Inherent problems in writing rape storylines

There’s been some very good coverage of rape plots gone wrong in fictional media, and I don’t have much to add. But I was thinking yesterday about why I feel writers (or production teams) who choose to write rape storylines are taking on an extra burden of responsibility to get it right, and why I feel entitled to hold them to a higher standard than I hold writers on some other topics.

One of my big complaints about rape is “it’s used as a plot device, nothing more”. Well, so is murder, for example. So where do I see a difference?

No one ever thinks maybe the murder victim wanted to die, so maybe it was really consensual death. They don’t think this in their life outside TV either. If they serve on a jury, they are highly unlikely to consider the possibility that the victim’s mode of dress excused his or her being killed. Therefore, the risk of sending accidental mixed messages with TV murders is minimal, because the audience’s mindset is predisposed to one message only: murder is bad. Sometimes killing is necessary, but the word “murder” is reserved for wrongful deaths.

With rape, however, we don’t have a cultural consensus that “forced sex” is always wrong. A lot of people don’t fully comprehend what constitutes rape or consent. A lot of people still think it can’t be rape if the rapist is known to the victim. A lot of people still think women can owe men sex, and men are entitled to take the sex they’ve earned if it’s not forthcoming. And they apply this thinking in their daily lives. To women they know. To victims when they serve on juries (or as judges). To themselves, when they internalize the blame for violations others visited upon them.

TV originally perpetuated a lot of these ideas about rape. I can’t stress this enough in terms of TV’s responsibility now. If you think it should be excused because “we were ignorant back then”, check out Anatomy of a Murder (1959), a movie in which the issues of consent and victim credibility are explored quite adequately. Far more so than in most of the rape plotlines I suffered through in the 80’s and 90’s.

While TV’s message “murder is bad” remains as true today as it was when TV started, TV’s earlier messages about “bad girls” and “oh, you know she wanted it” have begun to be recognized as “wrong” by our culture (even if an alarming number of individuals still don’t get it). This puts TV in the awkward position of having either to defend its earlier stance, or keep up with the new view. In the 80’s, TV began to adapt.

Then came the backlash, whose tenets included such gems as “women lie about rape all the time” and “poor men, now a woman can put them in jail just by pointing and murmuring rape”. This rang true to everyone who didn’t like the new views. And those people had TV’s.

Suddenly there were two sides. They were almost completely mutually contradictory. And TV could only present one story at a time.

When I watch rape plotlines, I’m wondering which side TV is taking, because it’s impossible to stand neutral on an issue so polarized that where one person sees a victim the other sees a cunning liar. When I watch rape plotlines, I wonder if TV is taking the side of the guys who violated the many women I know who have been raped. I can’t help but wonder and I shouldn’t be expected to extend the benefit of my doubt to a bunch of probably privileged TV execs instead of to victims I’ve known.

If you choose to position your show in the middle of that battle – which you are probably doing for sensationalism and ratings rather than social conscience – then you should not be shocked that some of us are scrutinizing you not just for missteps, but for indications you really didn’t research your topic or make that painful effort to empathize with your victim before writing her or him.

Of course, we won’t all agree on what makes a reasonable rape plotline and what falls short. Some people – including devoted feminists – don’t even agree that pop culture is worth analyzing in feminist terms. A number of viewpoints here are valid. I’m just explaining mine.

UPDATE: For clarity, I’m not arguing rape stories should not be written. I’m arguing that if you cannot or will not do it properly, then maybe you’re not someone who should be writing it. And at the very least, you should be more interested in receiving constructive feedback than in attacking those who criticize your handling of the topic.

Comments

  1. Purtek says

    I agree with all of your points of analysis here, but I admit I was a bit taken aback when I first read your statement that rape should not be used as a mere “plot device”. Given how prevalent sexual assault is in the real world, it strikes me as also taking a side if shows choose not to suggest that any of their characters have experienced it (I may be taking your statement too far as a suggestion to seriously reduce rape storylines; that was just part of my interpretation of it).

