Category Archives: media bollocks

Rape scenes are usually lazy writing and directing

Content warning: this post discusses rape, sexual violence and media misogyny

Rape scenes are horribly popular in the media, and seldom necessary. With a flicker of hope, I wonder if savvy viewers are finally kicking back against this tedious trope as an opening-night audience booed a completely gratuitous rape scene crowbarred into an opera.

The defences of the scene were the same old tired shit. The director of the Royal Opera House said:

“The production includes a scene which puts the spotlight on the brutal reality of women being abused during war time, and sexual violence being a tragic fact of war,”

while one of the cast said:

“Maybe it went a little longer than it should have, but it happened and I think it’s an element you can use to show just how horrible these people were that were occupying this town,”

while the director of the production said exactly the same thing too:

“If you don’t feel the brutality, the suffering these people have had to face, if you want to hide it, it becomes soft, it becomes for children,”

I often wonder about the existence of this hypothetical audience member who cannot understand that a villain is bad, and conditions are awful for women, without being literally shown a woman being raped. I presume Rossini, who wrote the opera in 1829, didn’t have such a low opinion of those who would appreciate his work, considering he didn’t write that scene in himself–it was added by the director.

I’ve written before about how a competent production doesn’t need to show a rape scene for the audience to grok that this is a bad place full of bad people, comparing the latest Mad Max to Game of Thrones. To me, putting a rape on stage or screen or on the page as a form of scene-setting is the very pinnacle of laziness. A decent writer or director can build up an air of threat, of terror, without having to use salacious violence against women as a shorthand for this. It’s the Michael Bay school of show don’t tell… rather than hinting and using subtlety, they show with a gross insult to the audience’s capacity to think.

Yes, there are times where as rape scene is actually relevant to the plot, but these instances are few: tiny, compared to the number of times such scenes have been smeared in there like shit on a portaloo wall.

People will use the potentially imaginary audience member to excuse what is essentially a failure of men’s skills at writing and directing. I cannot say I have ever met or spoken to–or even had a screeching comment–from somebody who admits that they are incapable of grasping that the situation is dire or the villain is a bad ‘un without having to see somebody being raped.

Perhaps, therefore, audience are smarter than writers and directors think. And this means that they must stop using the same worn-out old excuses to cover for their fatuous productions. In turn, perhaps this means they will finally have to face a challenge of creating something with a little bit of thought behind it.


Mad Max > Game of Thrones IDST

Content warning: This post discusses rape and violence against women, and contains spoilers for Mad Max: Fury Road and Game Of Thrones S05E06.

Why yes, this is the second post in a week about what Mad Max: Fury Road is doing right, so right. Or, at least, more right that a hell of a lot of the shite that’s on our screens these days.

Readers of this blog will likely be aware that the most recent episode of Game of Thrones, “Unbroken, Unbowed, Unbent”, featured a rape scene which was not in the books and seemed to serve little purpose (although I’d argue it did serve a function, and a fucking horrid one at that). Defenders of the scene, and defenders of the show’s attitude towards rape in general tend to follow a similar line. “But it’s accurate that in a medieval setting, women would get raped!” “Would you rather they just ignored the issue?”

First of all, the historical accuracy argument is fucking bullshit in a show where dragons and zombies gad about doing dragon and zombie stuff, the climate produces seasons that last for decades, and everybody has a full smile of straight white teeth. Let’s see it instead for what it is: a fantasy setting where, along with all of the above things which didn’t really happen in medieval Europe, it’s also a dystopian world where women are treated as chattel and therefore rape and violence against women is commonplace. Here, the “would you rather they just ignored the issue” argument has slightly more traction.

The thing is, if that is indeed a conscious part of the world that has been built and is being explored in the show, the writers and producers are still doing a fucking terrible job of pulling it off. If they want to explore these issues and show this horrible world they’ve created, they can look to Fury Road to see how it’s done.

