*note: first part of article not written by me. Found online but no link.
Last August, a high school girl in Steubenville, Ohio was gang raped by her classmates. No one did anything. Ever since, the woman has been shamed for “letting it happen” or “asking for it” (or some similar bullshit) while the classmates, who are supposedly supposed to go on and do great things (like get away with one of the most heinous crimes ever and play football), have an entire community rallying behind them. Have you even heard about this? If you have, good. If you have, I’m pleased that this news made it to you through the patriarchal grapevines of American media. If you haven’t heard, that sounds about right. Most people I’ve talked to haven’t. Next story. A couple months ago, a woman in India was gang raped in a public bus in New Delhi. The law enforcement said it was her fault. Did you hear about this? Of course you did! Everyone did. And you know what happened immediately after? The whole country, in one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen in my life, protested against the legal system and Indian government. It was college students – men, women, and otherwise – fighting against arrays of policemen who make a living using their baton. It was newspapers starting to publish articles about respecting women. People stood up for this woman and all the women that are constantly abused and mistreated in India. India’s civil society stood up, literally, against violence, and protested against the institutionalized patriarchy and lack of action regarding rape survivors. It was inspiring, empowering, and gorgeous. It was India’s civil society and it was mesmerizing. We have to stop presenting rape cases in foreign countries as within their relative norms and out of ours. We have to stop discussing rape in the context of community or location and we have to start discussing rape in the context of men trying to assert dominance over women – no matter where she is or what she is doing or asking or saying or wearing or drinking. And we need to demand that our media and culture does not enable it’s viewers to become desensitized to raping women. I’ve been a fan of the American Horror Story franchise since the first episodes began airing. As the campy plotlines and serious supernatural gore of the first season continued, I found myself enthralled. Yeah, rape and sexual assault were used gratuitously, but as a fan of popular culture, I’ve become regrettably hardened to its use. As long as it was a known part of the plot, I was braced for it. The awesome character-building and portrayal of strong (and sometimes sketchy) female characters like Vivien, Violet, Moira and Constance (and weak, slimy, disgusting male characters like Tate and Ben). The rape of Vivien and the subsequent demonic child in particular seemed like an almost-relevant use of rape as a plot point. It seemed almost like the director was aiming at highlighting the horrors women go through at the hands of terrible men. Or something.
Season 2, dubbed Asylum, was unsurprisingly as rape-filled, if not more so. But, similarly to the first season, it had redeeming aspects– particularly, its focus on race and sexuality issues of the bygone era it was set in via the lesbian and interracial tragic love stories was important for representation in media. That the black wife of the white man who was committed was abducted by aliens, and that the girlfriend of the (female) journalist who became ensnared in the asylum was murdered (and the journalist subsequently raped by her murderous therapist) was, to many fans, secondary. It seemed off — all this violence against women and people of color –but not so much that I was prepared to deem the series racist and sexist and quit watching it.
Last week, all of the triggering material of the previous seasons were far from my mind as I sat in my new boyfriend’s living room with his three male roommates and watched the premiere of American Horror Story: Coven. I was excited particularly to see what Gabourey Sidibe, Angela Bassett and Kathy Bates would bring to the already amazing cast.
I sat in a room full of men I don’t know that well, and within the first five minutes of the episode, Kathy Bates (portraying the infamous murderess slave owner Delphine LaLaurie) inflicted gory torture upon a black man her daughter came-on to as her other victims and, perhaps most gruesomely, her black child servant, watched on. Later, I sat in uncomfortable silence through the date rape scene of the young witch and starlet Madison (played by Emma Roberts). Multiple frat brothers raped her as she layed in a drugged haze– and she later exacted her revenge by flipping their bus using telekinesis (and the initial perpetrator murdered through sex by Taissa Farmiga’s character). I still hadn’t told my boyfriend that I’m a sexual abuse survivor. It wasn’t a happy evening.
Detractors will, of course, note that the ever-increasing offensive violence portrayed on the American Horror Story series is used to show the evils their perpetrators– a human backdrop of terror to superimpose the supernatural subject matter upon. This has been done countless times on supernatural-themed TV series and movies — from Buffy to The X-Files to Twin Peaks – showing human evil as far worse than the supernatural is a common, and powerful, dramatic tool. Indeed, Executive Producer Tim Minear stated that this season would contain oppression and race as thematic elements. That should be warning enough, right?
Wrong. There are tasteful (and non-triggering) ways to address subjects like racism, oppression, and sexual violence in entertainment– at the very least, a warning a la Law & Order: SVU would suffice. But instead of warning audiences about the violence they are only semi-knowingly subjected to, American Horror Story chooses to use depictions of this kind of violence to shock and awe. Regardless of era or context, showing rape and racist torture can be painful to audiences–and no historical portrayals or TV-Mature rating can change that.
