Sunday, May 4, 2014

Game of Thrones and Rape Criticism

There are some people, both media critics and other bloggers who have an axe or two to grind over the Jaime/Cersei rape scene in particular and how  A Game of Thrones handles rape or violence against women in general. Some of them claim that the show and/or the books upon which the show is based takes a titillating (pun not intended) or dismissive view towards female sexuality and/or rape.
“The ‘no means yes’ thing is there in the books,” said Sady Doyle, an essayist who often writes about “Game of Thrones.” “The sexualized punishments are there. It’s in the text and it’s vital to the text. It’s something that comes up, over and over again.” But, she added, “At a certain point, you get the feeling that you can’t walk through a chapter without expecting something horrible — almost always to a female character — just to prove that this is indeed a very scary and dark piece of literature.”

“To have sexual violence treated so cavalierly, it’s very difficult to see that,” said Mariah Huehner, a writer and editor of comic books who has contributed repeatedly to the online debate. “It’s too upsetting to see, and I just don’t know that I can keep going with that.”

I thought the show creators poorly handled the Jaime/Cersei scene. They took a consensual book scene and turned into a rape. It did unnecessary violence to Jaime's character and continued the show's baffling trend of making Cersei far more sympathetic than she ever is in the books. But the idea that Martin or the show creators Benioff and Weiss are endorsing rape is pretty silly. The show has gotten a lot of things wrong. Neither Martin nor the HBO creators are beyond criticism. But Book!Jaime did not rape Book!Cersei. I usually don't quote from the books because most people here haven't read them. I definitely don't want bookreaders to start spoiling events yet to occur. And I mean that. There's a lot of stuff that's yet to occur or may not occur. Reading the books is no longer a guarantee that you know what's going to happen. But just this once, especially since the scene already happened, I want to use a relevant quote from the book.
She touched his face. “I was lost without you, Jaime. I was afraid the Starks would send me your head. I could not have borne that.” She kissed him. A light kiss, the merest brush of her lips on his, but he could feel her tremble as he slid his arms around her. “I am not whole without you.” There was no tenderness in the kiss he returned to her, only hunger. Her mouth opened for his tongue. “No,” she said weakly when his lips moved down her neck, “not here. The septons…”
“The Others can take the septons.” He kissed her again, kissed her silent, kissed her until she moaned. Then he knocked the candles aside and lifted her up onto the Mother’s altar, pushing up her skirts and the silken shift beneath. She pounded on his chest with feeble fists, murmuring about the risk, the danger, about their father, about the septons, about the wrath of gods. He never heard her. He undid his breeches and climbed up and pushed her bare white legs apart.
One hand slid up her thigh and underneath her smallclothes. When he tore them away, he saw that her moon’s blood was on her, but it made no difference.
“Hurry,” she was whispering now, “quickly, quickly, now, do it now, do me now. Jaime Jaime Jaime.” Her hands helped guide him. “Yes,” Cersei said as he thrust, “my brother, sweet brother, yes, like that, yes, I have you, you’re home now, you’re home now, you’re home.” She kissed his ear and stroked his short bristly hair. Jaime lost himself in her flesh. He could feel Cersei’s heart beating in time with his own, and the wetness of blood and seed where they were joined.
Does that sound anything at all like something that is unambiguously non-consensual? No it does not. It sounds at worst like this classic scene.

