Friday, 24 April 2015

The Phantom of the Opera: Or How I Learnt to Appreciate Musicals

I have always thought of myself as someone who was never into musicals. Musicals were just something that I was never into. I thought they were too theatrical or showy which is probably because I was never a theatre kid and therefore didn't quite appreciate or understand a good stage performance.

Also, musicals often have a stigma associated with them and are dismissed as being silly or superfluous. I have no idea how much this stigma did or did not influence my own opinion of musicals. I would like to say that it didn't but it's hard to say when so much of our thoughts can be influenced by so many different things, even if it is on a subconscious level.

Moreover, that sort of stigma can often be why people feel the need to justify or defend the things they like if they have a similar stigma associated with them. And I hate that. Like with superhero movies. Even though they are massively and crazily successful and popular, there are still people who look down on superhero movies as being juvenile or not art despite all evidence to the contrary.

"I can't imagine why."

Often people fixate on the worst elements of a genre or medium they either don't like or aren't that familiar with and therefore dismiss the genre as not worthy of their time or attention. And I can understand that to a degree since there is a lot of stuff out in the world and it's impossible to absorb it all. Therefore, we create filters to discount the stuff we don't like or haven't gotten into, just to streamline all the stuff out there into something more manageable.

Anywho, lots of people claim not to like musicals and that they can't get into them or the heightened theatrical element ruins the experience of the story or something similar. Perhaps that is because of the lavish productions with overly theatrical acting and melodramatic stories.

Since most of us grew up on television and movies with close ups and a more 'realistic', or at least less overly theatrical forms of acting and set design, the more exaggerated expressions in theatre can seem a bit too much.

On a completely different note, musical theatre has given us Wolverine dancing in shiny pants with rainbow maracas.
With that alone, musical theatre has given us too much and somehow just what we always wanted but never knew we did.

Also, people seem to have a negative reaction to the fact there are, shock, musical numbers in musicals. That somehow having the story stop for a song and dance number is automatically stupid and makes little sense. That expressing a character's emotions, thoughts and/or actions through song is intrinsically ridiculous or flawed.

The fact music is intrinsically linked to the human experience and most songs explicitly are supposed to express emotion or convey a thought probably has nothing to do with people writing stories where characters express themselves through song.

And it's not like dance has anything to do with expression either. Makes all those song and dance numbers in musicals seem rather silly in context really. I mean, who has ever felt like dancing when they're happy or something? That's just silly.

Gene Kelly should have expressed his utter happiness in this scene with voice-over narration rather than with one of the most joyous song and dance numbers of all time.

Now, with all that said, everyone loves Disney, right? We all grew up with Disney animated movies and they have become an integral and vital part of many of our childhoods. Movies like Beauty & the Beast, Snow White and the Seven DwarfsThe Lion King, The Little Mermaid, Mulan, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and so on. They are all so much a part of our childhoods they are their own form of nostalgia really. Disneystalgia.

Another thing they all are is musicals. All of those movies listed and the many other Disney classics we grew up watching and loving are musicals with songs which we can recall in an instance once the first few notes begin. So howcome Disney musicals get a pass?

Since we don't often refer to Disney animated movies as musicals even though that is what they clearly are. And people who claim they hate musicals often still love Disney movies with five plus songs in them which um kinda definitely makes them musicals...

Simba literally sings a Broadway number with a complicated dance sequence and a spotlight.

So obviously that stigma comes with some glaring exceptions. Exceptions which call into question the stigma itself. Which kinda makes it dumb or ignorant (due to lack of experience or knowledge), like most stigmas. It also means I was dumb for casually dismissing musicals, particularly theatrical performances, out of hand. Or if not dismissing them outright exactly, then not quite giving them the chance they deserved like all genres do, at least until I had done the proper research and made an informed decision.

What got me thinking about all this musical stuff was when my girlfriend recently made me watch the 25th anniversary performance of The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall. And I really enjoyed it. A huge part of that is because of Ramin Karimloo who played the Phantom and is utterly fantastic but also the music and the theatricality of the performance.

Seriously though, she wasn't the only one Ramin had that effect on.

While I'll talk more about my recent love for all things Phantom below, this really got me thinking of musicals. And I realised that my favourite Johnny Depp/Tim Burton movie of the past 15 years has to be Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. By like a lot. It blows all the other movies they've made in the past decade and a half so far out of the water, they're wondering how the hell they landed in a dessert.

