Tuesday, May 19, 2015

As Goes Sansa, So Go We All

So yeah I'm gonna try to get out some feelings about this week's episode of A Game of Thrones here. If you don't watch the show or if you're not caught up, you should skip this. I'm not really going to be blabbering about plot so much - this is more about the online conversation surrounding the what-happens - but the what-happens is involved, of course.

I was tempted to title this post "Rape: What It's Good For." And I intend to make that point, too! I'm tired of walking on eggshells with this stuff. Screaming the word rape has become a way to shut down conversation and it needs to stop. Stop it! Stop stop stop it! People are raped in the world! Constantly, horribly, viciously! And if a show can't deal with that, if we've got websites throwing online temper-tantrums trying to shut it all down instead of engaging with a very real-world horror -- if an HBO drama can be more realistic about this stuff than Senator Claire McCaskill! -- then I worry about the future not just of Art but of Everything. (Hand in hand, those two.)

Anyway hit the jump, I've got a whole lot to say...

We should be thankful to Game of Thrones for raping Sansa. Here's the deal, since everybody seems to have forgotten this fact: Sansa is not a real person. "Sansa" is the construct of many writers and directors, costume designers, electricians, and an actress. Sansa is an idea, and as such, it is the duty of the fictional space that this "Sansa" inhabits to place this construct into situations for narrative purposes. The dudes who write and direct game of Thrones did not rape a girl. They presented the audience with a play-act of pretend rape, presented as such to specifically elicit the audience's disgust, and pity, and horror. Writers wrote the lines, actors spoke them, an editor edited it together. Every thing that happened happened because a choice was made by fifty people. It happened for a reason! It didn't just fall out of the sky. It happened because they want us to talk and to think about rape.

In this instance, they wanted us to talk and to think about rape in the marital bed. Show me the exact date on the calendar when that became a non-issue, and I'll shut up and say this show, man, it's beating a dead horse. Husbands never violate their wives anymore. Pshaw! Seriously though. And the argument that this doesn't fit with "Sansa's narrative" is even grosser to me -- people have been arguing that we've been watching Sansa get stronger and self-actualize... as if strong women are never raped. Oh sorry no that can't happen, she dyed her hair a few episodes back, she's impenetrable now! What does this say to strong women who have been raped? Oh sorry, you were actually weak all along. It's your fault!

It's the same bullshit argument that got tacked onto Jamie Lannister and Cersei's scene last year - people were horrified that Jamie would do what he did, because he was on "a redemption arc." Coming back from pushing that little boy out the window, you know, by quipping around with Brienne in the woods for awhile. Your sense of narrative arc is the problem, dear viewer. You're the problem. The fact that a rape disturbed you is not the problem. You can stop being disturbed by art when the real world stops disturbing the artists.

A Game of Thrones is not a perfect show. Egads that fight with the Sand Snakes last night was embarrassing. And they did handle the rape scene with Jamie & Cersei last year clumsily. But what I saw on last night's episode was one of the most powerful and upsetting and disturbing displays of patriarchal dominance ever put in screen, and folks tossing their hands up in the air and giving up on the show over it, it makes me crazy. This is why this show exists! That scene was the show firing on all its cylinders, provoking and disturbing with a display of real horror, and maybe all this means if you're freaking out is that this show just wasn't meant for you, and you should just be watching The Big Bang Theory or Friends repeats. 

If that sounds dismissive - GOOD. Because I am tired of being told this isn't a conversation we need to be having. The show is having the conversation. The world needs to have the conversation. There is a human being raped every single minute in the United States alone. So you, dear viewer, you toughen the fuck up or get off the boat. Adults are talking here.


mangrove said...

I feel you're only debating the weaker argument that's been made against this scene here though.

The points which I thought were valid were that in GoT everytime they want to hurt a female character - short of death - it's not through simple violence, like the male ones suffer, but sexual violence: Jamie loses an arm, Brienne gets almost raped - Thyrion's face is disfigured, Ros helps rape another prostitute and so on and so forth. I can understand people finding it puzzling and tiring.

The second one is that it's almost as if Sansa's rape was only for the benefit of the Reek character. They even ended the episode on his stoic male tears! If that's what spurs him into action like the next week's promo could suggest, it's just fridging and it's tired beyond belief. If they had ended the scene on Ramsay’s sadisctic enjoyment it would have made it more palatable for me, narratively-speaking.

Now compare it to how the female characters of Mad Max FR and their battles were handled...

So how’s the epic Chocolate City review coming along? :p

JA said...

I was literally just reading this on Tumblr, mangrove, which addresses your points pretty much exactly as how I would so I'll just link to it instead of plagiarizing their points.

Sexual violence being repeatedly aimed at women is totally exhausting! But it's not dishonest.

Merc said...

When I watch Law and Order SVU I get so angry at the rapist (character) not the writers of the show. Because they are projecting how real life rapists are terrible often smug vicious men. The GOT writers have always said Ramsey is a terribly vicious character who does bad things. Why are people surprised by his actions. In the books Ramsey rapes a minor character not Sansa. Are people just upset because it happened here to Sansa? A character who has been put through so much turmoil. But it's not the last scene of Sansa's story on the show. I have faith she will come out of this and outlive many of the other characters. She may even be the one to finally put an end to the Boltons. I just wished people who are are upset with the show would instead use their voice and Twitter to be upset over real injustices of assaults on women and not on a fictional show.

