The Dance of Freedom. The Death Bells. The Meme-ing of the Joker.

Photo: Warner Bros.

I have not known peace since I learned who Gary Glitter was. I wish I could go back to a time before Joker, when I had never heard of something called “Rock and Roll Part 2” and thought that riff was just the background music for 16 bars of the Jock Jams Megamix. Some early viewers of Todd Phillips’s Joker were surprised to learn that there was a song in it that wasn’t yet another rendition of “Send in the Clowns,” and that the song in question was written by a known pedophile and child molester who is currently serving a 16-year sentence.

On October 18, Twitter user @sherlwatson tweeted out the Joker stairs dance scene set to “Rock and Roll Part 2,” the one that earned the movie a place in the Significant Stairs on Film canon alongside Rocky and The Muppet Show, and compelled fans to make pilgrimages to the “Joker stairs” in the Bronx. Whether Twitter users had seen the film yet or not, we were all familiar with the image of a greasy Joaquin Phoenix in clown paint dancing down a city staircase, ubiquitous as it was on posters and billboards for the film.

“the dance of freedom. the death bells. the rising of the joker.

one of the most magnificent, sublime, monumental, extraordinary scenes in cinema history”

To Joker skeptics, there’s something inherently gratifying about finding this type of sincere Joker stanning in the wild, in such hyperbolic language. In @sherlwatson’s spiel, they seem to be reading meaning and depth into a scene that may not have all that much of it. As Daniel D’Addario from Variety pointed out, “the death bells” is in no world a thing.

The needle drop in this clip is so laughable that some Twitter users who hadn’t seen the movie assumed it was a joke. As Funny or Die editor @cottoncandaddy put it:

So why did this tweet spawn an unholy legion of dancing Jokers soft-shoeing down your timeline? Part of it is that “the death bells” is just a fantastically operatic way to describe any video or song you pair it with. Another is that at a time when Film Twitter is taking contentious sides over the artistic legitimacy of superhero films, Joker is a battle line. But mostly? I think it’s just that people like clown memes, and dancing memes, and dancing clown memes.

Joker dancing memes generally come in two flavors. The first is the tried-and-true method of an aural “open for a surprise,” where the scene dubs over with different songs, such as this fire track from our girl Peppa Pig:

The fact of the matter is, “Bing Bong Zoo” is only half a step more ridiculous and out of place than the Gary Glitter song in question. There’s nothing lamer, or less anarchic sounding, or countercultural, or just straight-up uncool, than the riff people do the wave to at hockey games.

A much more thematically on-point choice would have been, for example, the Song of Summer, “Misbehavin’” from The Righteous Gemstones. Because nothing says “twisted menace who doesn’t play by society’s rules” quite like running through the house with a pickle in your mouth.

Vibe check:

And of course, the song that has every ounce of swagger and foreboding that “Rock and Roll Part 2” lacks:

And then there’s the other varietal, the Cool Ranch to the dubs’ Nacho Cheese, that takes @sherlwatson’s rapturous, bizarrely worded, entirely misplaced praise and just applies it to different iconic dance scenes.

Such as Fergie doing one-handed cartwheels while riffing:

Or another highly memed outcast of 2019 cinema, Ma: 

The rise of Ryan Gosling:

There’s the Americana at Brand mall-appreciation meme account doing what they do best, which is appreciating the Americana at Brand:

Snooki on the boardwalk:

And the most chillingly Joker-like may be this video posted by Ayo Edebiri of Tom Cruise on BET: 

The Dance of Memedom. The Death Bells. The Rise of the Joker