At 9:30 a.m. on Friday morning, I learned that the Web site www.whysoserious.com announced a Joker recruitment drive somewhere near the San Diego Convention center, part of a viral marketing campaign for the upcoming "Batman Begins" sequel, "The Dark Knight." The site said the drive was to kick off at 10:00 a.m., so I battled San Diego traffic and managed to arrive at a the field on K street across from the convention center (where I'd been told the event was happening) a mere 15 minutes late. After about ten minutes of wandering around looking for some sign of Joker activity, I found the break I'd been looking for: Batman and Robin ran by.
I took off after them, and followed Gotham's protectors to a number of white vans parked, appropriately, on J Street. The number of people already milling around told me I was one of the last ones to the party.
One of the recruiters handed me a felt green bag from the back of the van. Inside was a Joker playing card, a makeup kit with red, white and black face paint, a portable mirror, and a note. The note instructed the would-be Jokers to "dress for excess" by applying the makeup as follows: "Show your soulful nature with deep-set puppy dog eyes. Give your face the spotless white gleam of purity. Last but not least, a big red smile to die for sets EVERYONE at ease!" In case that wasn't enough, also enclosed in the green bag as a photograph of Heath Ledger of the Joker for you to follow. The note also instructed participants to sign the enclosed release form, and get their picture taken by one of Joker's associates. All of said photos can now be viewed on www.whysoserious.com. I'm the one called Terrible George.
As I was a latecomer, I had to apply my makeup with great haste. And the Joker's associates demanded a thorough makeup job (not good, necessarily, just thorough). By the time I got my Joker on, I had to hustle to catch up with the group, which had drifted to the next stop on our trip. I saw the Joker converts huddle around another of Joker's associates, this one in full Joker makeup himself, handing out green and purple balloons. But you could only get a balloon if you told him the password. What was the password? "Why so serious?"
After handing me my first balloon, the string promptly unwound and the helium filled balloon floated away, along with the strip of paper that was contained within. I asked the man for a replacement.
"The boss doesn't tolerate failure," he told me. But he proceeded to give me a replacement anyway. I stomped on the balloon and read the message on the strip of paper inside: "If you think that's fun with a balloon, you should try it with a human head! I like HEAD GAMES.
One of the participants was carrying around a laptop with a wireless Internet connection. This turned out to be essential, as "Head Games" was the first of many key words we'd pick up along the way that had to be entered into the Web site before it would spit out the next clue.
Our antics included "stealing" boxes of cookies from a Girl Scout. There were indeed cookies inside the box (in my case, Keebler Fudge Shoppe Mini Fudge Stripes) but there was also another strip of paper. This one read, "Better to steal that STARVE, right? Hold onto this note as well, you'll need it at your final destination."
We were instructed to look for a statue of man teaching his child to use a weapon. This turned out to be the statue outside of Trophy's, of a man helping a child with his baseball swing. "Baseball bat" was our latest keyword.
Finally we were instructed to return to the white vans where it had all begun. Once there, a Black Chevy Escalade drove up with men in black suits walking alongside it like Secret Service. We were told to take note of the license number, which read, "2971759." The gentleman with the laptop was named the winner. We were told to say goodbye to the man, who was then manhandled into the vehicle, and apparently worked over by someone inside as the Escalade sped off.
The first line of the last note we received read, "Well, that guy earned the job you all would have died for." Sure enough, a look at www.whysoserious.com now reveals a Gotham Police Department Update entitled, "Joker eliminated, all forces stand down." But the photo of the dead man who is purported to be the Joker is, in fact, the man with the laptop.
The rest of us were rewarded for our efforts in two ways. The first was one that benefits everyone: the trailer for "Dark Knight" can now be viewed online. But we all got something a little more tangible too. A Joker-like mask, a replica of a mask from the film.
Photos by Pinguino Kolb