The Joker on the Couch: A Case Study

The Joker on the Couch: A Case Study

Joel West (University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/IJSVR.2019010101
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Do tests for various mental illnesses work? How reliable are they and how well do they capture what we call “mental illness?” Since the infamous comic book character, the Joker, has often been called a “psychopath,” and this psychopathy is, culturally, conflated with mental illness, how would a model of the Joker be diagnosed using the current standard tools for psychiatric diagnosis? The authors tested this model Joker against DSM-5, ICD-10 and the PCL-R. They then discussed the results of these tests and concluded that the Joker as captured in Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's The Killing Joke is a psychopath according to current medical and psychiatric models. They also discussed issues with the models of mental illness used by these tests.
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1. Introduction

The attempt to preemptively diagnose the capacity and inclination to do crime1 or to do evil2 before the actual evil act is committed3, or even, to diagnose the potential for such evil in the perpetrator of an evil act, after that act has been committed, are all huge challenges. Science fiction aside, we do not have the capability to diagnose evil in a person before they commit an evil act. Our legal system presumes the innocence of a suspect who may have committed an evil act before we declare culpability, and, even this culpability, aside from cases of murder4, has little to do with intentionality. A criminal action5 must have been committed before we try a suspect6 in court and therefore we require evidence that indicates that the person on trial may be guilty7 before we try them but, importantly, the law, itself, does not ask if the person meant to do the act, nor do our courts, in most cases, care why the perpetrator may have committed the crime or even if they intended to do so. We do have a caveat, in our culture, that at the very least, we believe that those who may be culpable of committing a crime might also have extenuating circumstances for committing those crimes. One of those extenuating circumstances is being found non compos mentis “of unsound mind” and, historically, some of the reasons we find people to be of unsound mind include “idiocy and lunacy (Maudsley, 1874)8”. It is also notable that as late as the 1700’s insanity was viewed as a form of diabolical possession, “a mental disorder as a form of psychic struggle in which the Devil and God battled for the psychosomatic control of the subject, spiritual and bodily health forming a unity (Laffey, 2001).” We then have the coexistence of two completely different models of defining evil: evil as a moral construct (including demonic possession) and evil as a medical or psychological construct (mental incapability or insanity)9. It is noteworthy that in our culture, for the most part, we have reduced to evil to mental illness, and we stigmatize those who are truly ill with the taint of evil. To explore this idea further, we will do a case study of the Joker, also known as “the clown prince of crime,” whose real identity is completely unknown10, whose actions sometimes seem arbitrary and incomprehensible even to him11 and who, at other times, does things to make some sort of a logical point (Moore and Bolland, 2008) and who, beyond doubt, is, in some way, evil. However, rather than question if the Joker is evil12, because the answer to this question is moot13, we can ask if the Joker is constitutionally capable of understanding his own actions and their consequences or is he non-compos mentis. Does the Joker indeed suffer from known incapacity or mental illness and, if so, what is its etiology and taxonomy? This case study will examine The Joker from a psychological point of view, using several known and recognized psychological tools, (the DSM 5 (American Psychiatric Association, 2013), the ICD 10 (World Health Organization, 2010) and a version of the Hare Psychopathy Check List - Revised14 (Hare, 2003) found at Proprofs15) in an attempt to determine, within the bounds of acceptable error, if the Joker is compos mentis or if he suffers from any known category, or categories, of incapacitating mental illness. By the same token, and presuming that the Joker is actually mentally ill in some manner, we will also use the Joker as a model psychiatric patient and use what information we can garner to elucidate the accuracy of these high profile and extremely widespread tests to determine if these tests are indeed useful as diagnostic tools and also to determine what their inherent flaws may be.

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