Despite lukewarm reviews, and a steady drop at the box office, Suicide Squad remains the hit movie of the moment, which means merchandisers are cashing in on items featuring the villainous stars of the film, but a new item from Hot Topic is turning heads, and a few stomachs.
The item in question is a rubber bracelet featuring adorable chibi versions of the Joker and Harley Quinn, alongside the phrase #RelationshipGoals. Comics writer, Kate Leth, was the first to point out the product on Twitter a few days ago.
Welcome to my new show, Hot Takes from Hot Topic, where I discuss such items as this living nightmare for teens pic.twitter.com/LTbeX1UdfG
— Kate Leth (@kateleth) August 5, 2016
A few others have joined Leth in her distaste for the item, either responding to her original tweet, or offering comments of their own, some even urging the retailer to remove the item from shelves.
@kateleth whatever company produced that desperately needs a vice president of common sense.
— SKTCHD (@sktchdcomic) August 5, 2016
— Alyssa (@alyssa_apuzzio) August 10, 2016
— William (@_Lone_Soul) August 10, 2016
— Ashley Chantilly (@ashleychantilly) August 10, 2016
While the bracelet may seem like a harmless accessory to some, in the broader scheme of things, it’s far from it. And yes, there is a broader scheme, even when it comes to plastic/rubber jewelry aimed at teenagers. Actually, I would argue, especially when it’s aimed at teenagers.
The Joker and Harley Quinn are fan favorite characters in their own right, him the psychotic main foe of Batman, she the twisted, but somehow oddly delightful, former psychiatrist-turned villain. But their relationship with each other complicates things considerably. While the Joker exists on his own, Harley Quinn is inexorably tied to him. He is the reason she exists. He manipulated her, tortured her, depending on which version of her origin story you’re talking about it was either her obsession with understanding him or his manipulation of her, which turned her from Dr. Harleen Quinzel to Harley Quinn.
But the abuse doesn’t stop once she becomes the Joker’s villainous girlfriend. Throughout the years, Joker has been physically and psychologically abusive to Harley, but despite that fact the characters have been depicted in most merchandise as being in a loving relationship. This has caused some pretty jarring dissonance between the reality of the relationship, and the way it is perceived by a great number of people, and that’s dangerous.
Women in the United States continue to be victims of abusive relationships at staggering numbers. According to a recent survey, 43% of college age women (and 28% of men) reported experiencing violence or abuse in a romantic relationship. That’s just women between 18-22 years of age. Imagine how much that number grows as the sample size increases.
The conversation about how to tell Harley’s story, how to portray a woman dealing with, breaking free from, and overcoming an abusing relationship, has been going on for some time. It was dealt with in the comics during DC’s New 52, when Harley, having broken away from the Joker for some time, finally give him a taste of his own medicine, leaving him broken and bleeding in his cell. Many hoped it would be similarly dealt with in this month’s Suicide Squad, but, unfortunately, due to a number of factors, it was barely handled at all.
It’s an important conversation, and important story to depict on screen, and in the panels of comic books. We cannot separate Harley from her abusive beginnings, but we can work to make sure that her story is used as a means to empower women who find themselves in similar situations. Even if she is a bad guy.
One thing we should not be telling our kids is that a relationship built on emotional and physical abuse and manipulation is the kind of relationship they should be looking for. Yes, even if we’re only telling them with a rubber bracelet. The things we say matter, no matter how we say them. It’s time we start recognizing that.
If you or someone you know is suffering from physical, emotional, or verbal abuse from a relationship partner, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-787-3224.