    One thing I think I would like to see is an increase in characters who were sexually assaulted in the past, who dealt with it in various ways and who may talk about it in certain contexts on the show (not “damaged girl” types, but people with much more complicated histories and present reactions). I would prefer to see the rape itself taken off the air, because the titillation factor freaks me out, and stories about recent rapes almost inevitably fail to convey a realistic victim response to this trauma, mainly because it tends to be long and repetitive and pretty sad, and audiences get bored of that quickly. Just talking about it happening in the past without the current question of legal charges also (at least partially) eliminates one of those controversial elements. Another of the myths I regularly encounter is people who say they don’t know anyone who has ever been raped, when the reality is, unless they live in a bubble, they almost certainly do, and presenting it as something that has happened to women who look “normal” is important.

    But then, I still hold out too much hope for socially conscious television.

  2. Jennifer Kesler says

    I’m not sure I’m following, but what I mean by “plot device” is when rape is “used” but not “addressed”. I.E., to bring an OTP together (awww, now she’s been raped, she’ll finally turn to her true love for comfort, isn’t that sweet). To up the ante in an already critical situation (oh, noes, not only did the bad guy get her, he’s also using her body which by rights belongs to the patriarchy! oh, well, once she’s back under the ownership of her patriarchal hero, she’ll be fine!).

    There’s an episode of Criminal Intent in which this guy kidnaps a man’s wife and daughters. IIRC, it turns out he’s a soldier who raped a lot of women in Bosnia. He’s got captives. He’s made his demands. But while he’s at it, naturally, he rapes one of the daughters and we’re forced to listen along with the mother and other sister. Then the daughter develops something like Stockholm syndrome, in which she identifies with her powerful rapist instead of her family which was unable to help. This is not at all adequately explored. It’s just sort of there.

    And it’s not the real story. That’s just a bit to make Goren look all smart and cool, that he knows what’s wrong with her. Her life will never be the same, but what’s important here in the story is that the crime got solved and Goren did good. Oh, and that the show got to make an off-handed political statement about Bosnia, yay. There are other ways to accomplish this stuff.

    It was on yesterday and I should’ve rewatched it and blogged about it, but I just didn’t have the stomach.

  3. Purtek says

    what I mean by “plot device” is when rape is “used” but not “addressed”

    Sorry if I wasn’t clear; I’ve gotten a better understanding of it now that I’ve heard you expand on the idea several times, it’s just that when I first heard it phrased that way, the distinction between plot device and actual story/character development wasn’t immediately apparent.

    The example and the generalization you give are very good ones–the rapes are used to facilitate other events, often revelations and character development in the male characters or in relationships. They’re not treated as relevant in and of themselves, and the woman who’s been raped isn’t being treated as the most important person even within the rape sub-plot. It’s part of a bigger picture not just with sexual assault storylines where stuff happens *to* women so that we can see much more interesting things that men *do* (as I wrote about in Heroes a few weeks ago).

    I understand your phrasing a lot better now, but initially, I wasn’t sure it wasn’t a kind of baby-with-the-bathwater solution expressing the impossibility of writing a good story involving rape. I then sort of leaped to worrying about the idea that excluding rape from stories would, as I said, be like taking a side on how many women in our society have been raped or abused and continuing to make them invisible.

  4. Jennifer Kesler says

    I probably could have been clearer. I originally finished with a remark about how it’s quite possible to write quality stories involving rape (or about rape), but it’s almost impossible (at this point for me, anyway) to describe what generally works. I’m planning on blogging on some specific shows (episodes) that have gotten it right.

    But this:

    the woman who’s been raped isn’t being treated as the most important person even within the rape sub-plot

    Emphasis mine – this is absolutely key. The burden of proof I’m putting on shows is: show me that you recognize the victim is a person. You don’t have to give her the whole show. I just want to see her react to what happened to her. Then I know it’s not just all about how the rape affects your other characters. Does that make sense?

