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February 27, 2007


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George Hunka

I'm not all that surprised by this. Given the glorification of violence in the media as part of its driven pandering spectacle, as well as the recidivist return of outdated gender roles in the morality and ethics of even the left and progressive communities (as well as the fetishization of the nuclear family and marriage, which now as ever have their possessory aspects, as social ideals), what would you expect to happen? This combination of fear and mawkish sentimentality is a very, very powerful thing.


Rape is also accepted by the public as part of incarceration in the U.S.A. It's the source of talk-show jokes. No one seems to bother with the Eighth Amendment.


I have so much I could say about this, it's painful to limit myself, but the greater good, the greater good.

1. I haven't seen the TV shows you mention so I can't comment on how responsibly they portray rape. Nevertheless, you must admit that rape's omnipresence on TV speaks to one good change in our culture: the taboo crime of rape is now more acceptable than ever to talk openly about. Victims are more likely to report crimes, folks at large are more likely to take it seriously. Compare this with Middle Eastern culture (certainly Egypt) where when a girl is raped, it is often considered to be her shame and in part her fault. But "she was asking for it" probably cuts it less now here than it ever did.

2. Another upsetting thing about the inclusion of rape as a matter of course in a procedural murder is that a simple death isn't really horrifying enough anymore. This is an illustration of the cheapening of violence in our culture and especially in the way that it's portrayed. Even the shooting death of no-name cannon fodder on the Wire is horrifying, but on most shows it's almost an abstract device. (see especially 24)

3. Final point, that story about The Hills Have Eyes is awful. Horror movies have always had us identifying with the pursued but also with the monster, which channels our destructive antisocial natures which we generally reject in the symbolic survival of the virginal girl. Nowadays though, it seems the balance has tipped heavily towards us identifying with the monster, which is the only way I can explain torture fetish movies. This seems to square with the recent New Yorker article on 24 which notes that torture used to be rare on television and something only villians did. Now it is common and something heroes often do. Disturbing in the extreme, but at least I'm pretty confident that Jack Bauer wouldn't rape someone to discover the location of whatever McGuffin. Some bulwarks of civilizations are left...

Abe Goldfarb

Indeed, 'twas I who saw Hills Have Eyes and heard the horrid dude-bros cheer. I was sickened, mortified beyond words. The worst of it was that I was unsurprised. Interestingly, The Hills Have Eyes is not a torture-porn film, consumed with the minutiae of agony and its many applications (not like, say, Hostel, which is both morally and artistically bankrupt). It is a revenge thriller in which the violence is sharp, awful and deeply scary. As it should be. The scene in question is actually far less explicit than any of its kind in the last few years. The director isn't getting off on its wrongness. I still can't begin to understand the mindset that does. The film spends so long establishing the perpetrators as "other" and "alien" that sympathizing with them requires a profoundly warped mind.

Herx makes a good point; that our culture can now speak of rape IS progress. Surely, the greater step will be a real dialogue. Perhaps the growing awareness of the situation in Darfur will aid in this.


Someday, Abe, we have to have our "Hostel" debate. I thought both films used violence in an artistically and socially inquisitive way, but I found "Hostel" the more nuanced of the two. "Hills" was certainly the better piece of filmmaking. Nearly every shot of that model town near the end was astonishing.

I saw "Hostel" in the theater and heard no laughs once the horror movie aspects started. I watched "Hills" on my laptop, and I'm flabbergasted to hear about the cheering. The filmmakers certainly didn't attempt to make the mutants Freddy Krueger/Hannibal Lecter-type wise-cracking horror antiheroes. The scene is unrelentingly dark and contains nothing approaching a comic cue, as I recall.

Scott Walters

I wonder. For the past week or so, I have been teaching about the Romans in my theatre history class. One interpretation of the Roman's focus on sex and violence in their entertainment is that the society itself is so uptight that all this bursts out in the entertainment. Could it be that we are in the same place? Is our day-to-day life so buttoned-up that our entertainment is projecting onto the screens all the impulses that are being deeply repressed? Is our society so controlled, so rule-bound, that we have to put our aggression into our entertainment? I guess this means that our entertainment serves as the container for our unconscious. I don't know...

sharkskin girl

what about a film like gaston noe's irreversible, with its 9-minute rape scene? to me, irreversible is one of the only films i've ever seen that doesn't eroticize or fetishize that particular act of violence in any way (unlike L&O:SVU, etc.) -- though my male friend who watched the film with me disagreed strongly, stating that the violence might offer some aspect of fetishization to 'those with a rapist mentality.' not entirely sure how far he was willing to stretch the limits of who might have a 'rapist mentality,' but i do think it brings up an interesting dilemma: i define myself as a feminist, yet i respect and admire noe for making this film; my male friend deplores the film and noe.

George Hunka

It may be that Noe doesn't commodify the presentation of the experience in the same way that L&O does (I'm not familiar with the scene so can't talk about its similarity to similar scenes in these shows with a broader audience -- and it's interesting to note here that the rapes that take place in L&O often take place offscreen), and that the very duration of the scene -- 9 minutes of violence, in real time -- renders its cruelty less exploitative because that much more explicit. There is less for those with a rapist mentality to imagine; it's onscreen, so instead of entering imaginatively into the mise en scene the explicitness is more alienating in a psychological sense. At 9 minutes, its cruelty is inescapable, not merely part of a more fragmented media environment among other movies and 255 other cable channels to choose from. In these horror films that Abe and Isaac describe, rape is merely one example of a whole menu of violence. (Also, in "Irreversible," the nature of rape as an act of sexualized violence is central to the theme of the film, whereas it's only a convenient plot point in these other examples.)

George Hunka

Also, in terms of film, you can compare the depiction of rape in Bergman's 1960 The Virgin Spring to any of these. Bergman's perspective is similarly explicit and extended, and for its time harrowing (several seconds of the sequence were cut for its American release).


little bitty footnote: I see that Daniel Radcliffe got good reviews for getting naked in Equus. More evidence that the "getting naked to prove your serious" syndrome isn't completely a gendered thing. With the public nudity as a rite of adulthood for so many tween stars (Hathaway, Radcliffe, Britney), I dread to think what the next generation's bar mitzvahs will be like.

Abe Goldfarb

The Virgin Spring is one of the few films that, of its period, remains as unsettling as it was surely intended to be and for the same reasons (the gleeful rape jokes of many lowbrow Hong Kong comedies of the '60s and '70s have, for instance, acquired a singularly upsetting edge).

Irreversible is a cruel, often beautiful and thoroughly honorable film that I never wish to see again. Perhaps men are more unsettled by it because it very consciously positions its act of violation away from anything dramatically "climactic" and thus lacks the requisite "movie-ness". Maybe that's what really clinches it as non-exploitation. In any case, it's extraordinary.

I don't know that I agree with George that length and explicitness make a rape scene LESS prone to fetishization. Look back at I Spit on Your Grave, a notorious revenge film with multiple, almost numbingly long scenes of rape. It's the definition of exploitation. It's also a film that inspired one of Roger Ebert's most beautifully written condemnations, observing as he did a phenomenon similar to the one I did.

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