Spoilers ahead (though at this point I don’t know how you’ve avoided them).
So, lots of discussion about the (latest!) rape scene in Game of Thrones, which has led to a whole lot of folks defending it. Some of this defense is even-minded and fair, whether or not I agree with it. I certainly don’t think any topic should be off the table when it comes to fiction, and if you feel that this scene in some way is important to the story or important to the characters or culturally vital in some way I’m missing, hey: you do you.
I think it was crappy and I wish the writers would’ve done better — largely because they’re so good at telling this story in so many other ways. It’s often so good and so well-thought-out that to me, stuff like this really stands out. Like a cancer shadow on an X-Ray.
Regardless of what they did or planned as writers and showrunners, what I’m finding super gross is some of the response to the criticism. Particularly the, erm, impassioned defenses for the inclusion of rape as a story element in this particular scene and episode.
I’d like to tell you why it’s super-gross.
Let’s go on a journey together! A journey through grave grotesquerie huzzah!
Well, Sansa Knew What She Was Getting Into —
Ah, the most disgusting of defenses.
Sounds a lot like what real-world victims hear:
“She deserved it.”
“She knew what she was doing.”
“She said yes before she said no.”
And so on, and so forth.
It’s victim-blaming. And though she’s not a real character, realize that actual victims are hearing you say these things. They are internalizing them. Trickle-down economics doesn’t work for shit, but culture and a lot of its worst ideas sure can trickle down. It’s poison to all who drink it.
Storytellers may not have an actual responsibility to anyone or anything.
But shitty is shitty, so don’t be shitty. Be awesome, instead! See? Easy.
Yeah, But Sansa Is A Weak Character, So —
More victim-blaming. Also gross. Stop being gross. Why are you being gross?
She’s weak so she deserves to be raped? What heinous fuckery is that?
“Puppies are small and helpless, and so they deserve to be crushed.”
“Children are tiny. Kick them!”
“Grandma moves slow these days. Kill her while she watches Dancing With The Stars.”
What’s wrong with you? No. Nooooo. No, no, no.
Do We Even Know That It Was Really Rape, I Mean —
Stop. Stop. Ew, stop.
*dumps a bucket of fire ants on your head*
Maybe This Really Proves How Strong Sansa Is —
*dumps toxic diarrhea on your head*
But It Explains What Theon Is Going To Do Next —
I don’t know what comes next from Theon, but unless it’s literally him donating his family fortune to RAINN and training to become a rape counselor in Westeros, I don’t see how this was appropriate or necessary. If he’s supposed to get some kind of revenge on Ramsay Bolton, well, garsh, I’d say he has enough reason to do that already, don’t you think? Do we forget the part where the young Bolton bastard hacked off Theon’s wangle-rod? Humiliated him and tormented him? Turned him from a human being into a beast named Reek? (Which I always imagine is just “Rick” said with a funny accent! As if Peter Lorre is saying it in Casablanca!)
And oh hey by the way pop culture is full of fridging women — meaning, when women characters are subject to violence only to activate MANPAIN and motivate MANACTION.
It’s not just about this one time.
It’s about the pattern across this show, across all shows, books, movies, comics.
Wait, But It Demonstrates What A Monstrous Sadist Ramsay Bolton Is —
Whew, thank god, because before now, we thought he was a real gentleman!
Oh, wait, except none of us were confused about Ramsay Bolton being terrible.
He’s actually so evil it’s ludicrous. He has no sympathetic side. He’s Joffrey 2.0 (and Sansa being wrapped up with him is deja vu, and not in a good way). He doesn’t just pluck the wings off of butterflies, this guy. Ramsay would set butterflies on fire and then shove them in the mouth of your beloved geriatric uncle while stealing the last of your beloved geriatric uncle’s food money from his wallet just before taking a shit inside the wallet and then shoving the previously mentioned shit-filled wallet into the town well that we all drink from so we’re all drinking it up.
He’s a kitten-kicker. A wang-slicer. A monster so inhuman I think he’s actually just a case of syphilis that took over a human body. You know how they interview the neighbors of serial killers and they’re like, “Wow, we had no idea?”
