The latest trailer for Zack Snyder’s Justice League cut features the Joker uttering a piece of internet culture, to strange effect. Following a massive fan campaign on social media, Snyder was brought in by HBO Max to finish his version of Justice League, which bombed at the 2017 box office after Snyder was replaced as director by Joss Whedon. Additional photography was signed off on, and new elements were added to the film, including Jared Leto’s polarizing take on the prince of crime, the Joker.
In the latest trailer, Batman encounters the Joker in the Knightmare reality, a sort of vision of a possible future where Darkseid’s forces have decimated Earth. Joker, wearing a police officer’s flack jacket and sitting on a car hood, utters a strange, cryptic line: “We live in a society where honor is a distant memory, don’t we, Batman?” It instantly leaped to the top of Twitter’s trending boxes as fans took to the quote in droves as Snyder released the new teaser.
Part of the reason for the reaction s that “we live in a society” is infamously a notable line from a famous meme revolving around the Joker, rather crudely tied to gamer fandom and to the so-called “incel” community by comedy sites like 9gag, which is suggested as the img of the meme. What began as a straight-faced, cynical admonition of modern society by lonely young men quickly evolved into a punchline, making fun of those who supposedly subscribe to such worldviews and embracing the surrealist, silly aspects of the meme. Quite why the meme is so openly referenced in Justice League is unclear for now. It seems unlikely it’s jokey fan service, because that’s not really Zack Snyder’s style. What seems most likely is that it’s an attempt at reclaiming the meme and reinforcing its original intent, positioning Leto’s Joker as the embodiment of the meme’s cynical worldview.
The Joker has long been associated with those same communities as something of a celebrated figure, a man who, like Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight claims, is “ahead of the curve” in embracing and exploiting the amorality of modern society. It’s a mean, cynical outlook, one mostly deserving of the scorn it engenders. The same narrative exploded out of Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as the Clown Prince of Crime, threatening to overwhelm typical criticism of the movie. There’s also a chance with its use in the Snyder Cut that it is a clumsy attempt to take advantage of a popular meme, misunderstanding its intent along the way but leaning into the kick that fans will get from Snyder’s knowing wink to the fanbase at the same time.
If nothing else, the adoption of the meme appears to be a continuation of the Joker’s slow evolution into a sort of shaman figure, an icon who’s got it all figured out, which is what ultimately makes him insane. That’s not really the traditional role of the Joker, who’s usually been more of an agent of chaos for no other reason than it’s fun. It remains to be seen what Zack Snyder’s take on Jared Leto’s Joker will get up to in Justice League – perhaps he’ll have some insights on whether or not a hot dog is a sandwich – but it seems Snyder’s film will lean into the sort of rotten wisdom that has come to define the character both in and outside of modern fiction.