The Dangerous Implications of Costumes

It’s Halloween, and Harley Quinn is predicted to be one of the most popular costume choices this year, following the character’s big screen debut in the controversial ‘Suicide squad’. Despite being trashed by critics, the movie and Harley especially proved to be pretty popular with the viewers. Truly, what is there not to like? She is fun, badass, funky, and cool. She is everywhere and loved by everyone. And, as a pop culture icon, she is incredibly dangerous.

Her relationship with the Joker is, as tumblr would put it, ridiculously shippable, and therein lies the problem. It is, both canonically and in this specific incarnation, incredibly abusive and manipulative. The portrayal of the couple in ‘Suicide squad’ and their subsequent popularity glamorises and dismisses that abuse. The videos of the two of them have millions of views on YouTube and a substantial proportion of comments goes along the lines of ‘relationship goals’ or ‘I want to have a love like that’. One of the first things the Joker tells Harley after she helps him to escape from prison is, and I quote, ‘I am not gonna kill you; I’m just gonna hurt you really really bad’. He follows up with pretty hardcore electroshock. Relationship goals? Let me remind you, the guy compels her to jump into a pool of acid and later leaves her to drown in a river after a car crash.

The relationship is even more messed up in the director’s cut – more abusive scenes and another attempt by the Joker to kill Harley by throwing her off a helicopter to save himself closer to the end of the movie were cut or edited to make their interactions seem more romantic and loving. Which, in itself, makes the final theatrical cut even more problematic – the chemistry between the actors is incredible and a smoother and more straightforwardly romantic narrative makes it even easier for the viewer to ignore the substantial abuse which did make it into the movie. How far can we equate liking the character with approving of the relationship though? Harley is defined through the Joker. He is literally the one who made her what she is, and he is the goal of her life. One scene reveals her deepest desire: ‘he marries me!’ Is that a female icon we want to have in 2016?

So, Harley and Mr J are not all about ‘gansta’, and ‘batsy batsy batsy’ ruining date night, however difficult it might be not to buy into their ‘fucked up love’. The movie normalises and glamorises abuse, and that is a dangerous message to be sending to viewers. Think twice before buying those red and black shorts and hair paint, however tempting it might be.

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