When I refer to the word Joker most people in my society will immediately think of one of the infamous villains in the Batman films, or they will perhaps remember the famous card that carries this name. A joker is also commonly associated with the idea of a clown, a joke teller, or an entertainer.
The joker, clown, or trickster has been a character that has found its place many societies throughout history and time. It is a figure that has traditionally had a strong influence in the social, political and even spiritual realms, and has often played an important role among the society´s ruling elite. From Medieval and Renaissance Europe, to China, the Middle East, and the Americas we can find examples of civilizations with members occupying such a role.
Nowadays we could argue that the character of the joker has found its place in societies around the world in the form of comedians, clowns, or storytellers. However, clearly todays interpretation is devoid of its previous spiritual and magical connotations.
Despite this current understanding there is one alternative interpretation of this character that has attracted me for many years. In the late 1960s, a prominent Brazilian writer and theater director pioneered a new theater style that sought to visualize the problems affecting a community and to create a space where possible ways of addressing these social or political ills could be developed. His name was Augusto Boal and he name this the theater style Theater of the Oppressed.
Deeply engrained in Boal´s pioneering style was the way he re-defined key concepts and roles traditionally present in theater. One of the most interesting of this reformulations was precisely that of the role of the director or facilitator. Boal did away with this concept and in its place he introduced the idea of a joker or trickster.
For Boal the joker’s role is that of an outsider that injects a different energy into a situation in the form of new ideas and concepts. The joker’s role is to alter the status quo and to trigger processes of transformation within the group. The joker must use his or her skills in order to disrupt the system and to elicit change, while at the same time constantly taking good care of never actually directing or controlling the direction of the creative process.
When I look at my society I often see things that do not fit with my values and ideals. I see problems that trouble me and that motivate me to do my part in order to diminish their effects. Urban mobility and transportation is undoubtedly a clear example of one of these issues.
I believe that our extreme dependence on motor vehicles dominates our understanding of mobility and the design of urban infrastructure. I think that this excessive reliance on one mode of transportation has lead to the rapid elimination of alternative forms of transportation from the urban landscape generating considerable negative affects in my society.
The inherent flaws within the vehicle-centered model of mobility have becoming increasingly apparent and unavoidable. People understand that the motor vehicle no longer grants them the same level of mobility that it previously did. It is increasingly unlikely to know of someone who´s daily life is not affected by constant traffic jams and increasingly long commuting times.
However, as troubled as I am by this issue it is very clear to me that I am not interested in confronting it in an aggressive or direct way. I do not consider myself an idealist or a dreamer. I do not expect a large part of my society to share my personal ideas and opinions on mobility and urban living. I live in a society with very strongly stablished models of mobility and urban living. Costa Rican’s love affaire and fascination with the motor vehicle is still too strongly entrenched.
This personal attitude is the main reason why I feel increasingly attracted by Boal’s re-defining of the joker. I want to affect my society in certain ways, but I do not have a specific list of goals or end points. I do not want to control or direct the process either. I want to provoke people; I want to cause discomfort, confusion, laughter, introspection. I want for people to pause for a minute, to question things, to consider alternatives, to dream of something different.
I do not want to impose a model or a new paradigm to those not looking for one, but I do want to affect the system. I want to tap into the joker’s ancient tradition of being vested with a creative power through the skillful manipulation of elements. I want to address an inconvenient truth; that urban mobility will never be solved by focusing primarily on the increased used of motorized vehicles. I want to disturb the system in ways that will set in motion a thousand little changes.
I do not think that I can, nor am I interested in measuring the effects that I have on my society as a whole. I am not holding my breath for a drastic reconceptualization of urban mobility in Costa Rica. I do not even dream or plan for the day when all forms of mobility will be treated with equal respect and importance. I enjoy what we currently have and I want to continuously add some spice and rebellious character to the present system. Who knows, maybe something interesting may originate as a result.