A 24-year-old man, dressed as Batman’s Joker, wielded his knife to injure nearly 17 passengers in a subway train in Japan. He later tried to set one of the train compartments on fire. Commuters were headed to Halloween gatherings in the city center when this occurred. The motives of the killer were quite chilling according to the local media.
According to the news, local media reported later that the suspect told authorities he “wanted to kill people so he could be sentenced to death”.
This is not the first incident where a man dressed as Joker has carried such a heinous act.
Back in 2012, during a midnight screening of a Batman film, a man dressed up in a Joker costume opened fire in theatre, killing nearly a dozen people. The perpetrators in both these incidents were inspired by a fictitious character who feels no remorse for his brutal actions. The character has been depicted multiple times in the movies. These incidents indicate the extent of the influence media and celebrities have on ordinary people. Studies show that, when celebrities commit suicide, the suicide rate in the nation can increase by up to 9% or 12%.
The depiction of violence in media, particularly movies, is not new. An element of control was exercised up to a certain point in time to limit unwanted exposure. Around 90 years ago, Hays Code was passed in the United States. The purpose of this Code was to restrict the depiction of suggestive content on screen.
For example, all criminal action on-screen was required to be punished and depiction of the crime or the criminal should not generate empathy among the viewers. The audience should envision criminal behavior as damaging to moral values. However, over the years filmmakers pushed the boundaries, so much so that recently movies based on evil characters and supervillains have become a common theme. Not only fictional characters but criminals in real life have been depicted as central sympathetic characters in numerous films.
In 2019, a movie on the life of a serial killer was criticized for not depicting the brutality of his crimes. It might seem that by glorifying the lives of serial killers, rapists, murderers, and necrophiles, the goal is to desensitize the public to violence and criminality.
But can the blame on the rise in random and heinous acts of violence be solely on TV and films? What if society is become sicker and more deranged due to other factors?
In the case of the Joker train incident, news source says that the perpetrator was also having problems at work.
Police say Hattori told them he had problems at work and his relationships with others weren’t going well. He also said he had been thinking about killing someone since around June this year.
The Japanese have the highest average number of working hours. Many Japanese companies require workers to work overtime (often unpaid) up to 80 hours a week. Long work hours also have negative effects on health. Research has shown that working more than 55 hours a week is harmful and increases risk of heart disease, among other more serious problems.
…working 55 or more hours per week is associated with an estimated 35% higher risk of a stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease, compared to working 35-40 hours a week.
Death by overwork is quite common in Japan, so much so that there is a separate word to describe it, ‘karoshi’.
While work issues may have played a role in this train attack it is not clear if these were long working hours or only work struggles.
On a larger societal level, we should recognize that long working hours from parents also impact children. People who work for long hours are unlikely to spend quality time with their children. This leaves the children to become more dependent on the environment around them and the media. In the absence of good parenting, media exerts a much stronger influence on children. By the time they grow up, they have been deprived of critical moral teachings while the consumption of uncontrolled content makes them more susceptible to accept the behaviors depicted in the media as the norm rather than aberrations.
Is it surprising that we find more random, unhinged acts of mass violence from recent generations who have been raised by nihilistic television and movies?
As Muslims, we need to realize that the media has the power to exert control on us and our children. Therefore, it is important to limit ourselves and our children on the kind of content we consume. We should look at the Quran and Sunnah for guidance.
As a small but poignant example, in Surah Noor, verse 58, clear guidelines are laid for children who have not reached the age of puberty to seek permission before entering the bedrooms of their parents.
O you who have believed, let those whom your right hands possess and those who have not [yet] reached puberty among you ask permission of you [before entering] at three times: before the dawn prayer and when you put aside your clothing [for rest] at noon and after the night prayer. [These are] three times of privacy1 for you. There is no blame upon you nor upon them beyond these [periods], for they continually circulate among you – some of you, among others. Thus does Allah make clear to you the verses [i.e., His ordinances]; and Allah is Knowing and Wise. – Quran 24:58
This shows that from an early age, children should not be given opportunities to see things even accidentally, even though they may not understand those behaviors.
Given the amount of filth being distributed through media, it behooves us to protect ourselves and our children.
Clear guidelines in the Quran and Sunnah should dictate our everyday behavior and choices, especially if we are parents. And this consistent practice of Islamic values would lead to a moral, just, and peaceful society.