Creators of the HBO Max series Harley Quinn said executives blocked a scene where Batman performs oral sex on Catwoman, sparking a social media conversation about censorship of female pleasure.



Just a warning - this next conversation contains adult content, descriptions of sex acts and popular comic book characters. This may not be suitable for children.

In an interview with Variety last week, the creators of the HBO Max adult animated series "Harley Quinn" revealed that a scene depicting Batman performing oral sex on Catwoman was blocked by DC Entertainment. The rationale - because, quote, "heroes don't do that." Well, this prompted some heated conversations on social media about the censorship of female pleasure and sex in comics even as the sexualization of female characters has become standard in most storylines. Glen Weldon of NPR's Arts Desk joins us now to talk about all this.

Hey, Glen.

GLEN WELDON, BYLINE: Hey. It's great to be here. Thanks for having me.

CHANG: Good to have you. OK, so what do you make of the argument that heroes don't do that?

WELDON: I mean, the whole notion that heroes don't do that - that's provably false. I'd argue that thinking of others and putting their needs above yours is pretty much the definition of a hero.

CHANG: (Laughter).

WELDON: But set that aside, as you mentioned, we are getting this second-hand - right? - from the "Harley Quinn" creators, who noted that DC let them go nuts with villain characters but were very nervous, very protective of heroes like Batman. And unfortunately, that tracks, right? These characters are extremely valuable nuggets of intellectual property to these corporations. And it also, I've got to say, seems sadly inevitable because superheroes are a uniquely American creation. It's jazz, baseball, superheroes. And they embody our uniquely American hangups, unfortunately. So they're all about violence. But when it comes to sex, they can't help but reflect our repressed and puritanical attitudes towards it.

CHANG: Totally. And we should note that we did reach out to DC Entertainment, which hasn't publicly commented on any of this. But what happened here with Batman and Catwoman is part of a broader cultural conversation about misogyny, female pleasure and the aversion to sex positivity in media. How do you think that larger conversation plays out when it comes to comic book culture in particular?

WELDON: Well, as comic book and superhero fiction went from the kind of fringes of culture to become what it is today - the mainstream - there's just a lot more voices in the mix, more women, more people of color, queer folk. And they've got a fundamentally different, and I would argue healthier, attitude toward these characters because they use things like fan fiction to take these characters, mix and match them up in a way that completely ignores the notion that DC and Marvel own them. And, yes, fan fiction has a rep. Sometimes they do it in a lot of sexual ways that make that "Harley Quinn" scene seem like "Rebecca Of Sunnybrook Farm."

CHANG: (Laughter).

WELDON: But there is something more important going on here, right? It's really about renegotiating that relationship between creators and audiences. It's now an ongoing dialogue and not just this unidirectional corporate monologue.

CHANG: Exactly. So, I mean, with all of this outrage on the internet boiling over last week - you know, we saw Batman and Catwoman's sex lives trending - do you think the creators - you know, I'm sure they've seen all of this discussion. Do you think that any of that will have an impact on what ends up on the screen?

WELDON: Well, as you mentioned, DC hasn't commented. Imagine being the PR flack tapped to write that press release. That'd be fun.

CHANG: (Laughter).

WELDON: But the reason you and I are talking about it, Ailsa, is because this whole thing was a very fun, inescapable meme for a couple days last week on social media, with idiots like me weighing in...

CHANG: (Laughter).

WELDON: ...On which heroes do and don't do that. So, yes, they've heard. But are we going to get, you know, an official DC comic or official DC movie where the Justice League goes to a key party and there's lots of...

CHANG: (Laughter).

WELDON: ...Hot hero-on-hero action? No. But if it helps move the needle even a little bit so that these corporations - and, by extension, these characters - get a little less uptight about sex, that would be healthy, right?

CHANG: Yeah.

WELDON: I mean, think about it. They are already wearing the fetish gear, so take the next step. It's a small one.

CHANG: Great point. That was Glen Weldon from NPR's Arts Desk.

Thank you, Glen.

WELDON: Thank you.

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