    Now, even though the CI example I mentioned did do all that, they made the mistake of choosing very complex reaction that’s an extremely tough sell in ANY storyline. The idea of starting to like or admire someone who’s terrorizing you is potentially even more scary than the idea of being raped. You can’t just drop the two off together with a neat little bow and run. You have to stick around and sell us on (A) the idea that ANYONE could begin to sympathize with a captor after listening to him intently for days under high stress and (B) that when this syndrome is applied to a rape victim, you are not recalling the idea that sometimes women “want” to be raped.

  5. says

    I think the reason there are so many offensive “lying accuser” rape scenarios on tv (way, way more than ever happens in real life) is because of the same general reason so much of tv is misogynistic–because we’re always seeing things from the male point of view, and being asked to identify with male characters more than female ones.

    The same way a protagonist being accused of a murder he didn’t commit is a popular plot line, a false rape accusation is dramatic. It’s a really lousy thing to have happen to a person you identify with. You want to see his name cleared as quickly as possible, and the liar discredited.

    It seems to me a particularly unfortunate aspect of the “male point of view’ problem, because as you’ve pointed out, these messages subconsciously perpetuate the notion that women are often going around falsely accusing men of rape.

    Nice post. I’m really enjoying this blog, though I don’t watch quite enough tv to get the full benefit of the discussions. Thanks!

  6. Purtek says

    I think this post in itself is actually quite clear, though I do wonder now if the title is again misleading (sorry!)–it would be good to flesh out in discussion whether or not these problems are inherent to putting rape in your story at all. I think some of them may pose greater challenges than others, but the one we’re talking about in these comments is, imo, not unavoidable, nor should it be that difficult, really.

    Thinking about it more, this idea that the focus is being drawn off of the woman’s responses to a recent rape is even worse than any other presentation of a lack of agency in female characters. Rape is by definition something that has been done *to* an individual, and the removal of that person’s control over the act, so a major recovery factor is in the reclamation of some kind of power and agency. As it stands, these characters not only don’t get to *act* in the broader context, they don’t even get to *re-act* to such a major event.

    (also, Crabby McSlacker, you’ve identified what I think is the single biggest problem with rape storylines on television–there are a ton of popular social misconceptions about sexual violence, but I think the single most destructive one is the myth that women regularly make false accusations or “exaggerate” their lack of consent out of guilt after the fact)

  7. Jennifer Kesler says

    I’ve changed the title to “Inherent Problems in Writing Rape Storylines” to be a little more specific. The post describes describes problems a writer must deal with when writing rape storylines, because s/he will be perceived as coming down on one side or the other and ignorance is not an excuse.

  8. says

    it’s impossible to stand neutral on an issue

    I have to go to bed because I’m starting to get to the nauseous/dizzy/not thinking straight stage of sleep deprivation, but I just want to quickly say that I believe there is a Law and Order SVU episode where the woman accuses the man of raping her and the man accuses the woman of crying foul over rough sex due to anger or something I can’t remember which. I particularly remember it because it actually gives an equal amount of support to both sides, and because it ends open-ended (they don’t reveal what the jury decided).

    Right. Bed.
    Dunvi

  9. Purtek says

    Okay, I should totally be sleeping too, but I have to say that I actually liked that episode because it felt very real in terms of the way a trial might actually play out. I think her story was believable–and I certainly felt it was obviously true–but despite that, doubts were raised and people kind of accepted what they wanted to believe anyway. The problem with the audience poll results–which are extremely unfortunate–was not, I don’t think, entirely in the show in this case, but reveals existing perceptions and misperceptions about the dynamics of rape. It points to the inherent problem with the “reasonable doubt” concept in rape trials, which almost always come down to “he said/she said” even with physical evidence. What is considered “reasonable” is a lot of what needs to be dealt with.

