Rape is still rape, even in fantasy television
Fans and critics of “Game of Thrones” flew into a virulent rage this week after witnessing a horrific assignation between two of the show’s seminal characters, Jaime and Cersei Lannister, in which Jaime rapes his twin sister.
In a show where characters are beheaded left and right and we are consistently treated to all manner of violent perversions, it’s noteworthy that many are calling this latest move by the showrunners “the final straw.”
There are a lot of problematic elements at play here: sexism, assault and inconsistent storytelling. Indeed, the brunt of the outrage seems focused on the fact that the rapist, the charismatic and dangerous Jaime, now seems thrown forever from his path toward redemption. This is a character that the show wants us to like, so now what?
There is so much to say about the insidious misogyny and violence perpetrated against women in this series, but overall, I don’t believe this one event ruins the characters, and it certainly doesn’t ruin the show. Clearly, the show has a penchant for shock value.
However, by focusing on the consequences for these imaginary characters, we’re shifting the focus from the most interesting part of the whole debate.
Director Alex Graves weighed in on the issue on Sunday with the following statement: “Well, it becomes consensual by the end, because anything for them ultimately results in a turn-on, especially a power struggle.”
Clearly, Graves has never been the victim of sexual assault, but the viewers who have knew full well what they were watching.
It’s shocking to me that in an age where phrases like “rape culture” are so hotly contested that the showrunners of one of the most popular shows on network television would try to backpedal out of their creative decision and insult the intelligence of their viewers.
Rape is rape, no matter if it occurs in the real world or in the realm of medieval fantasy. When a woman says no to a man’s sexual advances and he responds with a gruff “I don’t care,” it’s rape.
I’m not going to pretend like I think the characters of this fictional TV universe should adhere to the same mores as our own world, but that’s not the point.
Graves’s words have harmful consequences, evident in the reactions of some viewers. Commenters on the issue have expressed disturbing sentiments, ranging from “Yeah he’s right, she probably wanted it,” to “Who cares? She deserved it.”
I almost have to remind myself that I’m not reading the deplorable news coverage of a rape that happened in real life.
For Graves to blithely dismiss and distance himself from the decision to use rape as a narrative device only allows viewers to come to the conclusion that once again, the series capitalized on the torture of the fairer sex purely for shock value.
“Women’s suffering attracts attention. Women’s suffering is a tool to be used to get higher ratings,” said writer Sarah Kolb for Medium. “It isn’t always easy to relate the suffering of the women in Game of Thrones to that of women in the real world because the violence is so extreme and the situations distant enough from our day to day lives that we can feel as though it’s happening, literally, in another world, and doesn’t happen in ours.”
To argue semantics about sexual assault or rape culture would take more space than I can afford and there are already scores of books and discussion boards dedicated to the topic.
But as a fan of the show, I have to express my disappointment, not at the creative license to alter the scene, but at how the cast or crew handled it.
The narrative direction of "Game of Thrones" is not up to me and, despite my disappointment, I will likely continue to watch as an ardent fan no matter how perverse and twisted the show becomes.
But if the minds behind the series want to hold on to their loyal following, they need to recognize and take responsibility for the decisions made behind the scenes, as they have consequences that extend beyond their fictional world of Westeros.
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