Sunday, May 24, 2015

Does TV need to change the way it portrays rape?

(Full disclosure: I don't watch Game of Thrones simply because I don't like fantasy, but I am always interested when something like this cause a huge ripple in the feminist blog world.)

Feminist geek blog, The Mary Sue is no longer promoting Game of Thrones following the rape of a key character. My own state senator, Clair McCaskill, claims she's "done with the show" after the scene, which she called "gratuitous and disgusting" in a tweet Tuesday. I'm all for making informed choices, even calling for boycotts when necessary, but I can't help but see this as another example of over-reaction and over-correction.

In a separate post from The Mary Sue the editors suggested ways TV should treat rape and sexual assault:
Rape isn’t (and shouldn’t) be some plot device that can be moved around to punctuate a sagging storyline. It reflects a very real, traumatic crime that has a long-term impact on the lives of survivors. And because of that, TV has a responsibility to also reflect the real terror, trauma, and recovery people go through when they choose to depict these events on screen.
I agree that rape shouldn't be used as a plot device to pump up sagging ratings -- that's just lazy writing and a lack of creativity -- but to imply that there's a correct way to show rape, in any medium, be it TV, movies, or literature, makes me extremely uncomfortable. It's great to talk about these things, but I don't a writer has a responsibility to anyone other than their own creative process. Don't get me wrong, it's fantastic when a writer can reflect that trauma with sensitivity, intelligence, and grace, but it's stifling to try to write within an accepted template.

Kate Polak from The Hooded Utilitarian asks:
What constitutes a “gratuitous” rape scene? Dividing rape scenes between “justified” and “unjustified” already seems to be treading into very hazy moral territory. While I’m talking about works of fiction, much of the fan resentment is centered around the fact that many women in the non-fictional universe are raped, and that when rape is depicted in film, television, or literature, it should be done in such a way that:
  • Does not make rape “sexy.”
  • Makes sense in terms of what came before in the plot
  • Focuses on the victim character.
I’m not entirely convinced that demanding that rape scenes adhere to a certain set of rules necessarily serves the audience’s best interests. Rape in real life is often as confusing as it is terrifying, and rape in fiction should better reflect the complexities of the crime. In Sapphire’s Push, the incestuous rape scene that opens the novel also includes the victim feeling sexual pleasure in spite of her fear, anger, and confusion. When I first read that scene, I was appalled. In retrospect, given what follows, this depiction makes sense in terms of carefully crafting the utter lack of clarity in the main character’s world. Of course, this was a novel that resisted identification at every turn.
I have an agenda in cherry picking a few quotes that illustrate my concerns with politicizing everything. As a writer and a fan of subversive writing, the idea that there is a proper way to write -- anything -- concerns me immensely. I love that Polak used Push as an example, because it shows a very complex reaction to sexual violence that doesn't fit an accepted narrative. (Note: I'm referring to the book Push, not the movie Precious, which I haven't seen.) Tv is a far less risky medium than literature, but I thin the same standards apply here.