Monday, April 21, 2014

Shock Value in Fiction (Or, Why I got Angry at Game of Thrones Last Night)

So, did anyone see Game of Thrones last night? Even if you didn't, I'll keep spoilers for the show to a minimum, mostly because I want everyone, not just Game of Thrones fans, to read this. Even people who don't watch the show are aware of the complicated, incestuous relationship between Lannister twins, Jaime and Cersei.
Yep. These two. Well, last night there was a little scene that happened that I was not at all comfortable with. After returning from the war, Cersei has been cold to Jaime and it seems very clear that she does not love him like he loves her. And of course, most of the audience is on Jaime's side about this because he has been loyal to her while she has deceived him and slept with plenty of other men to achieve her own ends. He has never been with another woman, unlike most every other man in the show. He is an uncomfortable twist on chivalric love. And though he has done LOT'S of terrible things (attempted child murder for instance) he has also done a lot of good things and seems to have undergone a character transformation over the past few seasons, becoming a hero in the eyes of the fans. Cersei, of course, has remained one of the primary antagonists because she is a pretty horrible person.

So I might have felt just a LITTLE uncomfortable when, on last night's episode, Jaime kind of raped Cersei. No, not kind of. He did. She was protesting all the way through and he did not listen to her (the timing and location was also HIGHLY inappropriate but that's kind of a spoiler. People who watched the episode know what I'm talking about). Jaime raped Cersei. It doesn't matter how deceptive and evil Cersei is, she did not deserve that. And it seemed highly out of character for Jaime to do this because he A) acknowledged his distaste for rape and how, if he was a woman, he'd rather die than be raped in the last season, and B) saved Brienne from being raped.

I have not read the books but, on this occasion, I did a little check to see if this had happened in the book. It did not. While Cersei did initially protest to this sexual encounter and it does kind of toe the line as far as enthusiastic consent goes, she does beg him to keep going halfway through. Its still an uncomfortable scene but it makes more sense for the characters. It is a complicated sexual relationship and they are constantly warring with their morals and emotions. It is portrayed as such. It is not straight up rape.

But, the show has changed things like this before. And if I thought they were going to do something worthwhile with this plot point, I would be game. But I don't think that's what is going to happen. I think the scene was done for shock value. So that brings me to my main point of writing this. How does this apply to us as writers?

Rape for shock value, used only to make something edgy, is not okay. When rape is forgotten in the next scene or the trauma is easily solved, it is not okay. Victims of sexual abuse live with the after effects and trauma for years after it occurs, sometimes their whole lives. It is not just 'a thing' that happens to get you more views and more buzz. If a rape scene is not necessary to the plot or character development, then what is it? Its cheap drama.

I was a bit pissed when I found out that in Game of Thrones season 1 the show turned a scene between Dany and Drogo into a rape scene instead of a scene where consent was given. It made Dany's falling in love with Drogo a bit more sketchy. But it did set up the role of women in that society and how this was a common thing so it was kind of necessary for the tone of the show. This? We KNOW how women are treated in Westeros at this point. We've been with this show for four seasons for crying out loud. It sucks to be a woman in this world. And usually Game of Thrones does interesting stuff with this dilemma. But this scene? It adds nothing new. It is cheap drama. Why Game of Thrones NEEDS any more drama is beyond me.

So, since this scene is not canon and was changed from the books, I am going to pretend that the show makers were faithful to the original scene. I am going to pretend that Jaime did not go completely out of character unless they choose to do something with this change. I still love Game of Thrones. I'm not going to stop watching it. I am simply going to pretend they didn't completely screw up and use the book's scene as canon.

But I am not going to pretend this isn't a problem that needs to be addressed. Rape is not a tool in your show or book for you to get more buzz or cause a heart stopping moment. It as an issue that must be examined and not glossed over. If you can't handle this, then do not write about rape.

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