Depp and Burton have worked so often together with neither one challenging the other that their work has become incredible boring since their shtick is so well-worn. Where great creative relationships may become comfortable over the years with each partner able to bounce of the other and create great art, in the case of Depp and Burton they merely become complacent since neither one seems to inspire the other to move outside their comfort zone.

The only movie they've made together since their glorious collaborations in the mid to late 1990s that this doesn't seem to be true of is Sweeney Todd, based off Stephen Sondheim's musical of a murderous barber dedicated to revenge and very close shaves.

 "To slit a throat, or not to slit a throat... Slit a throat. The answer is always slit a throat."

Now to be fair, this is obviously a movie version of a musical theatre production but it is still obviously a musical. Depp has a surprisingly good voice, maybe not ideally suited for a theatre hall since it isn't super powerful but he has perfect pitch and an emotive voice that is slightly reminiscent of David Bowie at points, which really brings Sweeney Todd's songs to life.

And Burton's gothic visual aesthetic, which has been rather uninspired in some of his other films, really works with the macabre nature of the musical. London in Sweeney Todd is dark and twisted, truly a hole in the world like a great black pit and the vermin of the world inhabit it.

But my point here is that my favourite Depp/Burton film of the past decade and a half is a musical. And like so many people, I love the Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical episode, and recent movie musicals such as The Muppets. All of this further illustrating that my strange reluctance to openly declare that I like musicals really seems to be a result of the stigma musicals seem to have for some reason.

"You don't say."

Now on to Phantom. Well, obvious I was aware of its existence. My childhood sweetheart back in high school loved it so I've known about it since at least around then, although considering its impact on pop culture I probably was aware of it before that, subconsciously if not consciously.

And I have to say, watching it in its entirety for the first time, I can see why it had such an impact. It's grand and dramatic, with some elements of horror but epic in scale and wholly romantic in scope. Also, the songs are great. So catchy and memorable. Yes, a number of pieces are repeated throughout but that makes sense for an opera-centric musical since operas often repeat certain musical themes. Just ask The Who.


But the story is also perfectly suited to capture the imagination. A tragic love story in the vein of Beauty & the Beast or Quasimodo and Esmeraldo, between a monster/disfigured man and a beautiful woman where the monster has some innate talent or kind nature which endears himself to the beauty despite his offsetting appearance.

Add the theatrical elements, striking visuals such as the Phantom's half mask, and one of Andrew Lloyd Webber's best scores and tightest songs that showcase the voices of the actors, it's little wonder Phantom is the most successful musical of all time.

And to be honest, I totally have a man-crush on Ramin Karimloo at the moment. The man's voice is incredible. I've heard that Phantoms usually are tenors and listening to the original cast recordings with Michael Crawford, that does seem to be the case but Ramin's rock baritone is beautiful, adding real power and oomph to the Phantom's songs.

Furthermore, his performance as the Phantom is really impressive, conveying his anger and sadness in equal measure with real conviction. The moments that highlight his abject loneliness and longing for companionship are actually quite moving.

"FEEL! FEEL FOR ME!"

You almost forget that the Phantom is a typical nice-guy-who-was-only-being-nice-in-order-to-get-something-from-the-person-he-was-being-nice-to, holds the opera house in the grip of terror, and he legit kidnaps Christine trying to force her to be with him. Not to mention he casually murders people just because.

The Phantom really is a sheltered man-child with little real experience or knowledge of what love or a romantic relationship is. Like a teenage boy, he has false expectations of how Christine should feel or do for him. With the bravado of a child in a superhero cape, he brashly makes demands and appears apposing but as soon as his mask is removed, he is little more than an insecure and scared boy desiring some form of affection or acceptance.


But that is the strength of Ramin's performance, he makes the Phantom a really sympathetic character despite his anger and villainous acts since you understand where it is coming from, from that fear of rejection and insecurity about his disfigurement.

I'm sure other actors have given other takes on the Phantom with their own merits but Ramin really seems to make the character even more enchanting, romantic, and tragic in a striking performance...

So yeah, I guess I openly like musicals now, converted by the power of the music of the night or something. Funny, I don't seem to mind in the slightest.


