The Case Against Harley Quinn

cue William Dozier voice over**

It’s daytime in a city that is not Gotham. A woman sitting in her car, talking on her phone notices the all black everything car in front of her in the pickup line. Early 00s Emo music leaks from the heavily tinted windows. In the middle of her conversation, she notices the red stickers adorning the corners of the back window.

The red outlines of a mask.

The diamonds made of four smaller diamonds.

And the words, in blazing red, “Daddy’s lil monster

And the vanity plate for the car that read:

Harley Q

The woman stops her conversation and rolls her eyes in dismay.

I have been a Batman fan for as long as I can remember. And it’s not even that I fell into Batman in a logical way. Because of who know why, there were no comic books for me. My love for Batman started through TV shows.

I remember being little, like really little, when we got our first satellite dish. This was early to mid-90s so that thing was like NASA dish big. We couldn’t get cable in our corner of the woods so that giant metal dish was how we were able to watch TV. From somewhere out in space it transported television waves to our trailer in the woods. Among those signals and waves were glimpses of Adam West and Burt Ward running around in masks and mantles, defending Gotham from equally silly dressed villains as the Caped Crusaders.

It was those campy POW! BANG! episodes with their animated intros and costumed villains that pushed me to the door of the Batman fascination. But it was something else that would lead me down the rabbit hole.

In Batman: The Animated Series, all the campy characters I came to love got deep and dark origin stories. Batman became broody, Robin became troubled, Catwoman became more than just a sexy lynx, and Joker, well Joker got even weirder. And with that weirdness, came a new toy. Joker got a sassy little side piece named Harley Quinn.


Harley Quinn as she appears in the DC Animated Universe

The character Harley Quinn was created just for TAS. And she had quite a bit of a backstory. I’m not going into it in depth, because while I am a fan, I am not a Batman savant. The main thing about Harley Quinn that you do need to know is this,  

She was not the Robin to Joker’s Batman.

She was not his sidekick.

She was not his partner nor was she his love interest.

While it was true that  Harley was in love with her “Mister J”, it was not a balanced love. It was a disgustingly dangerous, violent, tragic love that would make even Shakespeare scratch his head and mutter “what the fuck” before crumpling the paper and throwing it in the fire.

You see, Harley wasn’t his girl. Harley Quinn was Joker’s greatest victim.

And that’s what makes me so mad when I see people idolizing their relationship and hero worphsiping Harley Quinn.

The relationships between Harley and Joker was not one of those “ride or die” Bonnie and Clyde type stories. Harley was nothing more than a toy to Joker. He used her. He abused her. And throughout all the horrible things, she kept loving him. Their relationship was a classic example of dysfunction. Had it been two normal people instead of two fictitious villains in facepaint it would have been clear. They would have been the textbook defination of an abusive relationship then. But somehow, the allure of Gotham seems to erase the all the warning signs for the most casual of fans.

So when women place this relationship on a pedestal because both parties involved seem to have some mental issues, its a slap in the face to anyone who has suffered abuse. Glorifying an abusive relationship, even if it’s from a comic series, normalizes the idea that it’s okay to get treated like shit. It adds another voice to the crowd yelling that all we have to do is love our abusers through their rough spots. Just keep calm and carry on. It spreads the lie that a woman can only be a good woman when she stands by her man. It digs the graves for all the people who stay with abusive partners until they are only able to leave by caskets.

Furthermore, the idolization of Harley Quinn undermines the seriousness of female mental health. It really fucks with the idea of what it’s like to be a woman and have a mental illness. Harley was created using the Crazy Bitch model and hasn’t strayed much from it in the years since. While the mental well being of villains is always questionable, having so many people willing taking up Harley as their role model is a little disconcerning. While it is easy to see that mental illness is apparent in the character, that does not mean that she is the poster child for every person that has dealt with their own issues. Harley makes big usage of the word “crazy”. Women who struggle with mental illness have long fought to distance themselves from that term. So having a whole group latch on to the identity of being that sort of “Crazy Bitch” is damning for all of us.