    I also don’t think that the detectives’ positions falling along gender “stereotype” lines is inappropriate in this case–it’s not actually unrealistic for women to relate to the victim and a man to the accused (I would question whether they needed one of the detectives questioning her story at all, but that’s a different point). I had a lot of conversations with friends about this episode (and used it as a springboard to debunk a lot of their incorrect assumptions) and the initial reactions of men were much more likely to side with the accused (strictly anecdotal, obviously).

    To be clear, I don’t think the episode presented an acceptable picture of a rape trial and the way it should go–I agree, the interpretation of her reaction to Elliot was offensive, but again, not out of the ordinary in real cases I’ve heard about (and advocated in). Not telling us the verdict also avoids the legal drama trope of ultimately getting to the truth in the end, because even with a conviction or acquittal, disagreement as to what really happened usually remains.

  10. MaggieCat says

    I believe there is a Law and Order SVU episode where the woman accuses the man of raping her and the man accuses the woman of crying foul over rough sex due to anger or something I can’t remember which. I particularly remember it because it actually gives an equal amount of support to both sides, and because it ends open-ended (they don’t reveal what the jury decided).

    I think I remember the episode you’re talking about here- I believe it had Shannyn Sossamon playing the victim. If it’s the one I’m thinking of (called “Doubt” from season 6) it was a college student accusing one of her professors.
    (Which carries a whole host of other problems with it, given the possible abuse of power in that dynamic.)

    I remember being extremely annoyed by that episode- it set it up as having Olivia believe the victim while Elliot suspected that the guy might actually be innocent (although considering that she accused Elliot of improper conduct during the investigation and he obviously isn’t going to believe that he’s in the wrong, I think he was heavily biased in that opinion). I think it would have been a far more interesting depiction if they’d reversed the detectives’ opinions rather than breaking them down along gender lines as they did. I really find the idea that since she accused Elliot of touching her after the rape that implies she might be lying about being raped to begin with offensive, and the idea that perhaps she was more sensitive to contact with an unfamiliar man after being traumatized by the assault was not thoroughly considered in my opinion.

    The show put a poll up on the website so that the audience could vote for what verdict they thought was appropriate and (according to the results I just googled) the results were unfortunate:

    “generally speaking 1/5 believed it was rape, 3/5 believed it was consensual, and 1/5 felt more information was needed.”

    I say unfortunate because I remember seeing the episode and having very few doubts about his guilt.

  11. SunlessNick says

    Thinking about it more, this idea that the focus is being drawn off of the woman’s responses to a recent rape is even worse than any other presentation of a lack of agency in female characters.

    As it stands, these characters not only don’t get to *act* in the broader context, they don’t even get to *re-act* to such a major event.

    It’s part of a bigger picture not just with sexual assault storylines where stuff happens *to* women so that we can see much more interesting things that men *do* - Purtek

    This also too often leads to the “interested male party” being portrayed as the de-facto victim in the piece. His woman being raped is something that happened to him (which is not to say that you can’t legitimately be hurt by having something horrible happen to someone close to you, but that’s not the same as imagining that it happened to you).

  12. Purtek says

    the “interested male party” being portrayed as the de-facto victim in the piece

    I’ve been reading some stuff that describes the way our culture, despite the actual laws, behaves in ways that still treat rape as a property crime. This would certainly fit.

  13. Jennifer Kesler says

    I suspect the laws that treat rape as a property crime came from social traditions, and not the other way around, and that’s why the old views persist despite shifts in law.

  14. Purtek says

    Good point, Betacandy; this helps illustrate that changing the laws does not means we’ve gone far enough in changing society, which too many people don’t get when dismissing the relevance of feminism.

  15. Jennifer Kesler says

    Yeah, I always put the de facto situation way ahead of the de jure. Admitting my own bias, I don’t even understand why people think “Oh! Law fixed! We’re done here.” We have laws against murder, and yet murder persists.

  16. MaggieCat says

    I had a lot of conversations with friends about this episode (and used it as a springboard to debunk a lot of their incorrect assumptions) and the initial reactions of men were much more likely to side with the accused (strictly anecdotal, obviously).