References:

The Phantom of the Opera (1986 musical) Wikipedia page

The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall

Phantom Reviews Podcast - ALW 25th Anniversary First Thoughts (2011)
Musical Theatre Wikipedia page

Let's hear it for musicals! They're uplifting, entertaining and make us forget all our woes - whatever the snobby critics might say

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007 film)

Friday, 17 April 2015

It's a Bird! It's a Plane! No, it's a Superhero Sequel!

There are a lot of superhero movies being made. Some would argue too many but I guess that might be because they don't read comics or don't see how superheroes serve as archetypes, like the Greek gods or any other such pantheon. They are symbols for our most noble ideals as well as fantasies of power.

Superheroes allow us to envision a world where the most powerful people not only have fantastical abilities but they also wish to use their powers for good, to protect the common person from the forces of evil, no matter the risk to themselves. And that's really important.

Imagining such fantastical worlds where such beings not only exist but are good, expresses a fundamental type of storytelling. A type of storytelling where stories serve to distill ideals about morality and what values we hold into icons of virtue with amazing powers overcoming insurmountable odds. Icons which spark imagination and reflect something of the way we think about those ideals and envision those values.

Not too mention they punch evil in the face while wearing brightly coloured costumes. That bit's important too.

"I didn't know the rest of you would be so... loudly dressed.
If I had known, I would have brought out my Batman of Zur en Arrh costume." - Batman

People wonder why there are so many superhero movies being made right now, and aside from the obvious 'because they make all the money', a big part of the reason is that most of the people making movies now grew up reading comics and loving superheroes.

Just like how George Lucas and Steven Spielberg grew up with and loved 1940s movie serials and then recreated elements of those serials in moves like Indiana Jones, most filmmakers today are of the geeky persuasion. People like Joss Whedon who are noted geeks and whose love for comics and superheroes are well known. And no where is this more evident than with Marvel Studios. Where other studios seem to want to distance their superhero movies from what I assume they think is the juvenile-ness of comics, Marvel embraces it.

Once The Avengers was a monster hit back in 2012, Marvel realised that they could make unabashedly comic book style movies set in a shared fictional universe and everyone would love it. And that's the thing, these movies are comic book movies in the best sense of the term where the storytelling more closely reflects that of a comic book than a movie. The logic of the fictional universe allows for the flights of fantasy and suspension of disbelief more commonly found in the pages of comic book than on the big screen.

For a lot of people the hardest thing to accept about the Hulk is not that he is a giant green monster created by gamma rays but rather that when he transforms, his shirt completely rips off to show off his muscles but his pants don't.

And that signaled a change for the movies that followed The Avengers, there was a sense of confidence to Marvel Studios which led to a real "fuck it, let's do whatever we want" attitude which has really made the batch of movies in their Phase 2 phase leading up to The Avengers: Age of Ulton all the more remarkable and enjoyable.

This is because they didn't feel the need to make superhero movies anymore. I mean, they still made superhero movies since they make movies with superheroes in them but they aren't superhero movies in the way superhero movies before The Avengers were superhero movies.

They don't follow the same beats or worn out tropes of storytelling that identified superhero movies as superhero movies. They were all sequels so there was no origin story with the hero coming to grips with his or her new found powers and responsibility. There was no conflict between their superheroing and their private lives since none of them have secret identities. Remember the ending of Iron Man?


That's Tony Stark just straight up declaring that he is Iron Man to a press conference. This comes in stark (I'm so sorry) contrast to the press conference in The Dark Knight where Bruce Wayne is sorta kinda maybe going to reveal he is Batman, only for Harvey Dent to say he is Batman as part of a ploy to draw out the Joker.

In The Dark Knight the mere idea of Batman possibly revealing his secret identity is treated as the most serious thing ever. Something that will not only ruin Bruce Wayne's personal life and endanger all those dear to him, but will end all the good he does for Gotham.

Not to mention effectively giving into terrorism and letting the Joker win. Both Alfred and Rachel pretty much tell him not to do it despite the fact that the Joker will kill innocent civilians if he doesn't.

He legit nearly quits being Batman over this.

Those are pretty high stakes just so Batman doesn't let it slip that he is actually Bruce Wayne, billionaire playboy philanthropist. Similarly, Peter Parker can never reveal that he is Spider-Man (with a hyphen) to his friends or family for fear of any of his enemies will start targeting them to get to him... despite the fact that all his enemies already do target his friends and family anyway whether out of plot convenience or on purpose so I don't know if it would make much of a difference...

