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Friday, January 27, 2006

Tired of this rape culture

This week, I watched two CBS dramas, NCIS" and "Close to Home" that both happen to feature rape storylines. The scenes were gratuitous with the women crying and begging as their clothes were torn off; in my opinion, both scenes were drawn out for effect. NCIS even tried to play off the titillation factor by having one of the characters iterate that rape is an act of violence, not sex. Still, the writers and programmers aren't fooling anybody; these scenes were played to titillate a certain audience as both women were young and attractive, their cries of "no" breathy and pleading.

For too long, television and other media have resorted to the rape misconception that beautiful women drive men crazy enough to want to drag them to the nearest bush. As most of us know, the reality of rape is much more brutal and ugly than that portrayed on television and in the movies. Young babies and grandmothers are often rape victims, but you never see them addressed in the plotlines. Yes, rape is an act of violence, but why is it that the victim on these shows are always beautifully coiffed and made up, as though their attractiveness is a focal point of the crime? To me, this is just fucking irresponsible because it feeds that old myth that the woman was "asking for it" and that the rape is based on sexual attractiveness and not violence.

This same rape culture deifies young white female victims who happen to be attractive. Immediately, the audience gets the tacit message that she is a victim of crime because she is attractive. I say this because it never seems this deification extends to "plainer" victims of any culture or even to minority women who are attractive. But then, why should the attractiveness of the victim be key in whose storyline runs on the 6:00 news or the front pages of the newspapers? Only recently has this issue been addressed, but see how quickly and quietly it has faded into yesterday's news, not to be brought up again until the media is forced through protest or shame to do so. And the stories of hundreds of male and female victims whose looks don't titillate the mainstream audience will never come to the forefront.

I remember a defunct television show from two decades ago that was produced by Stephen Spielberg. Can't remember the name of the show but it didn't go into a second season. Anyway, one of the episodes revolved around a high school where two attractive teen girls were recently murdered. Their pictures played across the headlines and the news, making them "larger than life" in their gruesome deaths. We see this all through the eyes of a young student who sees herself as less attractive, so easily fades into the background as a shrinking violet. She becomes so obsessed with the murders that one day while walking alone, she convinces herself that the murderer is following her. But the audience is made to know that it is her imagination...and her wish. Because if the murderer is after her, then it means that she is not the plain jane she thinks she is.

In her panic, she runs and falls, hitting the ground screaming and and nearly passes out. When people run to her aid, she claims that the murderer had been after her. And sure enough, the media gathers her into its web of the "beautiful victim" culture, and she feels validated. Even the kids at school see her for the first time, talking to her and treating her as though she always mattered. Unfortunately for her, the murderer is an instructor at the school; he is stalking his next victim, a popular (and blonde) cheerleader. One night the cheerleader bangs on the door of the "near victim" who happens to be home alone. She knows the murderer is after her and she is looking for help. But plain jane doesn't believe Ms. cheerleader because she figures the cheerleader is making up the story just as she has done.

Unfortunately for both girls, the cheerleader is not hallucinating; it turns out that the murderer has stalked the cheerleader to the plain jane's house. Well, he kills the cheerleader and is forced (to his distaste) to kill the plain jane as well to keep his identity a secret. The next day, plain jane's picture is plastered in the papers and on the news alongside that of Ms. cheerleader; Ms. plain jane is now forever part of the mystique surrounding the murders of "beautiful" girls. And guess what? As the story ends, we see another plain jane looking at the victims' photos, wistfully wishing she was beautiful enough to be murdered.

As sick as this plotline is, it speaks volumes about today's culturization because the media does create a mystique around those they consider attractive - and for them, a sex crime against these attractive women ups the ratings - whether it's a news story or an NCIS episode. And that's a fucking shame.

Sharon Cullars Coffee Talk at 1/27/2006 06:01:00 PM Permanent Link     | | Home


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