    I find this really interesting, because in my own purely anecdotal evidence, men were just as if not more likely to give the victim the benefit of the doubt. Maybe that just says something about the male friends I’ve had (or maybe they didn’t want to risk pissing me off) but most of them were horrified by the idea and the possibility of being lumped in with the sort of man who would do something like that.

    (Disclaimer: I tend to have really geeky friends who are paranoid about misreading signals to the point where not only flirting but smoke signals and semaphore flags are required to convince them that yes, that girl really is interested in you, you giant dork. So cases where it falls into he said/she said quite possibly become “If you thought she consented and she doesn’t, you’re a dumbass who wasn’t paying attention”.)

    I’ve also found a couple of women who were more likely to go the “Well did she put herself in a bad position?” route in what I can only assume was an attempt to distance themselves from the possibility of becoming a victim- if there’s something she did wrong, there’s something they can do to avoid it. Now that wasn’t by any means a common opinion, but there were enough that I can’t entirely dismiss it as a small-minded fluke.

  17. Ifritah says

    I know that I was a bit worried about writing a book series where the main character had been raped years before the series starts.

    I have a BA in Psychology, but it never really made me feel like I was qualified to write a reaction to something like that. And since I have been fortunate enough to never have had the experience myself, I was in the dark aside from stories I’d heard.

    At first, I hesitated on whether I wanted to go forward with it. I was afraid people would find that I had written the reaction wrong.

    But then I started thinking about how there really shouldn’t be one reaction to being raped. There are so many ways a person works through that. I decided I wanted to explore one of those avenues.

    To be honest, I don’t really think on that aspect of the character much. It doesn’t define her. Hell, it shouldn’t define her. But it’s there. And some things about her are shaped due to that.

    Hrm, I’m not really sure where I’m going with this. I suppose it’s that I definitely see what you’re talking about, Beta. When the media shapes a story so that rape stereotypes flourish, it is highly frustrating.

    But when I see a fresh perspective, I definitely want to give an author/script writer kudos. I just hope I have the ability to exhibit that fresh perspective.

  18. Jennifer Kesler says

    I think I see where you’re going. I do think it’s important that people write good storylines about rape. There have even been cases where I get the sense someone made a good effort, and even though they really missed in a couple of spots, I’m willing to cut some slack.

    Because as Purtek pointed out, it happens so damn much! It’s such a common crime. I’d rather see no rape storyline than one that commits ALL the old mistakes, but I think the key is being willing to try to imagine it from the victim’s perspective and give that at least SOME acknowledgment. It doesn’t take much, really.

    I swear, I can tell the difference between a story where someone has tried to see it from the victim’s perspective and one where they just wrote around her perspective to avoid dealing with it.

    Just thinking of personal accounts of rape that friends have shared with me, I agree there is absolutely no single or even “typical” reaction. Some people still cry 20 years later; others seem hardly bothered a year down the line. So much depends on the environment they had to recover in; on how stable they were in life when it happened; etc. So many variables, not to mention simple differences in personality and temperament.

  19. Mecha says

    Along the lines of your and Ifritah’s discussion http://www.girl-wonder.org/insideout/ (especially recently) discusses that exact same ‘there isn’t one way to write people who have been raped’ idea, in the context of some specific comments in her SAAM series.

    For what it’s worth, I also feel that it’s a hard line to deal with, rape victims, rape recovery, even in the far past, and I’ve felt that way ever since I first thought about writing a sexually abused character.

    -Mecha

  20. Anemone says

    I was struck by this statement:

    Therefore, the risk of sending accidental mixed messages with TV murders is minimal, because the audience’s mindset is predisposed to one message only: murder is bad. Sometimes killing is necessary, but the word “murder” is reserved for wrongful deaths.

    because I see this issue come up a lot with gratuitous violence in the media.

