Friday, February 27, 2009

The Reason of Rape

As a subject for "entertainment" (defined very broadly), RAPE leaves many male genre fans conflicted, which is surprising; not as surprising is that most women find the subject difficult.

The RAPE depicted in films is primarily against women by men. The directors of rape-themed cinema, with few exceptions (Lizzie Borden's Forced Entry), are men. For women, RAPE hits very close to home. If the statistics are accurate, a large majority of women have been a victim of RAPE or attempted rape.

To be fair, the stats about RAPE are up because the legal definition of the act has has been broadened.

When I was a kid, RAPE was non-consensual intercourse (vaginal). That made it pretty black and white. Now, RAPE, like ASSAULT, is the umbrella under which a plethora of acts reside.

"...unlawful sexual intrusion" has been added to the definition. That "intrusion" can be by body parts or objects. As a result, a woman can now be charged with RAPE. Before, it was impossible for a woman to have unlawful sexual intercourse with another woman or man because intercourse involved a penis. I'm not sure what they called a woman thrusting an object into another unwilling woman back then, but it wasn't RAPE.

The new definition attempts to encompass a multitude of acts. A lesser traumatic infraction (relatively speaking) now falls under the same general category as a more traumatic infraction. The lesser infraction gets taken seriously now because it's RAPE.

The law is somewhat lazy in its stated desire to be as inclusive as possible and gives lawyers plenty to argue about (how else do they make their money?)

If many women have been RAPED, it follows that many men have been doing the RAPING. I don't know any rapists myself, but I have known several women who have been victims. Perhaps it's fewer men committing multiple RAPES. Has to be.

My closest friends, who aren't RAPISTS, don't have a huge problem with RAPE-themed films. They've all known women who've been raped or assaulted, but they're smart enough to make the distinction between reality and film -- I started to write "fantasy", but the correct word is film. Film (as in: recorded image) and reality are two very separate beasts. Once you film something, it is no longer reality, it's a recording of reality. A perspective on reality. An angle. It's no longer pure. "Fantasy" can describe anything that isn't reality. It doesn't have to be set on Mars.

Guys I meet on the periphery of my existence sometimes exhibit a distaste for RAPE-themed films, a distaste that fascinates me. They will get very excited and enthusiastic about graphic, violent horror flicks such Hostel, Saw, Dawn of the Dead, and Dr. Butcher MD, but when the subject of RAPE rears its head in films like I Spit On Your Grave, Irreversible, and Yasuharu Hasebe's Raping!, their reaction is curious.

A recent reaction from a colleague to my statement that Irreversible is a favorite of mine, and that the RAPE scene is one of the best I've ever seen, was this: "I hated that scene. I just don't think there's any need for RAPE scenes."

Interesting.

Early on in the film, a man has his head bashed in with a fire extinguisher. Caved in, in fact. His head is obliterated. On-screen. It's very realistic. Beautifully done, actually. Prior to that, we got quick snippets of men masturbating, fucking each other, and wallowing in a world of consensual deviance. The fire extinguisher assault and murder are very impactful and confronting. But THAT didn't bother this guy. He didn't tell me that there wasn't any "need" for that.

I think using "need" to negate a subject is a cop-out because "need" is more closely associated with survival than hunger for art.

Do we "need" rape scenes? No.

Do we "need" scenes of graphic murder? No.

Do we "need" Law and Order? TMZ? Larry King? Tom Hanks' movies? Rom-Coms? The Weather Channel? Charles Dickens? Paris Hilton?

Not really. Not in the strictest biological sense.

Physically, we'd survive without them.

But do we need food?

Yes.

Air?

Yes.

Water?

Yes.

Sex?

Definitely.

These are basic needs. Accepted basic needs.

Imagine being told that you don't need food, or water... or sex.

Imagine being told that food is bad, water is evil, and sex is just plain wrong.

That'd be the recipe for a fucked-up world... but I disgress.

Gasper Noe's RAPE in Irreversible is a component of a film that sets out to shake us up -- some films do that. They do it with provocative imagery and sound. My judgment that it is a "Great Rape Scene" does not imply approval of the act. It communicate my appreciation and approval of what Noe achieved in terms of cinematic and psychological impact.

I don't feel guilty for loving Irreversible. Why should I?

I don't need it, but I like it.

I do find it interesting that MURDER is far more acceptable as "entertainment" (defined as that which moves me) than RAPE.

Perhaps it is even less acceptable to many people today because the definition has been broadened.