Harley Quinn as she appears in the fifth volume of Suicide Squad 

She is also is the personification of the idea of action without consequence. For a long while, it has been popular for people to act as if their mental illnesses (whether real or imagined) give them a free pass to act recklessly. Harley Quinn is the living embodiment of that. And while that might work in a city full of neverdowells and millionaires in batsuits, in the real world, whether we struggle with illness or not, we are responsible for our actions. Being able to pass the buck and blame might work for some blonde pig tailed tart from Gotham but for us here on Earth, not so much.

I’m not trying to victim blame the character. My issue is that this hero worship of “Daddy’s Lil Monster”. It’s all wrong. It’s all misplaced.

Harley is not the woman to be following. Just becuase she is an attractive loud mouth does not make her an idol. She is not a strong woman. She is a wounded, brainwashed, victim of Stockholm Syndrome.  In real life, she would be the woman you’d want to be helping. She’s the girl you’d want to cheer for as she got her life together, not use the leader whose philosophy you’d use to build your life around. There is nothing #GIRLPOWER about Harley Quinn. She is a tortured victim of an uncaring man. Her wounds do not make her wonderful. She is not a spirited phoenix rising from her ashes. She is the forgotten doll melting in them.

While we are at it let’s face it, let’s have a word about the misplaced people who enter into the “expirecine-making” part of the fandom. Those people who idolize Joker and Harely that hard often are wee bit deliciousnal about the severity of their bravado. They not a career criminals. They are not a mobsters or mastermind badasses. Their self-styled personas of being “psychos” are usually as flat as the Faygo left on their nightstands.

It’s really easy for them to think that their mundane existence is somehow equal to the fantastical fictional escapades from Gotham. It’s easy for them because it has to be. Their lives, which are normal, are boring. And there’s nothing wrong with that! There just are some people who can not accept that normal and boring are preferable to dramatic and hyper emotional. Those people that live with the chronic need for drama are usually the ones who love the comparison to Harley. And each and every time, they somehow both miss the point and prove it perfectly.

There are much stronger women in the Batman canon to look up to. Selina Kyle/Catwoman is a damn good start. Everyone in Gotham is flawed. The whole city and it’s inhabitants are dark, dirty, shady characters. No one within that world is really worth being called a hero, much less an idol. (Yes, this includes Batman) So while the character of Harley Quinn might be good for what it is, she is fabulously horrible at being a role model.

**If you are wondering who William Dozier is, here’s your answer. William Dozier was the executive producer and lead caster for the Batman series from the 60s with Adam West. Watch a clip of it on Youtube, and often you will hear and lovely voice narrating the beginnings actions of the episodes. That was William Dozier. His voice is often the one I use in my head to set scenes.

On Thoughtworms and Mother Wounds

For the last few days, there is this bit of audio that keeps playing in my head. It’s a quote that’s stuck on loop. This often happens to me a lot. If for others the tendency to get songs stuck in your head is called an earworm, my head is one of those little styrofoam cups of nightcrawler for sale in gas stations and bait shops. This is not as fun as the chorus to SOS by Glorius Sons (seriously, listen to this song).

This is a quote on repeat. There is no hook, there is no musical accompaniment. Its just words. And they won’t go away.  I can hear it as clear as day, over and over no matter what I’m doing, no matter what’s going on, no matter whatever else I’m blasting in my ear canals to try to cancel it out. It’s in there, burrowed down deep inside like a parasite.

It’s my mother voice, nasal and deep fried and tainted yellow by cigarette smoke snarking

You see your Hell here on Earth.

