Harley Quinn: Empowering?

One of the many things I wanted to address was being linked back to by an individual’s blog who was rightfully critical of the depictions of the iconic comic book character Harley Quinn.  Notably was how this person was skeptical of how such a depiction could possibly be seen as empowering, while citing examples of the abuse and torture this character has suffered at the hands of the writers. These are completely valid criticisms. I am not here to argue with this individual, but rather to clarify what it is I find about Harley Quinn to be empowering.

When it comes down to it, straight male authors seem to have a difficult time depicting abuse in ways that are tactful or respectful, especially when it comes to female characters. There’s an element of taste that comes into question whenever a female character is raped on screen, violated, and humiliated by male characters. There’s a sexual air that creeps into their depictions that is both unsettling and uncomfortable. Some of the more recent depictions of Harley Quinn are unfortunately in this line of tasteless misogyny. 

Recently DC Comics had a contest where they asked for depictions of Harley Quinn looking to kill herself while in various states of undress. The erotic nature they were looking to display her mental illness as well as the topic of suicide was offensive to both suicidal people and women everywhere. As a long time fan of the character, I was equally horrified.

Now, as a cis man, I’m not qualified to call anything particularly feminist. I can’t say what is and is not empowering to women. That is not my call to judge. 

As an abuse victim though? Harley Quinn empowers me. Just a little over two years ago, I was not only raped by a man I was dating, but also locked into a similarly verbally abusive headgame that I’ve seen Harley thrown into over the years. More modern “edgy” depictions of her relationship with the Joker have sensationalized the physically violent aspects of the abuse, but I recall the early days, before she left the animated series and into the comics. 

Many like to remember Harley and the Joker’s relationship fondly, seeing it as a lovestruck cartoon couple that did wacky things but I recall the relationship being a horror show even then. For the sake of the family-intended nature of the show, the abuse had to be limited to verbal exchanges, manipulations, power play. I’m not even certain if the creators intended to create the disturbing parallels to unhealthy manipulative relationships that they did, but even still, it was enough to set the standards for what was to become a canonically toxic relationship.

Repeatedly over the years, Joker has played head-games with Harley just as much as he plays with his victims. He bears no love for her as some would suggest. He only loves himself. Harley is another toy for him to play with, something to kick around whenever he is bored. He can’t stand to watch her succeed. He hates it when she strikes out on her own and does well. Even in the animated series he is never happy unless she is completely dependent upon him, but is always quick to sell her out.

The fact that Harley has survived all this. That she still goes out and smiles, and kicks ass, schemes and does whatever she likes despite having been beaten mentally and physically into the ground? That’s empowering. I don’t like seeing her abused. I want her to leave the Joker. I want her to create her own crime gang. I want her to bring Gotham to its knees.

Why? Because that’s what I want for myself. I see so much of myself in Harley Quinn. I see the person with big dreams in their eyes brought under the foot of a megalomaniac sadist. I see the struggle to escape those chains over and over and over again. Every time she smiles though, every time she wins. It’s a victory for me. 

For some of us, a character doesn’t become empowering to us just because they are always on top. For some of us, we don’t get to live up there, at the top of our game, never making mistakes, never down-trodden. We’re still just trying to climb out of our own hell’s. Personally speaking, I am glad there are characters like this. Characters I can relate to who are right there in the dark places with me. 

Again, I cannot speak for whether or not Harley Quinn is feminist or not, or properly be critical of her depictions over the years. I can only speak from where I’m at right now, and what she means to me. 

The Pit

Due to some changes in my life as well as an ongoing fight with clinical depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, I’ve taken a back-seat to public writing. This needs to change. I withdrew deep into myself for days, weeks, months at a time. The dark pit seemed only to grow longer and darker and more inescapable.

The posts made here about my personal life and the struggles I’ve endured were only the tip of the iceberg as what can only be described as a heavy weight began pressing down on me. It grew difficult to climb out of bed in the morning, and even now when I’ve made vast leaps of improvement towards regaining both my confidence and my sanity the task is still arduous.

