If there is one thing the internet agrees on regarding Super Bowl XLVI, it’s that Clint Eastwood sounded like Bale does when Bruce Wayne is being Batman. That’s about it.
But to me, the strongest Batman connection throughout the entire Super Bowl was not Eastwood. It was the Madonna Spectacle and the ways in which she resembles The Joker. Do you not agree? Allow me to explain.
1. They have both been around forever.
The Joker debuted in 1940 in “Batman #1,” while Madonna was born in 1958. Perhaps this does not qualify as “forever” in everyone’s opinion… but 72 years is a long time for a fictional villain to have new stories told about him on a monthly basis, just as 53 is a funny age to be dancing around in a cheerleader outfit at a football game. Even weirder when you consider that she is not employed as a cheerleader.
Madonna has been “active” since 1979. She has released twelve albums, made a bunch of movies, and married both Sean Penn and Guy Ritchie. This means that, with roughly 23% of Super Bowl viewers being under 35, almost a fourth of the viewers of the Super Bowl cannot remember a world without Madonna. With two blockbuster films of the last several decades featuring The Joker as a main villain, accompanied by a constant barrage of comic books and animated television shows, The Joker is in a similar boat.
But it’s not just their ability to keep existing that makes Madonna and The Joker so alike. There are much deeper, more sinister similarities between these two…
2. They are constantly re-inventing themselves.
The Joker has been a killer from his very debut in Batman #1, in which he threatened to kill Gotham’s most prominent citizens (a plot which may sound familiar.) However, at other times The Joker has been more of a harmless prankster. His motivations range from greed to anarchy, his antics ranging from poisoning the water reservoir to carving smiles onto the faces of his victims to simply robbing banks. However, unlike many comic books characters whose personalities change as a result of the changing writers and times, The Joker’s personality changes are a key aspect of his character. His re-inventions, as they are called, are a major theme for his writers, especially Grant Morrison, who has an Arkham Asylum psychiatrist explain that these re-inventions are necessary and intentional as a way for The Joker to maintain his sanity, if he does have any.
And then we have Madonna, whose 2004 tour was called The Re-Invention Tour. For Madonna, her continuous re-inventions are both necessary and self-aware. She is not a Justin Timberlake, whose changes are organic and natural, or a Sean “Puffy” Combs, who re-imagines himself in ways that suggest desperation and a lack of control (i.e. he is apparently Diddy now?) Madonna’s persona is more than this. She is a shark, moving forward to survive. And a large part of this is her decision to define herself in constantly new ways, rather than let the media and critics define it for her.
3. They have no alter ego.
Madonna’s birth name is Madonna. The Joker has no given name that we know of. Consider how this one small difference sets them apart from their peers. Batman is really Bruce Wayne, Two-Face is really Harvey Dent, and Lady Gaga is really some extraordinarily long name that only psychos have memorized (but she does have one). Even Bono has a name other than Bono.
While The Joker and Madonna are constantly evolving and controlling our view of them, there is still an identity at the very core that we cannot fully grasp because it lacks the “alter ego” ordinary person that we come to expect with such figures.
4. You cannot believe a thing they say.
We all remember The Joker’s famous speech to Harvey Dent in the hospital in The Dark Knight. Moments before setting Dent loose, The Joker describes himself as a dog chasing cars. He insists he has no plan and that he does not control his own actions.
Likewise with Madonna. She insists that “Like a Virgin” is meant to be about “how something made me feel a certain way—brand-new and fresh…absolutely ambiguous.”
Madonna’s statement becomes clearly untrue when you consider the performances that accompanied “Like a Virgin,” just as we know The Joker’s monologue to Harvey Dent was nothing more than a ploy to push Dent over the edge of sanity and turn him into a murderer.
5. It’s all part of the plan.
Madonna is a solo artist, and she has been one all along. We live in an era of solo artists, after the turn of the century was focused around bands and ensembles. Justin Timberlake is the one surviving member of ‘NSYNC, Beyonce has discarded the rest of Destiny’s Child, and American Idol is about one individual rising above the rest.
It seems to work similarly with our heroes and villains. The most successful superhero movies now are the ones with one good guy. Iron Man 2 was criticized for the clutter of too many characters, and Bale’s Dark Knight could never have a Robin.
But what makes Madonna and The Joker more powerful is that their solitary personas attract hoards of unquestioning followers. The Joker is never short of henchmen in any of his incarnations, and Madonna will always have back-up dancers and sold-out performances.
Yet each of them gain even more power from another form of follower… the reluctant one. Madonna politicized her performance by promising to “bring gay to the Super Bowl” and by simultaneously assuring everyone that it would be family friendly. Which is why she has since thrown MIA under the bus after MIA gave the finger to the camera. Through the promise of a gay Super Bowl halftime show, Madonna drew a line in the sand in the same way that Tim Tebow repeatedly makes his opinions on things so widely known that you feel obligated to either side with him or against him.
Simply look at Facebook and Twitter feeds from the day of the game. Madonna created such a spectacle that there are no neutral opinions. This is where her power comes from–by creating such a spectacle that you can’t avoid it, in the same way that The Joker consistently drags everyone into his chaos. You may recall that in The Dark Knight, The Joker repeatedly succeeds at all his efforts until the finale. He insists that people try to kill Mr. Reese, and at least three different people do try to kill him. Which is all just fine, because even if Reese doesn’t die, The Joker still gets to blow up a hospital and take a bus load of people captive.
The Joker’s only failure is his stunt involving the boats, and even then, he had his “ace in the hole.” Because he understands his opponents better than they understand themselves. Just as Madonna is always one step ahead of the media, the critics, and the fans. Her 12 minute half time show at the Super Bowl involved zero singing and was mostly just cameos of her expendable subordinates. It was nothing more than a commercial for her next tour, which is rumored to cost $300 a ticket. And many people are praising it.
6. The Legacy
There is one final difference. The Joker is a fictional character, an ageless villain who will exist as long as we have comic books and movies. If he were aging in real time since his debut, he would be at least 102 years old. But he isn’t.
Madonna is something different. She is a breathing human being… so can her legacy be the same? Sure, she rebukes societal norms, reinforcing what she strives to undermine by pushing the limits beyond the breaking point. She and The Joker are both performers–both clowns holding up a mirror to society. Madonna has taken the trope of the virgin mother and distorted it a spectacle of “sin” while The Joker is the court’s performer who has gotten off his leash and positioned himself opposite the King… or the Knight.
Unfortunately, the reality is that they will each have copycats and through these copycats, their legacies can be nothing be destructive. The good news for The Joker is that he isn’t going anywhere. People will tell stories of The Joker as long as there is a Batman, and there will be a Batman as long as there is an America. But what will become of Madonna? While The Joker re-invents himself in his agelessness, her legacy cannot exist, because she is real.
And if you need any last convincing, try considering for a moment how much each of them resemble David Bowie.