The International Writers Magazine: Comment
Rape Culture and Reponses to Adaptation
Rape culture comes for the most part from conservative ignorance and mass complacency. Dialogue about what “consent” actually means only broke into mainstream media in the last year or so, which means that the conversation, infuriatingly, is still in its adolescence.
It has therefore been until recent years left to storytellers to show unabashed, non-glamorous rape when a story demands it. The alternative is regression to a society in which rape is just an unspoken reality.
Morality is a spectrum upon which we all find ourselves, and good and evil are its unreachable extremes. Morality is an abstract framework via which we humans attempt to construct order. We all commit good acts and evil ones: even, for some humans, rape. But, rape is not like morality. Rape, the ultimate and most henious form of violence, is an empirical, observable act that, when it occurs, occurs. While it takes infinite forms – from systematic war crimes to the predatory fondling of a drunken husband – it is always rape.
The twin-cestuous rape scene in last year’s Game of Thrones episode wasn’t gratuitous, as so many critics claimed. Storytellers are supposed to show reality its own truths, and the offending scene performed admirably its task of presenting unflinching, believable deviance. Any complaints to the contrary ingore the fact that, in reality, good men don’t possess sole rights to decency and evil men are not the only kind of rapist. This isn’t to say that everyone is capable of rape; rather, anyone could be a rapist by simple logic of rape being physically possible.
The Lannisters are tailor-made to explore this uncomfortable dichotomy, because their cruel actions are motivated by real human conceit. By extension, accusations of gratuity are in fact predicated on a refusal to accept that rape, as I have said, is a reality.
This is crucial if one is to engage with critics that felt that the scene was unnecessary, because book-Jaime loves book-Cersei (the victim) and coerces her into submission rather than forces her. This is untrue. Jaime acts against the concrete meaning of “no” on both page and screen, and the critics in question demonstrate a similar contempt for the absolutely sacrosanct nature of sexual liberty by relativising the two cases. Similarly, other complaints claim his neglect is worse in one instance than in than the other. Rape culture thrives on the idea that such degrees exist.
Neither book nor television series have any moral high ground to take. They don’t need to. They show complex characters doing cruel things, because that’s what cruel, complex people do. The fact that people are inferring some instrinsic morality from fictional characters and applying them to the show itself shows a gross misunderstanding of what fiction is and what it does. These misconceptions about sexual violence, unexpectedly, have revealed dire ignorance regarding how art forms differ.
When I saw the scene, I admit I was taken aback by the drastic departure from the one-handed redemption-seeker of the books, but I expected differences. If there weren’t any, there would be no point in adaption to other forms.
A Song of Ice and Fire was originally re-penned for the movie screens, but George R.R. Martin felt that the medium was inappropriate. Now the books are a television series. This means dozen of hours of screen time, yet some characters have been removed, several have been combined, and others are present in different forms by necessity. The Jaime Lannister of the show, for example, is not the Jaime Lannister of the books. To wish otherwise is to ignore two things.
The first is that time changes stories. The story of Rapunzel today bears only basic resemblance to the darker, more didactic 1812 Grimm publication. This hasn’t stopped 2010’s Tangled from being either successful or enjoyable.
It also ignores the difference in the ways that books and films tell stories. Books are long. If all 3407 pages of Harry Potter had been filmed, the duration of each movie would have exceeded 14 hours. Translation requires brutal change, and critics must recognize this.
A critic’s job is to judge how well a film or novel tells its story. They can’t be compared together, because they’re utterly dissimilar modes of storytelling. Films show. Novels show and tell. It takes three seconds of film to shoot a man and a minute or two to read it. It could take a sentence to stage a battle and over an hour of footage to show it. There can therefore be no common critical ground.
Books and TV are not the same. The only thing they share is their responsibility: to tell stories that reflect reality and to never shy away from truth.
© Phillip Sutcliffe Mott - February 2015