RATINGS ARE IRRELEVANT. Lets make is so we don’t need them shall we.
Thanks to the American Horror Story: Coven premiere, the TV ratings system needs a new warning. The TV-MA (a.k.a. “don’t watch this if you’re under 14 and your parents are home, otherwise carry on”) rating isn’t hacking it. We need TV-EMA, TV for the emotionally mature. During the season premiere of AHS: Coven, it became clear that only harm can come from certain fans enjoying the sinister show when groups of them began cheering on the rape of Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts) via Twitter.
The scene in question — which might be one of the most brutal rape scenes on recent television outside of Sons of Anarchy — finds Roberts’ character, a snobbish former starlet, being drugged and gang raped by a series of sloppy, laughing frat boys until Evan Peters’ Kyle rushes in to stop tThe perspectives in the scene are what make it so pervasively difficult to watch: Its shot from angles that align our view with that of the victim,
watching ghoulish goons hump happily while Madison is rendered helpless but not unconscious by the drugs they slipped her. Despite the deplorable attitude exhibited by Roberts’ character before she’s drugged, it’s certainly not a scene worthy of whooping it up. This scene is not about a brat being punished for her brattiness; there is no excuse or reason for this violation. It’s senseless brutality, plain and simple, and it’s a crime strong enough to awaken the witch in Zoe, who later exacts her revenge on the disgusting lead frat boy by having sex with him until he dies. (Quick background information reminder: Zoe’s lady parts are toxic and kill anyone who has sex with her.) Yet, somehow, some fans took to Twitter, expressing joy at the brutality of the scene — many of them because they dislike Roberts as an actress. “So happy @RobertsEmma got frat raped in #AmericanHorrorStory her acting is so lame. But that was funny. I’m going to hell, wait…I’m here,”tweeted one fan. “Emma Roberts getting gang-date raped, sweet,” wrote another. Some even identified with the college boys doing the dastardly deed, “Shit, I would drug Emma Roberts just to have sex with her,” or wished the real version of the scene upon the actress saying, “i hope emma roberts gets raped.” The callousness of these reactions varied, but one truly disturbing element remains a current throughout: These people think rape is a joke. The thing is, I thought we already covered this when Daniel Tosh has his public flogging for telling a female audience member it would be funny if she got raped. It opened up months upon months of public debate, with much of the crusade led by Jezebel writer Lindy West, who deftly debated comedian Jim Norton on the topic of rape humor. She argues:
I believe that the way we speak about things and the type of media we consume profoundly influences how we think about the world … I do believe that comedy’s current permissiveness around cavalier, cruel, victim-targeting rape jokes contributes to (that’s contributes—not causes) a culture of young men who don’t understand what it means to take this stuff seriously.
The response to West’s fantastic, educated, conscientious arguments was a barrage of comments that “that big bitch is bitter no one wants to rape her” or “wouldn’t the best ending be that Jim Norton rapes the fat girl,” completely proving her point. Now, in response to a truly disturbing moment on television, the cavalier masses strike again, proving that West’s (and my) fears are very real. Troves of young people — men and women, alike — find no issue with joking about rape, fundamentally detaching themselves from the true weight of the word and allowing themselves to turn it into a vehicle for a few measly retweets. They’ve found enough detachment from the word “rape” as they have from accepting that Roberts is a real person and that acting is her job, not a mystical veil that turns her into plastic so she can safely absorb threatening Internet comments. The fact that social media allows users to lob these hateful comments from an often impenetrable barricade, behind which they can safely snicker, only heightens the desire to test the limits of what they can say and get away with. Certainly, that element of social media is a big piece of why comments like these continue to crop up. But to say that there isn’t a larger issue here, in which young people seem to hold some lighter definition of rape in their minds which they reserve for jokes and pithy quips and keep as far away from its true meaning, would be missing the point. Some portion of our larger comedic discourse made these people think these “jokes” are alright. Something is suggesting that cheering on rape is hilarious as long as you’re not actually doing it. And something in this picture is terribly, terribly wrong. The rape was featured in an episode entitled “bitchcraft”. BITCHcraft. Bitch got what she deserved huh. And notice the advert pictures. Every single one is depicting a woman as nothing but a victim. And people (and many women) are okay with this “entertainment”???? Lastly, let me leave you with this video depicting what our society has done to our youth. Media, social media, and the denial mentality has created monsters. When are people going to wake the fuck up and speak up? http://vitaminw.co/culture-society/roast-busters-perpetuate-rape-culture http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0PcMxLjfJsw
- Why Scandal’s Rape Fails as a Plot Device (daratmathis.wordpress.com)