Rape As Plot: Is It Taken Seriously?

Rape As Plot: Is It Taken Seriously?
Dane La Born

Dane La Born

There has been an ongoing discussion among pop culture about when it is or isn’t okay for rape to be used for the sake of a story. These discussions, however, are rife with odd double standards.

This article, by the way, is rife with spoilers for Game of Thrones, American Horror Story, and Jessica Jones, among others, so tread forward with caution.

When season five of Game of Thrones was airing this last Spring, the internet went into an uproar when Sansa Stark, the show’s seemingly permanent victim, was wed to a sadistic monster and then raped on her wedding night. The next day, websites like The Mary Sue and Jezebel, and even a couple of U.S. senators swore to never watch the show, or endorse it in any fashion ever again.

What made that odd was that bit of plot came two years after we saw a man in the same show get strapped to a piece of wood and flayed alive, including the removal of all the fun bits we humans have. But nary a word was spoken.

The oddities with what we find okay and what we find unacceptable don’t stop there, either. Ryan Murphy, our resident shock jockey, had a nameless drug addict played by Max Greenfield bent over and brutally, bloodily assaulted by a strapped-on drill bit in American Horror Story: Hotel. The only think pieces that were written on that happening was a basic “Oh, there goes Ryan Murphy, trying again to make us throw up.”

How are we desensitized to one show that bases its surprises around being as shocking as possible that death-rape by drillbit doesn’t faze us, yet another show known for its shocking, brutal, and bloody surprises pulls a plot from the book and people go nuts.

Then there’s Jessica Jones, which uses rape as a plot device, and probably the only one that is 100 percent on the mark with what they aimed to do.

Marvel’s Jessica Jones set out to tell a story of a survivor. Not a victim, not a superhero, but a survivor of a serious, life altering trauma. She was raped, for months on end by a mind-controlling supervillan, thus powerless to stop anything. We see Jessica Jones deal with the PTSD that something like that would bring on in even the strongest of individuals. We see her lose herself at the bottom of a bottle, and fight to pull herself out and free herself from the grasp of the man who did these heinous things to her, and who won’t even take responsibility.

In contrast, we see Sansa stoically go about her business, grabbing a corkscrew but doing nothing with it, and trusting in the man that’s been tortured to the point of brainwashed loyalty.

There were no actual consequences to that. Nor for the drug addict’s awful end in the latest season of American Horror Story. With Jessica Jones, they actually showed a person dealing with something that is impossible to imagine dealing with.

I am not a survivor, but I have to imagine it’s hard for those people who are to see it handled on television with such a blase attitude. There is merit for the use of sexual assault in storytelling, but not very often. Jessica Jones did something special, and extraordinary. The only other show that I can think of handling assault with that level of seriousness as opposed to just glossing over it was Veronica Mars (the first time around, not that god awful hair clipper thing).

That’s the biggest issue, I think, in all of this. That something so serious is treated so lightly on television. Law & Order has an entire spin-off dedicated to just sex crimes, and that show went for years.

I have no suggestions for changing any of it. I just hope that studios like Netflix keep giving creators the chance to tell meaningful, impactful stories in a tasteful way, rather than reducing everything down to a plot point to further the hero’s journey.

Categories: Commentary