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Gabriella Ferrigine

"Joker: Folie à Deux" warning removed

YouTube on Thursday removed the trigger warning it previously affixed to the trailer for the forthcoming "Joker: Folie à Deux" a day earlier though it's not entirely clear why.

The nearly two-and-a-half-minute teaser for the Warner Bros' musical film dropped Tuesday, showing the return of actor Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck — a mentally unwell street clown who becomes the Joker — meeting his female counterpart and lover, Harley Quinn (Lady Gaga) at Gotham's Arkham Asylum. As of Wednesday morning, prior to viewing the trailer, viewers were presented with a discretionary message, warning that the clip "may contain suicide or self-harm topics," per NBC. Viewers were then prompted to click a message reading, “I understand and wish to proceed.”

The scene of the trailer in question, it seemed, showed Harley Quinn making a finger gun pointed at her head before pulling the "trigger." 

“I’m nobody. I haven’t done anything with my life like you have,” the villain says as she pretends to shoot herself.

Upon reading the initial reports that the trigger warning had accompanied the trailer, I was pleasantly surprised. While I hadn't been personally affected by any of its content, I could understand why a gun-like gesture, seemingly innocuous to some, might have serious implications for others. 

But by Wednesday afternoon, YouTube had pulled the warning. “We determined that our systems applied the warning interstitial incorrectly,” a YouTube spokesperson told Variety. “The trailer remains available on YouTube without a warning.”

It's worth keeping in mind the dark and disturbing subject matter of the first "Joker" film, released in 2019. The movie heartrendingly chronicles the downward spiral of Fleck, a socially awkward, impoverished man who lives with his abusive mother. Plagued by misfortune and a litany of compromising and humiliating situations, Fleck eventually succumbs to a life of crime as the Joker. 

Sean Durkin's "The Iron Claw," a 2023 sports drama about a real-life American family, had the opposite problem. The trailer advertised a lighthearted, rustic flick about a group of brawny brothers with a generational affinity for wrestling. Ultimately, however, depictions of multiple suicides figured as the focal point of "The Iron Claw," with several of those portrayals contributing to potential risks, per experts who spoke to Salon. 

Given that research and data have shown that fictionalized on-screen depictions of suicide can lead to an increase in suicidal ideation or suicide outright, disclaimers about potentially graphic content could undoubtedly be useful in mitigating potential risks. 

While the difficult themes the "Joker" explores (which Folie à Deux will likely delve into as well) don't detract from the film's documented success, and perhaps only contribute to it, the social and mental struggles the Joker endures could easily be reflected in any number of viewers. Everyone internalizes content subjectively and contextually. What doesn't affect one person could be catastrophically influential to another. 

What's the harm, then, in including a trigger warning? Wouldn't it be better to stave off potential damage incurred by sensitive content than to leave it to chance? Creating a metric for measuring what qualifies as "triggering" certainly presents its own set of obstacles; however, if the biggest ostensible challenges are reading a message for a few additional seconds before bypassing it with the click of a button, there's really no reason why such warnings shouldn't be more liberally applied.

If you are in crisis, please call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988, or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.

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