Actually, all he is really doing is endangering their lives unnecessarily by keeping them in the dark about the possible threat of the Green Goblin wanting to drop them off a bridge to their deaths due to his vendetta with Spider-Man. Especially since the Green Goblin knows his secret identity and who the people he cares about are.

Marvel Studios realised right from the get-go that secret identities are kinda dumb. They even make fun of the original cover story for Iron Man's secret identity, that he was in fact Tony Stark's bodyguard, a deception that would help explain why Iron Man hangs around Stark Industries so much.

Although the fact that he and Tony Stark couldn't often be seen in a room together would raise concerns about how good of a bodyguard Iron Man was which seems to suggest that cover story raises more questions than it explains.

"Yeah... good thing I didn't go with that one." - Tony Stark, Iron Man

So, Marvel very wisely decided to ditch the whole secret identity thing. I've already made this point before when I was talking about why Spider-Man introducing secret identities to the Marvel Cinematic Universe would be a bad idea but I guess there was still some more I wanted to say about it.

Now to be honest, I am slightly repeating myself in this post since I've already written about how Marvel don't make straight superhero movie sequels in my post about how Iron Man 3 really is a buddy cop movie with Iron Man in it. I've also talked about how most superhero trilogies seem to follow a pretty common linear progression.

The first film is origin story, the second film takes that established universe and expands on it often providing a meatier story-line, and then the third film comes along and doesn't know what to do, so it's just the second film but bigger and usually dumber.

"Looking back, the introduction of three villains and multiple plot lines that go nowhere in this movie was a bad idea." - Spider-Man, probably.

Cracked.com also provided a pretty good breakdown of all the seemingly unnecessary storytelling tropes superhero movies tend to follow for some reason. Maybe because it became expected to see these trends in a superhero movie once the pattern was laid down by the Christopher Reeve Superman franchise as the first superhero movie franchise. Maybe the same beats just were hit due to laziness or convention, who knows.

This post is sort of the culmination of those other posts, kinda because I don't think I gave enough details to what I meant by a superhero movie as well as my thoughts on sequels and kinda because I want to elaborate on my thoughts about superhero sequels and what Marvel Studios have done post the first Avengers movie in anticipation for The Avengers: Age of Ultron.

I mentioned above how the amazing success of The Avengers meant that Marvel felt confident to do whatever they wanted and it shows. Therfore, they made a breezy fun TV show about a bunch minor agents from S.H.I.E.L.D who never appeared in the comics nor even existed in the movies (aside from Agent Coulson) just because they can. Then they made TV show set in the 1940s with a female lead in order to make points about misogyny and espionage while showing the origins of S.H.I.E.L.D just because they wanted to.

This broad has got more spunk than most dames.

Also, they made the gritty as hell Daredevil for Netflix which is amazingly brutal and utterly intense. This, as you may be aware, is a complete reversal from the often lighter tone of the rest of Marvel's output and closer to The Wire or a similar HBO drama with lots of graphic violence and crime/political intrigue. Again, just because they wanted to and could, so they did. By the way, check out Daredevil on Netflix, it is fantastic.

And that's just television. On the movie front, they no longer felt the need to make superhero movies anymore but expanded to just make movies in whatever genre they want to, they just happen to have superheroes in them. Or in the case of Guardians of the Galaxy, with no 'superheroes' at all, but a talking raccoon. Once more, just because they're in a position now where they can try whatever they want with little risk so they do.

However, Age of Ultron looks like it'll be a superhero movie, more so than Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, or Captain America: The Winter Soldier were. Whereas Iron Man 3 was a buddy cop movie, Thor: The Dark World was a scifi fantasy adventure, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a political thriller action movie, the latest Avengers installment looks to be a superhero movie in the real sense of the team, superheroes fighting a big bad.

"Good evening, I will be your villain tonight. Collapsing buildings can be found on your left, while the charred remains of your loved ones can be seen to your right. Please enjoy the last few minutes of your life." - Ultron, probably

And that can be a good thing. And in terms of the Avengers, that can be a great thing. Since the thing is, we've never had a superhero team sequel before (and no, the Fantastic Four and X-Men don't count). We've never had a sequel to a superhero team movie where the superheroes had their own adventures and movies inbetween. So, that's interesting in and of itself.

But where this becomes even more different is that the individual superheroes sequels were quite definitely not pure superhero movies but rather played in other genres, Age of Ultron looks to be aiming for the ultimate superhero feel as a movie. People with fantastical powers coming together to defeat an unstoppable villain and facing insurmountable odds.

