not in our stars, but in ourselves
When my fella and I got home from seeing Fury Road, we settled in to watch TV (and, in my case, fall asleep). He had DVR’d the two Big Television Events of the night, Mad Men‘s finale and the new Game of Thrones, and both were in progress or nearly finished by the time we crashed in bed and started watching. As always, I did a quick check of my various internets before drifting off to sleep: bookface, Twitter, and Tumblr. Within about a nanosecond of opening Tumblr, the new GoT episode was spoiled for me – and, if you’ve seen the episode as well, or paid attention to the internet, you know what the big spoiler is. If, somehow, you’ve managed to keep yourself in the dark up to now, and you want to keep it that way, turn back. Close the tab, and go read something else. Or look at a video of a dog or something.
You’re still here? Okay.
To be clear, I did not watch the episode. I didn’t see Sansa’s rape. I just read about it on Tumblr shortly before passing out on Sunday night, and then saw the massive fallout all over the internet yesterday and today. And to be extra clear, I have read precisely zero of the books, and haven’t watched the series with any particular loyalty (or interest): my housemates have read all the books and have been watching since I moved in with them, at which point Season 4 began; my boyfriend has also read all the books, and so I watch it with him most weeks, too. The show is moderately entertaining at best, as far as I can tell, hokey at times, and then – all too often, it seems, based on that fallout I mentioned – needlessly brutal and shocking-for-shock’s-sake at its worst.
A small smattering of the more outraged articles I’ve read over the past day or so:
There’s plenty more, of course.
Sigh. After the shot in the arm that is Fury Road, it’s nice to know that the rest of mainstream entertainment is still fucking shit for women. Now, if you’re going to try to protest, just spare me. Please. I don’t want to hear it. Using rape as a characterization tool – of the MEN – is bullshit. Using rape as a motivator for a woman to get revenge is, if it’s not handled very carefully, bullshit. Using rape as a lazy plot device is bullshit. We live in a disgusting, cruel, patriarchal world, and representation matters. I won’t even point to the fan reactions I found while searching for that Tumblr post, because they were chock-full of idiots arguing that “it wasn’t rape” and that anyone offended should “calm down.” I hate to put it in these terms, but to anyone trying to claim Sansa isn’t raped, or Cersei isn’t raped, or whoever the fuck else on GoT who happens to be female and in the wrong place at the wrong time, try this thought exercise: what if it had been your mother? Your sister? Your girlfriend? Your aunt? Your cousin? I bet you’d take their word for it that it was rape. Now, you shouldn’t have to imagine that it’s someone you know and love – but if it helps you to understand why you should take this shit seriously, then by all means, imagine away.
Am I arguing against any representation of rape in screen culture? Not necessarily, but I think the white/male (in a word: cavalier) attitude to using it for shock value (or whatever) is deplorable, and needs to end immediately. Consider this:
George Miller is white. George Miller is a man. It’s understood, in Fury Road, that the five women Furiosa saves are raped daily by a horrific tyrant. AND YET. He doesn’t show us. He doesn’t objectify any of the women in the film: the one time there’s a lingering shot of one of the brides’ bodies, it’s on the one who happens to be pregnant. For a group of sex slaves, in fact, these ladies are almost demurely dressed. You see, Miller is apparently just wild and crazy enough to let the viewer imagine these women’s plight, and to let the movie really concern itself with their reclamation of personhood. (Because that’s what it is: not doing things because they’re traumatized by their lifetime of sexual assault, but doing them because – as they say themselves – “We are not things.”) And whaddaya know! It makes the movie that much better! You don’t have to rely on showing brutalized women to advance your story, or to provide “motivation” for your characters, etc., etc. You can, and should, try to show women that their lot in life isn’t solely that of the rape victim, the virgin, the mother, or the whore. Who knows? If you show that enough times, in enough movies and TV shows, you might start changing the way some of your viewers think about treating us. Haven’t you boys heard that we’re human beings, too? Wouldn’t it be nice if you started acting like it?
Anyway, I will continue not to invest any particular amount of effort or interest in GoT. I doubt I’ll be able to avoid it altogether, alas, but I’ll try to console myself with visions of the day when the show is off the air for good.
P.S. Lest you think I’m a total killjoy, I absolutely cannot WAIT for Hannibal to come back. If you’re gonna be a show about murder and mind games, you should really take a page from Dr. Lecter’s cookbook. And isn’t it crazy to think that it’s never once relied on rape as a cheap story line to generate sympathy/disgust/whatever? Wow! How do these superior artists and filmmakers do it!