Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Thinking Out Loud: Chalk-white and rock hard

It seems to me that a great number of people spend a great deal of time thinking about the Joker's penis. I don't just mean semi-anonymous writers of bad fanfiction, but major Hollywood writers and producers are putting a great deal of effort into making the nature of Joker's love life very explicit. For me, most of this goes back to two seminal moments in Batman history; The Dark Knight Returns and the appearance of Harley Quinn in Batman the Animated Series. In a weird upshot of Frank Miller's juvenile homophobia, the version of Joker presented in DKR is heavily queer-coded with a very homoerotic fixation on Batman. That's homoEROTIC, not homoSEXUAL, an important distinction, as the Joker's obsession with Bats never seems to focus on sexuality, but rather shared history and the emotional intensity that it brings. Joker is so fixated on his old foe that he is functionally catatonic for the years in which Batman is retired. A lot of "hard-core" Batman fans aren't keen on this interpretation of the Joker, despite their love for DKR and the years overly serious Batman media that it continues to spawn. 

Bruce Timm wanted Joker to have a sidekick in BTAS, a counter-point to Robin as well as someone to talk to, so Harley Quinn was born. Harley is a great character, not only in BTAS, but in the comics that followed and whilst I hate the oversexualisation of her costume, that groundwork was laid in BTAS and I can live with it. There's one episode of BTAS in particular, where Harley, wearing her makeup and hood with a silk slip, asks Joker if he wants to "rev up your Harley". Now, I'm willing to consider the idea that Harley is sexually attracted to the Joker, but I'm more inclined to believe that her Western, hetero-normative, patriarchal upbringing has created for her the expectation that she'll fall in love, get married and have babies; then she fell in love with a psychotic clown. The fantasy scene in Suicide Squad is a good example of this conditioning and resulting fixation. What gets me confused and a bit riled is the idea that Joker is sexually motivated and has a "normal" physical realtionship with his girlfriend. 

That the Joker is Harley's abuser is rarely argued by anyone with two brain cells to rub together, but I wonder if that's strictly true. Harley is certainly Joker's VICTIM, both physically and psychologically, but family violence is complicated and the Joker/Harley dynamic doesn't quite ring true in that sense. Joker most often treats Harley as a tool for his own amusement (yes, it depends on the writer, but I'm generalising), which is his default reaction to most people (Batman being the primary exclusion); she is his beaten dog or doll with the twisted arm and burnt hair. Despite what you may have learned from Dexter or Criminal Minds, most serial killers don't use murder as a substitute for sexuality, the BTK killer had girlfriends and a wife and kids and Manson operated a harem in his compound. Joker's focus on his continued "jokes" is, and has pretty much always been (even since the '60 TV programme), for Batman. Joker is fixated on Batman in a truly unhealthy manner, but, as discussed above, that fixation is not sexual in nature. In turn, Joker holds no sexual interest in Harley because she is not Batman and, therefore, not worthy of that level of emotional intensity. In Under the Red Hood, Joker isn't even really interested in Jason Todd or the fact that he's being tortured until Batman shows up to the fight. 

What I'm getting towards is an understanding that the Joker does not function sexually at all; nothing arouses him physically, even those things that arouse him mentally or psychically. In the No Man's Land novelisation (a really good read, BTW), there is a scene where Harley inspires Joker and he kisses her as thanks, putting his tongue in her nose and licking her eyes, because he is aware of physical affection, but does not understand how it works. This is how I perceive the Joker making the most sense, not truly an "inhuman" monster, but instead a human broken almost beyond comprehension; the sexual drive being so close to universal to human experience. For me, the Joker being a human being so far gone as to perform the kinds of atrocities he has makes him a far more interesting and unnerving character than the "Avatar of Anarchy" interpretation that sees a great deal of print. At the end of the day, I don't really need to know what Joker and Harley do in private, but I sincerely doubt that it resembles any kind of romantic relationship that most will be familiar with; something more like a hostage situation or the extreme levels of family violence are far more likely than what is becoming the typical presentation in film and comics. Please stop glorifying abuse through the lens of this relationship, we're not meant to be thinking this deeply about it, just let the comics be.

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