Friday Night Lights- Finally Someone Gets It, Part 1

I’ve been debating how to write this piece for a couple of weeks now. After the many, many occasions when this site has criticized fictional portrayals of sexual assault (most of which I’ve agreed with) I wasn’t entirely sure how to address the idea that a show had done so in a way I felt was actually done well. I’m still not positive I’ve managed it, but I think it’s worth a shot. Yes, it’s another post about the extremely talented writers on Friday Night Lights.

The attack itself was fairly straightforward- most of the town was at the football game, but Tyra had skipped it in order to study for a test. She was waiting at the diner where her math tutor, Landry, was supposed to meet her but car trouble kept him from getting there. There was a man in the restaurant when she came in who made small talk for a minute or two but basically left her alone until she decided to leave, when he chased after her saying she’d forgotten something before punching her and throwing her into the cab of his pickup. Tyra did get away, managing to hit the cigarette lighter and burning his face/eye and scrambling out the driver’s side door, slamming him in the arm and head with the door several times before running away. As she was picking up the things she’d dropped, Landry arrived.

The things I’ve noticed criticized the most about fictional assaults (and the things that have led me stop watching several shows) have been mostly avoided. Times when rape has been played for titillation- this scene was not played that way. Little was seen with the show managing to convey the fear and the claustrophobia of the location without glamorization or exploitation. The extremely lazy habit of using rape as character advancement, particularly using it as shortcut to designate a villain is also avoided- as far as I can recall we’ve never seen this man before and I don’t know if we will again, and he was by all appearances normal rather than an obvious monster. The show avoided the clich√© of having her be saved by the very nice boy who’s had a crush on her all season by having him arrive after she had escaped on her own, but also didn’t have her turn into a superwoman- she’s just a very scared girl who managed well in an awful situation.

This is still a show about a football team, and Jennifer has discussed the rape culture that sometimes goes along with athletics in the forum. The fact that they didn’t shy away from that here is extremely effective. The scenes of the game- particularly Coach Taylor’s pep talks of how this is their game, theirs to win, all they have to do is take it- are intercut with the scene in the truck cab of that same mentality twisted into something vile. Most shows probably would have felt the need to hide that parallel as much as possible to keep their heroes clean, but the audience knows that these players are good kids and is trusted to see the difference while not ignoring the similarity between their mantra and a rapist’s rationalization.

Comments

  1. says

    I was so impressed with FNL’s handling of that story arch, and with its follow-through in the next episode. (Are you going to be writing about that?) The show just impresses me time and again…I really, really hope it gets renewed.

  2. SunlessNick says

    That sounds like a very well-done scene. And an excellent character, given her previous coverage here.

  3. Purtek says

    I said some of this via email to MaggieCat, but I’m ashamed to admit that I’m one of the closed-minded multitude who didn’t watch this show when it first came on because I thought it was about football. I like sports a hell of a lot, but I don’t much like sports culture, and one of the things that I think would impress me most about the show is its willingness to portray both the positives and the negatives of it, despite my initial assumption that it would be a rah-rah jingoistic association of sports toughness and victory with patriotism and glory and ideal masculinity. I like Maggie’s wording here that suggests the intercutting shows “the same mentality twisted into something vile”. Sports culture doesn’t have to be that way, there’s just the possibility of “twisting” it and bringing out the dark side.

  4. Jennifer Kesler says

    Wow. This sounds awesome and I wish I’d seen it. And I think you covered it wonderfully, Maggie.

    I’ve noticed that in shows that feature completed rapes, you begin with a sense of panic, fear, maybe anger, then move onto horror, then finally a sick feeling that’s something like shame. And then you emotionally distance yourself as quickly as you can.

    Personally, I can think of no reason why shows feature completed rapes EXCEPT to convey (irrational) shame when all’s said in done. It comes across as slut-shaming to me.

    This attempt, as you said, conveyed everything BUT the irrational shame, and that’s what we need to see. That’s what keeps us engaged, sympathetic, NOT desperate to distance ourselves.

  5. says

    They get into the shame Tyra deals with, and the shame that’s basically forced on her by the police afterwards, in the next episode. It’s the sort of thing that was almost physically uncomfortable to watch, but was *really* well done.

  6. MaggieCat says

    For anyone who has a high speed connection, NBC now has all of the episodes available online for viewing.

    Reb: If this show doesn’t get renewed, I am fully prepared to fly to New York and stage a sit-in/hunger strike in NBC’s lobby. I actually wrote this as a two parter, and the second should be going up in an hour or so. :-)

    I like sports a hell of a lot, but I don’t much like sports culture, and one of the things that I think would impress me most about the show is its willingness to portray both the positives and the negatives of it, despite my initial assumption that it would be a rah-rah jingoistic association of sports toughness and victory with patriotism and glory and ideal masculinity. Purtek

    This is pretty much the same reason I didn’t start watching with the pilot. I love football but I rarely like shows and movies about football. But they have taken the opportunity to do so much more with it, you get the “Yay team” moments during games but they don’t ignore that a side effect of valuing the game this much is the pressure and the high stakes. Someone screws up, they get called on it. There are the people who don’t think football’s all that important and they aren’t treated like they’re spoiling everyone’s fun. It’s a character driven show wrapped around a premise rather than the characters being warped to fit the plot.

    This attempt, as you said, conveyed everything BUT the irrational shame, and that’s what we need to see. That’s what keeps us engaged, sympathetic, NOT desperate to distance ourselves. BetaCandy

    I think I touched on this a little in the second half of this post, but I agree. That’s part of why I love this show so much, as far as I recall no one has tried to say this was her fault, and they’ve chose not to dwell on the horror but on how she’s coped with it. Humanizing the entire issue- she’s just a girl who’s had something awful happen but it’s not the end of the world, just as they didn’t obviously vilify the rapist beforehand. (The last thing he said to her before he followed her into the parking lot was telling her to ‘drive safe’ in the rain, which made everything so much more effective in my opinion.) You’re dealing with extremes of human behavior but they are still human behaviors and trying to pretend bad things don’t happen just makes everything worse.

    And thank you! :-)

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