenix himself confirms that it is at the same time “terrifying and exciting”, consequently intimidating and alienating. These kinds of feelings are ongoing, whether it is about Arthur Fleck’s painful, muffled and chocking laugh or the Joker’s fierce, uninhibited and ostentatious mannerisms. Indeed, even though the laugh changes as the character changes, it never stops, spreading as a laugh which often breaks the silence. Sometimes it overcomes the noise, impromptu in the bud and at the end, following the individual’s inner life and lacking in moral rules. An example can be seen, when Arthur bursts out laughing while a girl is being harassing by three rich young boys, in the metro going back home. In this situation, the laugh, which is familiar for us as synonym of hilarity and relaxation, becomes unfamiliar and strange. The palpable tension in such a moment would rather require careful attention and gravity. Even the boys are not able to unscramble that laugh: they consider it as a declaration of amusement or mockery; then, gunshots fire and the echo of that laugh starts becoming truly scary. It is the hiding lodger living in the laugh who is rising: the one existence’s deep malaise.

U. Boccioni, La risata (wikipedia)

Perceiving this malaise is possible not only for who reflects upon Arthur’s life from the outside, but also for Arthur who often feels himself living more than he actually lives. For example, when watching his sketch played a while back on a little stand-up comedy stage and now broadcasted on Murray’s TV show, Arthur is driven to feel again that moment but this time through the audience’s snarky eye. In Pirandellian terms, the transition from living to feeling oneself living is dramatic. This can be dangerous because it produces the fall of individual identity’s fictive shapes: man feels like broken down in coexisting fragments of identity and for it complicating differences between within-Me and outwith-Me. From this moment on, the attempt to come back to a normal consciousness of life bears in nuce the risk of death or madness. Arthur is at the same time the winner who has finally been noticed after years of anonymity and who has a chance for realizing his dream of being a comedian, but he is also the miserable looser who has to deal with mockery once again and is aired worldwide.

J. Ensor, Masks confronting death ( –

Powered by this malaise, the laugh becomes a kind of revenge on grievances, a kind of weapon. It defines the blurred boundaries of evil. This applies to Phillips’ Joker but also to Pirandello’s M. Anselmo in Tu ridi (Novelle per un anno, 1924). In these two cases, the main characters lack of coordination with other people. They laugh when they should not and this ends up like a synonym of diversity, almost an accusation. M. Anselmo laughs while sleeping with a “large, gurgling laugh”, we could say, as unsupervised, arising directly from the unconscious. In the same way as Joker’s laugh. Every night, when his wife wakes him up, M. Anselmo is “astonished, embarrassed, incredulous”. “[T]he irritation and the humiliation, the anger and the wrath” that he feels resemble Arthur’s feelings every time he has to provide explanations for his uncontrollable reactions, without being completely aware of them. People suspect that M. Anselmo and Joker wallow in “who knows which kind blessedness”, although none of the two knows these forms of ‘blessedness’.

On the contrary, they understand, despite themselves, that laughing can be a demonstration of frustration, a misunderstood desire of happiness and a  detachment from their own misery. However, the understanding moment comes “by chance” and marks a fundamental step: the laugh stops being taken lying down and becomes an aggressive action, an active tool for emancipation. M. Anselmo gets the features of “the poor Torella”’s persecutor, whereas Arthur gets the eccentric ones of Joker. The real difference between these two characters is that the last one turns his revenge fantasies into a conscious decision, into reality. Moreover, the Joker laughs in order to deconstruct the caging reality, in order to lead it back to its shapeless, chaotic nature. Yet, while he laughs, he wears a mask, as if he was unable to escape from an inhibitory identity established by people apart from the use of another identity model. At the beginning of everything lies the desire of finding his own place in this world after being recognized as a complex human being and the extreme difficulty caused by this search.

            Here, the laugh, Arthur’s laugh but also the one he causes in people, becomes a visible manifestation of the clash between inner self and society. It encourages us to look at Arthur as a man who is wearing too much face makeup, placed on the top of his emaciated body. Such a thought is induced by the fact that the man in front of us during the movie has essentially a tragic nature, set in a potentially comic context. Once again, in Phillips’ movie, the sentiment of the contrary is an unequivocal, palpable and distinguishing feature of a definitely humoristic man, in Pirandellian terms. For this reason, even though the Joker is mad, to some extent we are lead to empathize with him. We understand the tragedy behind his laugh – which explains his humoristic nature – and his effort trying to restore a normal conscience. These elements make the Joker Arthur’s lucid madness. No doubt, the Joker is appreciated because it engages in a discussion about the human condition. Albeit, in my opinion, is especially appreciated because it deals with the idea of a monolithic hero-villain, trying to dis-articulate it. If ever our time may be said to be a cradle for heroes, the ones, bad or good, that our time creates and it is interested in are men – men in revolution.

di Livia Corbelli

– T. Phillips, Joker, 2019 (film)
– L. Pirandello, L’Umorismo, 1908
– S. Freud, Il perturbante, 1919
– L. Pirandello, “Tu ridi”, in Novelle per un anno, 1924

(N.d.A: all quotes are translated by the author of this article, they may be different in the English version of the book).

