Friday, 3 April 2015

Rape of Thrones: A Song of Pop Culture and Sexual Assault


Thought I'd get the word out of the way since that's the topic of discussion for this post, specifically rape in pop culture. Well, in storytelling like comics and television. I'm not even going to get into rapey songs since that's a whole other can of non-consenting worms I don't want to get into because I think I'm already dealing with enough here.

Now, this is a topic that has been written about by far more informed and sensitive writers than myself and I know that it's not really a topic that lends itself to the tongue-in-cheek tone of this blog. But last week I said I came up with a topic I wanted to do a full arsed job of and this is that topic.

Yeah, this is gonna go down great.

Before anyone starts suggesting this, since people always start suggesting this when you talk about rape or misogyny in pop culture, I'm not accusing any of these writers of being sexist or misogynistic in any way. Far from it, most of these writers are known to have written strong and interesting female characters. However, the use of rape as a trope in pop culture, as well as the way in which it is often written insensitively and fixated upon by male writers, reflects a wider social problem.

The underlying sexism inherent in parts of modern society is often internalised to such a degree that it doesn't appear as problematic when it should. This internalisation occurs because we tend to view the society we live in as 'normal' and don't often question its logic or rules. So the reason something like inequality can be seen as acceptable or normal is because it isn't questioned unless that society itself is examined. But examining society means stepping outside of it and questioning its logic which isn't something most people tend to do.

Therefore, aspects of patriarchy are seen as normal since they form part of the society we live in. This in turn is then perpetrated by our culture since that culture is created by people within society who create stuff which reflect that society, creating a feedback loop.

Did the misogyny create me or did I create the misogyny?

However, the real kicker is that anytime someone does start to question a society's logic, that critique seems undermines our own understanding of the world. It's as though if someone else offers a different worldview destabilises your own worldview, since if other people have conflicting views of reality and the world, then maybe that means your views could be wrong.

There are two common reactions to this, one is to learn from that different worldview and to perhaps open your worldview up to encompass the conflicting one. The other is to reject it and to reject the person who has that different worldview as 'other'. This is most commonly done by calling them mean names and insisting they're making it up to dismiss it, and geez, it's just a movie, get over it and go burn a bra or whatever.

Not pictured: Bra burning since that never happened.

So, now that all of that is out of the way, back to rape. Because that doesn't sound bad at all. But yeah, rape. First things first (well second since I first spoke about misogyny and some social stuff), obviously rape is bad. I think we can all agree on that. And that any form of victim blaming is the sign of a misogynist or broken culture.

Nothing a woman or man does or doesn't wear should entitle another person to violate that person physically or otherwise. I think that sounds fair. If you don't agree, I guess you're okay with rape? Maybe you like rape and are a raper? Or maybe you're just cool blaming the person who got raped because you think they should have prevented it or something?

I think that sort of thinking comes from the mentally that we often see ourselves as being exempt from a terrible situation and blame the person in that situation for letting that terrible thing happen to them. Because somehow we feel we would never have let ourselves be in a situation where we could get raped or if we ever were in that situation that we could have done something different to not get raped.

Therefore, at times people can see rape survivors as somehow complicit in their rape since they should have fought harder or broken the rapist's penis with their vaginal muscles or something.

Look at her! She's barely struggling against the invisible man raping her. She must want it and all the other girls like to watch.

But yeah, pop culture and stuff. So, I guess what I'm trying to say is that rape is a very sensitive and complicated topic and should be handled with respect and tact when used in a story. Does that mean I think rape is taboo and should never be discussed or that no character should ever be raped in a work of fiction?

No, not at all. I don't think any topic should be taboo and that we need to have open and frank conversations about rape in our society which can expressed through our culture. However, the way that rape is portrayed and the purpose of that rape for the narrative or character are all important in deeming whether that rape scene is okay or not.

Essentially the best rational to decide whether to rape in your story was written by Rachel Eddin on her blog Inside Out:
Take a good look at your story. Why do you think a rape is what you need for it to progress? Is there something else that could fill the same function? Unless you have a damn good reason to include rape in a story, you probably shouldn't. Using sexual assault as a motivation-in-a-box or an equivalent trope will do nothing but steal credibility and respect from a really serious, really important subject. Plus, you'll look like a twit.

Note: I can't find the link to the exact article, although Linkara talks about it around the 12 minute mark in this video.

Sooo... you saying unnecessary rape scenes are bad? 

And I think that's the perfect starting point. Essentially if there is literally any other way to get across the point you're trying to get across by a having a character be raped, perhaps it's better to go with that other way. In fact, it's definitely better since there are so many ways you can handle a rape scene poorly or intensively.

Now, this sensitivity doesn't really apply to situations such as the casual rapes of extras in the background of a war scene which serves to highlight the horrors performed by people in war. That has a point. Unless of course it is merely an excuse to have some tits out with the pretext of making a point, in which case it misses the point and makes the writer look like a twit.

However, a main character, especially a female character, getting raped is a really tempting choice for a writer who wants to show the lowest point or violation that character has been subjected to in order to show how they then rise above it or were ultimately crushed by it since it is such a violation.

I nearly was raped by this guy and then had his love-child because that's how to get over that rape nonsense.
Character development!

Again, that doesn't mean you can't ever use a rape in order to show a character at their lowest point or where they have been violated as motivation for their character, but it needs to handled with some delicacy and with a purpose, not as a hackneyed cheap trope.