Fury Road takes a look at violence against women in a dystopian world, and it does this without a single rape scene–hell, there’s probably only a few seconds of screen time dedicated to showing any violence against women. Instead, they explore it through competent writing, realising that we do not need to be shown these things to appreciate that they are bad and that they are a very real problem for the victims. Instead of being shown women being victimised, we are shown the impact it has on them, their desire to get away. We see instead their feelings, scrawled in paint across the room in which they were kept. We see them angry, we see them sad. We see its perpetrator, and we despise him without having to have every little detail of his violence rubbed in our faces.

It is entirely possible to address and discuss these issues on screen without subjecting the audience to the horrors. In fact, it’s easy to write a blow-by-blow rape scene. It is perhaps more challenging, but infinitely more rewarding for the audience to use some fucking subtlety and actually delve into what this means rather than what happened. Fury Road went to the length of employing a feminist to consult on the handling of violence against women, and it shows, because what emerged was a far better and more nuanced exploration of a world rife with gendered violence than much else.

We live in a ridiculous world full of dreadful writing if I have to call a fucking Mad Max film subtle and nuanced.


Mad Max: Fury Road- not exactly feminist cinema, but an exemplar action flick

Content warning: this post discusses reproductive violence and disablism. It also contains spoilers for Mad Max: Fury Road

I am a huge fan of the Mad Max franchise, so I will confess I was planning on going to see Fury Road anyway. I began vibrating with excitement when I found out that not only were pretty much all the reviews positive, but that it had really pissed off the blubbering misogo manchildren. So was this the feminist propaganda the MRAs thought it to be? Absolutely not, but my goodness, it was fucking fun.

Fury Road is one of the finest action films I have ever seen. It’s big, it’s loud and it is absolutely and completely preposterous. Like the other Mad Max films, it doesn’t tell us much about what’s going on, giving us space to interpret what’s going on how we like. My own personal read of the franchise has always been “this is what fucking happens when you let men run things and build things”, and Fury Road certainly fits in well here. And it manages to do all this with a series of incredible action sequences, and as a cherry on the top, gives us some female characters to root for.

Let’s talk about the action first, because it’s a step away from the fashion in action films at present, with their shakycams and their blurriness and their cartoonish CGI physics. Fury Road knows what you came to see: you paid to see massive, ludicrous fucking cars engaged in battle and by god you’re going to get it. It knows that you want to see these absurd vehicle fights rather than a headache-inducing, impossible-to-follow swirl of colours and fire and shit flying about like it weights absolutely nothing. The action is clear and coherent, even as it is silly and larger-than-life. Everything happens for a reason, and you get a good look at what’s going on. This is great, because it means you can actually settle down to watch muscle cars with tank caterpillars fighting with heavily-modded oil tankers and enjoy every second of it. The person-on-person fights, too, have a feel of actual humans performing stunts rather than someone alone, awkwardly hopping up and down in front of a green screen while looking at a tennis ball on a stick.

Charlize Theron was rightly billed equal first with Tom Hardy in the opening credits. This is just as much a film about Imperator Furiosa as it is about the eponymous Max. Furiosa is more than your cut-out action girl: she is a woman who cares deeply about her sisters and is willing to go all the way to ensure their safety. She is a woman who gets shit done, without being the robot that the film industry usually seems insistent on making competent women. She’s aware of her own strengths, but also her own limitations. Her role is rounded in the sort of way that would make me wonder if the role was originally written for a man but Theron was just so goddamn good that they cast her instead–this usually being the only way that decent woman characters are born from male writers.

However, I know that this isn’t true, because I know that Fury Road actually had a go at trying to get things right, hiring a feminist to consult. Unfortunately, that feminist was Eve Ensler, so the film is fucking white as hell. It is also fairly problematic in terms of its portrayal of disability, with your standard disablism surrounding the villains being ugly and disabled and evil. This article from Madame Thursday goes deeper into the problematics in its portrayal of disabled and fat characters, and it’s well worth a read.

The motivation for escaping the baddies stems from their reproductive violence. Women are kept by the male villain to breed, and to produce breast milk. This is treated as A Bad Thing, of course, because it would be a completely shit film if it wasn’t. However, treating something as bad when it is indeed objectively bad does not make a feminist film. If you want a feminist text about reproductive violence in a post-apocalyptic world, you’re still going to have to read The Handmaid’s Tale. 

