House: One Day, One Room

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I wasn’t entirely intending to focus entirely on issues of sexual assault on television, though having volunteered counseling survivors for almost four years, it does tend to be on my mind. Last week’s episode of House (“One Day, One Room”), which I finally watched last night, is making me change my mind.

I mentioned in one of my posts on Veronica Mars that women who’ve been assaulted react in many different ways. You’d think that people who have been through medical school would manage to gather at least that much information about how to deal with a rape victim, but the only one who comes close is Chase, who tells House that “There’s no wrong answer [on what to say to her], because there’s no right answer”. The fact that Foreman and Cameron give conflicting advice also alludes to this idea, but the way both of them are absolutely convinced that they know what this particular survivor wants less than a week after her assault is condescending and dismissive. House himself is, of course, a complete disaster. I know his general hatred for humankind is a big part of the show, but pretending that he’s a great doctor (not to mention that for some completely unclear reason, this woman will talk to no one except the man who yelled at her both before and after discovering that her STD was the result of rape) when he’s constantly turning her suffering and attempts to deal with it back around to being all about him was beyond the pale for me.

It’s the “all about House” aspect of this that really bothers me. Nothing about his behaviour was professional, from being willing to cross the line of talking about his own abuse experiences with a patient, to periodically demanding to know why he was the person she chose to talk to, to insisting that she couldn’t possibly want to keep a pregnancy that resulted from a rape. The show had already acknowledged that a lot of survivors feel the need to take some power back in their lives, and then completely misses that point by not recognizing that the decision over what to do with her body in the case of an abortion is directly related to that sense of control. It’s like the writers were aware of all the clichés about how rape victims behave, and even sort of the shocking idea that women aren’t all the same, even in those circumstances, but couldn’t actually apply them either to make this woman feel realistic and sympathetic or to showing us that these doctors have actually been trained in any way, shape or form.

Finally, is it just me, or does the “rape victim shows House humanity, gets him to open up” angle stink a little bit of something like the “hooker with the heart of gold” TV trope? Obviously, I’m not saying that rape survivor=hooker, but it strikes me that that archetype is based on the idea of a woman who’s been through tough times and comes out strong, but still feminine and giving, in such a way that our male protagonist will see her beauty and his heart will grow three sizes. It makes me really uncomfortable that House had to play out his growth journey in the room with her, and couldn’t do it behind the scenes (if he even had to do it at all and couldn’t just, for 30 seconds, recognize that sometimes it is all about the other person).

Comments

  1. scarlett says

    Haven’t seen the ep (we’re yet to get s3) but what struck me about the show was that ALL the characters have been extremely poorly written at times, not just Cameron. Actually, in the case you desribe, Cameron could be forgiven because of her youth, whereas someone with House’s experience should know better.

    But yeah, one of the things that really bothered me about the show was that everyone suddenly had the urge to confide in House after he’d yelled at them. Usually, yelling at someone gets their back up even more. I keep anting to yell at the TV ‘just because he may be right, doesn’t mean people will open up to him’.

  2. Jennifer Kesler says

    I saw the ep last night. I could sort’ve buy her wanting to talk to him because he didn’t want her talking to him – the need to assert some power as a response to rape sounds plausible to me. I could even have bought that she chose him because she didn’t think he’d sugar coat anything, but this was never suggested.

    In the end, she wanted to talk to him because he seems hurt, too. Awwww. See, this is where I have to label the show a Harlequin romance without the sex: in reality, if you’re a misanthrope with a tortured past, no one ever freakin’ notices. Why not? Because they’re too busy dealing with their own stuff. Only in romance novels is everyone strangely aware of the protagonist’s secret sadness.

    House has always leaned this way, but in this ep, it really outted itself as some sort of ham-fisted allegory rather than a story. What happened to her was only a plot device to get to what happened to him. Which, one could argue, is fair enough since she’s the guest star and he’s the lead.

    But our lead didn’t learn anything. A secret was pried out of him for OUR benefit, OUR curiosity. He didn’t find any humanity. So her rape became a really poor plot device.

    For me, it comes down to this: don’t use something as serious as rape just to illuminate your lead a bit more. That’s just… tacky in the worst possible way. And if you absolutely have to use rape as a mere plot device, make that device rock. Make it do something so spectacular that the show changes a little, forever. You’ve got to weigh the combustibility of your subject material against what the show is going to gain from it.

  3. Purtek says

    could sort’ve buy her wanting to talk to him because he didn’t want her talking to him – the need to assert some power as a response to rape sounds plausible to me. I could even have bought that she chose him because she didn’t think he’d sugar coat anything, but this was never suggested.

