Its hard to say rape, nevermind talk about it. Yet talking about rape is the surest way to fight it. Leaving rape as an unspeakable part of our discourse leaves victims and criminals out of the public consciousness, and only serves to aide rapists and rape-apologists. The more we talk about rape, the less they have to stand on.
I’d like to talk about the date rape scene in Observe and Report, as well as Lil Wayne’s interview on Jimmy Kimmel. They both provide an opportunity to discuss one of the more problematic and persistent aspects of rape apologetics: the notion that the victim deserves or wants the rape to occur. (Trigger Warning).
The date rape scene in Observe and Report generated a lot of discussion (Feministing, Majikthise, Huff Post). The scene in question depicts a mall cop (Ronnie, played by Seth Rogen) having sex with a woman (Brandi, played by Anna Farris) passed out from psychoactive medication and alcohol. He has a brief moment of doubt, dispelled when Farris’s character says “Why are you stopping, motherfucker?”. Within the context of the film the scene may or may not make sense. The problem with the scene lies not within the scene itself as in the reaction to it. It is being defended as sex rather than rape.
Then there’s an infuriating middle ground, which expands on Rogen’s statement in an interview that its only a quasi-rape scene. NYMag, emphasis mine:
And he even shows a glimmer of self-awareness — after all, mid-rape, he stops for a moment, worried about whether he’s doing the right thing. Yeah, he’s so deluded and terrified that her drunken reprimand convinces him he is doing the right thing, but at least he thinks about it, which is more than you can say for his behavior in the rest of Observe and Report.
Because that makes a fucking difference. But it is important to note that mainstream reviewers seem especially keen on reducing the severity of the scene. There’s a real anxiety about allowing that scene to be seen as rape.
That’s when its even brought up. Reviews at Pajiba are one of my favorite things (How could they not be with a slogan like “scathing reviews for bitchy people”?). While they truly shine when reviewing the straight to dvd dross poured into theaters disguised as film, they also offer some fascinating analysis of the social and political implications of films. Which made the review of Observe and Report all the more striking for its utter failure to even mention, let alone address the rape scene. The comment section has a lively discussion going. Cleveland writes:
Just once I want to see a mainstream Hollywood movie where a man is passed out drunk and raped and the critics see it as a great example of dark humor.
Actually scenes like this do occur. A common thought in Hollywood is that “women raping men” = comedy gold. For example, take 40 days and 40 nights. (Spoiler Alert). A man (Matt) gives up sex for lent, and during this time meets the woman of his dreams (Erica). At the same time an office pool has formed, betting on how long he can keep his vow. His ex-girlfriend (Nicole), who was recently turned down when she tried to get back together with him, decides to get in on the bet, and ends up raping Matt. Erica comes in as Nicole leaves, and storms out enraged at Matt. At no point during the film does Nicole get in any trouble for what she did. In fact the rape simply becomes another “romantic comedy obstacle” for Matt to overcome to get to Erica.
Rape is portrayed in movies in a couple of ways. It is sometimes shown as the brutal, criminal act it is (in relation to the plot). It is sometimes gratuitous, shown for its shock/titillation factor (often alongside scenes of torture, murder, and other forms of violence). It is also sometimes depicted as acceptable. This is usually the case in comedies, where the rape scene is meant to either turn our expectations on their head (“Oh a woman is raping a man, hahaha, that never happens”), or reflect some “fact of life” (“Hah, that frat boy had sex with that passed out girl, isn’t college hi-la-ri-ous?”).
What these sorts of “acceptable rape” scenes hold in common with the scene in Observe and Report (which seems to fall somewhere in between being perceived as “acceptable rape” and “plot driven, obviously criminal rape” depending on who one talks to), is that they are often perceived as being simply “shocking sex” rather than rape. Take these two examples from the comments section at Pajiba (emphasis mine):
Okay, I’m sick of this date rape bullshit. She’s not out of it during the scene, and truthfully, Anna Farris’s character is a pretty horrible person. However, it’s nice to see her in a good movie for once. She’s actually a pretty good actress, at least that’s what this movie indicates. – George
Without the benefit of having viewed it, and only going by I have read here. How is it a rape if she consented before she passes out? – BarbadoSlim
Samanthrax fires back (emphasis mine):
The idea that some victims are innately sexual, and therefore unrapeable, is discussed expertly by Cara at the Curvature (hat tip Samhita, Feministing). I can sit here typing this and think to myself how common sense it is that no matter what a person’s background, rape is obviously rape. Yet clearly this viewpoint is far out of the mainstream, to our great shame and detriment.
Let me ask a question. Have you ever discussed rape with your friends? Have you ever discussed it with your significant other? How about family members?
I’d like to bring up another point. From Cara’s post:
the (primary) reason that this was rape is because no affirmative, let alone enthusiastic, consent was obtained, and this would be the same even if both people were the exact same age. Understanding that “surprising” someone with “sex” is in fact rape is required to understand that rape is what Lil’ Wayne seemingly endured, and far too many people don’t understand that.
“Enthusiastic Consent”. Think about that.
Rape isn’t just the act of forcing someone to have sex. It is also the effects and aftermath of the act itself. In a situation where someone does not give enthusiastic consent, while neither participant might consider the act rape, many of the same effects may occur.
For every person raped who is socialized to believe they deserved it, or should want it, admitting to themselves they were raped can be indescribably hard (comment by llevisno at Feministing, emphasis mine):
My ex-boyfriend lost his virginity by being raped by a girl he knew. He was really drunk and it she just kind of climbed on top while they were fooling around. He was too drunk to really resist or know what was happening at the time. He still won’t call it rape though. He just describes it as “being taken advantage of.” For some men it’s just really hard for them to say those words out loud. And I know guys that know his story and say that he couldn’t have been raped because he was hard so he obviously wanted it. Actually, I know girls that say the same thing. It makes me sick.
Using the standard of affirmative and enthusiastic consent, evaluate sex while intoxicated, partially asleep, or otherwise not fully aware. Doesn’t sound consensual at all any more, does it?
Yet our culture allows rape to be reclassified as sex even when that rape is phsycially violent, or occurs when the victim is fully unconscious, or explicitly rejects the sexual act! All the more reason to unite around the standard of affirmative and enthusiastic consent, since it so effectively pushes the boundary of nonconsensual sex back to include situations that ought to be considered rape.
Using that standard, there is no doubt that the scene in Observe and Report is a rape scene. There is no doubt that Lil Wayne was raped. There never should have been, but this is a good lens through which to view sexual violence.
I therefore invite you to talk more, read more, and continue bringing the act of rape out from the shadows and into the light. The more we discuss rape the more its occurrence and acceptance will crumble.
As a final word on this, I want to make clear the importance of allowing yourself to make mistakes. Rape is an incredibly sensitive topic, and rightly so. But we need to talk about it more, and in the course of doing so we are bound to mess up, trip, and potentially make fools of ourselves. And I believe so very deeply that it is always preferable to speak up and trip up than to stay silent and errorless. So let’s accept that risk in exchange for the very clear reward: a society less afraid to talk about rape and therefore able to be braver in fighting rape.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tagged: affirmative and enthusiastic consent, Anna Farris, Culture, Date Rape, Discourse, Jimmy Kimmel, Lil Wayne, Observe and Report, Politics, Rape, Rapist, Rhetoric, Seth Rogen, Sex, Sexuality, Victim, Violence |