Like the perils of a bad Photoshop job on your movie poster.

The genre seems straight ahead superhero, no divergence into buddy cop-ness, sci fantasy, or political thriller. While there may have those elements possibly, I would assume they would be buried in the subtext rather than be the focus like they were in the individual superheroes' movies.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that Age of Ultron looks like it's going to be the ultimate superhero movie with no shame in being a superhero movie and I'm ridiculously excited to go see it.


References:

8 (Pointless) Laws All Comic Book Movies Follow

Friday, 10 April 2015

The Powerpuff Girls: Him and Hers

The Powerpuff Girls was one of my favourite cartoons showing on Cartoon Network in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I loved the different personalities of the girls (Bubbles was my favourite because she was so hardcore, although I'm the most like Blossom).

Like a number of cartoons at the time, the show was also great at parody of whatever it wished to parody: the ridiculousness of superheroes and supervillains, giant monster films, anime, pop culture, etc. They had a whole Beatles parody episode which was great and showed off their pop culture savvy.

Who could forget The Beat Alls? 

I also loved how the show could veer from cute and innocent to ultra violent in a second, sometimes in the same scene. And the show was violent. Like extremely so. It was amazing. Just like, how did this happen? It was a cartoon marketed for kids, predominantly girls, and yet it showed such intense violent imagery.

The Girls would regularly beat their villains to a bleedy pulp, with black eyes, broken bones, and missing teeth. Often Mojo Jojo's brain would be fully exposed after they beat his head in, his body broken, blood here and there. I mean, just look at the second half of their opening theme.

It just consists of them beating their rogues gallery senseless and ends with them standing atop their battered enemies like vicious conquerors. And recall, these superpowered girls are literally made out of sugar, spice, and everything nice.



The juxtaposition of sweetness and violence is just as delightful now as it was then but I always wondered how they managed to air this. How did they manage to make such a violent cartoon show that routinely had its protagonists beat up the bad guys to such a degree that their bones were broken and vital organs were exposed? I don't know but I am eternally grateful that it did.

The Powerpuff Girls were also great because they were fleshed out as characters, or as as much fleshed out as Cartoon Network cartoon characters can ever be considered to be fleshed out, and weren't reduced to their stereotypical roles as the leader, the innocent one, and the rebel.

Occasional episodes were dedicated to giving attention to their individual characters and adding more depth to to characters who could have reasonably been expected to be fairly two-dimensional (Because they're cartoon characters and cartoons are 2D... it's quite the layered joke).

I mentioned Bubbles is hardcore, right?

But what I really want to talk about is Him. Don't we all want to talk about Him? I think we should talk about Him. Him is essentially the Voldemort of the Powerpuff Girls universe, his very name invokes fear and dread for those who speak it. As the narrator says when we are first introduced to Him, he is "so evil, so sinister, so horribly vile, that even the utterance of his name strikes fear into the hearts of men". He is the embodiment of evil, the devil incarnate in this fictional universe.

And none of that is why I want to talk about him. Rather, it is because, like the juxtaposition of innocence with brutal violence, I have no idea how the creators got away with having a character like Him in their show. Not because I don't like the character, in fact I think he's amazing, but rather because he is a trans (or possibly hermaphrodite, it isn't clear - not to conflate the two since they are not the same thing) character in a children's Saturday morning cartoon.

That's not to say he was the first transsexual cartoon character to grace the television screen on a Saturday morning. No, that honor belongs to a much older and more popular character.



In case you didn't watch the video since you're at work or similar place where you are unable to watch videos or because moving pictures make your brain hurt since flashing images confuse you, that was a video about how Bugs Bunny is one of the most progressive characters of all time.

Progressive how, you ask? Well, like I strongly hinted in the paragraph above the video, it's because he is a transsexual character. "No, not Bugs," I hear you exclaim somehow through the computer screen... days after I write this... but yes, Bugs.

Bugs Bunny's go to disguise is to dress up as a woman. To be a woman. And every time Elmer Fudd falls for it, thinking Bugs is a lady. A lady that he is inexplicably instantly in love with. While this is obviously played for laughs, the fact remains that Bugs loves dressing up as a lady, and like the video points out, as a dude, Bugs is chased and hated, as a dudette, Bugs is courted and desired.

Bugs could always make his/her man see stars.