If a large number of women have been RAPED (with objects or body parts), the subject is close to home. And because RAPE, by definition, is not MURDER, those touched by RAPE are still with us.

MURDER is not so close to home because MURDERED PEOPLE are no longer with us. Their loved ones are, but the MURDERED PEOPLE themselves have passed.

I think this is why MURDER has gained greater acceptance in the entertainment sphere. It doesn't live next to us. It doesn't threaten us as RAPE can. There are even even comedies about MURDER.


I can't think of any comedies about RAPE. Japan's Rapeman (an eight part series of feature films) comes closest to tickling the subject. It's not a comedy, but it's about a modest superhero who uses RAPE as a legitimate weapon of commercial revenge.

The RAPE scenes are more erotic than brutal, and the commissioning client is often a woman.

As I said in my opening, I can understand why women have a problem with RAPE-themed movies, but the reaction of men is less comprehensible to me.

When you're watching MURDER on film, you know it's a put-on. When you're watching RAPE on film, you know it's a put-on, too. So why, Guys, the squirmy reaction to forced acts of sexual intrusion, but less squirminess about torture, beatings, heads blown off, intenstine-munching, breast mutilation, and endless psychological torment?

The Almighty Keepers Of Society's Morals (the most immoral lot you'll ever come across) have always found the mixing of sex and violence problematic. In countries like the UK and Australia, they argue that graphic images of sexual violence can encourage the act.

Really?

Yes, and they are convinced (despite unconvincing research) that such depictions can have a corrupting influence on some people. Not them, of course, but those "impressionable", socially disadvantaged people out there. You know, the poor, the uneducated, the masses who need to be protected from themselves.

In almost every Western country, hardcore pornography featuring fantasy depictions of RAPE is banned or deemed obscene. In the US, lawmakers are terrified of the idea, just as they are terrified of pornography featuring bodily fluids or serious S/M. If you produce this material, chances are you will be charged with Obscenity because the measuring stick is an old-fashioned, pile-of-shit moral barometer called "Community Standards" that assumes that your entire community watches said piece of material as a collective.

Ours is a society of guilt-driven denial and hideous double standards.

You can be thrown in jail for depicting a fantasy rape scene, but if you work in Hollywood and make films like Hostel and Saw that trade on aesthetically rich sequences of explicit torture and bodily mutilation, you're a legitimate filmmaker. And what you're depicting is definitely Not Obscene.

I have no problem with the latter (I've created some ultra-graphic horror content myself), but I have a big problem with the hypocrisy that lies between the two.

Not surprisingly, like everything, it does all comes down to sex, and the efforts of most religions to demonize the sexual act and anything sexual that occurs between two people not joined in the eyes of God.

It's a denial of reality, an attempt to strangle and illegitimize the greatest force on Earth that is a threat to the status quo of organized religion -- and its power to hold you in a grip built on bricks of solid snake oil.

And this brings me to my final point.

RAPE is an effective subject for drama because the act is the personification of human savagery. It is the expression of a primal impulse, the strongest impulse within man. Naturally, any exploration of it is sure to carry dramatic conflict and a strong element of fascination. We are addicted to portraits of our suppressed, primordial selves.

Whether you care to admit it or not, its depiction is erotically charged also because it involves a perversion of sexual intercourse.

It joins MURDER, BLOWING THINGS UP, and COLLIDING METAL as a provocateur of incendiary entertainment.

But RAPE in movies has about as much to do with real life as a happy ending.

So why, then, do women and some men have trouble separating RAPE in the movies from RAPE in the real world.

Shame.

Ever since I was a kid, I have never understood the shame associated with RAPE.

When a person is MURDERED, their name is published.

When a person is RAPED, their identity is usually obscured.

They enter a strange world of anonymity.

They are protected.

Protected from The Shame.

The Shame is a hold-over from an era when a RAPED woman was considered a bad woman. A loose woman.

It's a hold-over from an era when the world's rulers (men), like the Church now, were threatened by the sexuality of women. Threatened, but also inexplicably drawn to it.

So women got punished for possessing that power.

They were "dirty", "unclean", and "whores".

This attitude prevails and is expressed in the so-called "protection" of a rape victim's identity.

If society truly believed that RAPE was a crime against an innocent woman, it would be acceptable and desirable for a RAPE victim to have a voice, but a voice not diminished by an invisible shame.

Is it not the RAPIST who should feel the shame? Is it not the RAPIST who should feel humiliated?

The woman is the VICTIM of the RAPIST afterall.

