What Is The ‘We Live In A Society’ Meme And What Does It Have To Do With The Joker?
Joker memes are back, baby!
It was author Alan Moore who really created the Joker that we know today.
In A Killing Joke, one of the British anarchist’s rare forays into Batman lore, the Joker isn’t some criminal genius, scarred by a run-in with a vat of toxic waste. Instead, he’s an ordinary guy — a thoroughly average stand-up comedian who goes through a series of thoroughly average tragedies, and comes out the other side changed. In Moore’s hands, the Joker is no aberration of society. He is its most mundane product, a bland, straight, white-facepainted male who realises the horrors that the system inflicts.
That conception of the character is the biggest guiding force for Heath Ledger’s Joker, a sociopathic, card-wielding dirty uncle, and, presumably, for the forthcoming iteration of the character played by Joaquin Phoenix in DC’s Joker film.
But the effect of Moore’s storytelling hasn’t just been felt in the world of superhero movies. It’s also wielded considerable force in a different zone of communal storytelling.
What Is ‘We Live In A Society’ And What Does It Have To Do With The Joker?
Ledger’s conception of The Joker dropped just when the internet was transforming from an informational vortex into a hellhole that encompasses every moment of our waking lives.
As a result, the character became something of a rallying cry for the most online denizens of the cyberworld; a symbol for those who feel different, and revel in that difference by finding like-minded allies to share it with.
These days it’s common to have an online identity that’s distinct from your day-to-day one. But back in 2008, that was only just becoming the case, and for a lot of people, the thrill of being a regular schmoe IRL and a charismatic clown anarchist online was fresh and unusual.
The new Joker movie is literally We Live In A Society and I just want everything to end pic.twitter.com/4qdPjO0DS7
— aiman ahmad aiman (@ahmadaimanazlan) October 20, 2018
Of course, some of such denizens were genuinely lost and lonely people, who connected to the ethos of Moore and Ledger’s Joker because, like him, they felt ignored by society.
But some of those denizens gloated about that difference. They didn’t feel sad about being shorn off from society; they loved it. To them, society was ridiculous; bloated with sycophants and losers. And so they mocked it, boasted about how sick and sad and strange it was — and, implicitly, how much better they were than everyone else for realising that.
"We live in a society" – The Joker (The Twisted Man in Clown Makeup who Hates Society) pic.twitter.com/tKTb4Qd73O
— chairman kai (@full_kaimmunism) July 12, 2018
We live in a society where the free thinking, open-minded people are considered "crazy" and the ignorant, closed-minded people are "normal".
— Esoteric Exposal (@EsotericExposal) July 2, 2019
As these knowing, edgy memes began to circulate, mainstream Twitter caught on. In the process, mainstream meme-makers began skewering the elitist, faux profound tone of the Joker jabs, creating viral macros emblazoned with a sentence fragment that mocked such attempts at profundity: “we live in a society.”
I love this "We Live In A Society" meme and idk why. So simple, but so perfect. pic.twitter.com/HJLq1XbZjk
— Johnathan Irwin (@A2ZJIRWINKO) May 3, 2018
We need a President who recognizes that we live in a Society.
— Ace Watkins (@GamerPres2020) July 27, 2019
Everything happens so much. Because we live in a society pic.twitter.com/ZAjlL9EJh5
— Theo Kardasis (@theokardasis) July 30, 2019
Kanye: we live in a society
— Dolan Darkest (@sivemortenlol) April 19, 2018
Why Has The Meme Kicked Off Again?
Very early on in the project’s development, it was obvious that the forthcoming Joker film had been designed to lean heavily into the Moore mythos.
Set photos saw the character taking on the 1%, the trailer has him railing against the idiot sheep around him, and the whole thing smacks of exactly the kind of ‘tortured man rejects the system that made him’ vibe that has dominated the character for years.
As a result, we live in a society memes have become timely once more. In fact, Twitter even circulated a petition demanding that DC put the phrase ‘we live in a society’ into the film, bringing this project full circle.
Elsewhere, the viral trend has been picked up by brands, shoehorned into the Area 51 meme, and used to mock the increasingly edgy musician Grimes.
we live in a society https://t.co/py66JtVF1m
— PAYDAY 2 (@PAYDAYGame) July 1, 2019
After we break the aliens out of Area 51 and tell them that we live in a society pic.twitter.com/zXVFhb9tqc
— Liv (@LivvyFanon) July 15, 2019
holy shit grimes actually said it. we live in a society. she said it pic.twitter.com/k9pkA06L0v
— helen (@helen) April 17, 2019
We live in a society pic.twitter.com/lOGSWvS1zK
— Ryan #UncleBenGang (@spideyfeed) July 20, 2019
The meme has even shifted over to Facebook, where a post from fan page DC Multiverse became inundated with comments from internet tricksters.
Moreover, given some of those who’ve seen the film reckon the Joker movie is going straight to the Oscars, this is truly not a trend that shows any sign of dying down.
(staring into the sun) https://t.co/Wm1YKnj75V
— Scott Wampler™ (@ScottWamplerBMD) July 26, 2019
Damn. The Joker, symbol of anarchism, being honoured at one of the most prestigious events in the TV calendar? Like they say, I guess we really do live in a society.