La Risata Perturbante e Umoristica di Joker

Stando agli scritti freudiani, unheimlich è ciò che non è familiare, intimo, conosciuto e, tuttavia, è caratterizzato proprio da alcuni tratti familiari, intimi, conosciuti che però assumono una forma diversa. Unheimlich è l’estraneo dentro casa. E’ perturbante esattamente perché il disagio e pure la paura ad esso connessi sono determinati dal labile confine tra estraneità e familiarità. Nello spazio di questo dualismo attivo, poiché fa affiorare ciò che dovrebbe invece restare nascosto, si apre la risata del Joker di T. Phillips. Lo stesso J. Phoenix, a proposito della risata del  personaggio che interpreta, afferma che è contemporaneamente “terrifying and exciting”, di conseguenza intimidatoria e straniante – sensazioni costanti per lo spettatore, sia che si tratti della risata dolorosa, soffocata e soffocante di Arthur Fleck sia che si tratti di quella fiera, disinibita e ostentata di Joker. In effetti, benché essa si evolva con l’evolversi del protagonista, non smette di dispiegarsi come una risata che spesso spacca il silenzio e a volte sovrasta il rumore, improvvisa sul nascere e sul finire, assecondante la vita interna del soggetto e priva di regole morali – come quando, sulla metro diretta verso casa, Arthur scoppia a ridere mentre una ragazza viene molestata da tre giovani altolocati. Il riso, familiare a tutti noi in quanto sinonimo di ilarità e di distensione, diventa un elemento estraneo in quella specifica circostanza di nervosismo palpabile che richiederebbe, invece, grande attenzione e serietà. Nemmeno i giovani riescono a decifrarlo: lo considerano come esternazione di divertimento o di beffa, poi esplodono i colpi di pistola e l’eco di quel riso fa davvero paura. Emerge l’inquilino nascosto che abita in quella risata: il malessere profondo di un’esistenza.

U. Boccioni, La risata (wikipedia)

La percezione di tale malessere è possibile non soltanto per coloro che, dall’esterno, prestano attenzione alla vita di Arthur, ma anche per Arthur stesso che, non di rado, più che vivere si sente vivere – come quando, vedendo in onda sul programma tv di Murray lo sketch che aveva eseguito qualche tempo prima su un piccolo palco di stand-up comedy, egli è spinto a sentire di nuovo profondamente quel momento. Questa volta, però, con gli occhi irridenti del pubblico. Pirandellianamente, il passaggio dal vivere al sentirsi vivere è drammatico e può essere pericoloso perché produce la caduta delle forme fittizie dell’identità individuale: l’uomo si percepisce scomposto in frammenti identitari che convivono e che complicano le distinzioni tra il dentro-di-sé e il fuori-di-sé. Da questo istante in poi, il tentativo di tornare alla coscienza normale delle cose porta in nuce il rischio di morte o di pazzia. Arthur è al contempo il vincente che dopo anni di anonimato è stato finalmente notato e ora dispone di un’occasione televisiva per realizzare il suo sogno di comico, ma anche il misero perdente che è chiamato ad affrontare di nuovo la derisione, questa volta a reti unificate.

J. Ensor, Masks confronting death
( –

In questo malessere, la risata trova il modo di farsi rivincita sui torti subiti, di farsi arma, e traccia i confini sfumati del male. Così è per il Joker di Phillips, ma anche per il signor Anselmo di Pirandello nel racconto Tu ridi (Novelle per un anno, 1924). In entrambi i casi, i personaggi sono scoordinati col mondo, ridono fuori tempo quando non dovrebbero e questo loro ridere diventa sinonimo di diversità, quasi un’accusa. Il signor Anselmo ride nel sonno con una “risata larga, gorgogliante”, si potrebbe dire non sorvegliata, scaturente direttamente dall’inconscio dandogli spazio. Come quella di Joker. Ogni notte, quando la moglie lo rimprovera per essere stata svegliata dal suo riso improvviso, il signor Anselmo è “stupito, mortificato, quasi incredulo” e l’“irritazione e mortificazione, ira e cruccio” che prova somigliano tanto a quelli di Arthur, sempre in dovere di fornire spiegazioni per una reazione incontrollabile che nemmeno lui sa realmente motivare. Il sospetto comune è che sguazzino “in chi sa quali beatitudini”, eppure di quelle beatitudini nessuno dei due sa nulla; anzi, comprendono, loro malgrado, che ridere può essere una manifestazione di frustrazione, un desiderio incompreso di felicità e distacco dalle proprie miserie. Il momento della comprensione, però, avviene “per combinazione” e segna un passaggio fondamentale: la risata smette di essere passivamente subita e si fa azione aggressiva, strumento attivo di riscatto personale. Il signor Anselmo assume i connotati del tormentatore “del povero Torella”, mentre Arthur quelli eccentrici del Joker. La vera differenza tra i due è che quest’ultimo trasforma i sogni di rivalsa in una decisione consapevole. In una realtà. Non solo: Joker ride per destrutturare questa stessa realtà che ingabbia l’individuo, per riportarla ad una essenza informe, caotica. Ciononostante, mentre ride, indossa una maschera, come se non fosse in grado di liberarsi di un’identità castrante attribuitagli dall’esterno se non attraverso l’assunzione di un altro schema identitario. Alla base c’è la volontà di trovare il proprio posto nel mondo, venendo riconosciuti come esseri umani complessi, e la difficoltà estrema che una simile ricerca provoca.

