Friday 22 June 2012

Offensive Things - Number Two

2. Getting Their Attention

This half-hearted attempt at an ongoing series is an effort to put some of my scrappier thoughts into some kind of order. As such, please don’t view anything here as concrete or a final position. Comments, thoughts, and any help in imposing some sort of order are all very welcome. Frankly I’m in still in two minds about whether to post this at all, if nothing else because it’s even more self-obsessed and introspective than usual. But we’re all adults here, so let’s see how this goes.

Potential trigger warnings. I hope that means nothing to you, as it did for me only a short time ago.

The situation so far:

Item 1 –
Homare Sawa being asked if she’s afraid of scaring off potential husbands through being excellent.

Item 2 –
Monkeyfighting. Specifically Kathryn’s brilliantly perceptive first comment, which embarrassingly highlights (again) my lack of understanding of women’s experiences. It just never even occurred to me that such a thing could happen, and now I think about it further, offering people money for sex is soliciting, and that is illegal in many jurisdictions.

Item 3 –
Catelyn Stark. Googling around to find out if other people get as pissed off by her as I do, I find this, which I urge you to read in its entirety, and from which I think we can safely conclude that yes, she does rankle with other people as much as she does with me, if not more so.

Item 4 –
More excellence over at The Lobster Dance, which spirals off into other discussions about the prevalence of rape in fantasy media, and just fiction in general.

Item 5 –
I’m not above it either, shamefully. For all that I’m very willing to call it out in other people’s writing, I kicked off this whole blog with a prison rape gag, the very thing I called ‘gratuitous’ when Loco did it in his book.

Ha. Ha.

As for that first post, I honestly thought quite a lot about whether to include those lines or not, and now I can’t help feeling that I made the wrong choice. Not least because prison rape as a punchline has become such a tired cliché, and I’d like to think I’m a better writer than that (so hypocritical and pretentious then, and those are just some of my better qualities).

Most people would agree that male on female rape is Not Funny, yet somehow male on male rape is a total laugh riot, especially in prison because, y’know, there’s no possibility of the victim escaping! Hilarious.

Now, I’m a very firm believer in freedom of expression, and I do think that comedy does have a license, a duty almost, to push the boundaries of what is acceptable. And taking risks is almost always preferable to playing it safe; it’s how we all move forwards. But all freedoms have a corresponding cost – those boundaries are there for a reason, and if you’re going to make play of pushing against them then you better be willing to genuinely engage with people who have legitimate reasons to take issue with what you say.

You can’t hand wave away everyone who has problems with your ‘edgy’ jokes as ‘easily offended’, because very often the offensiveness is a large part of the humour. All comedy is transgressive to some extent, and if you’re willing to benefit from that then you need to be willing to pay the price of genuine engagement. Even if your original joke was making a valid point, there are good ways of engaging, and very definite ways not to do it.

So male on male rape, Not Funny.

However, male on female rape, whilst clearly also Not Funny, is at least Character Building. Or so a lot of fiction would lead us to believe.

Good lord. How desensitized have I become? How has it taken until now for me to recognize this poisonous little trope? As I write this, I’ve put up 33 posts in my ongoing book project. Ten of those books contain rapes or significant female characters with rape as a feature of their backstory. If we discount the eight non-fiction works, that’s 40%. Nearly half of the fiction authors I’ve read in the last six months have sat down and thought, ‘I think this needs some rape. Yeah, that’ll make this a better story.’

Of course fiction is just as much a comment on the human experience as is comedy. And unfortunately rape is very much part of that experience, but as ever, there are good ways and bad ways to deal with it. I think only in Jessie Lamb was it depicted as an irredeemably negative experience for the victim. In all the others it’s either used as an opportunity to show how tough a main character is (or how they got tough), or is an unfortunate incident with a side character which exists to demonstrate how the world is just so shitty (and even the Jessie Lamb example also falls into this second category).

So it’s not that it’s always gratuitous or handled badly. With one notable exception, all of those ten book were pretty good overall, or at least contained more positives than negatives. But I really hadn’t realized just how prevalent this rape trope was. How have I got to the point where rape is just something that slips under the radar? And if I’ve been failing to see all that when it’s right in front of me, exactly how much else have I been missing?

Update - Ah, this would be why I couldn't get to all the links I originally wanted. Once you see it, it's everywhere.

Credit where it's due.


