Dear Roman Polanski, we have presents for you

Right through here.

Seriously  – this entire Polanski thing has once again reminded me that I am in the wrong line of work. The news is an unnecessarily depressing business. I’d like to go back to my earlier childhood dream of being an orientologist in Australia. Or Brazil. Or Argentina. I’m pretty sure that not many species of birds have rape – except for ducks, but who needs ducks? I could have been studying the tinamou. It’s a terrific bird, when you think about it, really. Nearly 50 species. An ancient lineage. They make beautiful calls, very shyly, from behind bushes, rocks and trees. They lay attractively coloured eggs. These are creatures that are worth the development of patient observation techniques.

This is all just a polite way of saying FUCK THIS POLANSKI NONSENSE WITH A GARDEN RAKE, of course. But then again, I don’t know. I hear that rural Argentina’s nice.

So we should only feature rape as long as everyone is on the same page?

I realize that the title of this post is a rhetorical question. Do bear with me, though.

I thought the Gender Across Borders series on ‘The Theater’s Rape Culture‘ was very interesting, but this part on “Spring Awakening” in particular had me scratching my head. I agree with Kyle that rape is too often used in an extremely gratuitous fashion, but I had several points of disagreement.

First of all,

…I found an advert for a Kevin Spacey led play called A Moon for the Misbegotten. I don’t remember the exact text but it was actually along the lines of ‘featuring so and so in a disturbing rape scene’. It’s bad enough when rape is used almost without second thought when attributing characters but to use it as a means to excite the audience?

Well, it depends on how you read it, don’t you? Personally, I want to be warned well in advance if a certain play or movie or whatever is going to feature a disturbing rape scene. That way, I can decide if I’m up to seeing it in the first place. Yes, it can very well be argued that disclosing this has a double effect – some people will wind up going purely to gawk, sure. But why should they set the standard? Obviously, I’m not so naive as to suggest that lurid sexual violence doesn’t draw people in – it’s no different than pausing by the scene of a bloody accident (case in point: the dead body that my co-workers saw this morning at Park Kultury metro station) not to mention the “rape culture is yummy” stuff thrown in, but what exactly should the producers of a play do in that case? Add a little addendum? “This production features a disturbing rape scene – by the way, RAPE IS WRONG.” The people that can be reached by such a statement in the first place will just have their intelligence insulted.

…the entire play is about sex (it is called Spring Awakening after all) so nearly the entire cast, both male and female, have some sort of sexually related background attached to them. But, the females are the only ones that are made to be the victims of their own sex. Again, rape and sexual trauma are being used to provide supposed emotional depth to characters who otherwise would be seen as one-dimensional in comparison with the males who seem to have a much wider variety of issues to deal with.

That is a very interesting point. Do we normalize trauma by talking about it? I think that sometimes the answer is yes, we do. It all depends on how we talk about it, of course, but yes, this is possible.

For a show that prides itself on being contemporary, I just wish it was delivering a different message to audiences than ‘rape is a staple part of growing up for a young woman’.

This is also very difficult for me to address. Because, yes, once again, normalization of rape is not just an abstract concept. It happens daily. It’s even in the goddamn fashion ads. At the same time – yeah, sexual violence is visited upon women in greater numbers than it is on men. Violence, sexual and otherwise, was a part of my growing up. I hope it’s OK for me to talk about how much it sucked – without being prompted to, for example, set the right tone. I choose my own tone when I talk about what happened to me.

Finally, this issue is personal for me because I am not just someone who is familiar with the subject matter – I’m also a playwright, these days. And in my second play, the one that actually received some genuinely positive comments from people whose opinions I care about, there is the following scene:

A husband and wife who are arguing while stuck in their car in the middle of a traffic jam wind up yelling at each other over the miscarriage that the wife had earlier – and who’s to blame for it. In the course of their escalating argument, the husband tells her that he can “make her a baby.” She taunts him – claiming that he cannot. At this point, he drives off the road and lunges at her, trying to take off her clothes and kissing her. She spits in his face and struggles, and right after she stops struggling, their car is hit from behind by another car. The woman jumps out of the car first, and ends up defending her husband from the driver of the other car, who accuses them of parking illegally.

The play, which is in Russian, is about upper-middle-class Kievans, and its climax in particular was discussed after it was read at the latest meeting of the Laboratory of New Drama in Kiev (I took a train down to see it read over the weekend). People said a lot of different things about it. Some viewed what happened as an attempted rape, others took a very different position.

I don’t normally tell people how to interpret my writing, but in this case, I very much believe that what happens in the play is an attempted rape. I don’t think it’s particularly ambiguous. The wife’s defense of her husband, however, is also unambiguous.

I guess anyone can look at this play and decide that it condones rape. After all, if the wife defends the husband right after the incident occurs, then she was cool with it all along, right? Well, actually, I think human beings are more complicated than that. I don’t think there is anything complicated, on the other hand, about rape itself. Can the two viewpoints co-exist within one creation? I think so.

