‘Joker’: Gary Glitter Controversy, Explained

No 2019 film has provoked as much anticipation – and controversy – as Joker. Some commentators fear that the film could inspire actual violence. The film became more controversial when the public learned that it features a song by former rocker and convicted sex offender Gary Glitter. Let’s look into Glitter’s horrid history and why many feel that Warner Bros. is reprehensible for including one of his songs in their film.

Gary Glitter performs in 1974 | Jorgen Angel/Redferns

‘Joker’ and Gary Glitter – a disturbing combination

When DC announced that Joker would be a darker take on the iconic comic book villain, fans across the world expected to be disturbed by the movie.  They did not expect to be disturbed by the presence of Gary Glitter’s music. Joker is set in the 1980s, so it’s no surprise that it features the music of an earlier era, but the filmmaker’s decision to use a Gary Glitter song was seen by many as both shocking and unnecessary.

In this version of the Joker’s backstory, the Clown Prince of Crime (played by Joaquin Phoenix) is a failed comedian named Arthur Fleck; Fleck’s alter ego is the Joker. The film features a sequence where Fleck transforms into his alter ego as Gary Glitter’s most famous song, “Rock and Roll (Part 2),” plays on the soundtrack. Glitter co-wrote the song, which means that he could receive royalties from its use.

Joaquin Phoenix | Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Film at Lincoln Center

Glitter was a tremendously popular glam rock star in the United Kingdom during the 1970s and 1980s. He was acclaimed for his music as well as his energetic stage shows. During his peak period, his songs were covered by the likes of the Cure and Joan Jett. His fall from grace began in the late 1990s, when he was convicted of downloading child pornography.

In 2006, the singer was thrown in jail in Vietnam for sexually assaulting two girls. After his return to the United Kingdom, he was sentenced to 16 years in prison there for a number of crimes, including one count of having sex with a girl under the age of 13. His crimes are not widely known in the United States; in the U.S., the singer’s main legacy is “Rock and Roll (Part 2),” which was once commonly used at sporting events. The NFL asked its teams to stop playing the song back in 2006.

Other Gary Glitter controversies

Gary Glitter in 1973 | Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns

The use of Glitter’s music in popular media has generated controversy before. In 2011, Gwyneth Paltrow performed a cover of Glitter’s song “Do You Wanna Touch Me” in an episode of the hit sitcom Glee. That cover of the song entered the top 40 of the American iTunes chart. Paltrow’s character, a teacher named Holly Holliday, performs the song during a sex education class.

A British children’s charity called Kidscape condemned the use of the song as “wholly inappropriate.” Channel 4, a British television station, issued a statement saying that the network was “editorially justified” in airing that controversial episode.

How to get help: In the U.S., call the RAINN National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to connect with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.