Ortiz: There is a thin line between on-screen problematic characters and real life

Kenia Ortiz

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

TV shows and movies sold our generation the idea that toxic behavior is acceptable. While no one is perfect, there is a difference between watching and enjoying toxic characters on screen and letting them take place in our everyday lives.


According to Psychology Today, people responsible for toxic behavior are unaware they are. They are too caught up in their own emotions, goals and needs to be aware of their effect on others.

A pair of beloved super-villain characters in the DC Universe are the Joker and Harley Quinn. While they are complex and intentionally dark characters, their behavior should remain on screen and not be encouraged in real life.

Couples have dressed as the Joker and Harley for Halloween ever since “Suicide Squad” premiered in 2016. Some refer to Harley and the Joker as “relationship goals.” They are not relationship goals; the Joker physically and emotionally abuses Harley in their relationship. 

Knowing how to identify a toxic relationship and the next steps to take is extremely important, yet it’s unknown information to many. According to loveisrespect.org, college students are not equipped to deal with dating abuse. Fifty-seven percent of college students say it is difficult to identify and 58 percent say they don’t know how to help someone who’s experiencing it.

A real life example of admiring a “ride-or-die” couple is Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston. In an interview with Oprah, Whitney said, “He was my drug…I didn’t do anything without him.” Similar to Harley, Whitney could not see herself without her partner even when he hurt her. Brown admitted to physically hurting Houston, and even after Brown’s court hearing, they both walked out arm in arm.

Movie reporter Chris Lee said Brown and Houston presented their relationship as “a kind of ‘80s R&B edition of Bonnie and Clyde—he, a hard-partying bad-boy pioneer of New Jack Swing, and she, America’s one-time sweetheart.” While Brown and Houston’s relationship was not an exact replica of the Joker and Harley, glorifying such relationships on screen makes it easier to dismiss and overlook abusive relationships in real life.

The Joker has been an iconic comic book villain that survived the test of time. Even though he is admired in the DC Universe, that admiration has led to casualties in real life.

“Pretty Little Liars’”  most infamous couple, Ezra Fitz and Aria Montgomery, were seen as star-crossed lovers, since Ezra was Aria’s teacher. The show ignores that their relationship is based on statutory rape and power dynamics. 

This is not something to be romanticized. This is disgusting. It is not OK to portray a student-teacher relationship on screen without showing the real-life consequences and disgusting intentions on the teacher’s behalf.

This is not something to be romanticized. This is disgusting. It is not OK to portray a student-teacher relationship on screen without showing the real-life consequences and disgusting intentions on the teacher’s behalf.


Former teacher James Hooker was involved with 18-year-old Jordan Powers. Hooker befriended Powers when she was his student and began a romantic relationship. Hooker quit his job so that him and Powers could move in together. The high school teacher left his former family to be with Powers, and in his defense, he stated that “love will overcome everything.” He was then arrested for sexually assaulting another student in the past.

Our reality tends to mirror media, and if we idolize and overlook abusive relationships, glorify those who abuse their power and fail to separate fantasy from reality, we will continue the cycle of abuse and harm in our society.

If you have any questions, concerns or need assistance, please reach out to the Women and Gender Advocacy Center or the Victim Assistance Team at Colorado State University.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this column incorrectly stated that James Holmes, who committed the 2012 Aurora Theater shooting told the police he was the Joker. The information that Holmes referred to himself as the Joker was originally reported without attribution by unreliable media following the 2012 Aurora Theatre Shooting, the 18th Judicial District found. This column has been updated to reflect the removal of the inaccuracy.

Kenia Ortiz can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter at @Kenia_Ortiz_.