There is Nothing Wrong With Shipping the Joker and Harley Quinn

With the release of Warner Bros’ Suicide Squad , and the marketing focus on a huge part of people’s interest in the film, the Joker and Harley Quinn’s relationship, there’s been a wave of the exact same sentiment repeated ad nauseam on social media, that this relationship is toxic and should not be endorsed on any level. Going on any social media platform and searching the words “Joker and Harley” invites an avalanche of people lecturing no one in particular to “Stop shipping these 2! It’s abusive!” or some variation of “When I see a person who ships those 2 I think they are TERRIBLE and get MAD!”. The phrase “shipping” refers to basically anything having to do with wanting two people to be in a romantic relationship with each other, it usually refers more to potential couples rather than established ones, but it has evolved into being more of a nebulous term for fictional couples (and sometimes even celebrity ones). The Joker and Harley Quinn relationship has become a particular point of interest because it is not a healthy relationship, it is an abusive one between two very dangerous people. The knee jerk reaction becomes outright rejection of it among several circles of the internet, to the point of intolerance of anyone who enjoys watching them together. But it’s in that where people are overlooking what so many people liked about the pair in the first place.

Let’s make something very clear on the outset, nobody who likes Joker and Harley together is endorsing abusive relationships, or denies that it isn’t a healthy. The abuse is the dark underbelly of what is mostly a fun pair of villains that capture the attention of every scene they’re in together. The chemistry between these two, especially during the Mark Hamill and Arleen Sorkin days, is legendary. You can take a story about anything, have a decent amount of focus on just Joker and Harley interacting, and they could very well steal the whole thing. Before Batman v. Superman, there was the DC Animated Universe’s World’s Finest, which saw the team up of Batman and Superman as they did battle against Lex Luthor, the Joker, and Harley Quinn. If you’re wondering why so many people love these two together so much, watch that movie. It gives you a better Batman/Superman story than Zack Snyder did, and very entertaining and threatening villains in Joker and Harley, who basically steal the movie.

Obviously I’m overlooking a key thing here for certain folks that are reading this. “So what if they’re fun to watch, he still hits her, and that isn’t right” is what many of you may be thinking, and of course I know that isn’t right, but that doesn’t mean I ever want to stop seeing them together. The key to the Joker and Harley’s relationship is that it can be fun and interesting, but it can never be totally romanticized. We never see an episode of the animated series in which Harley debuted where the Joker works to win her back while being portrayed in a positive light. We always see it for what it is, an abuser using his charm and charisma to win back the devotion of a victim (although Suicide Squad has an interesting twist on this dynamic). That’s part of what makes the dramatic half of their relationship so intriguing, it projects an anti-abuse message more powerful than anything the independent Harley stories of the recent comics has produced. We are always going to remember Mad Love (a story that is to Harley Quinn what The Killing Joke is to the Joker), but I doubt we’ll be remembering any of solo Harley’s newer stories a year past their publication date. The reason for this is simple: At her core, Harley’s character works best when she’s with the Joker, her reason for being. Her character is ultimately supposed to be a tragic figure. Just like the Joker, who projects vibrancy and a twisted sense of fun towards the world, deep down, she’s another broken human being in the Batman’s rogues gallery who has lost her way in the world. The strongest exploration of that aspect of her character only happens when she’s with the Joker, the one who sparked the creation of the “Harley Quinn” persona.

People who like the Joker and Harley relationship, generally like it for many reasons. They love the “good” aspects of that pairing; their unmatched chemistry among villains, the fact that they can pull humour out of anything, that they don’t feel restricted and held down by any rules or normal expectations, and that they make everything they do seem amusingly theatrical. On the other hand, there’s people who are enraptured by the dramatic element to the relationship, the fact that they’re psychologically stunted people trapped in a cycle of abuse that is horrifying, but also very interesting to watch and see stories structured around. Sure you can have Harley break off from the Joker temporarily, but her character stops making sense as “Harley Quinn”, when the person she built the identity for stops being a factor in her life. They work best together, because they are interesting to watch work off each other, and the entire thrust of Harley’s narrative revolves around her relationship with the Joker. Her relationship with Ivy is also fun, but it’s another thing that works best in relation to the Joker, where Ivy is trying to get Harley away from him, while also not being all that great an alternative since she’s a homicidal maniac as well.