Of course, the only way to begin climbing out of this dark pit is to reach up. There are those who can offer lifelines to me, but unless I actually reach out and take them I will only sink deeper into darkness. Depression is a nasty little monster though. It isn’t enough that it has one claw on your ankle, while it sits with its bloated body on top your chest. No, it is also whispering in your ear, tickling your thoughts with its venomous tongue. This demon is insidious and can often sound like your own voice calling out words of wisdom to you.

“It’s useless. Give up now. You are a worthless, pathetic loser. You will never be or do anything. Just sleep. Sleep is easier. Never wake up. It’s simply too much to face the pain.”

The endless cycle of thoughts continue. There are days full of shrieking, unbearable pain, but even worse are the days of hopeless silence. You simply lie there, staring at the ceiling while your soul is writhing in agony. You can’t even bring yourself to cry because of how terribly drained you are.

For a writer, this is crippling. Many would like to romanticize depression, but really they are putting flowery words on what is mere sadness. Sadness is a feeling, it is pain though fleeting and temporary. Depression is a place. It is the aforementioned dark hole that pulls you further into it.

You can write about sadness. Sadness can be dramatic, entertaining. Sadness can lead to great stories. Sadness can have meaning. Depression is none of these. It is dull, monotonous, and can be entirely meaningless.

Struggling to overcome my own depression has been an uphill battle, but I believe that I can beat this demon into submission so long as I keep doing that: looking up. If I put a goal before myself, there is nothing I cannot conquer. One of those goals is to dust off this blog, to make it active again. I’ll be looking for work again. Submitting stories and articles again.

My longest dream has been to fill the world with my words, of which there are still many. I am done with this self-destructive spiral of pain and horror. The pain will linger still, but I can learn to live with it. Just so long as I do not forget to live.

“If I had you”

“Life would be a party it’d be everything.”

Lyrics to a pop song that’s probably forgotten by now (likely for the best). It’s a bit of throwaway garbage with about as much depth as a single sheet of printer paper. I remember hating the song when it came out. I still do, but whenever you find something particularly awful, it becomes exemplary of so many things that you hate that you think about from time to time, and it takes on a meaning of its own. Its the meaning that you’ve given it. Your loathing gives it power that it never otherwise would have had.

“All we need in this world is some love.”

Generic, cliche’s that could be interchangeable with just about anything. Meaningless lyrics spoken without any feeling, talking about things that are not felt and are not meant. Opening your mouth to fill the void with empty clutter.

It’s hard to imagine that these are idea people base their lives around. We become fixated on the idea that our manic pixie dreamboat exists. Some lover to rush into our lives, wave a magic wand and everything becomes better. We’ve long abandoned fairytales, but we still want Snow White’s Kiss, to find that the glass slipper fits, for there to be blue sparkles and everything to get happily ever after.

It all comes down to wanting to be loved, though I think there are more serious needs than that.

“If I had you, life would be a party it’d be everything.”

There it is of course, the chorus line. That catchy refrain endlessly repeated but spoken to no one person in general. It’s putting someone on a pedestal, thinking that one person is going to bring you your fairytale ending.

Funny how something so meaningless can carry so much weight when you think about the cultural impact of all the meaningless things. Everyone is chasing the meaningless to the point where they acknowledge it in their own music and public personas in an attempt to make meaningless itself into a statement of meaning without actually meaning anything at all.

There is no depth, no substance to these concepts and yet we are drowning in them to the point that they become an endless reality.  Flashing lights, smoke and mirrors, catchy hooks and broken hearts confusing a pop song with reality. People are not archetypes or saviors.

People are flawed, broken, and they can’t even save themselves let alone anyone else. When we look to others to be our guiding lights and angels we don’t see them as they are but as we want them to be. This is unfair to both them and us. Life isn’t a pop song where people explode into glitter and falling in love won’t solve all your problems. Love can be nice, and it can be terrible as well and you can fall in love with people who are terrible and quite cruel. You can fall in love all you like and your problems will still be waiting there for you.