  1. Have you read "The World According to Garp?" If not, can I recommend it?

    1. No, and yes, of course. Though I've just restocked the 'to read' pile, so it might take a while to get to it.

    2. Well, it has a writing-a-rape-scene-scene, or rather... a published-rape-scene, that you might find interesting. Especially the various reactions to it.

    3. Yep, I had a quick google and now it's in my amazon basket. Thanks for the tip.

  2. I'm not a writer I'm a button pusher. I read that Prison Rape intro to the book and nearly puked in my mouth. I could do better. I laughed as I typed that last sentence. Cuz I realized right as the thought's true.

    My life has enough stories that I don't need to make one up to try and grab attention...shit I gotta NOT tell those stories because it would be a very bad idea....looking at others turn a simple thought into an elaborate failed attempt at being the blogging world's Stanley fucking Kubrick is nauseating.

    I think Rape is something I may have never mentioned except in the comment section in a reply to another comment Re: Japanese crime statistics v.s. "Reality"

    Your post made me feel less bad (love that English ;) ) about not reading much since The Art of War and Machiavelli.

    Some folks buttons just got pressed by you...I hope the comment instead of being voyeurs.

    1. "I'm not a writer I'm a button pusher."

      Dunno about that. On your day you can write as well as anyone out there, but I take your point. You get a pass though because of the 'genuine engagement' thing. You're not some Offence Seagull, flying in, shitting all over everything then flying out again, squawking about how you got people to notice you.

      It's not that this stuff shouldn't be touched, but you can't just throw it about without considering the implications. And you generally don't, so it's all good.

  3. Thanks for the "brilliantly perceptive" comment :)

    I can in some ways understand the rape cliche. It works in symbolic sense of so many ways. Funny that Bobby Judo mentioned The World According to Garp because I was actually think of Irving's Hotel New Hampshire when I read this. Have you read it? He says rape is the most violent act you can have committed against you and survive (prolly says it a less clunky than that though).

    Like any metaphor, it loses it's effectiveness when overdone. I remember when the Oprah book club was huge. I was never a big reader of those type of books but knew ppl who were really into it and it was like omg another book about child abuse.

    1. You're welcome. It's true though, once I'd got past that initial knee-jerk 'that's not what I meant' reaction and actually thought about it, it's a completely relevant and valid point.

      I could never really care about the whole 'misery lit' thing either, but that's the thing. I'm really not trying to seek this stuff out, but even so, there's just so much of it.

  4. Apparently I am missing something that everyone else seems to get with the rape meme. As the island of the rising sun has a very vertical social structure, the power dynamics can be pretty brutal at times. From my experience.

    For a number of people, ignoring problems is a way many people deal with them. If you believe you may only be here for a few years, thinking this way might make the 'visit' easier. Until one day, you sit up and realized a decade has passed.

    Yet, most of what you mention in this post deals with books and places beyond the rock. I wonder if you are planning on writing about a bit more of the reality that you have witnessed here.

    Not that I mind, either way. I have yet to read a post on this blog that wasn't engaging on one level or another. Though I didn't find the cake and frosting gag all that palatable.

    Though, the most important question is what do you think you may have been missing? At least, that is what I am interested in.

    1. Fortunately, I've very little real world experience of this stuff. Which is partly why I was hesitant about putting this up, it could seem pretty trivial getting worked up about rape depictions in fiction as opposed to the real world.

      It's also why I've tried to 'show my working' here, this is more about my own realisation of the pervasiveness of this trope. Given the fun we've all been having recently with discussing other ingrained assumptions, it makes for an illuminating compare and contrast. Or at least I think so.

      Really, the dribble cake wasn't up your street? Obviously you're under no obligation to like everything (or even anything) here, but I'll confess to being slightly surprised that out of everything that's what stands out for you. Each to their own.

      As to what I think I'm missing, well, if I knew that...

      'Unknown unknowns' and all.

  5. ok, now i'm mad at you. (not for the link to the catelyn stark thing. that is awesome.) i only have ten minutes before the brats get home and all those interesting links in this post? i can't read them!! wah wah wah, FWP, i got them.

    hopefully i'll be able to come back later and comment properly. when i've finally read all these deliciously interesting posts elsewhere.

    1. Given the subject of this post, that was a slightly worrying way to start a comment ;)

      Honestly, maybe half the links are hideously self-indulgent references to other stuff on this blog. But if you filter those out, there's a lot of good stuff there. Be interested in your thoughts.