Next time you see someone shipping the Joker and Harley together on social media or calling them #goals, can you please give them the benefit of the doubt? Can you just assume they are not literally advocating for domestic violence like the people responding to them seem to think? The people who do ship the two almost certainly do so for the most straightforward of reasons, that they are supremely fun to watch together, and that their stories have a lot of substance despite their insanity. Wanting these two fictional characters together does not mean you endorse domestic violence or hate strong female characters. Being a “strong female character” shouldn’t just refer to characters who are emotionally put together and strong like Wonder Woman, it also should refer to their strength as characters on a writing level. The strongest writing around Harley has long been associated with her relationship with the Joker, which is why a lot of people remember her so fondly from her days in the Batman: The Animated Series. Joker/Harley shippers respond to their chemistry and the strength and story potential of their pairing, to suggest that anyone that doesn’t hate the ship hates the character of Harley, or worse, hates women, is presumptuous and small-minded. It presumes the stupidity and immorality of everyone who doesn’t think like you, and it’s the type of behaviour that has been running rampant online for far too long. I can go on and rant about this issue forever, but I think I’d have a lot more fun just watching the characters together again, hopefully those who hate the pairing so much that they can’t stomach people who like it can do the same to better understand why it is so beloved.

Quote of the Day:

“Hello Mr. J, I’m Batman! Eat me! Eat me! Eat me!”

Harley Quinn, World’s Finest.

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15 thoughts on “There is Nothing Wrong With Shipping the Joker and Harley Quinn

  1. I think a lot of it boils down to different interpretations of The Joker– and subsequently Harley.

    There’s been a trend to make The Joker more and more murdery, with gorier and gorier crimes, culminating in the whole ‘wearing my own skinned face as a mask’ Joker from a few years ago. He’s a serial killer with a gimmick to make him creepy.

    Whereas, in other (and I dare say ‘better’ interpretations, ’cause I grew up on the 90’s Batman cartoon) Joker and Harley are still evil and dangerous … but they’re still CLOWNS. They have style.

    There’s a sense of theatricality to them and their evil schemes. As a result, it’s easier to milk pathos (or comedy) out of the pair when they’re trying to, say, poison everyone with a parade balloon filled with laughing gas, as opposed to ‘oh hey I just stabbed a guy and laughed about it.’ The more ridiculous a Joker plan is, the more separated it is from the actual horrors we see on the news every day, and that just comes as a plus in escapist comic book entertainment.

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  2. Absolutely true! I love Harley and The Joker in a relationship, and I in no way approve of abusive relationships. I like to focus on the good, more romantic aspects of their relationship. I don’t hate the pairing of Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn, but to me, they are very much like sisters instead which is why it makes it a little awkward when people ship them, or when they mention their romantic moments in AUs of comics. Thank you for explaining this so carefully and nicely. 🙂

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  3. How on earth are they more like sisters Its one thing to say this if there werent so many inuendos in the comics but to say it when they clearly have kinda suggests you think they are sisterly just because of the fact they are two girls. not to mentiom dc confirmed they were girlfriends without the jealousy of monogamy

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  4. Theres everything wrong with shipping these two. It sends a bad message. I overheard a teenage girl after the movie gush to her friend how romantic the joker was when in reality we all know how manipulating and abusive he is. Sure these kids probably havent watched the 90s show or read the comics but to encourage this is wrong. Suicide Squad doesnt change the nature and history of Harley and the Jokers relationship. And my biggest problem is people calling them relationship goals. Thats why so many kids ship people. Because they want that kind of relationship. I do give them the benefit of the doubt that they arent aware of how toxic this relationship is. But regardless Im going to call them out and inform them. I dont understand how someone could say shipping them doesnt mean you support abusive relationships. You literally like this highly abusive relationship… come on people.

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    1. I think you’re misunderstanding what I’m saying. You’re entitled to your opinion, but shipping Harley and Joker doesn’t mean you support abusive relationships in REAL LIFE. There’s a divide between fiction and reality you’re not acknowledging. There’s also the fact that people like the duo for reasons that don’t begin and end in abuse. Seems like you’re reducing the pairing to one thing because you don’t like it yourself, and then acting like you can’t understand how others could like it to seem righteous. Also, the Suicide Squad Harley and Joker had all the “abuse” scenes cut, that’s not a fair example to bring up. Of course people are going to claim romance, that’s what it was edited to look like.

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      1. I realize I’m late to the conversation, but it isn’t the “shipping” the characters together that’s the problem, it’s the ones who say stuff like “#relationshipgoals” and the like. There, these people ARE actually saying they want a relationship like Joker & Harley’s, which IS supporting abusive relationships. There are people, notably young women, who would see this relationship and think that it’s ok if the guy is abusive, because he still loves her, just like the Joker loves Harley. This is not ok, and point of fact, Joker doesn’t love Harley, his abuse is proof of that. He may think he does, she may think he does. Love doesn’t abuse, period.

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  5. I find it incredibly annoying when i see people whine about how Suicide Squad left out all the apparent abusive moments that were in the other scenes, thus making it romantic looking.

    Joker and Harley as a dynamic has been altered many times over the years, and this time, they made their relationship one which Harley obviously is 110% in on, made her own choices to join him, and where the codependency on both ends is clear.