Now, where that relates to Him is that he (and I use the male pronoun solely due to the maleness of his name) crosses gender boundaries in a really daring way for a children's cartoon. The confusion regarding his gender is apparent in the introduction on his entry on the Powerpuff Girls wiki where most of the first paragraph is dedicated to determining his gender.

It eventually settling on male due to his name and the fact he has been referred to as the "king of darkness" in the show, but notes his gender is "somewhat of a confusion" which I guess is one way to put it. Another way is that Him is purposely androgynous in order to indicate that evil knows no gender. But also possibly because gender fluidity, and particularly androgyny, makes people uncomfortable.

People feel uncomfortable due to little old me?

I don't want to get into an extended discussion of sex politics, so I'll skip that for the most part, however, I think androgyny tends to make some people uncomfortable, not necessarily because they aren't accepting of gender fluidity, but rather because it can be confusing at times. Gender is one of the first physical identifiers we use with race, height, hair colour, shoe size, dilution of the pupil, and so on. When we see someone, we immediately notice gender, subconsciously in an instant and then consciously a split-second later.

Androgyny however messes up that identification process somewhat since we aren't sure how to classify someone if we can't identify their gender. And that can throw us for a loop a little since so much of our day-to-day interaction is based on that instantaneous identification of gender. Again, this confusion is not meant to be seen as necessarily a negative thing but since we subconsciously identify gender constantly, when our 'gender-radar' can't pick someone's gender it kinda makes us uncomfortable in a sense.

At least for a split second until we get over it since it doesn't matter and we recognise that uncomfortableness is just a reflex due to living in a gendered society. It does gets kinda tricky to talk about things like this without coming across as insensitive or ignorant, but my point is that it is this very confusion that the writers of The Powerpuff Girls were tapping into when they created Him.

No way! 

This is a character called Him who wears black stiletto heel knee high boots, has a goatee and a guy's face but rosy cheeks, while his read leather jacket has a pink tulle at the neckline and hem. His voice changes from a feminine falsetto to a deep masculine baritone within a sentence. Not to mention his lobster claw hands because I think that should probably be mentioned too.

Can I just reiterate that Him was a character on a Saturday morning cartoon? Because that is amazing. It's only as an adult looking back that I can appreciate just how progressive and transgressive Him was as a character. Mostly, I'm just expressing my incredulity that Him was even allowed to exist on the Powerpuff Girls and my appreciation that he was.

He was one of the most memorable characters of the show, and along with Mojo Jojo, a seminal villain from my childhood but one who made evil look wrong but soooo good.


References: 




Friday, 3 April 2015

Rape of Thrones: A Song of Pop Culture and Sexual Assault

Rape.

Thought I'd get the word out of the way since that's the topic of discussion for this post, specifically rape in pop culture. Well, in storytelling like comics and television. I'm not even going to get into rapey songs since that's a whole other can of non-consenting worms I don't want to get into because I think I'm already dealing with enough here.

Now, this is a topic that has been written about by far more informed and sensitive writers than myself and I know that it's not really a topic that lends itself to the tongue-in-cheek tone of this blog. But last week I said I came up with a topic I wanted to do a full arsed job of and this is that topic.

Yeah, this is gonna go down great.

Before anyone starts suggesting this, since people always start suggesting this when you talk about rape or misogyny in pop culture, I'm not accusing any of these writers of being sexist or misogynistic in any way. Far from it, most of these writers are known to have written strong and interesting female characters. However, the use of rape as a trope in pop culture, as well as the way in which it is often written insensitively and fixated upon by male writers, reflects a wider social problem.

The underlying sexism inherent in parts of modern society is often internalised to such a degree that it doesn't appear as problematic when it should. This internalisation occurs because we tend to view the society we live in as 'normal' and don't often question its logic or rules. So the reason something like inequality can be seen as acceptable or normal is because it isn't questioned unless that society itself is examined. But examining society means stepping outside of it and questioning its logic which isn't something most people tend to do.

Therefore, aspects of patriarchy are seen as normal since they form part of the society we live in. This in turn is then perpetrated by our culture since that culture is created by people within society who create stuff which reflect that society, creating a feedback loop.

Did the misogyny create me or did I create the misogyny?

However, the real kicker is that anytime someone does start to question a society's logic, that critique seems undermines our own understanding of the world. It's as though if someone else offers a different worldview destabilises your own worldview, since if other people have conflicting views of reality and the world, then maybe that means your views could be wrong.