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As I’ve said earlier, religion was never a strong point in the household I grew up in. My father was a lazy Methodist. My mother only cared about God when she could use the idea as a means of punishment. So they were Christian in nature but not knowledge. They knew what most ignorant Christians do. In the way that anything other than what they say and what they believe in is wrong. So, people of other races, religions, sexualities, nationalities, etc were wrong. Now we didn’t attend church or pray as a family, but as kids we weren’t allowed to say “bad” words (butt, suck, hate) or cut our hair. And good ole Mom used to brag that she knew more about the Bible than the Jehovah’s Witnesses that would come to my great grandma’s house.  Which is funny because growing up the family Bible was always located in the back of the trailer in the cabinet above where the washing machine was. The laundry detergent spent more time with it then she did.

The core of this is that while she may have put on airs about it, she was not a Godly woman. She was not a woman of Christ. And by that same token, she was not a learned woman either. So her view on where you found your own personal Hell was not as philosophical as it may have sounded. This phrase that she was repeating in front of baby me, enough times to burn it’s way into the core of my memory, was not a lesson in being responsible for your own actions. Or for being aware of what your actions create. It was nothing so beneficial. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

It was a trip wires laid across the field of my childhood. It was the passive-aggressive moanings of an unhappy woman who regretted the decisions she made. It was someone who didn’t want to be there and wanted those around to know that they were the reasons she still stayed. My mother had made her own Hell, and I was a part of it. And no matter how good my grades were, no matter how good my behavior was, and no matter how much I loved her, I couldn’t make Hell any better. And she kept letting me know.

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My issue with the phrase is, as a mother (and trust me, I know the annoyance of using that phrase) why in the world would you use that as arsenal against your own children?i understand there is no making sense of abuse caused by untreated mental illness. I understand there are just people who shouldn’t be parents. But somehow you’d expect that sort of nihilism to be either explained or sugared if it was going to be force fed to children right?

The other thing that is troubling me is that I can not get this out of my head. I do not want to have this woman and her issues taking up any more space than needy in my already cluttered mind. Usually, the only way to rid myself of an earworm is to listen to the full song. Recently, it was “X” by Poppy. I got it stuck in my head and then listened to it a few times and boom, it was out of my head. (At least, until now cause I’m totally listening to it again.) But I can’t do that with a quote from someone I have no interest in communicating with.

Also, it’s kind of hard not to see the world as a being a little bit of Hell right now. Maybe its not coincidence that I started hearing it around the time of the Christchurch shootings. Part of me is wondering if maybe the old bag is right? Maybe we make our own Hell. Despite her own ideas about the afterlife and her facade of belief, is it true that the worst torture we can face is being alive? Is living the ultimate punishment? Is this world the worst place we can be? What’s better than here?

I don’t think I need to go into why giving thoughts like those even a second of time is dangerous. Thinking this world has gone to shit and there’s no relief coming doesn’t leave much room for growth. It doesn’t leave much room for living. It doesn’t leave much room for anything. And that’s not true.

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There is room for love. There is room for life. And there is room for all the good and bad things that come with living. Living is not a punishment. Yes, sometimes it’s hard. And sometimes there are things and people that make it worse, but being alive and being free and being HERE, is not hell.

The idea of Hell, with it’s demons and torture, has no place in our existence here on Earth. We can make decisions. Good or bad, they are all part of our story. We can make better ones and change our path. If we need to be better, we can try. We don’t have to turn our pain into poison to try to sicken those around us.

Look, I’m just shy of my mid 30s.  I feel that I’m almost too old to keep picking at this mother wound. For what it’s worth, it’s smaller than it’s ever been. I feel like it’s got some nice scar tissue forming on it now. I got to test it’s thickness out not too long ago with a chance Wal-Mart encounter and it did just fine. But every once in a while, the damn thing itches. This must be one of those times. Hopefully, talking about it here will exorcism this thoughtworm from my brain and make it go away.

You do not see your Hell here on Earth, Dear Readers. Your existence is not hell. Please believe that. It is the wonderful, messy, beautiful, scary, amazing, thing it is. And it and you are not a bother to anyone. Don’t listen to any entity that makes you feel otherwise. 

 

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