Man rape is funny and swiftly resolved: “Zed’s dead, baby. Zed’s dead.”
In this week’s friendly neighborhood chat, Sady of Tiger Beatdown and I hang up our cardigans, lock the door so Mr. McFeely can’t come in, and talk about something that’s been on our mind for a while: those rapey filmmakers who rape you again, in the movie theater. Hey, kids. It’s okay. It’s not your fault. And you don’t have to let Seth Rogen touch you in that way ever again.
SADY: good afternoon or evening!
AMANDA: any time is a good time for high-brow discussion on the art of raping women on film
SADY: ha, yes! i myself have been spectacularly dour and serious on the subject as of late. i think i’m going to stop posting words and just type frowny faces from now on. seth rogen, :(. it’s funny, because i think that telling stories about rape from the perspective of ladies who’ve lived through it can be totally important, you know?
AMANDA: are there any rape scenes in movies that you think are important? i think the scene in Boys Don’t Cry was important.
SADY: yeah, that one was huge. it was intense and it was scary and it totally centered Brandon Teena and the fact that the rape was a crime about power and gender and the fact that they viewed him as “really” a woman and wanted to drive that home through forced sex. it’s funny but i think a lot of the more interesting rape scenes i’ve seen have been in TV. Mad Men—-Joan gets raped, and it’s the same thing, it’s about the fact that her boyfriend is threatened by her power and her sexuality and wants to take that away from her. I guess what I’m saying is that you can have rape in your movie and I will NOT EVEN YELL AT YOU, if it’s a story about sexual assault and what that means and what it does to a person. not something that uses sexual assault to add spice or shock value or whatever. because the thing about rape: once that shit happens, you have to LIVE with it. it’s not a thing that you can just resolve with some punching or with a laugh line or whatever.
AMANDA: yeah, and I think it’s an interesting dynamic when it happens that way—-particularly when the rape is committed by the protagonist, as in Observe and Report (ostensibly). because, really, rape is actually a pretty common thing to happen to a woman, and a lot of times the people who commit them are otherwise normal seeming friends, etc.—-people who might even be protagonists in motion pictures!
SADY: Ha! Indeed! I think the thing about “Observe & Report” style rape, which is not even that different from your usual how-do-we-make-it-clear-this-guy-is-a-villain-oh-I-know-raping move, is that in each case it’s kind of about deploying rape as your “edgy” move. Oh, look, rape, BUT SHE LIKES IT, isn’t that crazy? Oh, an incredibly brutal rape, LOOK HOW BRUTAL THIS RAPING IS, isn’t that crazy?
SADY: Ha ha, yeah, PITCH MEETING: “So, this dude is totally crazy, and kills some people.” “BORING.” “Oh, but he’s also a rapist!” “SOLD! MAN, you’re edgy!”
AMANDA: another common pass: having the man rape ANOTHER MAN. that way, men can watch the rape without feeling awkward sexual feelings, and can just say, heh, “Ouch!” you know, and also laugh in embarrassment at the man being treated like a lady. So that resolves the guilt problem. a la your critique of Pulp Fiction.
SADY: Yeah, the “Shawshank Redemption” rapes, too. It’s fun to make your gay men sexual predators, I think, if you are a douche. See “Irreversible” which has a nine-minute rape scene of a lady, which is perpetrated BY A GAY MAN for reasons unknown, but which allows for various scenes shot in a club known, I believe, as “The Rectum.”
AMANDA: Deliverance, too, the movie that launched 1,000 man rape jokes
SADY: Well, it’s funny if men get raped, because that only happens to ladies! And, I mean, not to get all painfully academicish here, but the reality of rape is that it is typically a crime about power, sexual entitlement, and humiliation, perpetrated by a privileged person on a non-privileged person. That’s how it works. But portraying it that way gets complicated and challenges people and it’s easier to just be like “sex! violence! boobies! gays! vomit! EDDDDDGGGGGEE.” Men get raped, but more women get raped, and women can rape, but more rapists are men: it’s always inexcusable but the context in which most rapes happen is, yeah, The Patriarchy.
AMANDA: EDGE. Also, “rape,” according to the FBI, is still technically only defined when a penis violates a vagina. so even if a woman wanted to rape a man—-not endorsing that—-she couldn’t do it. May I share with you my favorite examination of rape in film, courtesy of Roger Ebert?
SADY: Indeed! I love Roger Ebert more with every passing day, by the way. I want to hire him to be my Grandpa.
AMANDA: When I was a Freshman in college, I had to watch this movie, “Absence of Malice,” for my Journalism class. It’s a Very Serious Look into Journalism Ethics starring Sally Field as a spunky lady journalist who falls in love with handsome Mafia spawn Paul Newman. anyway, Sally Field ends up doing a bunch of semi-ethical stuff, causes Paul Newman’s friend to kill herself, and so he gets back at her by almost—-but not quite!—-brutally raping her, showing her how to “respect limits” or something. anyway, the movie was terrible. Roger Ebert’s review from 1981 says a bunch of stuff about how what Field’s character did was wrong, but that he didnt care because the movie was really “romantic” and “entertaining.” Here’s the only mention of the near-rape scene: “Paul Newman’s character is a liquor distributor who is (presumably) totally innocent of the murder for which he is being investigated. But because his father was a Mafioso, he finds his name being dragged through the press, and he achieves a vengeance that is smart, wicked, appropriate, and completely satisfying to the audience.”
SADY: ROGER EBERT NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
SADY: FROWNY FACE INDEED, MY FRIEND. Yeah, how do you get around that? “Well, he rapes her, but it was because she was all spunky and causing trouble. CLEVER!”
AMANDA: Now, this was in 1981, so perhaps in the past 28 or so years, everybody has become more aware of rape in film and why it can’t be treated that way. or … maybe that happened, and now people are treating it that way again, to be “edgy”!
SADY: Well, you want to think that. People will let the rapeyness of Superbad slide, but I haven’t seen a critic who hasn’t squirmed a little when trying to justify their enjoyment or support of the rape scene in “Observe & Report.”
AMANDA: especially Anna Faris, who, seriously, has endured so much on film in her short career. Jesus.
SADY: Right? I read some article where she was like, “well, I didn’t want to be a stick in the mud, so I did it, but I honestly didn’t think it would end up in the movie because it was too awful.” Ha ha, WHOOPS, Anna Faris! And the critics I’ve read, specifically in Variety, were like, “Anna Faris is a remarkably good sport in this movie.” Which, that’s the dichotomy I think we are working with: people think that being sensitive to the realities of rape is “P.C.” and they want to be BOLD and PUSH THE ENVELOPE, but they don’t seem to get that trivializing or justifying or reveling in rape isn’t that bold: that’s the status quo, we live there.
AMANDA: yeah. and i’m actually all for rape being portrayed MORE in movies, even by protagonists, because i think it’s the reality. I just wish it weren’t resolved with a punchline. and all those test moviegoers who made the rape scene “okay” by laughing might feel kind of bad that rogen’s now using them as an excuse. it’s like—-well, i put this joke in there at the end and everybody laughed, however nervously! this means that the movie was a good movie. rape: it was all worth it … for the laughs.
SADY: Maybe we could get more edgy! “Paul Blart: Mall Rapist,” “Pulp Rapists,” “Raperbad.” An entire new genre awaits you: the feel-good rape comedy! Bring your date! IF YOU NEVER WANT TO HAVE SEX AGAIN.