I think an example of this that toes the line is Daenerys Targaryen called Stormborn, the Unburnt, Mother of Dragons, Khaleesi of the Dothraki, Trueborn Queen of the Andals, Rhoynar, and the First Men, Lady of the Seven Kingdoms, Lover of Hot Baths, and Eater of Raw Horse Hearts.

When we first met Daenerys Targaryen called Stormborn, the Unburnt, Mother of Dragons, Khaleesi of the Dothraki, Trueborn Queen of the Andals, Rhoynar, and the First Men, Lady of the Seven Kingdoms, Lover of Hot Baths, Eater of Raw Horse Hearts, she is a timid quite girl who has no agency or voice of her own. She is completely dominated by her brother who sells her off into marriage with a man from another culture she doesn't understand and which seems really brutal and savage to her.

Also the man is literally twice her size. Literally.

And like every other man in her life, initially Drogo just uses her, raping her on their wedding night as Daenerys Targaryen called Stormborn, the Unburnt, Mother of Dragons, Khaleesi of the Dothraki, Trueborn Queen of the Andals, something something, First Men, something something, tries and fails to hold back her tears at the indignation and pain.

Now, a point should be made that this is what happens in Game of Thrones the TV show. In the book, their wedding night conception is definitely depicted as being more mutually consensual. Daenerys, etc and so on, might be a bit scared but that's just because she's a virgin and this guy is literally twice her size, however she does want to sleep with Drogo as her new husband.

The point of difference in the show is that their wedding night is definitely rape. Drogo has his way with her with no consideration of her as a person, using her body as a means to satisfy his own urges, exerting his will over hers.

If only she had a rape whistle.

However, why I think that this works is in the context of the character. Daenerys this and that, whatever, first starts to exert herself as a person through sex. It is later when she learns more sexual techniques from a more experience woman and then implements that knowledge in the bedroom with Drogo that she starts to become the badass character we know and love.

This is not to say that the only power a woman can have is through sex. Not at all. But in the context of the fictional world of Game of Thrones, there are very few options for women to assert power and sex is one of those. Also, in a pivotal moment for the character, when Daenerys, blah, blah and yadda yadda, tells Drogo "no" and that she wants to face him when having sex, this is the first time she has ever stood up for herself and exerted her will on a man.

This is the change that leads Drogo to begin to respect her and eventually fall in love with her, as well as the beginning of the development of her character into the hard but fair ruler that strikes equal amounts fear and devotion to her followers. So, in this context the rape scene works, if just. It also helps that the rape is shot to make the viewer feel very uncomfortable.

Here's another Drogo/Daenerys rape scene. Don't worry this one is just as uncomfortable.

Sticking with Game of Thrones, there was a rape scene in the past season that stuck out with viewers. This is saying something since Game of Thrones has approximately all the rape, however there was something different about this rape scene oppose to the countless other such scenes of sexual assault in a show set in a fantasy medieval universe.

I'm of course referring to the scene where Jamie Lannister rapes his sister, Cersei, right next to the corpse of their dead son. Now, what was wrong about this scene wasn't the incest or even the dead body of their illegitimate offspring. No, what was wrong about this scene is that it served no purpose, didn't make sense in context of either character, nor was there any reason for the writers to have Jaime rape her. None at all.

In the original source material, Cersei initially doesn't want to have sex but that is more because they are in a public place and she doesn't want to get caught fucking her brother, rather than not wanting to fuck said brother. They then have some quick consensual sex next to the stiff body of their recently deceased son.

"You could say she traded one stiff for another, if you get what I mean." - Jaime Lannister, probably.

Jaime, despite being a rogue and technically one of the bad guys in the show, is a man with a sense of honour, and is utterly devoted to his sister. He once pushed a child out of a window to kill him with no hesitation in order to protect their secret love, to protect her. It makes no sense in the context of who he is as a character to have him rape Cersei.

Now, he and Cersei have been separated for some time since he was busy being chained up and having his hand chopped off, so maybe that changed him? That reason might have possibly worked if there had been any indication that his attitude towards her had changed but there wasn't. He just straight up rapes her because um, it's Game of Thrones and we've only had two rapes this episode so far?

And the writers saying that Cersei got into it by the end seems like a huge cop out and kinda like them being totally okay with having one of their more likable main characters just straight up rape his sister because he hadn't got it on since his hand got off.

"I think he just used a masturbation joke in an article about rape. I'm not sure whether to feel offended or impressed."
- Cersei Lannister, probably.

And the fact the writers had Jaime rape his sister for no real discernible reason, it doesn't seem to drastically impact their relationship nor seem to serve a real dramatic purpose to the plot, and the fact it is so out of character for Jaime that it makes little sense and acts as an example of how not to do a rape.

In storytelling, I mean. Since you can do rape in storytelling right, it just must be handled with sensitivity for the subject, be in character for your characters, and have a point that more than just an attempt to be shocking in the name of being adult. Rape is never something that should be written without great care and consideration but it can and should be written and used in storytelling.

In everything else however, you should never do rape ever. Just don't.


On Race and Sexual Violence in the Works of Alan Moore

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This introduction is supposed to let you know that you have found the correct Caleb. 

I am here to tell that your search is over. I am indeed the correct Caleb for any given situation. Parties, hunter-gatherings, long walks on the beach, shindigs, guest appearances, and so much more. I am an multi-purpose Caleb guaranteed to impress friends and influence your uncle.

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