I have been neglecting my Harpy duties of late in favor of a little real world activism about a charming little arthouse flick coming to a theatre near you, Observe and Report. (An excellent summary argument is here.) In essence, what I’ve been trying to do is convince people not to see it, which is a little harder than anticipated. It is particularly difficult, and I don’t mean to overgeneralize but this is true, to convince young men that the movie is deserving of a boycott. If you have a look at the Facebook group started by a good friend of the Harpies, you can see that the membership is overwhelmingly female, which is rather depressing given that it will be young men, mostly, that will be the perpetrators of rapes like the one depicted in the movie.
Now, the good news is that the movie did terribly this weekend. I doubt the rape scene had much to do with that; the aficionados of the genre I’ve talked to said even absent any knowledge of the rape scene, the trailer made the whole movie look kind of lame. (I can’t handle anything more “off-the-wall” than the Simpsons without getting pissed off so I sought outside counsel on the matter.)
So, to some extent, bullet in the form of endless-rehashing-of-scenes-from-this-movie-as-“witticisms”: dodged. Hopefully this movie will soon disappear into the vaults in between Rob Schneider and David Spade films. And yet, I can’t help but be worried, because I didn’t like, at all, the way this discussion proceeded and even how it continues. I could check out comments sections on the various articles about this if I really wanted to get angry, and sometimes that’s fun and cathartic, but mostly the affair has made me sad. Sad because even the brightest of young men in my acquaintance don’t seem to get it. Sad because I knew lots of bright young women who didn’t get it either. And most of all, sad because I don’t know how to fix this.
What I do know how to do, though, is argue. And I do think there are some pretty big commonalities in the conversations we have over scenes like this one, and I think the other side’s position is easily dismissed bullshit. Of course, there are real rape apologists (i.e. those who employ she was drunk/wanted it etc type reasoning) and then there are the people who will readily agree rape is bad and this is probably rape but they’re going to see it anyway.
The latter are, of course, the most infuriating of the bunch. But since they do offer a glimmer of hope for redemption, I’ll usually indulge in a little back-and-forth with these folks. Should you choose to do your small part for activism this way too, I hereby deliver you a primer on how to fend off some of the most common arguments.
1. “I just want to see it before passing judgment.” Here’s the irritating thing about living in a capitalist society driven by money. The makers of films like these are largely indifferent to whether or not you are offended by their work so long as you plunk down the $13.50 or whatever in order to see the film. So, afterwards, when it’s proven that your special snowflake personal opinion matches that of any number of reviewers – that this was a rape scene, and that the experience of watching it was thoroughly gross – you have in fact already used your “vote” by buying the damn ticket. So don’t give me this crap about needing to see a rape scene that was, after all, available for free on the internet.
2. My sense of humour tends towards the offensive, I can’t help it. Jokes rely on shared meaning in order to make you laugh, which is why they’re usually untranslatable; the devil is in the nuances. If you think there’s a big chance that you could find a straightforward depiction of rape “funny,” well, think about who you’re sharing your meanings with. This is a matter in which no prophylactic will guarantee that you will avoid Asshole-by-Association syndrome. Live and learn.
3. It’s just a movie, people need to calm down. Ha. If there’s anything one can say generally about popular culture, it seems to me, it is exactly the opposite of “it doesn’t matter”: it is ENORMOUSLY influential. How many people do you know who can quote entire movie scripts? I don’t think it’s necessary for the causative effect to be one-to-one – I’m not sure I think some kid who previously understood that when a woman is too drunk to consent it’s rape is going to change their mind as a result of the movie. I do think, however, that a kid already inclined to view women as receptacles with tits gets reinforcement from things like this that his worldview is a-ok! And that’s a fucking problem.
4. Depicting rape =/= condoning rape. You know, this is true. Were we to say otherwise, we would be arguing that Dorothy Allison was condoning her own rape in Bastard Out of Carolina, for example. However! It’s been made clear by the filmmakers and the stars of this wretched thing that they vaulted themselves out of this defense because the whole thing isn’t rape! She totally wanted it! And even if they hadn’t made that abundantly clear, a quick perusal of the internet – or hell, critics for prominent national magazines defending their own misogyny on their own blogs – will tell you that there was certainly a contingent that saw it that way. The moral of this story? If you’re not sure whether you’re depicting rape, you may be absolutely certain of the fact that there are tons of men in your audience who will go to any length to get out from under the word “rape,” up to and including using words like “slut.” YOU ARE PROVIDING THEM WITH THE RATIONALIZATION TO RAPE US. Doesn’t that count as “condoning”?
Sally forth and convince, readers! Talking about these issues is hard and annoying and will likely get you into more than one fight. But if it’s one less ticket purchased, that’s one less buck in the pocket of these filmmakers. And that’s gonna matter for something.