‘Game of Thrones’ has always been a show about rape

20 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Game of Thrones’ Under Fire Again for Rape Depiction.

After Sunday night’s emotionally brutal episode, “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken,” which saw one main character raped by the husband she was essentially forced to marry and another sold into slavery, Sen. Plenty of viewers have declared themselves done with “Game of Thrones” after the May 17 episode in which Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) was raped on her wedding night by her new husband, Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon).A scene during Sunday’s episode of Game of Thrones has reignited the controversy over the show’s depiction of rape and sexual violence, drawing criticism from various media outlets as well as a United States Senator, The New York Times reports.The Democratic from Missouri tweeted Tuesday that she will no longer watch the HBO fantasy hit following a controversial rape scene in Sunday’s episode. They join the ranks of defectors who quit the show in seasons past even as new audiences rose up to take their places, and this time, they are joined by prominent dissenters.

The most recent Thrones episode concluded with – spoiler alert – young Sansa Stark marrying the sadistic Ramsay Bolton, who then proceeded to attack her on their wedding night while forcing Sansa’s former childhood friend Theon to watch. Complaints had already flooded in after a rape scene last series with some viewers switching off for good then, but more have been disappointed to see another brutal rape played out on screen again. McCaskill, who we had no clue was a fan of the series (the president loves it–btw) did not take too kindly to what she called a “gratuitous” rape scene involving actress Stophie Turner who plays Sansa Stark and Iwan Rheon who plays Ramsay Bolton (nee Snow). Game of Tits and Arse, as HBO’s phenomenon is affectionately known in my household, is no stranger to explicit scenes and uncomfortably graphic storylines.

Over at the Act Four blog, our colleague Alyssa Rosenberg wrote in her recap that the difficult scene, was “shot sensitively and with intelligence” and that it “managed to maintain a fine balance, employing a dignity and care for the experiences of victims…” But McCaskill, who last year co-sponsored a bill aimed to protect victims of sexual assault on college campuses, deemed the rape scene “disgusting and unacceptable.” So her alleged “rocky ride” with the show — where violence (against women, men, and even wolves) is pretty much all in a episode’s work — has drawn to a close. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) took advantage of what appeared to be a cresting of sentiment to declare that she was finished, too, because “Gratuitous rape scene disgusting and unacceptable.” As a critic, I have to watch a lot of things that I don’t particularly like. Over the course of five seasons, we have seen psychotic King Joffrey use a crossbow to porcupine a prostitute, Theon Greyjoy sadistically tortured and castrated, and Craster make sex slaves of his daughters. Thrones actually has a long history of making controversial storytelling moves that result in fans declaring they will Never Watch Again, only for the show to then hit record ratings. Bolton’s rape of Sansa Stark carries particular weight following last season’s notorious episode during which Jaime Lannister assaults his sister/lover Cersei next to the corpse of their dead son, Joffrey.

The death of Ned Stark, The Red Wedding, the Jaime-Cersei Sept scene—all resulted in some fans insisting they were finished, but Thrones viewership rises every season. Currently Thrones is one of the most popular shows in the world, with cumulative U.S. viewership around 19 million viewers per episode when including streaming and repeats.

For me, the scene of Sansa’s rape was tremendously unpleasant, but the care taken in the staging, acting and shooting of the scene made it impossible for me to regard it as lazy or slapdash. The show is at its slowest and most grating when it starts gratuitously shoe-horning in a sex scene per episode, which serve no purpose for driving the plot forward or revealing more about its characters. In a post on his website, Martin noted that the encounter between Jaime and Cersei was always supposed to be disturbing, but said he regretted if it upset viewers for the wrong reasons. Viewers already know that Ramsay is a complete maniac and that Sansa’s wedding night will not be pleasant, having it spelled out in such an unsparingly vicious way was unnecessary, like a form of torture porn. The marital rape of Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) by her husband, Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy), undoes the fairy tale narrative of Robert’s reign, the idea that he freed Westeros from the depredations of the Targaryen dynasty gone mad, not least because of the family’s historical practice of incest.

Last year, she spearheaded the charge to change the military’s antiquated sexual assault policies, while her Bipartisan Campus Accountability and Safety Act to reduce sexual violence in colleges is currently pending in Congress. 2015 may not bring everything that Back to the Future II promised it would: flying cars, self-lacing shoes, we don’t see ’em happening over the next 12 months. (Then again, don’t bet against Nike.) But this year will definitely pack plenty of punch when it comes to cultural happenings. Pantozzi wrote. “That is where I currently find myself in relation to ‘Game of Thrones.’” Deadspin, a website that covers sports and popular culture, declared in a headline: “‘Game of Thrones’ Is Gross, Exploitative, and Totally Out of Ideas.” The show, which draws an audience of nearly 20 million viewers an episode, was similarly criticized last year. Daenerys Targaryen’s (Emilia Clarke) rape on the night of her wedding to a man her brother sold her to in exchange for an army suggests that the Targaryen closeness was no more humane for its participants than the Baratheon-Lannister marriage. Mad Max will roar back out of the apocalypse while Mad Men rides off into the sunset, rock’s Antichrist Superstar and hip-hop’s Yeezus will rise again.

