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."
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.