Spoilers Abound. I’ve added a lovely picture as spoiler space.
I watched the new Harley Quinn movie up until the first face-flaying scene.
I used to watch horror all the time. I write high fantasy, in which some terrible things happen, because war is horrible and stabbing people leads to blood. I write horror with monsters in it. I try not to dwell on the horrible parts On the one hand that makes me a coward; I want the narrative tension and characterization that violence drives, but I don’t want to face it. I’m working through the contradictions, believe me. The other hand happens to be the stronger of the two at the moment, which is that the gleeful voyeurism of showing the violent acts is everywhere, and has become numbing.
Bird of Prey wasn’t an exciting concept to me, primarily because I didn’t like the Harley in Suicide Squad. She was unrepentant and unsympathetic, but since she shared those qualities with everyone else in that ugly little movie, I decided to watch Birds of Prey anyway. I’d heard good things about the other characters, after all.
In the spectrum of female character stereotypes that Hollywood deals in, you have, of course, the manic pixie dream girl, the girl next door, the guy’s girl, the strong female character, and so on. And then you have the beautiful disaster. They decided to make Harley the beautiful disaster. I think they were even channeling a little of Lori Petty’s Tank Girl, except that Tank Girl wasn’t, you know, an actual criminal psychopath. The fact that her trash boyfriend dumped her doesn’t wipe her slate clean. Was this supposed to be girl power? Was I supposed to sympathize?
Anyway, I kept watching, waiting to get to the other characters, and I stopped when it got to the scene meant to prove how evil the bad guy is: the face-skinning.
The screaming, the grossness, the sudden about-face that Black Mask made after some stupid little thing: it seemed to me that it was meant to be presented as dark, whimsical humour. But…it’s not. It wasn’t darkly funny. It was just helpless people being tortured and mutilated to death. It was charmless and ugly. A few years ago I would have kept watching, because it’s just a movie and you know, whatever, dude. Heroes became boring, so we looked towards anti-heroes. Anti-heroes became milquetoast, so we turned towards actual villains. Gotta stay edgy.
But it does have an effect. Like watching “true crime,” the turn towards this level of violence presented as a light joke had a cumulative effect, bleeding into my mood in my daily life. It made me hate people just a little more. Not just because horrible things really happen, but also because I know other people are entertained by gore, decoupling it completely from the character on the receiving end. Cartoon-y gore is cool.
I’m not going to yuck anyone’s yum, but for me it stopped being interesting. It stirred up nihilism and hopelessness in my real life, contributing to poor mental health. Limiting my exposure to media violence, and trying to think about how make a more positive space in the world, has helped me to start changing my life. Fingers crossed that it’s a good change!
I started this post at 1AM and I’m finishing it well into the afternoon of the following day. I think I lost the thread, but I had to get it off my chest.