    Murder and non-sexualized assault aren’t gendered the way rape is, and victims aren’t blamed the way they so frequently are with sexual assault, but at the same time the last part of what you said here isn’t always true. I’m not sure how often this applies to murder, but you see criminal assault happening all the time in comic book violence, and it’s seen as justified violence because the good guy does it. So criminal violence is sometimes portrayed as good, depending on who does it. I’m not sure if this extends to murder or not. I think it probably does in violent movies, where people are killed unnecessarily in fight scenes. Superman goes around beating people up unnecessarily, but doesn’t kill people, but some other heroes do kill people. It would be murder in real life, but it’s cheered in movies. (I don’t know about TV shows.)

    There was a case in British Columbia a while back of a man shooting and paralyzing a fleeing armed robber. The police wanted him charged, because he went beyond scaring the guy off or keeping him prisoner until the police got there, but he wasn’t charged. And some people support him. So assault and murder aren’t so clear cut either.

    I’m not disagreeing with the main point of the post, just wondering about whether this one side point is worth taking a closer look at.

    The TV storyline with the student accusing a professor of rape: he had no business going anywhere near her no matter what. You can’t have consensual sex with someone who decides whether you pass or fail (or get an A versus a B). It’s frustrating for me when storylines miss the nuances of consent like that.

  21. says

    Anemone, I assume by “last part” you mean the remark that “the audience’s mindset is predisposed to one message only: murder is bad” since the actual last part is just a linguistic remark and doesn’t seem to apply to the rest of your comment. If I’m correct there, here’s my response.

    I specifically limited the comparison to between murder and rape, based on a conversation we’d been having in another thread at the time. Specifically, someone wondered why I objected to rape being used as a mere plot device to move along the story or character development when I didn’t object to an entire genre (murder mysteries) that uses murder as a plot device.

    I agree with you that assault is portrayed as sometimes deserved (though never consensual) in both TV and real life, but that’s not what I was talking about.

    Now, here’s the thing: in the US, TV and film are VERY different in terms of violence (and I assumed it was similar in other countries when I wrote this, but maybe I should have made a regional limitation as well). The FCC licenses broadcast and cable TV channels and forces them to present certain “values” as correct and decent. It’s been doing this in the US all my life. When I sit down to watch TV, I know from experience to expect a show to present murder as a Fundamentally Bad Thing. When a creative team makes a show, they know this is the position I’ll be expecting them to take. They know if they want to take a different position, they have to explain that to me, probably via dialog. Even in shows that kind of celebrate and glorify the violence of our mythologized Wild West, I can assume the good guys will do their best to put someone in jail rather than shoot him, and they will discourage revenge killings and so on. If a show wants to explore the possibility that maybe it’s not morally wrong to engage in “vigilante justice”, that’s something they have to explain.

    Not so in rape storylines. When I sit down in front of the TV, I don’t know if the producers understand consent, let alone think human beings are entitled not to be raped. Do they understand that rape is never *just* about lust? Do they understand that only people with certain attitudes are capable of rape, whereas all people are capable of killing if sufficiently frightened? The production team often doesn’t seem to realize they need to tell me their position on rape – they just throw it in there, assuming I view it like they do, and only from meta-messages can I work out whether they have done any real study on the subject.

    A TV show that gets this and does it mostly very right is Criminal Minds. The team often corrects people who make common insensitive or under-informed remarks about sexual assault. They tell victims precisely why it’s not their fault. They have lots of conversations that make it clear the producers of the show believe sexual assault is never deserved, does not have to be physically harmful to be wrong, is not an act that all humans are capable of committing when sufficiently provoked, etc.

  22. Scarlett says

    This actually makes me think of an All Saints storyline I’ve been meaning to write about for ages. It really impressed me because the girl was raped by her boyfriend after they’d both had a lot to drink and those are typically portrayed as mitigating circumstances, if not ‘voiding’ the rape altogether (she was drunk/she had consented to sex before), but in this storyline TPTB never wavered from the stance that it was still rape. It wasn’t used to have some other man sweep her off her feet and take care of her/help her to get over it (unless you count the physciatrist) and it was a story arc over twenty or so episodes from the rape itself through her recovery. I was really impressed because they made it clear that it WAS rape and that it was about HER, not used to facilitate some other guy’s storyline.