No, the RAPIST may suffer a modicum of public humilation, but that's just a form of media revenge.

Suppressing a RAPED woman's identity is an admission that she has good reason to hide her face.

She's dirty.

No name. No identity. If you are RAPED, you become a non-person.

I'm not referring to situations in which men are falsely accused of RAPE by women who ought to be strung up for doing so. That's another discussion.

As a lover of RAPE-themed movies, I'm troubled about the unspoken expectation of shame that surrounds the status of a recently RAPED woman.

I'm convinced that this SHAME and AMBIGUITY are major parts of the reason why women and some men have trouble separating filmed RAPE from the complex physiology of real RAPE.

MURDER has black and white properties in terms of victim and assailant.

RAPE has multiple colors further clouded by religion's uneasy relationship with sex.

Having a passion for the vile and reprehensible nuggets of cinema hasn't robbed me of my capacity for empathy.

Quite the opposite.

Am I off my tree?

I welcome feedback from both genders.

12 comments:

  1. You've left out the notion of women "asking for it," or coming to enjoy rape.

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  2. Hahaha. I was just planning a rape article. Need to revise some things now seeing as you covered them

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  3. The major issue between the crimes of rape and murder in art, at least from my stand point, is that in murder, the victim has no memory of the crime---Yes, the audience does--but since the victim ceases to exist, there fore the crime does as well. Where as with rape, the victim lives on, is effected by the memory and has a greater--and what is considered a far more distasteful--resonance with the audience. And since the victim of a murder--no matter how brutal, violent, and grotesque it may be--does not continue on, the victim becomes discounted, a non entity and there fore a minor plot point.

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  4. Extremely salient points, Keith. "Distasteful resonance" sums it up.

    A lot of Japanese "pink" films treat rape more as an erotic starting block.

    US and UK films dealing with the subject -- such as 'Straw Dogs' or 'I Spit On Our Grave' -- place more emphasis on the victim's trauma or feelings of revenge.

    Cultural differences, to be sure.

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  5. Soiled Sinema -- I look forward to your take on the subject.

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  6. As usual, a fascinating take on an (unnecesarily) complicated subject.

    I have been researching hypocrisy lately- especially the religious kind. Don't you find much of the frequent 'distaste' amongst many men for rape in film borders on the 'evangelical'- especially worrying coming from self proclaimed so called 'atheists'?

    I think it has more to do with fear. I was talking to Manchester Morgue about this with regard to 'Night Train Murders'- which I love- but often feel self conscious about. To be honest, I think there is still a part of me that that thinks if I like this stuff, someone will kick down my door and I will be arrested and imprisoned for it. That is nothing to do with the subject matter- that is mere paranoia.

    Justified? It starts with something like the 'Patriot Act', and next thing you know, hard drives and goods and chattels taken...

    One day, perhaps, but not at the moment; and anyway, I will have you, and many other truly interesting, inspiring, completely worthy and much more preferable company than the Bush clan and their ilk, whose lust for oil is far more damaging and dangerous than our taste for a few rape/torture flicks.

    I love 'Irreversible', from every angle; the opening twenty minutes, the structure (which serves the pathos at the end beautifully) the use of music- all of it. I found the head caving bothered me just as much as the rape, to be honest- I was surprised (and somewhat pleased) by my visceral 50/50 response to each act.

    Would you like to know my only problem with the rape?

    It was Monica Belucci being raped.

    This mattered to me.

    Would it have made a difference if it was a fat, ugly, unknown girl? Hmmm...

    How many times have I watched a porno and thought to myself, 'what a shame! she seems like such a nice girl! Bogus bullshit. But I feel it. Hypocrisy? Guilty!!

    The human psyche? The emotions? Complicated? Tell me about it! From someone who knows, this is what makes the drafting of law and the application of it so- frustrating!
    You are trying to legislate to accomodate the 'laws of nature', and as any cop knows, we are really not suppposed to enforce those laws!

    And as human beings are becoming even more frightened and confused as time goes on, and life gets more complicated, and as our access to the 'perverse' becomes much more readily available, and more commonplace...

    We wait with bated breath.

    Suffice it to say, human beings will come and go, but 'hypocrisy' will outlast Carbon 14 and Strontium 90...

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  7. Oh, and regarding your comment on 'rape comedy'- I was watching an old Benny Hill tape the other night, and I actually found it very unsettling.

