It’s Valentine’s Day, dear readers. Normally, that would mean that we here at PCU would all get together to bring you something sweet, like the ‘Pop Culture Friendships Done Right’ piece that we wrote last year, or a countdown of the best couples in video games/comics/movies/TV/etc. Yeah, it would usually be something to warm the heart, and get you in a lovey-dovey mindset.
However, that’s not what I want to do today. I want to talk to you today about something that’s absolutely NOT love, yet I keep seeing people want to try to emulate when they talk about relationships. I want to talk to you about a “couple” in comicdom who is the absolute ANTITHESIS of what anyone in a relationship should strive for. A duo who are completely toxic to one another, yet some people only see the façade of love and adoration on the surface.
That’s right, we’re going to sit down and have a conversation about Harley Quinn and The Joker.
Now, I know what you might be thinking, dear readers: “But Doug, we actually READ the comics and know all about this!” That’s great, and I applaud you for that. However, since a lot of us keep seeing those memes that say, “I want a love like Joker and Harley”, coupled with some image of the two characters in an embrace, or some other romantic pose, I feel that this is something we need to touch on yet again.
So what IS the deal with Harley and “Mistah J”, anyway? Why is theirs a relationship that no one should ever strive for? Well, that’s a bit of a complicated question, with a multifaceted answer. Let me preface this by saying that DC has skillfully avoided outright diagnosing their more mentally ill characters. Some may say that that’s to avoid putting off any readers who may live with mental illness, and others may say that that’s so that the publisher can still retain the freedom to tweak the characters’ personalities from time to time. So, let’s hear it from someone who really knows what they’re talking about, shall we?
I sat down with PCU’s own Brook, who has had training in psychology, social work, and the like; to talk about what is really going on with these two. While the discussion did get a bit clinical in nature, I’m going to try to break things down into an easy-to-understand format for you all. One of the main things that Brook told me about these two, is that what readers think is going on with them may not actually be accurate. The Harley/Joker dynamic is a one-sided abusive relationship between two people with severe personality disorders. So, let’s start by looking at Joker.
What we have in the Clown Prince of Crime, is likely a psychopath with antisocial personality disorder. Joker is a cold, calculating individual, with no remorse or empathy. He ignores laws and societal norms, lies and manipulates in an attempt to achieve his goals, is violent and aggressive toward everyone, and shows no regard for anyone around him – including himself. He has regularly come up with schemes which moved those around him like chess pieces on a board, and has occasionally put himself in harm’s way in order to further his agendas.
Then there’s Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn. There’s been a bit of disagreement over the years as to what her deal may actually be, but in essence, she fits the profile of a sociopath with histrionic personality disorder. HQ is hot-headed, impulsive, self-centered, and most of the time tends to ignore what conscience she may have…however, she is capable of listening to it every now and again. Harley loves to be the center of attention (especially where Joker is involved), and she’s dramatic and excessively emotional. On the flip side, these aspects of her personality make her easily manipulated, and she often overestimates her relationship with others.
With Harley Quinn, this is far more than Stockholm syndrome – where a victim begins to develop feelings for their captor. It’s likely that, before she ever became Joker’s sidekick, Harleen Quinzel was already on a negative path in life. There are allusions in her story that she had an abusive and criminal father (which is what led her to the field of psychology), and that could likely explain her mental condition(s).
When these two personalities meet and begin any kind of relationship is where this gets rough. They feed into each other’s disorders, as the antisocial psychopath manipulates their “lover” without empathy or consideration, abusing them physically, emotionally, and mentally. In return, the histrionic sociopath ends up wanting the attention (regardless of its negativity), believes that the abuse is “love”, and responds with excessive displays of affection and jealousy.
As those of us who’ve read the more recent years of Harley’s life have seen, however, all of this negativity in her life did not mean that she couldn’t break free and start on the road to mental wellness (although her sociopathy may disrupt a “normal” life). We’ve seen her break away from Joker (in an amazing fashion), become something of an anti-hero, and even begin a relationship with Pamela Isley (aka Poison Ivy).
The kicker is, aside from getting his face bashed in, Joker still does not seem suffer any ill effects from Harley breaking things off with him. He seems to go about his daily life in his insanity, none the worse for wear, and not even feeling one iota of remorse for losing a relationship. Is this someone you’d want to be with in your real lives? I think not.
So what did we learn here today, dear readers? Effectively, there are SO many other couples in our respective fandoms whose relationships we can (and sometimes should) try to emulate. There are plenty of examples of healthy interaction between couples in comic books, video games, movies, and the like. The Joker and Harley Quinn IS NOT ONE OF THEM. PLEASE stop idolizing this relationship, as it’s not just a model of domestic abuse or a syndrome – this is what happens when two people with severe mental illness meet and their disorders feed into each other.
Happy Valentine’s Day. Go eat some chocolate, and hug the one(s) you love.