I’m not even sure if people want love as much as they want to feel validated. They want someone to say, “Hey your existence is worthwhile.” But they need it to feel a bit deeper than that, as they won’t believe it from just anyone. So they need someone to say it over and over again. They need someone to say it every morning and every night. They need someone to say it while they’re fucking. Someone to say it in their worst moments. Someone to say it in their best. They need someone to say it so often that it becomes as meaningless and irrelevant as the pop songs on the radio.

They need to hear, “I love you.”

They need to stamp out what it actually means so that it becomes filler, a punctuation mark at the end of their sentences.  They need it fed into them like an IV. They need it like a drug. Not love, just the declaration of it.

Actual love is something difficult and something that doesn’t arrive overnight. It’s an insidious creeping thing that may not happen for some of us ever at all. I’m not even sure if we understand what love truly is at all. We just keep singing songs about it and looking for it because somehow we’ve got it into our head that all we need is love. Love is all we need, love is all we need.

Love may save all you people, but it will never save me.

Best Bits from the Evening’s Writing

Best bits from tonight’s writing

 

Bacchus and Balberith stood side by side watching the Blood Ship descend from the skies. The Blood Ships were once the finest sky cruisers in the known world, first of their kind, and the first known instances of Ligatian technology to be incorporated into traditional body modifications. The artistic renderings of Meshraq the Soulless served as the inspiration for the model, though limited to only six wings and a face that came to a small point like a beak towards the front. Small skulls and religious icons of the gods decorated each ship. They were once painted a crimson so dark they were almost black, save for when they sunlight touched them and they gleamed a sickening blood-red. Now they were rusted and worn, appearing dull bits of gray and black, with tiny red freckles appearing here and there where the paint chipped.

My fascination with Warhammer 40k is having a small effect on the aesthetic choices for this rewrite. The blending of the science-fiction elements into my hyper-religious grimdark fantasy universe has only served to further flesh it out, almost as if it was the missing ingredient the setting and lore needed. 

Having the futuristic technology gives me another area to exemplify the country Ligatia’s fall into decay following the loss of their history. Where before I was limited to gothic pastiches such as the degradation of magnificent architecture, these people now have even more to lose.

While the gothic elements still remain as I firmly remain this is a gothic fantasy novel with a grimdark atmosphere and storyline pulling influences from Poe, Lovecraft, and of course Clive Barker having melted together into the setting. One more element though, the aspect of technology just fully rounds it out in a way I’m finding satisfying and enjoyable.

Unlike Funeral City, I actually want the Prince of Pain to be fun to read, at least for the most part. It needs to be fun because the ending needs to be all the more devastating. We need to see the degradation of the people, and need to feel the hope the characters have to save them so we can weep for them when the nightmare proves unbearable.

For that there needs to be fun characters. It needs to be pretty. It needs to be stylish. It needs to be a world you want to walk around in and admire with awe in spite of how horrifying some of its aspects are.

These are a few of the core elements of a gothic novel, the pleasing aspects of the macabre and the terrifying. The idea that monsters are beautiful, that decay is aesthetically pleasing. It needs to have this romantic affection for all of its darkness.

That’s difficult to pull off, and it will probably require a few more drafts to actually get right, but hey, not like anyone besides me has to read it. Worst case scenario: it gets published and you lot get to decide whether you want to suffer through it or not.

You poor fuckers you.

Mother of Dragons

There’s an individual I’m going to publicly refuse to comment on. Whenever the discussion is raised, I’m not going to acknowledge it publicly. Here’s why: this person’s use of racist imagery and lyrics is purposeful. Every part of it, every controversy is cleverly orchestrated for the purpose of causing a buzz. Every tweet, every tumblr post, every status update, no matter how damning helps them. 

This is one of those people you cannot blacklist, raise awareness of, and put down, though these efforts have worked in the past. I fully support people attempting to raise awareness of their reprehensible actions, but I’m going to ask that if you know who I’m talking about try and think about how you are actually contributing to their success and how purposefully deliberate their actions are.