There are two common reactions to this, one is to learn from that different worldview and to perhaps open your worldview up to encompass the conflicting one. The other is to reject it and to reject the person who has that different worldview as 'other'. This is most commonly done by calling them mean names and insisting they're making it up to dismiss it, and geez, it's just a movie, get over it and go burn a bra or whatever.

Not pictured: Bra burning since that never happened.

So, now that all of that is out of the way, back to rape. Because that doesn't sound bad at all. But yeah, rape. First things first (well second since I first spoke about misogyny and some social stuff), obviously rape is bad. I think we can all agree on that. And that any form of victim blaming is the sign of a misogynist or broken culture.

Nothing a woman or man does or doesn't wear should entitle another person to violate that person physically or otherwise. I think that sounds fair. If you don't agree, I guess you're okay with rape? Maybe you like rape and are a raper? Or maybe you're just cool blaming the person who got raped because you think they should have prevented it or something?

I think that sort of thinking comes from the mentally that we often see ourselves as being exempt from a terrible situation and blame the person in that situation for letting that terrible thing happen to them. Because somehow we feel we would never have let ourselves be in a situation where we could get raped or if we ever were in that situation that we could have done something different to not get raped.

Therefore, at times people can see rape survivors as somehow complicit in their rape since they should have fought harder or broken the rapist's penis with their vaginal muscles or something.

Look at her! She's barely struggling against the invisible man raping her. She must want it and all the other girls like to watch.

But yeah, pop culture and stuff. So, I guess what I'm trying to say is that rape is a very sensitive and complicated topic and should be handled with respect and tact when used in a story. Does that mean I think rape is taboo and should never be discussed or that no character should ever be raped in a work of fiction?

No, not at all. I don't think any topic should be taboo and that we need to have open and frank conversations about rape in our society which can expressed through our culture. However, the way that rape is portrayed and the purpose of that rape for the narrative or character are all important in deeming whether that rape scene is okay or not.

Essentially the best rational to decide whether to rape in your story was written by Rachel Eddin on her blog Inside Out:
Take a good look at your story. Why do you think a rape is what you need for it to progress? Is there something else that could fill the same function? Unless you have a damn good reason to include rape in a story, you probably shouldn't. Using sexual assault as a motivation-in-a-box or an equivalent trope will do nothing but steal credibility and respect from a really serious, really important subject. Plus, you'll look like a twit.

Note: I can't find the link to the exact article, although Linkara talks about it around the 12 minute mark in this video.

Sooo... you saying unnecessary rape scenes are bad? 

And I think that's the perfect starting point. Essentially if there is literally any other way to get across the point you're trying to get across by a having a character be raped, perhaps it's better to go with that other way. In fact, it's definitely better since there are so many ways you can handle a rape scene poorly or intensively.

Now, this sensitivity doesn't really apply to situations such as the casual rapes of extras in the background of a war scene which serves to highlight the horrors performed by people in war. That has a point. Unless of course it is merely an excuse to have some tits out with the pretext of making a point, in which case it misses the point and makes the writer look like a twit.

However, a main character, especially a female character, getting raped is a really tempting choice for a writer who wants to show the lowest point or violation that character has been subjected to in order to show how they then rise above it or were ultimately crushed by it since it is such a violation.

I nearly was raped by this guy and then had his love-child because that's how to get over that rape nonsense.
Character development!

Again, that doesn't mean you can't ever use a rape in order to show a character at their lowest point or where they have been violated as motivation for their character, but it needs to handled with some delicacy and with a purpose, not as a hackneyed cheap trope.

I think an example of this that toes the line is Daenerys Targaryen called Stormborn, the Unburnt, Mother of Dragons, Khaleesi of the Dothraki, Trueborn Queen of the Andals, Rhoynar, and the First Men, Lady of the Seven Kingdoms, Lover of Hot Baths, and Eater of Raw Horse Hearts.

When we first met Daenerys Targaryen called Stormborn, the Unburnt, Mother of Dragons, Khaleesi of the Dothraki, Trueborn Queen of the Andals, Rhoynar, and the First Men, Lady of the Seven Kingdoms, Lover of Hot Baths, Eater of Raw Horse Hearts, she is a timid quite girl who has no agency or voice of her own. She is completely dominated by her brother who sells her off into marriage with a man from another culture she doesn't understand and which seems really brutal and savage to her.