  23. Anemone says

    The FCC licenses broadcast and cable TV channels and forces them to present certain “values” as correct and decent. It’s been doing this in the US all my life.

    Ok, I see. Who’s in charge there? It would be nice if they had the same standards for rape as for murder. And I sure hope murder doesn’t lose its ethical standards to make things “edgier”.

    Sorry if this was a derail. I was just struck by how this is so not true of murder in movies.

  24. says

    The FCC is a US federal government office. And I should clarify with a bit of history, since I oversimplified in my previous comment (sorry, I’ve been running on empty for some time now). When TV broadcasting first started, everyone understood the FCC could fine a network or even yank a station’s license for providing television that was “indecent” – whatever they meant by that. No one was sure, so networks created their own censor boards to show how concerned they were about “decency”, in hopes the government wouldn’t feel the need to censor them directly. The FCC does have some censorship power over TV, but it never exercised that much – or very effectively. What evolved over the years was a set of customs that people never bothered to re-think – and a few telling examples they did re-think.

    Examples: in the 80s, a few shows tried using the word “bitch”, and it got past their own censor boards and the FCC, so now “you can say bitch on TV.” That same decade, the sitcom “Designing Women” complained through one of its characters that you could depict a rape scene on TV but the censors wouldn’t let you show a foot connecting with a male crotch, even if it was a woman fending off a male attacker, and they drew the obvious inferences – that it was “decent” to show men raping women, but “indecent” to show a woman even trying to fend off a male rapist/batterer/kidnapper. Very disturbing. And nothing has changed in 20 years.

    In the 90s, Saturday Night Live had a skit where everyone asked each other “how’s your penis” and suddenly the word “penis” was okay to say – on late night TV. It took prime time shows a while to get that one past censors, and it still seems to be saved up for special occasions or something.

    In the past 20 years, TV stations gradually worked out that they could show very gory bodies, as long as it was in the context of cops solving homicides. But in the early 2000s, Peter Deluise said in a Stargate commentary that you can’t show someone being shot in the head on US TV, so they had to represent military snipers on the show as aiming for the heart, when in reality they take head shots. (In fact, he said they can’t even show someone lining up a shot at somebody’s head through a scope and leave the actual violence off-screen and implied. I don’t know why this is, since I’ve lost count how many times TV has played the Zapruder film of John F. Kennedy’s head getting split open by an assassin’s bullet several times every freakin’ anniversary, and for fuck’s sake, that’s a real person being killed. They don’t even save it for late night after the kiddies have gone to bed.)

    So part of the problem is that few shows have bothered to consider what’s “decent” in how one represents a tale of rape, and the US government obviously thinks TV stations are doing just fine with all that stuff. Nothing indecent going on there, no sir. We didn’t see a nipple, and no men’s crotches got kicked, and no one said “fuck”, so it’s all good!

    And I sure hope murder doesn’t lose its ethical standards to make things “edgier”.

    Well, I’m on board with the idea that murder is fundamentally a bad thing. But there are times when I’d like to see TV represent, say, military battles as they really are – for example, not leaving any of the enemy alive in certain situations. Not because I think that’s edgy, but I think it could deflate some of the glory associated with war by showing that it also involves such ignoble tasks as shooting unarmed fleeing enemies in the back (for one example).

    And while I sympathize if TV networks are reluctant to try that because it might possibly come off as “cool” despite all attempts to make it not cool, I wish they showed half that concern when it comes to sexual assault. I’ve seen more than a few rape scenes I’m confident were meant to be viewed as titillating sexual content rather than criminal assault.

    Sorry if this was a derail.

    No worries – it ended up teasing out some relevant and interesting points. And forcing me to do some research and jog my memory, which is never a bad thing. :D

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