Love, Porn and Harley Quinn

So, that little movie comes out today. The one with the band of bad guys going on murder sprees at the government’s behest. Suicide Squad, yo.

This post is not about that movie. Though that movie is relevant, as you’ll see shortly.

Many times over the years there have been attempts to get rid of porn, with one of the main reasons being that it promotes an unrealistic (and possibly misogynistic) view of women. Those who wish to rid the world of smut often claim that us silly males, with our tiny pea-brains and controlled entirely by our penises, are unable to differentiate between what occurs on screen and real life. Thus, it would be better – helping solve body-image and relationship boundary issues, limiting the amount of sex-incentivized selling, preventing rapes, and making us treat women better in general – if all those plastic Barbies who exist only to fulfil men’s fantasies were to go away.

Sure it would. Ignoring the deragatory root of such statements – that being that men are so stupid as an entire gender that they can’t tell the difference between something you watch to cut some tension and what should be going on between partners – we’ll just say “Interesting idea… But let’s look at the other side of the coin, shall we?”

What’s on the other side of that coin? Why hundreds of books, movies and television shows where the female lead (who is, these days, anyway, frequently described as “strong, confident and awesome – if clumsy and self-deprecating”) is swept off her feet by some bad boy douchebag who generally resents or loathes her on sight, is frequently borderline (if not outright) abusive, spends much of the first act pushing her away and only tolerating her presence once he realizes she’s psychotically fixated on him or that fate (or the writer’s pen) aren’t going to make her leave him alone, engaged in some form of criminal pursuit, is typically tall, “breathtakingly handsome like a marble god,” and is almost invariably some combination of pirate, Viking, Scottish and billionaire (or appropriately ridiculously rich for their time and place).

Gosh, there’s no insane level of fantasy stereotype there for women to expect men to live up to there at all, is there? Certainly nothing on par with “Skinny, big boobs, sucks dick without warning,” which seems to be the basic template for porn. Perhaps it’s just because men are simpler creatures.

So my counter offer is, we get rid of porn if the ladies get rid of all their Fabio-clones, all their time-travelling romps with Highlanders, and all their Christian Greys. Because we want things to be fair, don’t we? Wouldn’t want women’s little minds to be so warped by fantasy that they start making unrealistic expectations about their relationships or anything. No? Well, shucks.

But what irks me about this is the level of deception. Porn is simple. There’s no love. There’s no long, drawn-out and frequently forced courtship. It’s about seeing naked people do kinky stuff so someone can get off. Done. There’s nothing to romanticize about it, there’s not guys going around posting screencaps to Facebook with #relationshipgoals or saying “I want a love like Ron Jeremy and Jenna Jameson.” It’s porn. Quick, dirty, utilitarian.

Romance – as a genre – is a little more insidious. It’s dripping with the feels, even when they’re forced, fake, or only in the reader’s/viewer’s head. It’s meant to be taken in slowly, over longer periods of time, and pondered and considered long after the initial experience is over. It has accessories (and I’m not talking about the sex toys; I mean pillows, bath oils, chocolates, champagne or wine. Hell, some of them have freakin’ cookbooks built-in so you can make all the food the characters eat for yourself!) and clubs devoted to it. And every time some romantic movie or book gets popular, you can bet you’re going to have to see it splattered all over Facebook or Twitter every ten seconds while your female friends gush about how they wish they could have a love like X and Y.

Which brings us back to Harley.

Because of the Suicide Squad film, Harley and her psychotic paramour, the Joker, are getting a fresh injection into mainstream consciousness, which means that you’ll be enduring pics of them from people other than your anime-obsessed, PS4-playing, comic-book reading female friends. And you’ll be hearing plenty of bull about how romantic and amazing their love is. The worst offenders will be the same ones who wanted to tell you that Edward Cullen wasn’t a crazy rapist/stalker, that Christian Grey isn’t a manipulative, abusive monster (but who wouldn’t find either of them attractive or interesting if they were broke and not invincible), but it’s going to happen.

So let’s clear something up, real quick. If someone says Joker and Harley are their #relationshipgoals, run the fuck away. Because being either half of that scenario, which is a deeply disturbing situation where one party is obsessed with the other, while that other only gives two shits if her presence furthers his schemes or he’s having a porn-needed-but-not-available moment or he’s having a bad day that can only be made right if someone gets the shit kicked out of them or dies, is bad news.

Harley used to be a respected psychiatrist. Now she’s barely above a two-bit hood, frequently stealing, manipulating and murdering, either because the Joker tells her to or she thinks it’ll somehow win his love. She has been beaten, bitten, shot and almost-murdered innumerable times by her “loving boyfriend,” in some continuities has had to hide her child or children from him and disavow their existence, has been incarcerated and subjected to all manner of institutional torture as a result of his actions and the actions she undertakes on his behalf, and is a shattered, broken caricature of a human being. More recent developments have put her on slightly better ground – an antihero, in a “well, it’s not so psychotically abusive, at least…” Relationship with Poison Ivy, or trying to put herself back together and become a functional member of societty again – but the spectre of her situation with the Joker always looms large.

So, please, for the love of God, stop it. Harley and Joker is not a relationship goal, it’s a bloody nightmare that some people would do anything to escape or avoid. Ditto Edward and Bella, triple ditto for Christian and Anastasia. If you all want to chase bekilted (is that a word? Is now…) pirates who routinely kill other people but at least treat you well, well, fine, carry on. If you want a pompous fop who acts like an Asperger’s patient on tranquilizers and only allows you to refer to him as “Mr. Darcy, (did he even have a first name?)” but occasionally does pleasant things out of a warped sense of honor, by all means. If you desperately seek to escape the friend zone with someone who is utterly oblivious and will take the one time they held your hand (while calling you “dear friend,” none the less) as a signed confession of their undying love, so you can be like Jack and Sally, have at it. Just… Lay off the other stuff, kay?

All that said, I genuinely like Harley and Joker as characters, and love their relationship. I’m looking forward to seeing Suicide Squad. I like characters who are messed up and broken (as if you couldn’t tell), but that doesn’t mean I want to be them, or live their lives. And neither should you.

Where are we on that banning porn and romance, again?

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