Yeah, with Ramsay, we have plenty of idea.
Here’s the thing: storytelling is about breaking the status quo. About juking left when we expect you to go right. We expect him to be a terrible person. So what happens if he isn’t? What if he seems to be actually romancing Sansa instead? What if Sansa hurts him? Or acquiesces and turns him from a predator into a Reek-beast? What if she spies in him something monstrous about herself? Where’s the twist? The hook? The artistry? This isn’t artistry. It’s just the authorial equivalent of Orson Lannister crushing bugs.
Him not assaulting her has actual narrative value here. First, it would function as a nice surprise. But more logically: the Boltons need this alliance. They require the Stark name. Ramsay has things to lose. His new name. His power. What if we pretended for once he was an actual character instead of a giant mustache-twirling embodiment of eeeeeevil? Mightn’t his struggle with trying not to reveal his horrible side be interesting to watch? More interesting, than say, another rape of another POV female character (particularly one who is victimized every 21 seconds in the show)?
Hold On, The Scene Tells Us Something New —
Ramsay is a monster? Knew it.
Sansa is a victim? Sadly we’re reminded near-constantly.
Theon is a simpering husk? Knew that one, too.
Even if you believe that “rape in fiction is okay as long as it moves the plot forward!” (as if it’s just a mechanism for melodrama), this doesn’t even pass that barest-of-bones smell test.
Oh Sure But You’re Not Getting Mad At All The Other Violence —
Well, who says? I’ve commented before on how nasty this show is. Sometimes this show demonstrates the sadism found in many of its worst characters. Now, to a point, I like sadism in my storytellers — I certainly don’t want everything to be MY FACE WARMED BY SUNSHINE BEAMING FROM A PONY’S BEDAZZLED ASS. So, fine. But here’s the other thing:
IfI were to sit in a room full of 100 people, how many of them do you think have been beheaded, cock-chopped, throat-slit, war-murdered, skull-asploded, and so on, and so forth?
Except Gary. Poor Gary.
But how many do you think might’ve undergone sexual assault or rape?
That’s a higher number, innit?
No, that’s not a reason to never write about the subject. But it is a reason not to rely on it as a creepy, shitty, trite trope. It’s important to realize that this thing is used again and again in fiction. Particularly in the SFF genre. It’s not treated as serious. It’s treated as a “plot device.” There’s no gravity to it. It’s like horrible wallpaper.
You expect it and see it so often you become inured to its presence.
But In Medieval History —
First of all, stop there, because not so much.
Second, I didn’t realize Game of Thrones was a historical television show.
I look forward to the Reddit discussion where you all debate the accuracy of the dragons based on the dragon skeletons found just outside of Plymouth just last year, or how accurately the show portrays the science behind revivified corpses and —
OH WAIT IT’S ALL FANTASY
Hey, what the fuck?
Truth in fiction is about authenticity.
Stop using “history and “fact” (which you’re probably getting wrong anyway) to explain why women are powerless or there aren’t any non-white people or whatever other lazy inclusion you cling to. Read some actual history instead of just more epic fantasy.
But Rape Happens All The Time —
Yes, it does.
And there’s the problem.
Rape culture is about the normalization of the act.
And if we keep excusing lazy inclusions of rape in our pop culture as there because it’s there, you’re just kicking that can further down the road instead of picking up and asking why are you kicking this can and why is the can full of rape and oh shit maybe it’s worth actually thinking about what we’re writing and reading about rather than what we take on as assumed and obvious. It’s not that you can’t talk about these sorts of things, but writing about them without any sort of examination, without any respect at all — that’s some twisted shit.
We can do better.
We can ask for better, too.
* * *
My post from the other day: “We Are Not Things” (Mad Max vs. Game of Thrones).
Robert Jackson Bennett on: “Why Are You Writing A Rape Scene?”
Emmie Mears :”Why I Share: Living On The Fury Road”
And finally, the “rape tropes” page at TV Tropes.
Once again: comments off.