    Joker even spending the majority of the movie getting Harley back adds to this romantic version.

    And?

    Why does it matter if their relationship was different in the comic or not? We are not watching that comic version. We are watching a new version.

    If people want to ship Suicide Squad Joker/Harley, I don’t see anything wrong with it.

    You can even argue that Joker leaving Harley behind in the car made sense because:

    1. Batman would save her.

    2. She’d need him on the outside in order to break out of wherever she was being taken to.

    If he’d just outright abandoned her, he wouldn’t have spent the entire movie trying to get her back. She’d have somehow escaped on her own instead, and found him. But that’s not what happened.

    You can also argue the shock therapy, while it was abuse of a doctor via the patient, it also happened before their relationship began, Joker was manipulating her because he needed to escape, and she helped him in the end. Yet even afterward, she followed him and had stated beforehand that she could “take it.”

    Then there is the scene in the club where Joker apparently “gives” Harley to a man. This scene was clearly Joker and Harley playing a deadly game. Joker was never going to let the man touch Harley because he is clearly possessive over her.

    That’s why when Joker gave the man a look, the guy immediately tried backing down, but he’d already been backed into a corner the minute he called Harley a “bad” bitch. If he’d tried getting it on with Harley, he would have been killed because Joker is jealous. If he’d declined her, Harley would feel insulted, and he’d still die because he further disrespected her.

    In this version, while Harley is still codependent on him, it is made more clear that Joker loves her as much as its possible for him. He couldn’t leave her when she willingly chose to become Harley Quinn and live for him, but instead joined her in what on second viewing, really looked like a twisted sort of matrimonial ceremony.

    I suppose in a way, she married into the life of Quinn to his Joker.

    That being said, just because someone ships Suicide Squad version, doesn’t mean they automatically approve of every version there is of their relationship out their, or that they anyone supports abuse.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You hit the nail on the head. I think everyone who both hates and loves this relationship should read this. You spoke for those who couldn’t express why they love this relationship perfectly. It’s not the abuse we love, but the dynamic and interaction between these two.
    Aside from a romantic relationship these two are also a Father-Daughter relationship and it’s great to watch. They’re for ENTERTAINMENT purposes, Christ, people act like we should take after this kind of relationship.
    Not a fan of the reboot #52 at all. Harley Quinn is Harley Quinn thanks to The Joker; now she’s just a preachy character joke and not a memorable character like the original animated series. Joker pushing her into the acid vat? Seriously!?
    Classic Harley Quinn chose her own path – and that was The Joker. If anything, she’s a bigger tool now than she was before.

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  7. I absolutely agree that Harley and Jokers dynamic is amazing and works great on screen and in comics. But enjoying two charaters interaction isn’t shipping. I enjoy watching Batman and Albert interact too, but I do not want to see them in a romantic relationship and the same goes for harley and joker. Shipping is liking characters in a romantic and/or sexsual relationship, and there is nothing romantic about Harley’s obsession with fixing the joker and the joker using it to his own benefit with no regards for her well-being. I don’t mind people who like them and their dynamic. I do mind people who genuinely think they are a romantic couple and want them to stay together.

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  8. Stop trying to justify shipping an abusive relationship please. Harley Quinn is good rep for those going through or who went through an abusive relationship, and people shipping them and calling them cute is incredibly disrespectful. Even Harley herself realized how horrible their relationship was and managed to break free from him. Secondly, are you seriously trying to call Harley and Ivy “sisterly”? They’ve literally been confirmed as girlfriends without the jealousy of monogamy, so stop trying to erase their sexuality. There are so many things wrong with this article jfc.

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    1. Harley isn’t a good rep for those going through abuse, because she’s a murderer that decided to get in a relationship with a mass murderer. Don’t insult those people by comparing them to someone who doesn’t care about the people Joker hurts and kills. Harley and Ivy is an abusive relationship too btw, where Ivy routinely hurts and threatens Harley. In Injustice 2 she even nearly killed her and didn’t think twice about it. That’s not a healthy relationship either so I guess that’s also “disrespectful”. Let people ship what they want. Paul Dini, Harley’s creator, is writing a Harley and Joker miniseries, and it’s a lot of fun because their dynamic is fun. Not everything needs to be sanitized to suit the needs of a few who will take everything as personal attacks on them anyways.

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    2. @cassie stop trying to defend a woman who kills for fun! harley isnt a hero, she isnt a a good character and she ist NOT a role model. I love their relationship and its not wrong to ship them cause both are comic characters and totally crazy!!! you think its wrong? well..then its wrong to be a harley fan too, cause she murdered children in the comics and destroyed a complete city! how could you admire such a sick person? harley deserves the life at jokers side. she was never a victim and choosed it for herself. so lets other people ship them because their chemistry is great, abusive or not

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