Homicidal maniac, nihilist, domestic terrorist, super-villain, criminal mastermind— whatever you want to call him, the Joker is one bad dude. The Joker may very well be one of the greatest super-villains of all time. Fitting since Batman is arguably the greatest superhero. But not much is known about where Joker comes from. There are many possibilities. One that is most likely simply because it offers the best juxtaposition with Batman is the story of Joker falling into a vat of acid while fleeing from Batman. The acid discolored his skin, turned his hair green, and his lips bright red. After seeing his own appearance, Joker went insane.
What does insane actually mean? I once had an amazing pizza and called it “insane.” I recently watched the movie Deadpool and I thought it was “insanely good!” The way insane is used by the general public can vary widely in its meaning. Furthermore, it’s an outdated term not used by mental health professional today. Therefore, filmmakers, comic book and game writers often use the term psychotic to describe Joker with greater clarity. But does Joker actually meet the clinical and diagnostic criteria?
Psychotic Disorder (PD) is primarily defined as a break with reality. Thoughts and perceptions are abnormal. People perceive things (visual and auditory) that are not there (hallucinations), see attacks where there are none (paranoia), or believe things that aren’t true (delusions). Schizophrenia is a Psychotic Disorder and Bipolar Disorder can have PD features. Drugs and alcohol, brain tumors, strokes and brain infections can also cause PD. Knowing this, could I diagnose the Joker with PD?
Honestly no. He perceives threats from his enemies; that’s not abnormal. He’s not hallucinating Batman, Superman, or Wonder Woman; they’re real (in the fictional sense). So that rules out hallucination. Batman has done harm to Joker and he does want to apprehend him. The threat to Joker is real, that’s not paranoia. Finally, I don’t see any evidence of delusions. Joker is correct in his observation that mankind has a dark side. His primary goal is to destroy the structures and institutions of society thus creating anarchy. Joker is making an assumption that when those structures are gone humanity will be revealed for the degenerate animal it is. This isn’t delusional, in fact, Joker sits nicely in the same camp of philosophers such a Thomas Hobbes, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Arthur Schopenhauer to name a few. Yet, unlike these thinkers, Joker wants to make philosophy reality. That’s not delusional, that’s just evil. Therefore, I’d be hard pressed to diagnose Joker with PD. I think it’s more likely that Joker suffers from a personality disorder.
In The Dark Knight Rises movie directed by Christopher Nolan, Alfred compares the Joker to a criminal he was hunting in Bolivia. Alfred shares the story as an analogy for the purposes of understanding the Joker. Alfred concludes his story with “Some men just want to watch the world burn.” Alfred correctly asserts Joker desires to see institutions and structures of society destroyed so that humanity’s mask of morality can be removed. He is an anarchist in the truest sense of the word. Therefore, I think it’s likely that the Joker suffers from Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD).
What is Antisocial Personality Disorder? Often I hear people misuse the term antisocial for someone who is introverted. Antisocial doesn’t mean you’re against being social. It means you’re against society. In fact, I have worked with clients with this diagnosis who I found very socially adept. APD has nothing to do with someone’s ability to make friends. It’s about how a person views the rights of another person. For example, someone diagnosed with APD would disregard the rights, entitlements, feelings, thoughts, and needs of others. Given the opportunity to benefit oneself at the risk of harming another person, a person with this disorder wouldn’t think twice. They’d immediately go with the option that benefits themselves without any regard for the other. The impact of their actions on others means little to them. Someone diagnosed with APD would feel no remorse or regret for actions that harmed another. Oddly enough, someone with APD could be very charming and charismatic. They are also violent, abusive, egotistical, impulsive, have no regard for right and wrong, and don’t mind taking risks. Hmmmm who does that sound like to you? Bingo! Joker fits the profile perfectly. So drop the misnomer of psychotic and call a spade a spade, I mean a Joker a Joker for the antisocial personality disorder he is.