April 16, 2009

Observe & Report

Posted in movies, Popular Culture, Rape Culture at 4:54 pm by sacetalks

Warning: Triggering. The following trailer contains not only strong language, but frequent images of sexual assault that are minimized as what one can only assume is “bad sex.”

From journalists to bloggers to Facebook groups, there’s been a huge outcry against this trailer, the film, and everyone involved in making it. This is a good thing. Products of popular culture – from films to television shows to magazines – are cultural artifacts. There are people who have responded to angry posts and editorials by claiming that it’s “just a movie” and therefore doesn’t create the culture in which we live. The argument, however, is not that a film causes sexual assault. Instead, the reaction is because there is a definite relationship between people who experience sexual violence and the artefacts that belong to the culture in which they live. It would be ridiculous to suggest that there should be no dialogue about the culture in which we engage. I haven’t even read anything that demands the movie be banned – only that the people who made it look at their role as participants in a rape culture.

There are many aspects of the Internet circus around this film that make me sad. One is that there even has to be education on this at all. If someone is too drunk to be awake, that person is too drunk to consent. Even if she wakes up for a second to tell the person to keep going! In Canada, our Criminal Code recognizes that consent cannot be given when a person is incapacitated. Simple as that. Really.

What else makes me sad? The disclaimer that people who identify as feminists feel obligated to write or say before their argument. At feministing, Courtney had to give herself credibility by pointing out the ways in which she’s sex-positive. I’ve had to personally explain that I’m not encouraging censorship of any kind. Let’s face it: we live in a patriarchy. Speaking out against rape is somehow wrong and crazy and something only feminists who don’t enjoy sex do. This irritates me. Saying, “rape is bad” should not be a radical statement. Really, it shouldn’t need any sort of qualifier. What’s with our world? Why do we need to qualify our statements so we have some credibility in saying that rape is not okay? (And why is being a feminist something that compromises credibility in the first place?)

Another aspect of the criticism the film has been receiving so far is that it focuses on one scene when the whole trailer is offensive. My coworker mentioned the very first part of the trailer, when Rogen’s character barks at the reporter to refilm because he’s head of security, not just a security guard. While it can be funny at first, when we look at it again, it’s hard not to see the misogyny in there: “oh, you stupid woman! Get my title right!”

Next, there’s the girl being flashed in the parking lot, right before the offender masturbates in front of her. There’s a reason this is offensive: this stuff actually happens. Really. It does. It’s not limited to movies! And the people it effects are, surprisingly, effected. People do wonder why the offender chose them; it is a violation of boundaries; and it does hurt. The way Anna Faris’s character is portrayed, however, is flippant. The trailer suggests that she’s somehow just a crazy, hysterical woman who can’t get a solid grip on reality.

Faris’s general characterization is also ridiculous. We see her adjusting her breasts, chewing her gum in an exaggerated manner, taking multiple shots at dinner… And are meant to believe she’s “just a dumb blonde,” therefore mitigating what happens to her in what some people call a sex scene.

Which brings me to another point: this is not about sex! Positive portrayals of sex in the media are wonderful. I’d love to see more. The trailer, however, does not show a sex scene; it shows a rape scene.

Unfortunately, in a culture in which sex is often configured as conquest, in which sex is confused with sexual assault, in which people who highlight problematic portrayals of rape are labelled “offended feminists,” rape is confused with sex. Pleasure for both partners is taken out of the equation. How can we possibly expect media portrayals of positive sexuality when films like this are deemed acceptable? When people who speak out against it are crazy feminists with no sense of humour? What messages are we sending people, including teens, about what humorous sex looks like?

When we say films such as these are acceptable, we’re saying that rape is acceptable. When we say rape is acceptable, we shouldn’t be surprised when 1 in 3 women in Canada experience sexual assault in their lifetime. And we really shouldn’t be surprised when next time, instead of that “dumb blonde” in the film, it’s a friend, partner, sister or mother.

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