    Slapstick abounds, sure, but if you watch it carefully, these women are being chased for the purpose of molestation by slavering sex crazed beasts. It was almost so obvious, so woven into the tapestry of my memory of popular culture, that I almost overlooked it. If you watch these 'sped up' vignettes over a period of time, you see something I did not see as a child- and we do not see in TV now- what is essentially slapstick 'sexual assault'.

    It's like Ben Elton's reference to Benny Hill in his stand-up- "Bet you don't get many of those to the pound"...different joke, same pair of tits- "sexism in comedy- not very funny at all"...I think there is a good deal of evidence to suggest that these clips-are a good example of what could be regarded as 'rape comedy'?

    Now out of vogue, thankfully, like 'racism comedy' in "Love Thy Neighbour" which would never be made or shown today, nor, to my mind, should it be...

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  8. I used to have zero tolerance for rape in any medium. Then one day a close friend of mine was raped by her ex. It was such a brutal crime and I felt displaced by it. Television at the time didn't mention rape and you only saw it discussed in vague terms. I felt like the horror she faced was real and the world was working hard to make beleive it never happened. She felt like she was disturbing society's pleasant self delusion by being a victim.

    I loss interest in horror for a few years till I read a Richard Laymon book. His villain was a rapist and for me that made fiction scary again. I knew it happened in real life, so its absence in fiction felt like the monsters I read about weren't real.

    Nowadays American television has rape shows of the week, and though I don't watch them, I'm glad they are there. Fiction and film have to have some grounding in reality for them to have an impact. Ignoring rape is like ignoring sunlight exists.

    What is funny is that when I watch horror today, and a villain does not sexually assault their victims, I find myself woindering what is wrong with them.

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  9. I understand where you're coming from, Shon.

    A ex- of mine (a very decent lady) was also raped repeatedly by an ex- of hers. It destroyed her confidence and self esteem.

    She didn't have a problem with my movies because I've always depicted rape graphically. I see no point in playing down its brutal aspects.

    On the other side of the coin, Japanese pink films eroticize the act. I don't have a problem with that because it's a very different genre and not trying to show you how awful rape is.

    Rape in sexual fantasy is quite common, anyway. I've had a couple of girlfriends who were into the fantasy aspect; it was initiated by them.

    I have lost my passion for contemporary horror now and then. That's when I pick up an old paperback and read Lovecraft over nad over again.

    Laymon, I believe, re-energized horror in literature.

    American TV does cover grisly topics with more frequency now. I love the docos on the ID Channel (Investigation Discovery) and I've always had a strong interest in criminal profiling( people like John Douglas).

    Interesting point you make about questioning why a villain doesn't sexually assault a victim. In most crimes against women, statistics show that most male do sexually assault them.

    Horror really is a fascinating avenue running through our lives. Often it is so close to our reality, yet because we are once removed from it (as observers), it satisfies a need within us to witness our inherent savagery at play.

    Certainly my 'Beyond The Pale' films are about this.

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  10. Hi there!

    Very interesting considerations from all of you. I also had the intention of writing something on rape fantasies soon, but now I will let it simmer a little bit more.

    If you want my honest opinion about IRREVERSIBLE's rape scene, I found it quite boring. I mean, 9 minutes of a repetitive mechanical sex act, just doesn't cut it for me. I understand that Gaspar Noe was trying to recreate a hiper-realistic "rape scene" instead of the eroticised "fantasy rapes" that we find on other films.

    Even so, the rape seemed totally unimaginative and needlessly violent. Noe is clever in trying to cut the rapist from classic stereotypes of race or economic millieu. Not withstanding, I have a close friend of mine who is a criminal attorney and he showed me severall court transcripts and decisions on rape cases: and in all of them, described by witnesses and the raped women, rapists showed a lot more imagination, changing positions and forcing oral, vaginal and anal sex on the victim.

    I understand that the movie was more of a political/feminist stance on the rape issue (rape is for power of the male/subjugation of the woman and crap like that), but it needn't be so boring.

    Just my two cents of bullshit... I am a great fan of fantasy rape and fiction involving non-consensual sex, but that doens't prevent me from considering rape one of the most abject crimes...

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  11. Thanks for contributing, A S B. I second your last point.

    I hear you on the rapist's lack of imagination in "Irreversible". Every step is a directorial decision. And the reaction of the viewer to each decision is one the director accept.

    I'm sure rape details vary as much as rapists.

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  12. Face it, like most women you dont understand men and wont be feel like an expert enough to tell us what you think is how we think and it is negative.

    What are womens view on male rape used in family films as humour (nutty professor, the mask)like male domestic abuse is? There's your double standard.

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