Saturday, May 31, 2014

(TV) TV Violence Against Women: Too Much?

Much has been said about the notable proliferation of beatings and rapes committed against female characters across a diverse range of shows from Downton Abbey to Game of Thrones from the intentions of the show’s creators to criticism of the use of rape and gender violence as a plot device but the best observation made about the use of rape came from German director Michael Hanecke’s reaction who wasn’t even talking about rape or gender violence. In reaction to a question posed by The Hollywood Reporter about the dangers of humanizing monsters such as Adolf Hitler, Hanecke replied:

 “I have to say that I argued with Downfall writer-producer Bernd Eichinger about the film. I found it both repulsive and dumb. When you're dealing with a figure of such a deep historical context, what are you doing with him? You're creating melodrama. You're trying to move your spectators, but what emotions are you calling on? Your responsibility entails enabling your audience to remain independent and free of manipulation. The question is, how seriously do I take my viewer and to what extent do I provide him with the opportunity of creating his own opinion? Am I trying to force my opinion on the spectator?”[1]
For me, Hanecke wrapped up the TV violence against women in the quote above as it is hard to imagine that if the writers and directors of the growing number of shows who have indulged in using rape or violence against women in their stories had exercised as much forethought as Hanecke before contemplating writing and shooting a rape scene, we wouldn’t be talking about the proliferation of rapes and beatings against women a growing number of shows.

If writers and directors of these shows had considered  Hanecke’s question of “but what emotions are calling you on”, the use of rape would instantly be obsolete as there is only one emotion you can call on when portraying a rape or beating of a female character, disgust.
Another question posed by Hanecke writers and directors of the shows should ponder is when dealing with such a heinous and trauma inducing crime, what do you plan to do with it? The answer we have gotten from a number of top shows has either been cynical character development and even more cynical plotlines.

Game of Thrones has had its critics for it persistent use of violence, rape and objectification of women in past and this season has been no different especially after the infamous rape scene between Cersei and Jamie Lannister (played by Lena Headley and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). As a regular viewer and fan of the show, the rape scene made no sense and was out of the Jamie’s (the perpetrator of the rape) character given the fact that he had lost a hand saving a female character from a brutal gang rape in season 3.

Game of Thrones is littered with acts of violence against women and violence full stop which is to be expected given that it is a rather accurate portrayal of what happens in war then, and notably, now. However the scene between Jamie and Cersei was different as it took place at their dead son’s wake, not in the numerous city sackings seen on the show.

The scene was bad enough but what made it worse was the episode’s director Alex Graves defence of the scene which revealed that Hanecke’s questions when portraying murderous dictators or the wholesale murder of a people has never crossed his mind exemplified by his reaction to the controversy below:

“Well, it (the rape scene) becomes consensual by the end, because anything for them ultimately results in a turn-on, especially a power struggle. Nobody really wanted to talk about what was going on between the two characters, so we had a rehearsal that was a blocking rehearsal. …Nikolaj (Coster-Waldau, who plays Jaime) came in and we just went through one physical progression and digression of what they went through, but also how to do it with only one hand, because it was Nikolaj. By the time you do that and you walk through it, the actors feel comfortable going home to think about it. The only other thing I did was that ordinarily, you rehearse the night before, and I wanted to rehearse that scene four days before, so that we could think about everything. And it worked out really well. That’s one of my favorite scenes I’ve ever done.”[2]
Graves is an excellent director but is no rhetorician as no rhetorician worth the title would describe a rape scene as one of the most favourite scene they’ve ever done. The matter of fact manner with which he described the process shows that there isn’t much though process behind portraying an act loaded with explosive themes which in this scene, manage to evade every one due to its abrupt and badly directed nature.

In fact, as Wired’s Laura Hudson rightly pointed out, the awfully directed scene allowed for an interpretation of rape that actually worse than a straightforward rape scene bereft of any room for interpretation as “Whether or not the creators intended this to be a rape scene is irrelevant; they made one anyway. And worse, they made one that encourages the most dangerous thinking about rape imaginable: that when a woman is held down on the ground, screaming for the man to stop, that deep down inside her she might still really want it”[3].

A simple consideration of Hanecke’s approach to dealing with difficult and explosive subjects such as rape would have illuminated to the show’s creators that a rape scene, whether or not it made sense or had any “ambiguity”, is always a bad idea.

In sum, writers and creators of should be more aware of their artistic choices when dealing with rape and whether they should deal with rape altogether as the tendency of the medium is to make a plot device of an issue that isn’t, or at least shouldn’t, be amenable to the mechanics of visual storytelling

[1] The Hollywood Reporter, 2013, THR’S Writer Roundtable: Osama Bin Laden, why ‘Schindler’s list’ Is Irresponsible and When Judd Apatow Was a Dishwasher,
[2] L.Hudson, 2014, That Game of Thrones Scene wasn’t a “Turn on”, It Was Rape,
[3] Ibid

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