Game of Thrones spoilers and uncomfortable topics lie beyond. You have been warned.
Before we get to the heavy stuff, go hug something soft, like a chicken.
If you get through this, there will be more hugs later. But first, the rough part.
Last Sunday, on the latest episode of Game of Thrones, I watched one of the main characters get raped, while someone else was made to watch helplessly (sort of). I often say that scenes in movies or TV shows make me want to take a shower afterward, but this was one of the rare instances where I actually took one.
And it’s not because the scene was particularly graphic. For a show that revels in displaying naked body parts of all shapes and sizes, the scene could almost have been considered tasteful, if not for the nature of what took place. I’ve been desensitized to large volumes of violence and horror in movies, but this scene made me feel physically ill in a away that hasn’t happened in a long time.
And I think that’s a good thing.
I’m not going to go into a discussion on ‘rape culture’, but when I see the public, time and again, blame and berate rape victims for what happened to them, saying “She must have been asking for it,” or “She should have fought back,” it says that, in many ways, we have no true understanding of rape.
Perhaps this stems from the way we usually treat this material. I think back to other rapish scenes from movies or TV, and some patterns quickly emerge: A woman is beset by a menacing stranger, but a heroic friend steps in just in the nick of time. Or, more commonly these days, a menacing stranger puts the moves on our badass female protagonist, who stops him with a swift kick to the nuts, dropping him hilariously to his knees.
I was waiting for that on Sunday night. I waited for someone to burst in and stop the atrocity, for the kick to the balls, the knife to the chest. But it didn’t come. I watched, unable to do anything.
Which cuts to the heart of the issue. We don’t want to see a world where the cruel hurt the innocent, where the strong take advantage of the weak. So we invent superheroes and vigilantes and knights in shining three-piece suits and tell ourselves that everything’s okay. Something bad almost happened, but not quite.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. Escapism is good, maybe even necessary, but if you embrace escapism to the exclusion of everything else, you’re ignoring the other half of the story. And the other half of the story is the rapes that don’t get stopped. And unfortunately, that half of the story is much more than half.
In this country, at least, we tend to demand happy endings for everything, even when they aren’t justified or don’t make sense. It’s an addiction as widespread as any drug, and we get angry when we don’t get our fix. We rant and rave, boycott, protest, and demand that things be made right. And too often, we get our way.
But happy endings don’t teach us anything. Happy endings don’t help us deal with the problems of real life. Happy endings don’t make us confront the reality of rape. Happy endings make us deny that rape happens, deny that what happened was rape, assume it was invited, downplay its effect, defend the perpetrator, blame the victim, anything that reassures us that everything’s okay. Something bad almost happened, but not quite.
And that needs to change. So while I may not campaign for more rape scenes in film or television, I do not believe we should avert our eyes from those that exist. Because while the events portrayed are fictional, they represent millions that are not.
So watch, and be horrified, because there is no such thing as tasteful rape. Let the repulsion burrow deep into your skull and lay there, and swear never to let anything like that happen if its in your power to stop it.
This is how we grow, through pain and heartsickness. We look the darkness in the eye and determine we will not back down from it or the truth that brings it into the light.
And sometimes we give hugs.