Book Discussion · trope talks

Trope Talk #2: Rape in Media

This has been a very controversial topic for many forms of media especially fantasy and historical literature. You hear the argument that it is realistic, it is what happens to women. What’s wrong is not the use of rape itself. Many stories can use rape and portray it in a manner that is respectful to the victim. But I’m protesting rape in these scenarios shown below. I’m going to use 2 books and 1 movie where I feel rape was shown problematically. There will be spoilers for the following:

  • Back to the Future directed by Robert Zemeckis
  • Game of Thrones by George RR Martin
  • Easy by Tammara Webber

Back to the Future

Rape as a Plot Device

I remember watching Back to the Future for the first time this year. Throughout most of the movie, I thought it was so smart, hilarious and entertaining. And then the prom scene happened. Biff attempts to force himself on Lorraine. George saves Lorraine by punching Biff. And then they fall in love instantly and get married and live happily ever after.

What is wrong with this scene? Biff nearly raping Lorraine is not actually about Lorraine, it’s about George’s character development as the horrible scene is seen to trigger George to finally act against his bully. It’s the classic hero-gets-the-girl ending. Rape is merely used to propel action. By doing this, the movie steers the attention away from the rape towards the plot itself. It trivializes rape and even the rapist. The only punishment Biff, an almost-rapist gets is one punch in the face. He should be in jail.

Lorraine’s almost-rape is treated as a side-effect that she quickly gets over because now she has met George, the love of her life. I shouldn’t have been that surprised as Lorraine is used as a prop for the entire movie, a catalyst for George to “man up” so to speak. Think about it. Does Lorraine change or grow throughout the movie at all? She presumably falls in love with George because he saved her that’s just what happens to saviors. The girls fall in love with you despite having basically zero prior interaction with you…

Easy by Tamarra Webber 

Promoting Rape Culture

The second way rape is used in a damaging way is to promote rape culture. Easy by Tamarra Webber perpetuates this. In the very beginning, our main character or (someone else)? is almost raped. Yet, Lucas, the love itnerest, says this shouldn’t be surprising because she was wearing scantily clad clothing.

pitch perfect gif animated GIF

Throughout the rest of the movie, the book perpetuates rape culture by selling it as entertainment. It’s a constant source of tension equivalent to a crime thriller putting a murderer after you. Except this isn’t a crime thriller. It’s a romance. Buck is almost hilarious in his portrayal as the “evil rapist” and his placement in the novel felt contrived. Even if the book had to include Buck which adds a seriousness to the nature of the book,  Jacqueline’s emotions should have been at the forefront of the conflict after such a traumatic event. But it was very simplistic. Jacqueline simply decides to take some defense classes which is portrayed as a “yay, girl power” moment. I suppose it’s nice that she speaks up and the other girl spoke up about victim blaming but it’s literally only one scene in the entire book. about it. In the end, her bravery is totally discredited because the rapist comes after her again and then this is merely used to show how much of a hero Lucas is because Lucas saves her from him.

Lucas doesn’t even learn that it’s not ok to victim blame and if the hot guy love interest is promoting rape culture, it perpetuates stigmas of rape culture. What I’m trying to say is that the rape is used to provide tension. From the story and writing, it doesn’t seem as though it was used to change the conversation about rape. It propels the love story and progresses the plot. As with Back to the Future, it trivializes rape. After the story, it feels like the book is asking the reader to go find a hot guy that will save you from sexual assault instead of going to the police and reporting it.

Game of Thrones by George RR Martin

Rape as Realism

Rape is everywhere in this book. So much, that as I was reading I was expecting a female character to get raped every time she had an interaction with even a semi- daunting male. What I really want to know is how realistic is that? How common was sexual assualt/rape prevalent during the period of the War of the Roses (the real historical event GOT was based on). The problem with the usage of rape on GOT is the lazy character development. Rape is used to propel development, from weak to strong presumably. But what I want to know is how is this important to her character? Why rape? In the TV show, why was it important for Cersei to be raped? Why Sansa? It puts a focus on female sexuality being the most important thing about a woman. I can think of millions of other conflicts that can be bring tension and conflict and realism to a female character. Sometimes I feel GOT uses the rape scenes to bring a shock factor to the audience. Which after a while doesn’t become shocking anymore, it just, again, trivializes rape and and makes rape into something that just happens and no one can do anything to stop it.

sherlock animated GIF

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4 thoughts on “Trope Talk #2: Rape in Media

  1. I agree with everything you’ve said. If I know a book series or show has rape scenes in it, I usually avoid them because they’re either treated as trivial or gratuitous. They become less about the victim and more about other characters. It can be done right (think Speak), but in popular mediums I haven’t seen it treated with enough sensitivity or awareness of the female (or male) victim involved. Great discussion!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I totally agree with you about it not bringing enough sensitivity and awareness to the female or male victim (though usually female). It just hurts when a movie like Back to the Future could have been a near perfect movie for me except that one scene ruins it. I mean I still love it but it’s problematic.

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