But leaving aside the total lack of imagination which sees the writers repeatedly resort to rape as their female humiliation tool of choice, the scene didn’t even have Sansa as its focus. This criticism coalesced around another scene that was altered from the novels (depicting an incestuous but consensual encounter between two characters) to the television series (where many viewers believed it was a rape). Tyrion Lannister’s (Peter Dinklage) murder of his lover, Shae (Sibel Kekilli), after he learns of her betrayal is a stark reminder that even male characters we’ve come to love are capable of sexualized violence.

Jaime Lannister’s (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) sexual coercion of his sister Cersei, an event that takes place in the crypt where their son’s body lies in state, illustrates the ways in which furtive relationships can make women vulnerable to the men who claim to love them. (The gap between what the showrunners said they intended and what they actually put on screen is the exception rather than the rule for “Game of Thrones.”) And the Stark family has been subject to both sexual and non-sexual violence with the same end: eliminating the family line. There was nothing particularly sexual about Ned Stark’s (Sean Bean) beheading, though he was executed in part because he had discovered Cersei and Jaime’s relationship. After months of escalating protests and grassroots organizing in response to the police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, police reformers have issued many demands. The moderates in this debate typically qualify their rhetoric with “We all know we need police, but…” It’s a familiar refrain to those of us who’ve spent years in the streets and the barrios organizing around police violence, only to be confronted by officers who snarl, “But who’ll help you if you get robbed?” We can put a man on the moon, but we’re still lacking creativity down here on Earth. Michael Lombardo, HBO’s president of programming, said then, “We fully support the vision and artistry of Dan and David’s exceptional work and we feel this work speaks for itself.”

While law enforcers have existed in one form or another for centuries, the modern police have their roots in the relatively recent rise of modern property relations 200 years ago, and the “disorderly conduct” of the urban poor. Like every structure we’ve known all our lives, it seems that the policing paradigm is inescapable and everlasting, and the only thing keeping us from the precipice of a dystopic Wild West scenario. But the show has already diverged dramatically from the books, with Ramsay even marrying an entirely different female character, so this doesn’t really wash as an excuse.

His father, Tywin (Charles Dance), forced him to participate in the gang rape of his first wife and essentially orders him to rape Sansa after their marriage. Rather than be scared of our impending Road Warrior future, check out just a few of the practicable, real-world alternatives to the modern system known as policing: Unarmed but trained people, often formerly violent offenders themselves, patrolling their neighborhoods to curb violence right where it starts. In Martin’s novels, Renly Baratheon (Gethin Anthony) is glimpsed briefly, his sexuality the subject of rumors rather than facts; in the show, his knowledge of what it means to be outside convention is part of what made him kind to Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie).

It’s no mistake that when Cersei re-arms the Faith Militant, she does so in the hope, if not knowledge, that their crusade against what they deem deviant sexuality will rid her of an unwanted fiance. There are also feminist models that specifically organize patrols of local women, who reduce everything from cat-calling and partner violence to gang murders in places like Brooklyn. Readers of Martin’s novels, however, know what Cersei doesn’t: that it’s exceptionally unusual for a crackdown on sexual freedom to end with one act, or one class of person.

Two weeks ago, Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson), an Unsullied leader, confessed his love to Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel), a freed slave, and the two shared a tender kiss. Violent offenses count for a fraction of the 11 to 14 million arrests every year, and yet there is no real conversation about what constitutes a crime and what permits society to put a person in chains and a cage. Decriminalization doesn’t work on its own: The cannabis trade that used to employ poor Blacks, Latinos, indigenous and poor whites in its distribution is now starting to be monopolized by already-rich landowners.

But it also ought to suggest how odd it is to accuse the showrunners of adding a sexual assault to somehow up the stakes when, dragons aside, intimate violence is already at the core of so many of the series’ storylines. To quote investigative journalist Christian Parenti’s remarks on criminal justice reform in his book Lockdown America, what we really need most of all is “less.” Also known as reparative or transformative justice, these models represent an alternative to courts and jails. There’s no requirement that anyone like any of these storylines or that anyone who feels exhausted from spending his or her days in a world marked by sexual violence retreat to a worse one for pleasure.

From hippie communes to the IRA and anti-Apartheid South African guerrillas to even some U.S. cities like Philadelphia’s experiment with community courts, spaces are created where accountability is understood as a community issue and the entire community, along with the so-called perpetrator and the victim of a given offense, try to restore and even transform everyone in the process. Communities that have tools to engage with each other about problems and disputes don’t have to consider what to do after anti-social behaviors are exhibited in the first place.

Obviously these could become police themselves and then be subject to the same abuses, but as a temporary solution they have been making a real impact. In New York, Rikers Island jails as many people with mental illnesses “as all 24 psychiatric hospitals in New York State combined,” which is reportedly 40% of the people jailed at Rikers. We have created a tremendous amount of mental illness, and in the real debt and austerity dystopia we’re living in, we have refused to treat each other for our physical and mental wounds. Mental health has often been a trapdoor for other forms of institutionalized social control as bad as any prison, but shifting toward preventative, supportive and independent living care can help keep those most impacted from ending up in handcuffs or dead on the street.

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