The Pretentious Know it All said...

I agree with everything you're saying. I think a lot of the outrage came from people responding to fans (mostly male) saying that it wasn't rape at all, which...it's scary that anyone would interpret that scene as anything but rape.

mangrove said...

I still think you attribute much loftier ambitions to the GoT producers than they deserve, JA. Neil Marshall has said he was ordered by an executive producer to put naked female extras in a scene. 'Denouncing rape' might be the premier ambition to all those rape scenes. But anticipated titillation of a segment of the audience also comes into play during scripting stage I think.

The actress playing Arya turned 18 this April: she's bound to have her very own scene of sexual violence come next season I fear. They just couldn't film it earlier...

Anonymous said...

I can agree with what you said only if the writers or the GOT team included the rape scene to make people to start talking about spousal rape and marital abuse but the writers themselves had admitted that they used the rape scene as a plot device to strengthen Sansa or to toughen her up .

Don't you think there's a problem of such mindset where women needs to be sexually violated in order to be strong ?

If they wanted to make people to start talking about spousal rape or rape then why did they omit tyrion raping his first wife ?

JA said...

I feel like this writer summed up all the arguments, so I'll just let her do my job for me.

Anonymous said...

..some of you might be forgetting this is based on a book.

the rape scene was way worse there.

So 1 point for it being not unwarranted. 2nd point courtesy of Ramsay explicitly portrayed to be a sadistic fuck. And if they simply wanted something titillating, we should've seen some thrusting atleast. But no, we didn't, so there's your 3rd point.

Anyway, GoT is set in an unforgiving patriarchal society where most women are treated as objects basically.

..so, DISCLAIMER: women will be raped!

*english is my third language im not sure i got my points across

Eric said...

Nope. Just nope to all of this.

Sansa's rape is rape as a plot device. It is lazy writing and it was unnecessary. You act like they are going to use this specific rape as a way to start a conversation, but I highly doubt that. If they were going to actually show the ramifications of this assault and work through it with Sansa, then people might feel differently, but based on how the show has handled the two other rapes of main female characters in the past, that looks doubtful.

Sansa's rape served no purpose and your attempt to defend it is kind of ridiculous.

JA said...

Eric -- And your attempt to pretend what we're having going on here isn't a "conversation about rape" is ridiculous. The show ignites the conversation. Which we're having. Obviously.

Eric said...

JA, it feels to me like you don't want to have a conversation, unless the person engaging you agrees with what you are saying. The only other person on this thread who has expressed a differing opinion, you attacked and accused of plagiarizing.

You trying to say that Sansa being raped ignited a conversation so bully to GoT for getting that conversation started is a lazy defense for lazy writing. You attempting to condescend to people who dare to have a differing opinion just shows that you don't want to have any sort of conversation.

JA said...

I didn't accuse anybody os plagiarizing, I said I was going to link to something that was saying exactly what I wanted to say, and there was no point ME plagiarizing THEM. And I don't see where I attacked anybody anywhere, you're projecting that onto my words.

And if you'd clicked on the second of those links you'd see there's a lengthy argument about how this isn't lazy writing by the show at all. There are a million reasons for it to be there.

Eric Gehrke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JA said...

The link I just linked to wasn't the Tumblr post; it was an article on Raw Story.

It just seems obvious to me why it had to happen. I don't get the argument why it didn't need to happen to Sansa; I feel like the burden of proof is on people that feel like you who think that this isn't what would happen in this situation; how any other outcome would've made any sense.

And putting Sansa into Jeyne's situation was a master-stroke if you ask me; it affects the audience more, having it happen to someone we've been with and love for so long. Which is the point. I think they made good choices, how they changed what was in the books. It's for the better. And if you know what's in the books, good grief they made this scene so much less horrific than it could've been.

Anyway I feel as if the naysayers have this idea of the people defending the show as sadists who are getting off on this stuff that's become out of hand. This is a show about violence. If you want to rail against the show's expressions of violence there have been far more questionable choices made by the show than the way they depicted this Sansa scene, which was meant to be upsetting and emotionally devastating. Look at the times we go "rah rah killing is fun!" for any of them.

Eric Gehrke said...

I apologize for the plagiarism comment that I made. When I re-read through the comment thread, I realized that I mis-interpreted your response, so that is my fault.

I did read through that Tumblr post, and I still don't buy it. I would maybe be able to if this were season 1, but this is season 5. It's already been well established that Westeros is brutal and patriarchal and that rape happens in and out of the marriage bed. It doesn't explain to me why it had to happen now and to Sansa. It doesn't explain to me why three of the female characters in the show have been sexually assaulted when they are not in the books.

And I disagree when she talks about male gaze. That scene was filmed almost entirely from the male gaze. If the focus truly was Sansa the camera would never have panned to Theon. It would have stayed on her. Once the camera panned to Theon, I and I think a lot of others, realized that the sole purpose of this scene was to set Theon up save Sansa. And if the writers really have merged Jeyne and Sansa's stories, then that seems the most likely scenario.