Is it ever the right thing? (Beware the Creeper)

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OK, fixing this shit for real now. I am WEEKS behind on posts, so here’s what I’ll do:

  • Queue posts as soon as I post them on Patreon.
  • Post three NA09 entries a week until I’m 3 months behind the Patreon, which is where I should stay.
  • Post two sets of 3 videos a week until I’m 1 month behind the Patreon, which is where I should stay.

It’s November 7, 1998. Monica continues to top the charts, with Barenaked Ladies, Dru Hill, and 98 Degrees also in the top five. The Waterboy and The Siege open at number one and two respectively, with a rerelease of The Wizard of Oz at number five. The Red Violin also opens–in only ten theaters, putting it off the bottom of the scale. In the news, artist Bob Kane, co-creator of Batman among others, died on November 3.

On TV, a tribute of sorts to another of Kane’s co-creations, as we return to the Joker’s beginnings. They have never really been depicted in BTAS, any more than Catgirl’s or the Penguin’s were–the early episodes more or less assumed familiarity with the Tim Burton movies, and tried to avoid retreading ground covered in those. Even here, what we get is a reenactment segment, a show-within-a-show-within-a-show, the middle of which is inexplicably being broadcast live despite consisting of nothing but a man with a microphone standing on a catwalk and talking.

But the double emboitment hints that the live broadcast isn’t so inexplicable after all: we are back in the realm of the Joker’s earliest appearances, inverted now so that it is his narrative that another threatens to overtake. Of course the broadcast is live, because all fiction is fiction; the broadcast is a part of the show, and therefore its placement in time is its placement in the show. And so of course the Joker can interrupt the broadcast, trying to force it back inside his narrative instead of the other way around.

Joker fails, because much as the double emboitment inverts his actions in “Christmas With the Joker,” Ryder’s transformation into the Creeper inverts the Joker. Instead of a criminal who uses a disfiguring injury as an excuse to pretend to be an avatar of chaos, Ryder is a law-abiding person whose similar injury actual does cause serious psychological changes that make him act like a cartoonish parody of a generically “crazy” person of exactly the sort Joker (and, more successfully, Harley Quinn) pretends to be. Where the Joker always has a plan and always seeks to place himself on top, the Creeper really does seem to act entirely on ever-shifting impulses, with no control over himself.

This is a familiar refrain: an innocent victim who, through no fault of his own, becomes a criminal, and whose thought processes we see throughout their origin episode. This is a sympathetic villain episode–or at least it would be, if the Creeper were remotely sympathetic. Instead, his endless chatter strips him of any possible pathos, while his relentless, aggressive pursuit of (culminating in actual assault upon) a thoroughly uninterested Harley Quinn belies any notion that he’s more sinned against than sinning. The episode makes sure we don’t miss this by giving Harley the most sexual agency she’s ever had, courtesy of a giant pie from which she emerges covered in pudding,* gives the Joker her cherry, and then invites him to “try some of [her] pie,” assuring him that he’ll “want seconds.” As innuendos go, it’s about as subtle as the vagina dentata plant in “Pretty Poison,” but where that episode depicted a woman with sexual agency as a menace, Harley is the most sympathetic character in “Beware the Creeper,” as the woman he’s creeping on.

That, in turn, brings us to the final scene, when Ryder is given a patch that will repress the symptoms that make him the Creeper. Once Batman is gone, Ryder appears to ponder a moment before smiling and peeling off the patch. The episode doesn’t make it explicit, but it seems fairly clear why he’s choosing to go back to being the Creeper: it’s an excuse to behave how he wants to. And since the Creeper spends most of the episode sexually harassing Harley Quinn, it’s pretty clear what that behavior is.

Whatever Ryder may have been at the episode’s beginning, by episode’s end he is not an innocent victim. He chooses to become the Creeper for the same reason Joker chooses to do what he does: he wants to be “free” to assert his power over others. For the Joker, that mostly means taking things and killing people; he shows little in the way of sexual interest in anyone. Creeper, by contrast, likes to, well, creep on women. He’s a predator, deliberately choosing to become more of a predator.

In his work on free will and morality in a deterministic universe, Daniel Dennett discusses the story of Odysseus tying himself to his ship’s mast so he can hear the Sirens without being drawn to them. For Dennet, this story is a metaphor for how moral decision-making works. We know that what we feel is right is often not what we want, and that in the moment of decision, the latter often predominates. The rewards of such behavior, however, look smaller the more distant they are, and thus much of morality consists of trying to construct future traps for ourselves that will force us to choose what seems right now. However, we can–and often do–choose to do the opposite, engineering circumstances in which the thing we want appears right, or at least not wrong.

This is what Ryder does in the final scene: he unties himself, frees himself from the constraints of his own morality. This is not, to be clear, a revolutionary act. Harley destroyed Krypton to free herself from the constraints of others’ morality. Ryder’s goal, by contrast, is to not feel bad about forcing his will onto others. Harley sought liberation; Ryder seeks power.

A thing inverted is still that thing, just at a different angle. The Creeper is just the Joker after all.

*Her oft-repeated pet name for the Joker.


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