Nonetheless, there’s still some good stuff going on. What is refreshing in Fury Road, though, is that the victims themselves organise their own liberation and resistance, rather than just needing to be rescued. Max himself is a decent role model for white men in how to be an ally: he does what the community needs, knows when to step aside to let women who are the experts to do things for themselves, and is capable of following instructions and fucking off and not demanding cookies. This is, of course, not inconsistent with his characterisation in the earlier Mad Max films. So, men, please watch the entire franchise, and attempt to emulate the way Max acts when trying to provide support. It’s possible we might just let you drive awesome big rigs if you do.

I mentioned earlier that Fury Road chooses to show us things rather than exposit them, and that this is great because we can interpret what we want. It is therefore entirely possible to see a critique of power and manufactured scarcity in a gigantic fucking battle rig which is literally dedicated to providing a someone with a space to play a double-headed guitar which doubles as a flamethrower. If petrol is really so precious, would they really want to waste resources on that? Likewise, you can come up with all sorts of psychoanalytic interpretations of the significance of bodily fluids, or nod sagely at the importance of elder women in actually sorting shit out.

At its heart, Fury Road is something I want every director and writer of action films to sit down and learn from. It shows that it is completely possible to not do women badly, as well as how to make action scenes which are enjoyable to watch. It’s a film to be built upon–making films like this but more feminist will only make them even better. It’s two hours of unmitigated joy, and one of the few films I’ve been to where the audience has applauded. I pity the MRA pissbabies who are boycotting Fury Road because fucking hell, they are really missing out.


No, Helen Mirren, Thatcher wasn’t an “incredible role model”

Helen Mirren has said that Margaret Thatcher was a role model to young girls, because “she was a role model for a little-three-year old girl [to think] that she could become the Prime Minister of England.”

I was a little girl under Thatcher. And let it be known that I never thought that. From a very young age, Thatcher instilled me with a sense of disgust at mainstream politics, a persistent sense that they were out to ruin my life and take things from me. Thatcher took away my ability to believe I could be anything, she took away my hope of ever living stably. It’s what she did to my generation of little girls. It’s what she did to kids of all genders who grew up under her.

Us millennials are often criticised for our apathy, but we grew up thinking nothing was worth it in the face of an all-powerful system intent on keeping us in poverty or shit jobs (and all too often, both), living precariously. That was Thatcher’s fault. She started it, and we watched it metastatise as we got older. She empowered some, it’s true: those determined to destroy the lives of others. The rich, the bigots, they’re probably quite happy.

So she wasn’t so much a role model as somebody who crushed a whole host of kids like me into thinking we could never become anything, let alone Prime Minister. And even if we had dreams, what were these dreams? We could no longer be Britain’s first woman PM, because Thatcher had stolen that chance, too. We’d live in her shadow, constantly compared, and have to rebuild what was ruined, or be complicit in her destruction.

There’s a pervasive thought, and one which is absolute bollocks on scrutiny: that when a woman occupies a position of power, she is automatically doing good by being inspirational. It is an absolute nonsense. Thatcher could have been of any gender, and she still would have been a force of evil. There is little inspirational to the people who need to be inspired about seeing someone who happens to be the same gender as them ruthlessly slicing up the present and grinding the future into dust.

Young girls are not just malleable lumps of clay, ready to be shaped by whatever rose-tinted vision is plonked in front of them. Young girls think critically. We see monsters for the monsters that we are. Little girls are cleverer than you think, and most of us drew little positive from Thatcher.


Can we please stop giving JK Rowling cookies over Dumbledore

I have been a Harry Potter fan for more than half my life. Like most Harry Potter fans, I am largely annoyed by the paucities of the source material and have spent probably longer than I should reading and writing fanfic which addresses these huge gaps. And, like most fandom types, I have a tendency of casting a queer eye over the source material and concluding that pretty much everyone is enjoying rampant same-sex relations.

I was surprised, then, when Rowling announced, after the bestselling series was complete, that twinkly-eyed headmaster and creepy child-groomer Albus Dumbledore was the gay character and that obviously he had been in a relationship with naughty miniboss wizard Grindelwald. Really? He was low down on my list of characters who were probably LGBT. There was nary a hint of homosexuality going on in canon. One would have thought, at the very least, Rita Skeeter might have luridly made innuendoes in her scurrilous The Life And Lies Of Albus Dumbledore. 

