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Rapey Pop Culture - Tim Lieder [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Tim Lieder

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Rapey Pop Culture [Apr. 25th, 2014|10:54 am]
Tim Lieder
I did not like watching Jaime raping Cersei on Game of Thrones. It's going to make it much harder to like him from here on out and he is one of the better characters in the later books. This scene also revived all of the Game of Thrones is just about the rape (an interpretation which Martin probably encourages - especially when you read his new chapter for Winds of Winter that begins with "Mercy was going to get raped and killed that night" before revealing that Mercy is Arya in a theater troupe and that the play they are doing is pretty much Tyrion=Richard III but with more Rape - and the fact that the midget playing Tyrion is wearing a fake cock that Arya threatens to rip off and throw in the audience just really pushes the whole "I'm a bad person for laughing at this" trope that Joan Rivers has based a career on)

Seriously, Joan Rivers is like the hardest working woman in show business.

And while that is a valid criticism and the rape card does get played too often, I think we are stuck in this current cultural trope for the moment and that's not necessarily a bad thing. That's not to say that I love rape in my television shows and movies. Nor does it mean that I don't notice how it becomes a lazy way to create tension. Hell, I read Piers Anthony and that creepy shit imprinted on my brain for years.

But I don't see that in Game of Thrones and here's where I echo Alyssa Rosenberg in noting that the point of GoT is to de-romanticize the medieval world and one of the primary concerns of that world was rape by Vikings. The Book of Judith which is only a slightly cleaned up version of the story of Yael and Sisera (yes both stories are about rape - or revenge for rape) was one of the most popular stories, re-painted several times by classical artists. L'Morte d'Artur has a scene where the knights find a farmhand who seems more noble than most. Turns out his mother was raped by a knight before her marriage. Everyone is happy about this turn of events since the knight gets a son and the farmhand gets an advancement and it's up to future generations to read that and notice that it's totally fucked up.

Beyond Game of Thrones - which depicts rape as brutal and a natural part of patriarchal gender roles - rape is getting depicted because we as a culture are more sensitive to rape. The story of a football team raping a woman and then posting about it becomes news especially when the media talks about how their lives are ruined by the pathetically easy jail sentence. Ed Kramer rapes 10 year old boys and he manages to get away with it for over a decade. Joe Paterno is getting a fucking statue in Penn State and yes, I know it's because he led the football team to victory but like the joke that ends with "but you fuck one goat..." his legacy should be permanently ruined by letting Jerry Sandusky get away with molestation.

So we're depicting rape in the popular culture. It can be shitty and stupid. It can be unintentionally hilarious in its wrongheadedness (did Oz always have to have that jazz score going?) but it can also be more realistic and angry. And that's infinitely better than pretending that it doesn't exist, that it can be dismissed or that it's not the problem.

This actually reminds me of the report that Minnesota has more rapes. Upon investigation, it was discovered that Minnesota is not a particularly rapey state. It just has a police department that puts down a rape as a rape instead of "aggravated assault" or whatever lesser charge that people come up with to pretend that rape isn't happening and juke the stats (damn the Wire gets to you). In other words, we got a problem with rape culture and we should deal with rape culture instead of the things that are calling attention to it.

[User Picture]From: rinue
2014-04-25 03:43 pm (UTC)
I think it's important to make a distinction between the GoT TV series and the books, regardless of Martin's inolvement in both. There are a lot of scenes that differ. Martin's degree of control is wildly different. But beyond that, I actually subscribe to the "media is the message" critique by McLuhan. A book is experientially different than a television show, and the experience of watching the performance of a narrative is different than the experience of reading a description of that narrative (or of that performance).

For instance, if I'm reading about a rape, I'm reading about it. It might take a sentence to communicate that it's happened. It might spend a lot of time on internal narrative, the emotions rather than the physical act. If I'm watching an enactment of a rape, I'm watching bodies. No two ways about it. I'm not inside anybody's head: I am explicitly outside. I may or may not be aware of the actors playing the roles; I may seperately be pitying the character who is being raped and pitying the actress who is asked to act out rapes over and over, thanks to a paucity of alternative "dramatic" scenes for women. I may or may not be aware of how carefully lit and framed the scene is to be beautiful and the degree to which it reiterates certain ideas about how bodies look, how sex looks. The camera literally directs my eye: it decides what I look at and how I see it.

And it's beautiful; filmmakers can't help but make things beautiful in the same way dancers always stand like dancers even when they're not dancing.

It is hard for me to not view that as participatory, particularly since the cameraman is definitely a man, the people lighting the scene are men, the people directing the scene are men, and the people producing the scene and hiring the actors are men. It's possible there's a female costumer in there somewhere.

These are not scenes put together by people who have been raped or feared being raped, or even experienced the physicality of being a woman having consensual sex. And it makes a difference. Look for instance at the difference between how sexual agression or prostitution are presented in American Psycho (Lesbian director) compared to, say, Wolf of Wall Street, Taxi Driver.