This individual is not an idiot. They generate controversy to push themselves to the top of the charts. Every action is calculative. Do you think they didn’t know it was blackface they were putting on? Trust me, they knew. Do you think those racial slurs were accidental? They offset offensive language with the pseudo-appearance of activism.

In reality we all know its closer to imperialism. The white savior complex, thank you Daenerys Targaryen, mother of dragons for liberating us from our savage ways. All hail straight white Jesus! 

The best we can do to rid ourselves of this cretin is to drown them out.Write articles about good music. Write articles about musicians who confront racism instead of perpetuating it. Write articles about LGBT singers and songwriters instead of those who merely use them as trendy marketing ploys. Don’t contribute any more noise towards the vultures. They feed off of our debates and our controversy. 

The only thing they fear is being forgotten. So let’s do that, forget them. Turn them back to the darkness. Silence them from the radiowaves and internet storms. 

If you feel that this is not the best course of action, please continue to feel free working hard to research and point out their problematic behavior to others if you think this will help. I cannot tell you how to be an activist or the best solution. I am only adding the thought to the discussion that this is in fact what these sycophants want.

More Personal BS

I don’t think people realize how truly close to the breaking point I actually am. Every day is a literal struggle for me. I’m struggling to do anything besides sit in the dark for hours staring at the ceiling. I’m struggling to live. Every part in me is craving for darkness, total oblivion. 

Some people have everything together. Some people have it all. They get to live their lives normally, they get to make things without fear. They get to pass down judgement on all of us for not being like them.

Bully for them. Good job for them, the ones who are sane. Right now though, I’m coming apart at the seams. I feel the threads loosening and soon like a ragdoll I’m going to collapse into a billion pieces of rags and stuffing.

I can’t handle things anymore. I need help. But where is it going to come from? Who is going to be there for me? The minute I collapse is the second all those around me will. There are so many people depending on me to always be there to always be the one they can cry to.

I’m not like my mother. I don’t have an invisible man in the sky who always talks to me. He was never there in my teenage years, and he won’t be there now. He doesn’t exist, he’s a pretty lie some people make up to feel good about themselves and the world. It’s a nice thought really, the concept of a loving deity who has a plan for everything and that even the worst things in our lives will move us towards a wonderful endgame.

For the rest of us there are only the endless days forwards. There are the nights spent staring at darkness. There are the days when the noise is too great and nights when the silence is deafening.

Somewhere, sometime, I need to a rest from it all. I need a respite from this nightmare. When, though? When do I get to be the one that has a spat has a breakdown? When do I get to start screaming at everyone and everything who has ever hurt me?

The answer is: never. Because the world doesn’t stop, their pain doesn’t stop and I’m the only one with the ability to push everything away just long enough to be that shoulder to cry on, to be that force of stability in someone else’s life. 

The well is drying up. The volcano is about to burst. I pray to god nobody has to see the corpses left in my wake when the monster in me breaks loose.

The Nightmare

Had a dream last night where there was this beautiful evil man who consistently would stalk and torment me. He would come up to me, break down my barriers, kiss me, then humiliate me and do things to sabotage my work. And I kept falling for it, over and over and over again.

Fortunately it was only a dream because if it were real I would have probably killed him before I let any man manipulate me that way. I am nobody’s puppet. It was a horrifying dream, the idea that I would be once again weak where someone else could play on my that way.

Through the past two years, I took strength in my relationship. I could laugh off anyone’s attempts to hit on me by throwing that in their face. My dedication and love was my foundation.

Now…well, that’s kind of gone and I don’t know if I’ll have the strength to resist someone that way now. The idea of being put once more in a situation I was in two and a half years ago with someone who manipulated me, sought to control my every action and belittle me, someone who raped me…that’s the most horrible thought ever.

I don’t drink or take any substance for the very reason that the idea of losing control is terrifying. The idea of once more being vulnerable in the presence of another human being is scarier than any monster that lives inside my head (of which there are many).

Basically, I am never looking for any relationship ever because of how fucked up I’ve been the last half decade of my life.