Rowling has been in the media eating the plates of cookies handed to her over her dealing with a fan who said they couldn’t see Dumbledore as gay. Her response? A variant on the old “gay people are just people” trope. While on the surface this is true, it’s often a cop-out for hetero authors who completely failed to pull off writing a queer character.

Rowling went wrong in numerous places in her portrayal of Dumbledore as a gay character, not least because there is not even a hint of it in the actual series she wrote. It is not sufficient to out a character through word of god after you’ve made your bajillions on the series, when it’s too late for the homophobes to boycott. And when a straight person writes a queer character as “just a person” they are drawing on their own hetero views of what constitutes “just a person”–which is invariably straighter than a Roman road.

The Harry Potter universe is brimming with parts where people’s heterosexual love affects the story. Take, for example, Snape, who did everything he did because he really wanted to bone Harry’s mum but she wasn’t into him because he was a magical racist. Take Voldemort’s parents and the wizard mind-control rape that happened because of a hetero crush. Or how about all the dramatic tensions surrounding Hermione Granger’s love life? Rowling clearly knows how love can drive characters to develop, and propel a plot forward.

And yet all of this is completely absent with Dumbledore. Which is a crying shame, because a gay Dumbledore could have added so many interesting dimensions to the story. How would Harry react to discovering his idol was gay? I’d guess he’d probably be a bit homophobic at first due to his upbringing in suburbia with small-minded types, and then get over it which would be interesting to see. Did Dumbledore and Grindelwald wear their hearts on their sleeves, since the wizarding world is apparently so inclusive according to Ms Rowling, or did they keep their relationship a secret? How did that affect what went down between them? How did Dumbledore feel when his beloved turned evil? Surely that must have hurt his heart, especially when he ultimately had to fight the man he loved. Did Dumbledore ever love again?

Instead, all we get is the same old chate wise magic dude, in the same vein as Obi Wan Kenobi or Gandalf. Canonically, Sirius Black and Remus Lupin appear to have more of a homosexual relationship, because at least they sent Harry a joint present together.

JK Rowling failed at bringing queer content to Hogwarts, and we should stop giving her cookies for this completely invisible representation. For queer content, we’ll have to stick to fandom. I don’t see Dumbledore as gay–because JK Rowling completely failed to write it.


In the news this week: cis white men are awful, water is wet

This week has been a week of complete non-surprises.

Today, we’ve seen shocking revelations that Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP, is a massive racist who thinks protections against racism should be scrapped. I use the word “shocking” because that’s the word Labour’s press officer used, apparently having not paid any attention to thing this opposition politician has said until today. I doubt anyone who has been following Farage and didn’t learn politics from late night talk radio will be particularly surprised that the leader of the most respectable fascist party is a racist, but the way the media are going on is certainly acting as though this is news.

In other dreadful bigots, Jeremy Clarkson’s been having a less-than-brilliant week. It turns out that a man who has made his fortune saying ghastly bigoted nonsense is a bit of a spoilt brat who punched a producer over not getting a sirloin steak and fondant potatoes (whatever that is) for his tea. Nonetheless, humourless men have been getting their knickers in a twist about his employer’s decision to suspend him, believing a rich man’s right to fondant potatoes to be absolute. I suggest, out of solidarity, they all go and punch their own colleagues in a temper tantrum over dinner.

These two clowns were the obvious awful men, but a special mention goes to Tim Lott, who joins the ranks of Clarkson and Farage in a persecution complex of the dreadful bigot who has noticed the world has moved on past him. Poor Tim is sad because people challenge him when he spouts crap. Poor Tim is so silenced that he is continuing to be paid for parping out the same column for a decade, because ten years ago you also couldn’t be racist about Muslims.

These men are representative of a breed which is, hopefully, dying. They growl and whine that you can’t say anything any more when implicit in their words is the acknowledgement that the world moved on without them. They self-identify as a silent majority, when in fact it’s a small circle of wankers getting paid to be wankers, with a small army of sockpuppets barking like sealions. I am surprised at how few people signed Clarkson’s petition or will vote UKIP, given how this lot seem to imagine themselves as representative of a population.