    I could buy this too, particularly the part about the not sugar-coating, but as you say, it was never mentioned. The need to assert some power after a rape is fairly well-documented, and is a big focus of any rape-counselling training one is likely to get, but the problem in this case is that it was presented only in a destructive or lashing out sense. When House mentions it, they actually liken it to her “raping” him (in a “less invasive” and “more annoying” way). First of all, it’s entirely possible to help her regain a sense of constructive power, primarily by doing things like letting her define her own recovery and related decisions–including when, if and how she wants to talk about it (there’s nothing I hate more than the patronizing attitude that one has to talk about it, preferably immediately, in order to “get over it”, or that it’s not okay just to want to forget about it, even for a little while), and what she wants to do about the resulting pregnancy. There’s a difference between regaining a sense of control over one’s own body and wanting to manipulate and control others. The latter certainly can and does happen, but a well-trained professional would help the survivor to direct it back productively into the former. Second–okay maybe there is something I hate more than the above–using the word “rape” as a metaphor for anything is not okay (exception: the Babylon 5 mind-rape episode). There’s no such thing as a “less invasive” and “more annoying” rape, and the idea that it’s just become shorthand for an unpleasant experience to which one is subjected makes me sick.

    As to the rest, I agree with you completely. You’ve mentioned several times (in emails primarily) your frustration with rape as a mere plot device, and I think you hit right on with the problem with it in your last paragraph. The subject matter is not just combustible and controversial, it’s also really and truly important in a societal, and to many people, in a personal sense, and it has the potential to provide some deep insight into characters, or to motivate some really genuine and powerful change (for better or for worse) in them. I’ve never met anyone who deals/has dealt with sexual violence on a personal (in his/her own life or the life of a loved one) or professional level who has not been deeply affected by it, but when it happens on TV you can just imagine the writers going “OK, what’s, like, a really crappy thing that could happen–ooh, I know, rape is bad, right? And kind of exciting? Let’s do that!” [For the record, I do buy--and pretty much agree with--Rob Thomas' explanation that on Veronica Mars, he saw it as a problem that Veronica, as a college freshman, could really relate to, and feel threatened by, rather than just as something titillating, even if I'm not happy with the way it was carried out]

  4. Jennifer Kesler says

    I’ve never met anyone who deals/has dealt with sexual violence on a personal (in his/her own life or the life of a loved one) or professional level who has not been deeply affected by it, but when it happens on TV you can just imagine the writers going OK, what’s, like, a really crappy thing that could happen – ooh, I know, rape is bad, right? And kind of exciting? Let’s do that!”

    I think another ep that clearly exemplifies this is the one with the fifteen-year-old supermodel who turns out to be a chromosomal male. House figures out that the girl’s father has had sex with her. That’s automatically statutory rape, right? Heck, no! She says she seduced her dad and had to get him drunk before he fell for it, and she’s done that with other men in order to have a hold over them.

    So never mind, it’s all her doing. The father is not responsible for getting drunk, nor for what he does while drunk. The law doesn’t matter (no one calls it in until Cuddy hears about it). And to the writers, the feelings of people who’ve been molested or witnessed the damage to someone who was obviously don’t matter either. Once again, we hear the familiar trope: when an adult has sex with a legal child, are we absolutely sure it wasn’t the child’s fault? Come on, now. Be honest. Did you do anything to lead him on? Anything at all? You SMILED at him? Well, there you go! What the hell did you think that would lead to? Now stop complaining so I can go back to my delusions that bad things don’t happen to good people.

    And the story doesn’t even support this. Maybe if she’d sneakily drugged him so he wasn’t responsible for his own inebriation? Oh, but then we’d have… wait, I know what the word is… a rape! /roll eyes

  5. says

    it strikes me that that archetype is based on the idea of a woman who’s been through tough times and comes out strong, but still feminine and giving, in such a way that our male protagonist will see her beauty and his heart will grow three sizes. It makes me really uncomfortable that House had to play out his growth journey in the room with her, and couldn’t do it behind the scenes (if he even had to do it at all and couldn’t just, for 30 seconds, recognize that sometimes it is all about the other person).

    YES, a thousand times: Yes. I am so sick of this trope, especially as it regards women in media who have been sexualy assaulted, I may just kick a puppy. I have a post about this very thing (http://theangryblackwoman.wordpress.com/2006/09/08/angry-about-rape/), but the annoyance and rage every time I see this brought up refuses to subside. Gah. I’m glad I’m not the only one who notices this craziness.

  6. Jennifer Kesler says

    I’m on my way out the door, but I just wanted to say, AngryBlackWoman, you rock! I just read half of your article, but this is exactly what I’ve been saying for years. Rape is overused. It’s trivialized. And I think in some cases it’s INTENDED to titillate the viewers with a combination of sex and violence. To me, rape is just violence. I don’t share the audience’s confusion on that point. There are rapists who don’t even particularly enjoy sex; they just know it’s a damn good way to hurt people.

    What we see of rape on TV is the myth people want to believe, not the reality.

    One other thing I realized belatedly that bothered me about this episode was that this girl, like every other rape victim on TV, was blond, white, slim and stereotypically pretty. Because on TV, quite opposite to real life, no one would rape a woman unless she was real, real purty at which point Bubba just cain’t hep hisself. Yeah, if some ugly woman ever tells me she’s been raped, I’ll feel free to say, “You expect me to believe anyone would rape YOU?” and laugh. (For anyone just joining us, yeah, that was sarcasm in the first degree.)

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