Ecco allora che la risata, sia la sua sia quella che suscita negli altri, diviene una manifestazione visibile dello scontro tra interiorità e società ed esorta alla riflessione tanto quanto il suo viso così esageratamente truccato in cima al suo corpo emaciato. Tale riflessione è generata proprio dal fatto che l’uomo che ci si trova davanti ha una natura essenzialmente tragica inserita, tuttavia, in un contesto potenzialmente comico. Per dirla con Pirandello, nel film di Phillips il sentimento del contrario è manifesto, tangibile e distintivo di un uomo che, quindi, non può che essere umoristico. Per questo, sebbene Joker sia un pazzo, in un certo senso siamo portati ad empatizzare con lui – perché ne comprendiamo il dramma dietro il riso, cioè appunto la natura umoristica, ed anche lo sforzo nel tentativo di tornare ad una coscienza normale che fanno di Joker la lucida pazzia di Arthur. Joker piace sicuramente perché intavola un discorso sulla condizione umana, ma, credo, piace soprattutto perché lo fa disarticolando l’idea di eroe malvagio monolitico: se mai la nostra epoca può dirsi ancora culla di eroi, quelli a cui dà vita e a cui si interessa sono, nel bene e nel male, uomini – uomini in rivoluzione.

di Livia Corbelli

– T. Phillips, Joker, 2019 (film)
– L. Pirandello, L’Umorismo, 1908
– S. Freud, Il perturbante, 1919
– L. Pirandello, “Tu ridi”, in Novelle per un anno, 1924

Le Rire Inquietant et Humoristique du Joker

D’après Freud, l’adjectif unheimlich caractérise ce qui n’est ni familier ni intime, quelque chose d’inconnu, mais présentant dans un même temps certains traits familiers, intimes, connus, prenant une forme différente. Unheimlich est l’étranger dans la maison. C’est inquiétant justement parce que le malaise et la peur qui lui sont reliés sont déterminés par la limite floue entre étrangeté et familiarité. Dans l’écart de ce dualisme actif, car il révèle ce qui devrait rester caché, s’ouvre le rire du Joker de T. Phillips. A propos du rire du personnage qu’il interprète, J. Phoenix lui-même affirme qu’il est simultanément « terrifying and exciting », par conséquence intimidant et aliénant –ce genre de sensations sont constants pour le spectateur, aussi bien lorsqu’il s’agit du rire douloureux, étouffé et étouffant d’Arthur Fleck que lorsqu’il est question de celui fier, désinhibé et exhibé de Joker. En effet, bien que le rire évolue au fur et à mesure que le protagoniste évolue, il n’arrête jamais de se déployer en tant qu’un rire qui souvent déchire le silence et parfois l’emporte sur le bruit, impromptu dans l’œuf et à la fin, secondant la vie interne du sujet et dépourvu de règles morales – par exemples, lorsqu’Arthur, dans le métro pour rentrer chez lui, éclate de rire tandis qu’une fille est en train d’être harcelée par trois jeunes haut placés. Dans cette situation-là, le rire, familier à nous tous en tant que synonyme d’hilarité et de détente, devient étranger parce qu’au contraire la nervosité manifeste du moment demanderait grande attention et solennité. Les jeunes ne sont pas capables de décoder ce rire, eux non plus : ils le considèrent comme une déclaration de divertissement ou de moquerie ; ensuite, les coups de feu éclatent et l’écho de ce rire-là fait réellement peur. C’est le locataire caché demeurant dans ce rire qui se révèle : le malaise profond d’une vie.

