Prince and this thing called life

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.”

The famous opening lines of “Let’s Go Crazy” feel prescient now. But of course they would have been no matter what. Prince wrote the song knowing he would die, because it’s a song about the awareness that all of us will die.

I can’t think of anyone else who treats life and death and joy and sorrow as all part of each other in quite the way that Prince did. Mortality drives “Let’s Go Crazy”. Yet the song doesn’t start from death; it starts from the struggle that is life. Yes, it’s an uplifting song, a song about making the most of life, but Prince is very clear: life is hard, painful, exhausting. Just in order to “get through” it, we try to gather together, but still “in this life you’re on your own”. From this perspective, perhaps death is not so bad. Taking on the burden of life forever – “that’s a mighty long time” – sounds exhausting. What a relief that “there’s something else: the afterworld”. When we sing and dance to this song, we’re not defying or denying death, we’re accepting it as the reason to party. Hard life may be, but it is also short. The things we can do, the pleasures we can experience in this life may not be possible in the afterworld, so … what the hell! Why not dance?

I find this joy tempered with morbidity incredibly moving. Don’t get me wrong, I love lots of unambiguously happy music. But I can’t listen to a song whose emotional notes are entirely positive when I need to be reminded of the beauty in the world. When I’m depressed, simple fun can’t reach me. Claims that “everything’ll be all right” lie so far outside of my worldview that I can’t see them as anything but hollow lies. What I need at those times is art that acknowledges pain and still speaks of pleasure.

In some ways I think I ought to hate “Let’s Go Crazy”. In other contexts, I tend to experience “crazy” as a slur against the mentally ill – a minor one, certainly, more like “bitch” than “cunt”, but a slur nonetheless. I have a particular fear of involuntary institutionalization, which the chorus treats like a joke (“before they put us in the truck”). Certainly, some of my pleasure in the song must come from the fact that I’ve known it for a long time; I wasn’t thinking of “crazy” as a word that held me up for ridicule when I was a kid, so the song may have gotten grandfathered in to my tastes, as it were. But it’s not just a tune I like to listen to whose lyrics make me cringe. “Let’s Go Crazy” speaks to me.

Prince has often been described as an icon for outcasts, a figure who proved by his existence and success that it could be wonderful to be strange. There’s something to this idea, but it can make him sound like the human version of the toothless “be yourself” moral so common in children’s media. That moral coexists comfortably with the exclusion and shaming of the “selves” of people of color, queer people, trans people, disabled people, and all the other peoples in this world who are not just unusual but marginalized.

“Let’s Be Crazy” shows that, if we want to celebrate Prince as a leader for the weird, then we must recognize that “weird” means “sick” and “crazy” and “wrong”; it means, at least in this song, and for me, “disabled” and “mentally ill”. Celebrating life, as Prince exhorts us to, can be dangerous. Living our lives as the people we truly are can get us attacked, institutionalized, killed, depending on the forms of oppression we suffer. As a white woman, I know I will never be able to understand much of the pain in Prince’s music; my marginalizations are not interchangeable with Blackness. I can, however, hear in “Let’s Go Crazy” a voice that deeply understood what it is to have a mind that is unacceptable to the world, a mind that attacks itself, a mind that seeks death. That voice asks me if I will let myself be broken down, and I am filled with the strength to say: no.


Harley+Ivy 4-eva

I recently watched Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, a 2000 direct-to-TV movie spinoff of the TV series Batman Beyond. The show was a part of my childhood Saturday morning lineup, but I’d never seen the movie. It’s really good, and I may be writing a post soon comparing it to The Killing Joke – it plays with some of the same themes, but in certain key ways it’s much better. Before I do, though, I wanted to make sure I let the world know about what I consider to be its most exciting bit of DC Animated Universe info: Return of the Joker strongly suggests that Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy had kids.

Batman Beyond is set decades after Batman: the Animated Series. Bruce Wayne is an old, bitter man, and Batman is his protege Terry McGinnis. Harley shows up in this movie in a flashback to the B:TAS days. At the time of that flashback, she and Joker are clearly in one of their honeymoon phases, playacting at being a perfect suburban nuclear family right up until the Joker is killed.

Near the end of the movie, Harley shows up to bail her ne’er-do-well granddaughters, criminal duo Dee Dee, out of jail, kvetching about how hard she’s worked to make a nice home for them. Obviously, this raises the question: who is Dee Dee’s grandfather? It is just possible that Harley was pregnant when the Joker was killed, but it seems unlikely. The two of them actually explicitly say during the flashback scene that they decided to “adopt” (i.e., kidnap) a child rather than have one “the old-fashioned way”. Theoretically, of course, Harley could have moved on from supervillainy and met someone new, but in that case, I strongly suspect she would have returned to her old name and identity, Dr. Harleen Quinzell. But there’s another option. In TAS and most other incarnations since, when Harley backs off from the Joker, it’s typically into the arms of Poison Ivy.

Though both are supervillains, Harley and Ivy’s relationship is generally presented as far more healthy than Harley’s and Joker’s. Even when Harley and Joker are apparently a functional couple, as in their scene together in Return of the Joker, she’s always subservient to him, his hench-wench and homemaker. At the worst of times, the Joker hits and mocks Harley, and clearly wants her with him because she’s a useful minion, not because he returns her affections. Harley’s tragedy is that she always comes back to the Joker, insisting that his abuse proves his love. Ivy, however, seems to bring out her independence.

Ivy and Harley together often get sympathetic moments, suggesting that their relationship is humanizing for both. Creators have flirted with confirming that the relationship is a sexual and romantic one for years, while never outright stating it in the comics or cartoons. Personally, I no longer get excited at new articles on comics sites saying “HARLEY/IVY NOW CANON” because at this point, so many different stories have depicted that relationship as a queer one that it’s not in the hands of the latest writer to say that it is or isn’t. It is nice when comics creators can acknowledge reality, though.

So, what’s this got to do with Return of the Joker? Ivy isn’t even in the movie. But given the years of context suggesting that Harley without the Joker is Harley with Ivy, it’s only reasonable to assume that “Nana Harley” lives in a cute little two-person greenhouse with Dr. Pamela Isley. After all, who would have rescued Harley from her apparently-fatal fall at the end of the flashback scene? Who would have had the medical knowledge to patch her up? (Though Dr. Quinzell is a medical doctor herself, to be fair.)

The most telling piece of evidence, though: Harley’s grandchildren have red hair. We know Harley herself is blonde, so either she had children with a redhead or one of her children did. Ivy is known to create plant-golems and I strongly suspect that splicing her and Harley’s DNA together and growing children in a huge seedpod is not beyond her skills. (Of course, either one of them could also be trans and they could have reproduced the old-fashioned way, but gene-splicing seems more in character for both of them even if that were a possibility. And as long as we’re going for trans headcanons, I prefer to reach for the stars and say both are.)

Okay, so it’s hardly conclusive. Maybe Harley moved on with her life and met someone new. Honestly, though, nobody has managed to move on much in the years between Batman: the Animated Series and Batman Beyond. Sure, Bruce Wayne and Barbara Gordon have quit superheroing, but they’re still deeply involved in the superheroics and crime of Gotham. The Joker has somehow managed not to move on despite being dead. Why imagine a red-headed son-in-law for Harley when it’s so much simpler to assume her granddaughters are replanted clippings from a hybrid of her and Poison Ivy’s genes?