Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Game of Moans

Apparently many persons are not going to watch Game of Thrones any more because the rape of Sansa Stark was a "rape too far".  I'm intrigued by the idea of a "rape too far" - is that not a single rape?  Are we now hierarchizing sexual violence for entertainment purposes?  Is the rape of minor characters less important to our understanding of the crime or our support of the victim?

It seems that seeing a major character's violation is worse than the multiple gang rapes that took place earlier in the series.  I have to reference Tiger Beatdown here, because her objections to the ideology of the show are largely what I take issue with.  Her argument is that GRR Martin is "creepy".  And my argument is, so what?

The violation of a major character would clearly be more effective a representation of rape than that of a minor character - the audience is more shocked by it, particularly as this one is not technically a rape; Sansa is married to its perpetrator and - however manipulated - she has given her permission to that marriage; in an age or culture where marital rape does not exist, this is a done deal.  People don't want to see what women's lives were like - are still like, in much of the world - if it's too icky.  I wonder if they would feel comfortable suggesting that the representation of slavery or of violence towards Jewish people in the second world war should not be permitted on screen.

Ah, but only when the author's intentions are serious.  When did entertainment stop being serious?  Greek tragedy dealt with the noble and their tribulations not just so the commoners could point at them, but so they could purge their feelings in those of their Kings.  This was drama akin to religious experience;  Game of Thrones offers a similar - though admittedly more gory - dramatic trajectory, presumably so we can enjoy a similar dose of catharsis.

As for the art required to engage an audience - Brideshead Revisited is a biliously unctuous book, so thick with snobbery and sucking up that the religious themes are hard to pick out - but Waugh's deeper lore - the love of the rambling sentences that evoke loss - have remained with me all my life.  In Lolita, the deep horror that lies at the heart of the novel is underscored by the contrast of the singing beauty of the prose; just because art deals with vileness does not mean it should not exist. When you look away, don't you deny?  How will we deal with what we refuse to see?

It is a trope of much trash tv that Really Bad Things do not happen to major characters - they do not die, they are not mutilated or violated.  The skilful inversion of this trope is what first Joss Whedon and now GoT have made work for them, because it is daring and artistically difficult; you have to be able to get the audience to really really care before you injure a character, and if you wish to kill one, you have to have enough other relationships or stories of real emotional investment to keep the audience hooked.  This many dramas cannot do, because they are made by mountebanks who do not know their craft.  To condemn drama that succeeds is more reactionary than the questionable ideology of said drama.  It exposes only the negativity of the viewer, and to suggest a moral superiority by refusing to engage is childish at best.  

Is there a debate to be had about the ways art interacts with culture and whether it endorses and reinforces the ideology it reflects?  Indubitably.  But this doesn't seem to me to be it.

As fan fiction tags say - don't like, don't read.  But if you want to contribute to culture, stop whingeing about somebody else's contribution and make your own.



2 comments:

Sam Gardner said...

Conversely, one rape serves to make the point that rape is an unfortunate reality of the world in which Game of Thrones is set, and to realise in front of the viewer the human consequences of such. A string of them, however, borders on gratuity.

Goggle Eyed Krenbot said...

Quite. Some of the violence in GoT is played for laughs, like Tyrion cutting out the enemy soldier's leg from under him in the Battle of the Blackwater, but the sexual violence usually isn't.