U. Boccioni, La risata (wikipedia)

La perception de ce malaise est possible non seulement par ceux qui réfléchissent du dehors à la vie d’Arthur, mais aussi par Arthur lui-même, lui qui souvent, plutôt que vivre, s’aperçoit vivre – par exemple, lorsque en regardant le sketch qu’il avait joué quelques temps auparavant sur un petit stage de stand-up comedy maintenant diffusé à la télé dans le show de Murray, il est poussé à ressentir à nouveau ce moment-là. Pourtant, cette fois il le ressent à travers le regard sarcastique du public. En termes pirandelliens, le passage du vivre au s’apercevoir vivre est dramatique et cela peut être dangereux puisque cela produit la chute des formes fictives de l’identité individuelle : l’homme s’aperçoit décomposé en fragments identitaires qui coexistent en compliquant les distinctions entre en-Moi et hors-Moi. A partir de cet instant, la tentative de retourner à la conscience normale des choses contient en germe le risque de mort ou de folie. Arthur est en même temps le gagnant qui a été finalement remarqué après des années d’anonymat et qui a maintenant une occasion télévisée pour réaliser son rêve de comédien, mais il est aussi le perdant malheureux qui doit faire face à la dérision encore une fois et sur chaîne de grande audience.

J. Ensor, Masks confronting death ( –

Dans ce malaise, le rire devient une forme de revanche sur le tort subi, une arme et définit les contours nuancés du mal. Ainsi en est-il pour le Joker de Phillips et pour M. Anselmo de Pirandello dans le récit Tu ridi (Novelle per un anno, 1924). Dans les deux cas, les personnages manquent de coordination avec le monde, ils rient quand il ne le devraient pas et cela devient un synonyme de diversité, presque une accusation. M. Anselmo rit pendant son sommeil avec un « rire grand, gargouillant », on pourrait dire non surveillé, découlant directement de son inconscient et lui laissant la place. De même que le rire de Joker. Chaque nuit, lorsque sa femme le réveille, M. Anselmo est « stupéfait, mortifié, presque incrédule » et « l’agacement et l’humiliation, la colère et le courroux » qu’il éprouve ressemblent beaucoup à ceux d’Arthur, toujours dans l’obligation de donner des explications pour une réaction incontrôlable qu’il ne sait pas justifier lui non plus. Dans les deux cas, le gens soupçonnent que M. Anselmo et Arthur se vautrent dans « qui sait quelles béatitudes », cependant aucun des deux connaît ces béatitudes. Au contraire, ils comprennent malgré eux que rire peut être une manifestation de frustration, un désir incompris de bonheur et de détachement de leur misère. Mais le moment de compréhension se passe « par hasard » et marque un passage fondamental : le rire cesse d’être subi passivement et devient action agressive, outil actif d’émancipation. M. Anselmo prend les traits du persécuteur du « pauvre Torella », tandis qu’Arthur ceux excentriques du Joker. La vraie différence entre les deux est que ce dernier convertit les rêves de vengeance en décision consciente. En réalité. Aussi, le Joker rit pour déstructurer cette même réalité qui encage l’individu, pour la ramener à une essence informe, chaotique. Pourtant, tandis qu’il rit, il porte un masque, comme s’il n’était pas capable de se délivrer d’une identité inhibitrice établie par les gens que par l’utilisation d’un autre modèle identitaire. A l’origine il y a la volonté de trouver sa place dans le monde, en étant reconnu comme être humain complexe, et la difficulté extrême qu’une telle recherche provoque.

Voilà alors que le rire, celui du protagoniste du film tout comme celui qu’il provoque chez les gens, devient une manifestation visible du conflit entre intériorité et société en encourageant la réflexion aussi bien que son visage si excessivement maquillé au-dessus de son corps émacié. Une telle réflexion est engendrée justement par le fait que l’homme devant lequel on se trouve à une essence globalement tragique placée, pourtant, dans un contexte potentiellement comique. En utilisant encore une fois des termes pirandelliens, dans le film de Phillips le sentiment du contraire est explicite, tangible et distinctif d’un homme qui donc ne peut qu’être humoristique. Pour cette raison, bien que le Joker soit fou, nous sommes en quelque sorte amenés à sympathiser avec lui puisque nous en comprenons le drame derrière le rire, c’est-à-dire justement la nature humoristique, et l’effort dans la tentative de retourner à la conscience normale – des traits qui font de Joker la folie lucide d’Arthur. Sans aucun doute, Joker est apprécié parce qu’il entame un discours sur la condition humaine, mais, je crois, il est surtout apprécié parce qu’il le fait en désarticulant l’idée du héros-vilain monolithique : si jamais notre époque peut se dire encore un berceau pour les héros, ceux auxquels elle donne vie et auxquels elle s’intéresse sont, bon ou mauvais, des hommes – des hommes en révolution.

di Livia Corbelli

– T. Phillips, Joker, 2019 (film)
– L. Pirandello, L’Umorismo, 1908
– S. Freud, Il perturbante, 1919
– L. Pirandello, “Tu ridi”, in Novelle per un anno, 1924


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