Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The "Game of Thrones" Rape Controversy Revisited

Emilia Clarke and Jason Momoa in Game of Thrones. Photo courtesy of ydoxoewerec.blogspot.com.

Previously, I wrote an article dealing with accusations that Game of Thrones was glorifying rape through the portrayal of Daenerys' relationship with Khal Drogo, a man who rapes her on her wedding night and with whom she subsequently falls in love. However, people are talking again about the role of rape on Game of Thrones, but this time they're complaining for the opposite reason.

The Daily Beast recently featured an article by Jace Lacob that accuses the series of lessening the amount of rape present in George R.R. Martin's books, while simultaneously upping the amount of sex and female nudity visible on screen. Lacob quotes various other critics, such as AOLtv's Maureen Ryan and the New York Times' Laura Miller, who complained about the "sexposition" utilized in the series' seventh episode, "You Win or You Die." That episode features a scene in which Aiden Gillen's Petyr Baelish presents a good deal of expository material while instructing two female prostitutes in how to show their pleasure.

According to Lacob, "while frank sex in HBO shows is common, Game of Thrones appears to be placing it front and center, as though the only way to make exposition-heavy bits like these interesting was to couch them in terms of sexuality." I disagree with this assertion for two reasons: one, while there is a not-insignificant amount of sex in Game of Thrones, there is nowhere close to as much gratuitous sex and nudity as there is in any given episode of True Blood, and two, there are plenty of expository scenes in Game of Thrones that involve no sex whatsoever. While I'll admit that the scene with Baelish and the two prostitutes was slightly gratuitous - as was the scene in episode eight in which the audience is treated to some full-frontal nudity by Hodor - I didn't have an active problem with it.

I'm more intrigued, however, by the other question that Lacob poses: is Game of Thrones the TV series really cutting down on the amount of rape present in the novels? As someone who has not read A Song of Ice and Fire, I can't really speak to the amount of rape present in the books, and my ignorance is compounded by the contradictory reports I get about the prevalence of rape in the original novels. A friend of mind who recently started reading the novels was shocked by the amount of rape present on the page, while my boyfriend, who read the series a few years ago, doesn't think that the amount of rape in the books is different from the amount present in the HBO series.

The TV series, in my opinion, hasn't shied away from representing rape onscreen. In my aforementioned article about possible trivialization of rape in Game of Thrones - which, judging by the sheer number of page views it gets, continues to fascinate readers - I discussed the outrage some commentators felt about the way Daenerys's relationship with Khal Drogo moved quickly from sexual assault to love. Indeed, Daenerys and Drogo now share one of the most stable, equitable romantic relationships on the show. In the first two episodes, the audience sees Dany raped by Drogo at least twice, which hardly seems like lessening the prevalence of rape to me.

The major scene that Lacob describes, however, is not Daenerys' rape - which, he does concede, is similar to the book, despite the fact that Daenerys' character on the show is older - but the scene, featured at the beginning of episode eight, in which Daenerys saves a group of conquered women from being raped by the Dothraki. According to Lacob, the scene as it is presented in the book is a "nightmarish one, as Dothraki invaders rape multiple women before Daenerys puts a stop to their abhorrent behavior," while the scene in the TV show declines to show the actual rape, instead holding the "intangible threat of rape" over the heads of the women in the scene.

After giving voice to these opinions, Lacob ultimately comes to the conclusion that the lessened role of rape in Game of Thrones is a good thing, saying that this creative decision "enables [the show] to be much less harrowing, keeping the horror restricted to the supernatural realm." I don't really understand this argument. After all, the horror in Game of Thrones is hardly restricted to the supernatural realm, as Sansa's direwolf Lady and a dead butcher's boy would certainly tell you. I also don't see why the show needs to be made less harrowing - after all, the series is dealing with a society similar to that of medieval Europe, where rape was fairly common and marital rape wasn't even a concept.

Personally, I think that a better argument for lessening the role of rape in the Game of Thrones TV series can be found in a recent New York Times article in which A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis discussed the recent spate of films featuring violent women. Scott in particular focused on the Swedish films of Stieg Larsson's Millenium trilogy (a trailer for the David Fincher-directed American version can be found here), and the imagery of violence against women that accompanies the theme of violence perpetrated by women, generally in self-defense. Scott points out that sexual violence onscreen is a different matter entirely from the same violence on the page, pointing out that "it is in the nature of the moving image to give pleasure, and the nature of film audiences - consciously or not, admittedly or not - to find pleasure in what they see."

When this principle is applied to depictions of sexual violence against women filmmakers, no matter how good their intentions, "run the risk of aestheticizing, glamorizing, and eroticizing" rape. While George R.R. Martin is telling the truth when he says that rapists in A Song of Ice and Fire are depicted as neither noble or good (although he leaves out Khal Drogo, a seemingly good character who rapes Daenerys repeatedly), when sexual violence is put up on screen it becomes completely different. Perhaps in choosing not to depict rape on the show (if, indeed, there is less rape on the series than in the books) the creators of Game of Thrones are recognizing the pitfalls inherent in seeing sexual violence onscreen, and want to avoid glamorizing or eroticizing this heinous crime.


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  2. I have always found that it is much more effective, cinematically speaking, to allude to the abhorrent rather than showing it on screen. We all know that rape exists, but, for a woman like myself, I don't need or want to see it. The fact that the threat is ever present on the show is enough for me and all the more potent.

  3. You seem to answer your own question. This series somewhat accurately portrays history of medieval Europe, "...where marital rape wasn't even a concept."

    Do you consider how people would react to it back than? Do you consider the differences in how our culture, which includes the members of our culture, see rape?

    This is not about any particular persons view on rape, but rape as a historical aspect of various cultures around the world.

    A young woman being told she is to wed another man she does not love nor wishes to make love with has been the norm in cultures all around the world for thousands of years. How those particular relationships develop is bound to be different from each one, and this character forming a loving relationship seems accurate, if you do not allow modern Liberal views to sway it. Keep in mind, in these cultures the men would not even recognize the damage they were doing (I know this will be hard for some of you, who are attached to your victim role and blaming males). The funny thing (and not in a 'haha' way) is that Liberal culture loves to shun other cultures and tell them they are wrong, which is certainly not oppression nor fascism...

    Do not be confused, what women have endured is terrible. The blame game though, as in this very situation, is beyond childish, grow up.

    Warning to the wise, if you think this fuels any "white europeans are evil" nonsense, Pacific Island tribes to this DAY use rape to "cure" lesbianism. Evil has no skin color.

    1. Another right-wing woman-hating dick. Go back to the cave you crawled out of you neanderthal.