Also the man is literally twice her size. Literally.

And like every other man in her life, initially Drogo just uses her, raping her on their wedding night as Daenerys Targaryen called Stormborn, the Unburnt, Mother of Dragons, Khaleesi of the Dothraki, Trueborn Queen of the Andals, something something, First Men, something something, tries and fails to hold back her tears at the indignation and pain.

Now, a point should be made that this is what happens in Game of Thrones the TV show. In the book, their wedding night conception is definitely depicted as being more mutually consensual. Daenerys, etc and so on, might be a bit scared but that's just because she's a virgin and this guy is literally twice her size, however she does want to sleep with Drogo as her new husband.

The point of difference in the show is that their wedding night is definitely rape. Drogo has his way with her with no consideration of her as a person, using her body as a means to satisfy his own urges, exerting his will over hers.

If only she had a rape whistle.

However, why I think that this works is in the context of the character. Daenerys this and that, whatever, first starts to exert herself as a person through sex. It is later when she learns more sexual techniques from a more experience woman and then implements that knowledge in the bedroom with Drogo that she starts to become the badass character we know and love.

This is not to say that the only power a woman can have is through sex. Not at all. But in the context of the fictional world of Game of Thrones, there are very few options for women to assert power and sex is one of those. Also, in a pivotal moment for the character, when Daenerys, blah, blah and yadda yadda, tells Drogo "no" and that she wants to face him when having sex, this is the first time she has ever stood up for herself and exerted her will on a man.

This is the change that leads Drogo to begin to respect her and eventually fall in love with her, as well as the beginning of the development of her character into the hard but fair ruler that strikes equal amounts fear and devotion to her followers. So, in this context the rape scene works, if just. It also helps that the rape is shot to make the viewer feel very uncomfortable.

Here's another Drogo/Daenerys rape scene. Don't worry this one is just as uncomfortable.

Sticking with Game of Thrones, there was a rape scene in the past season that stuck out with viewers. This is saying something since Game of Thrones has approximately all the rape, however there was something different about this rape scene oppose to the countless other such scenes of sexual assault in a show set in a fantasy medieval universe.

I'm of course referring to the scene where Jamie Lannister rapes his sister, Cersei, right next to the corpse of their dead son. Now, what was wrong about this scene wasn't the incest or even the dead body of their illegitimate offspring. No, what was wrong about this scene is that it served no purpose, didn't make sense in context of either character, nor was there any reason for the writers to have Jaime rape her. None at all.

In the original source material, Cersei initially doesn't want to have sex but that is more because they are in a public place and she doesn't want to get caught fucking her brother, rather than not wanting to fuck said brother. They then have some quick consensual sex next to the stiff body of their recently deceased son.

"You could say she traded one stiff for another, if you get what I mean." - Jaime Lannister, probably.

Jaime, despite being a rogue and technically one of the bad guys in the show, is a man with a sense of honour, and is utterly devoted to his sister. He once pushed a child out of a window to kill him with no hesitation in order to protect their secret love, to protect her. It makes no sense in the context of who he is as a character to have him rape Cersei.

Now, he and Cersei have been separated for some time since he was busy being chained up and having his hand chopped off, so maybe that changed him? That reason might have possibly worked if there had been any indication that his attitude towards her had changed but there wasn't. He just straight up rapes her because um, it's Game of Thrones and we've only had two rapes this episode so far?

And the writers saying that Cersei got into it by the end seems like a huge cop out and kinda like them being totally okay with having one of their more likable main characters just straight up rape his sister because he hadn't got it on since his hand got off.

"I think he just used a masturbation joke in an article about rape. I'm not sure whether to feel offended or impressed."
- Cersei Lannister, probably.

And the fact the writers had Jaime rape his sister for no real discernible reason, it doesn't seem to drastically impact their relationship nor seem to serve a real dramatic purpose to the plot, and the fact it is so out of character for Jaime that it makes little sense and acts as an example of how not to do a rape.

In storytelling, I mean. Since you can do rape in storytelling right, it just must be handled with sensitivity for the subject, be in character for your characters, and have a point that more than just an attempt to be shocking in the name of being adult. Rape is never something that should be written without great care and consideration but it can and should be written and used in storytelling.

In everything else however, you should never do rape ever. Just don't.


References:




On Race and Sexual Violence in the Works of Alan Moore

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