They’re not, that’s why. They’re a gobby little minority who feel threatened as they awaken to a world that doesn’t want them any more. And that can only be a good thing. I hope it terrifies them.


Captive audiences and borrowing publicity tactics from a shitty film nobody wanted to watch

Content warning: This post discusses transmisogyny and whorephobia, as well as mentioning some well-known perpetrators of these forms of oppression

Yesterday’s Observer carried a letter, signed by over a hundred people, complaining about the use of no platforms and generally questioning authority. The letter was full of myths and misdirection, which Sarah Brown has dispelled, and it’s shameful that the Guardian-Observer decided to publish without even the most basic fact-checking.

The letter, and the politics behind it, have been thoroughly demolished by Sara Ahmed, and I strongly recommend you read her article in its entirety, because she’s taken it down so completely that I don’t need to repeat much here. I wish simply to add some things that have struck me about the letter and its signatories.

I find myself repeatedly drifting back to the publicity surrounding the film The Interview. The film looked awful, and therefore there was little interest in it, right up until Sony announced they were pulling it because of some nebulous reasoning surrounding North Korea. At this, people who had shown no interest in a film they hadn’t seen sprung into action, screaming FREEDOM OF SPEECH. Shortly after, the film was released, and made available on Netflix, turning a certain flop into a cash cow.

We know that Kate Smurthwaite’s show was similarly cancelled largely due to poor ticket sales: Goldsmith’s Comedy Society said only eight people had booked to see the show. Since the cancellation of the show, Smurthwaite has been on Newsnight bemoaning her plight, and columns have been written, and connections have been forged among the media class. Had the show gone ahead, Smurthwaite might have mildly amused eight people for an evening. Its cancellation, on the other hand, has made her a star because FREEDOM OF SPEECH.

Likewise, two of the signatories who are well known for being violent transmisogynistic bigots* have been publicising an event they are putting on off the back of this letter. And guess what the theme is? How no-platforms are evil and bad.

Bluntly put, crying CENSORSHIP and framing issues as a precious FREEDOM OF SPEECH concern can be fairly good publicity, as it means that contrarians will be more likely to go and see something objectively crap to spite a shadowy conspiracy of possibly-imaginary enemies. I predict that Bindel and Yardley will do a fake-out cancellation of their event at some point before it takes place because the lure of this tactic is so strong.

The other point I noticed about the signatories is their roles. The signatories fall under three broad strands of career: academics, paid campaigners and journalists. All of these careers are fairly used to what I would call a captive audience. The journalists write their columns and it’s there, it’s published, and if you’re reading the newspaper it’s in, you’re probably going to have to read it, or if you’re clicking through the website, it’ll be right there on the front page. The only power we have to avoid this is to skip over the page, a quiet and solitary act of dissent. A similar thing is true of paid campaigners: they’re the ones approached for quotes; their relationship with the journalists is symbiotic. Meanwhile, academics lecture from their comfy platforms, safe in the knowledge that if their students skip out, they’ll probably fail the degree they’re paying a lot of money to do.

People who occupy these platforms are not used to being told “no, I don’t want to hear you”, because the way that their platform is structured means that usually this is not an option. It must instill them with an enormous sense of entitlement, as it does for anyone who is not used to hearing the word “no”.

The means for event organisers–young grassroots feminists, for the most part–to control who enters their environment must feel like a threat to those with this sense of entitlement. Of course they lash out; they are used to captive audiences, not those who express a choice as to whether to listen to them or not. Grassroots feminism got stronger, got more capable of enforcing its own boundaries and those who believe that everyone should listen to them are furious. 

I’m really proud to see the hard work being done by young grassroots feminism with no-platforming and speaking out against nastiness. I hope they are not put off by the roar of a dinosaur that has just noticed the vast meteor hurtling towards it, threatened by the possibility of losing the ability to preach to a captive audience and make money off them. Feminism is moving forwards, and the Observer letter has provided us with a handy list of baggage to leave behind.

__

*Apparently “TERf” is a slur, so I’m trying something a little bit different.


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