And as much as I hate to pull this card, if there are a lot of women saying "this makes me feel excluded and devalued, and feels like it's fetishizing my powerlessness," I'm not sure it's productive to hear "no, but this is for you and you're missing the point."
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[User Picture]From: marlowe1
2014-04-25 05:19 pm (UTC)
That particular scene didn't seem to be fetishizing anything. It wasn't beautiful and it was highly sympathetic of Cersei who usually doesn't get much sympathy. I agree that there are ways that rape gets portrayed as if it's some kind of fetish or "hot romance" including the rape scene from the remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice. Or the scene in Animal House where the student is "hilariously" trying to decide whether or not to rape a passed out girl.

And it seems like American Psycho and Wolf of Wall Street are both based on mocking the hell out of male power fantasies. The gender of the director isn't as important as the director's skill and sensitivity to the issues. Granted, women are more likely to direct scenes of sexual aggression and prostitution with sensitivity, but that's no guarantee since we live in a sexist society that fosters rape culture.

My point is more that rape culture is the main issue. Depicting rape culture can be just as problematic as endorsing it,but depiction is not necessarily endorsement.

Edited at 2014-04-25 05:23 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: rinue
2014-04-25 05:41 pm (UTC)
I don't think it's the skill of the director, no. Scorsese is certainly skilled, unless we're using a definition of the word where he isn't a great director somehow. But filmmakers have viewpoints in ways that are invisible to the directors themselves. I'm not talking about broad stroke "this is what my morals are." I am talking about "this camera angle needs to be an inch higher. I respond more strongly to this cry face more than this cry face." I am saying this among other things as a director who is a woman. Had Scorsese directed American Psycho I am fairly confident, having seen a lot of Scorsese movies because I like Scorsese, that without any changes to script or casting the movie would still have made some of what Patrick Bateman does look fun, the whole "I'd never do that and it's horrible, but I can see what he gets out of it and what's driving him to do it" insead of treating him like this alien weirdo.

That scene in GoT is definitely beautiful by all the formal qualities of what makes photography beautiful - modeling of objects, depth of field, use of light and shadow and color, compositional choices about what goes where in frame. If you think it's not aestheticized we just can't continue to talk about this because I don't think we have an overlapping visual arts vocabulary to draw from.

The fact that Cerci is texually the sympathetic character in the scene does not mean the scene doesn't have a subtextual reading in which we are also supposed to sympathize with a tormented man wanting to have sex with a beautiful woman, in much the same way that if you watch Scarface or White Heat, you know who the bad guy is but also think it seems like a lot of fun to be that bad guy (but can pat yourself on the back for knowing what's "right" because the cops get him in the end).

Don't get me wrong - I get bored with the "rape is murder" trope as much as anybody. But if I feel like complaining that I have to watch the same shit over and over again in ways that do not in any way alter my understanding of the (fictional) timeperiod or the lives of (real) women - shit which I neither enjoy nor expands my empathy - I feel like that's a pretty fuckin valid position to take.
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[User Picture]From: rinue
2014-04-25 06:11 pm (UTC)
Depicting rape culture can be just as problematic as endorsing it,but depiction is not necessarily endorsement.

What you meant to say here is "Depicting rape can be just as problematic as endorsing it, but depiction is not necessarily endorsement." Which is a reasonable stance, although it doesn't change the fact that I do think this depiction is endorsement. More to the point don't think it was depicted to help women so much as to aggrandize the directors and to drive ratings by telling audiences this is "must see" (to profit from rape, explicitly).

Rape culture is something else. Rape culture is not something you depict by showing a rape; to depict rape culture would be depicting the depictions of rapes. Rape culture is something you participate in. By among other things presenting straight male sexuality as inherently (read: normally) rapey.
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[User Picture]From: sabotabby
2014-04-25 10:05 pm (UTC)
And it's beautiful; filmmakers can't help but make things beautiful in the same way dancers always stand like dancers even when they're not dancing.

It's Truffault Was Right, pretty much. Or would be, if that particular sequence wasn't so badly lit.
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[User Picture]From: robby
2014-04-25 05:11 pm (UTC)
I just saw an article about how Central American migrant women prepare for the journey through Mexico by taking precautionary birth control. Ninety percent of them are raped along the way.
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[User Picture]From: sabotabby
2014-04-25 09:55 pm (UTC)
Jesus fuck.
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[User Picture]From: sabotabby
2014-04-25 10:02 pm (UTC)
I don't think anyone (anyone sensible, at least) would argue that we should never portray rape, though. For me, that scene was bad for a bunch of reasons:

1. It was one of my favourite scenes in the book, hands-down. It was so delightfully fucked up. I was pretty sure they weren't going to include it, because a brother and sister fucking in front of their dead incest baby in a church while she's on the rag? It's flawless and if they weren't going to do it justice, they shouldn't have included it. Rape makes it more normal.

2. The pattern they've now established where consensual-according-to-the-standards-of-the-universe sex gets turned into rape. First Drogo/Dany, now this.

3. It's a terribly shot sequence. It's dark, poorly-choreographed, and whatever point it's trying to get across doesn't get across or they wouldn't have to keep explaining it. We don't get any reaction shot from Cersei (which I guess is true to the book, but she gets to say more in the book so we kind of know what she's thinking), and it just feeds into the whole blurred-lines, maybe-she's-into-it toxic cultural garbage.

It's probably only the second creative decision they've made that I totally disagree with, too. But it's a huge one.
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