Even so I have heard some people whose opinions I generally respect claim that the show is too invested in violence against women. Hmm. I try to be fairminded and use evidence. I'm not saying I am but I do try. Maybe I'm missing something and women or girls are indeed singled out for harmful acts. So let's examine what other violent acts have been depicted or referenced in the television series so far:
  • The initial protagonist, a good man, is murdered in front of his two daughters.
  • A boy who is a companion to one of those daughters is murdered by being stabbed through the throat. Much later, the daughter finds the man who did it and returns the favor.
  • The man's son who seeks justice and the rescue of his sisters is murdered along with his friends, wife, unborn child, mother and untold thousands during a wedding.
  • A boy is defenestrated and crippled. He's later almost assassinated in his bed.
  • Both the male protector and the male counselor/tutor to this boy are murdered.
  • Two other boys are burned and have their corpses displayed.
  • The man who committed or allowed the above two actions is beaten, flayed, has extremities cut off, psychologically tormented, threatened with homosexual rape, raped by women and finally castrated.
  • The man who ordered/did all this also kills his own followers for fun.
  • An unpleasant man uses magic to murder his own brother then pretends he doesn't know about it.
  • This same man considers killing his own nephew and later burns his brother-in-law alive.
  • The continent's leading warlord is best known for exterminating two houses that rebelled against him (including non-combatants and children)
  • The above fellow also tells his son that he would have killed him at birth were it not for the pesky rule about kinslaying and the fact that he can't prove that he was cuckolded. He takes special delight in bullying his son every chance he gets.
  • Several male peasants are tortured or robbed for fun by partisans of all sides.
  • A female knight stabs a rapist through his groin.
  • The man who threw the boy from the window murders his own cousin in an escape attempt. He later has a hand amputated because he annoyed a captor.
  • A so-called "good guy" murders captive boys to express his discontent with his leader's decision making. He's later killed.
  • The Queen Regent threatens a male cabinet member with death because she dislikes his tone.
  • A male tyrant in the making is murdered in front of his own parents by a supposedly kindly old woman.
  • A bard has his tongue ripped out on orders of that same tyrant.
  • A friendly and shy male peasant is beaten and robbed by a series anti-hero.
  • This same anti-hero kills a boy on orders of the Queen and reigning Prince.
  • The Lord Commander of the Night's Watch is betrayed and murdered by his own men.
  • Thousands of men are burned alive by wildfire.
  • A self-righteous queen orders slave owners (evidently all male) to be crucified.
  • She also has a growing habit of having her dragons sautee those she considers threats or insufficiently respectful.
  • A spymaster is possibly gleeful to have the opportunity to torture and kill the man who mutilated him years ago.
  • When a Queen thinks her army will lose she decides to kill her trusting middle son.
  • A king's son narrowly escapes being tortured by having rats gnaw through his stomach and is later tortured by being cut so that leeches can have his blood.
  • Several babies or children of the previous king are murdered.
  • Two wolves have been killed unjustly. One was later mutilated and paraded around to jeers, along with his dead human male companion.
  • A female wildling routinely coldly kills non-combatant male peasants.
  • Another male wilding likes to eat those same non-combatant male peasants.
  • A truly demented wilding leaves his incestuous boy babies outside in apparently sub zero temperatures. If they survive the exposure they get kidnapped by ice zombies.
That's what I can remember in five minutes. I know I forgot/overlooked a lot. And there's more to come in future episodes (PLEASE DON'T DISCUSS IF YOU KNOW)

In short, things are tough all over. Evidently the people complaining about violence directed at women or girls missed all of the above instances of violence directed at men or boys. Men and boys are just as likely if not more so to be targets. There's a war going on. In war men and women kill, die and do horrible things to each other. It is in my view utterly ridiculous for the folks wringing their hands about the Jaime/Cersei scene to have apparently missed all of the male on male or female on male violence. It's like looking at pictures of Nagasaki and talking about all the women who died. Obviously (sarcasm on) GRRM is a horrible misandrist. He hates men and just enjoys writing prose where they die.
The first problem is that most of us (with the possible exception of Sean Connery) are initially culturally conditioned to consider violence against women as worse than violence against men. This is regardless of our political or ideological stances or genders. A woman getting punched in the face is a taboo. A man getting punched in the face is pay per view entertainment. So that's why some people can zoom past all of the fictional examples of men being killed and complain of the fictional rape. In real life the atrocities of the Nigerian terrorist organization Boko Haram did not penetrate into some Western minds as long as Boko Haram was killing boys. It's when they started kidnapping large numbers of girls that suddenly everyone became outraged experts on their evil. The second problem is that some people have forgotten that the same Show!Jaime who had the sensitive come to Jesus moment with Brienne also tried to kill Bran Stark and did kill his cousin. He's not a "good" guy though I disagree with the show's choice to remind viewers of that via rape.

The books of A Song of Ice and Fire are longer than the Bible. So it's unsurprising that there will be different interpretations. I do think that the showrunners have taken every opportunity to show bare breasts and total nudity for both genders, even when I thought it unnecessary. If you're okay with fictional depictions of men being chopped up, stabbed, mutilated, castrated, beheaded and burned alive but suddenly have an issue with a fictional depiction of rape I would very much like to understand why.
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