The husband’s character in the play is sympathetic. I sympathize with him myself, on one level. Because I actually know a lot of men like him – men who have been taught, either by family or society or both, that there is something nobly masculine about trying to tear off their wife’s clothes when she’s saying “get your hands away from me” and think that this is exactly what she wants, despite her protestations. Especially if they have just been taunted – they see it as some sort of twisted version of “consent.” From a dramatic point of view, it’s a kind of dead end, I think. It’s not a dead end from the point of view of ethics, though – rape is rape. Even the people who love us can cross that line – and that’s the other thing about this play – I fully believe that the husband loves his wife, and that she loves him right back, but that they wind up with having no actual means of expressing this love, and that’s a tragedy to me.

Did it disturb me when a member of the audience, a playwright and actor himself, described the husband’s actions as “the actions of a real man – the first time he was able to act like a real man, actually”? Yes, it did. It disturbed me especially when I considered how I had attempted to get inside the character of the wife – was she really attempting to provoke her husband? I wanted to leave that question open-ended, without attempting to minimize the husband’s actions. Because I don’t believe that anyone is “asking for it” – not ever. “Asking for it” is a false concept to me. The responsibility is always with the person who decides to go ahead and do what the husband in this instance does.

Still, the wife’s harsh words to her husband were used to justify his behaviour. People took what happened in my play – and some of them wound up rationalizing it very neatly.

Have I contributed to rape culture? I think the answer to that question is probably “yes and no.” I think it depends on the individual audience member. I think it also depends on what we mean by the word “contributed” in this context. With my second play, I wanted to make people think. I wanted them to consider the full ugliness of the situation, and decide for themselves whether or not it’s completely hopeless. Maybe it’s because I believe that some people can change their minds – the husband character, maybe he can change his mind, maybe he can see that what he did was wrong. I certainly suggest the possibility at the very end – among other things, such as the possibility that the wife is actually leaving him for good.

But it’s just that, a suggestion. After all, I can only lead that horse to water – following that, everything is up to the horse.

Am I responsible for my work? I am, absolutely. That’s why I put it out there, to be open to criticism, as opposed to locking it all in a desk somewhere (I don’t even own a desk, ha). And I welcome comments – good, bad and ugly. I just don’t know if there is an explicitly “right” way to mention or portray sexual violence on stage. As always, though, I’m open to other people’s philosophy on the subject. After all, I’m the person who claimed that the way that Tom Wolfe portrayed undergraduate life in “I Am Charlotte Simmons” was wrong wrong wrong – if I can dish it out, I can take it.

Cardinal Sean Brady saw no evil. Right.

In an odd way, I feel bad for Cardinal Sean Brady & other members of the Irish Catholic clergy (such as the clueless Bishop Brennan – who hilariously chose to ask parishioners for cash in helping deal with abuse victim payouts by stating that ” ‘I did not cause the problem’ is not the response of the Christian” – gosh, if only these people had applied the same logic when they decided whether or not to close ranks and stand in solidarity with child rapists).

I don’t feel bad for them because they are poor dears, caught up in circumstances beyond their control. I doubt that most of them are especially remorseful about the crimes perpetrated within and by their institution. As Pam Spaulding points out, Brady is in full-on defensive mode. He had done nothing wrong, you see! Nothing that wasn’t in accordance with the times! This entire thing reminds me of how Emmanuelle Seigner went to bat for her husband, Roman Polanski, by pointing out that what he did to that teenage girl was not rape! It was just 70’s sex! The 70’s were a wild and crazy time! Sodomizing children was no more unusual than listening to Foghat!

I think Brady and Seigner should hurry up and have an affair. She’ll ditch Roman, he’ll bail on the Roman Catholic Church (see? this whole “Roman” thing means that it’s practically fate), and together they can raise sheep in a particularly remote corner of New Zealand, sparing global society their apologist nonsense.

But yeah, I do feel bad for people who are so completely invested in their power and privilege that they, on one level, are willing to make a total break with reality. It’s a shitty bargain, in the end. It catches up with you in this world or the next, and deservedly so.

What we’re seeing today, really, is yet another confirmation of how little churches have anything to do with God, or even something as relatively concrete as holy texts. In a way, I believe that any religious institution straddles a great paradox – it plays a certain role, but it’s very status as an institution has a tendency to negate the role even as it is being played. Still, sometimes the mistakes that church officials make are so crude, so blatant, SO despicable, that sadness sets in in spite of logic.

Now, if only these powerful men of the cloth had any sadness reserved for all those children they failed so profoundly. Spare a little sadness for Paul Dwyer, maybe? He killed himself after the police failed to bring his rapist, former priest Bill Carney, to justice. Carney was paid off to leave the Church. He has a nice little life in Scotland. He’s married. And Paul Dwyer is dead. Of course, you’re not supposed to have sympathy for suicides, Cardinal Brady. You just set your mouth in an even thinner line, and take care of business, right?

How many Paul Dwyers is that cardinal’s seat worth, anyway?


P.S. Great  comment on Pandagon, by RickMassimo:

“Dr Brady claimed that wider society handled child abuse cases differently in the 1970s. ’There was a culture of silence about this, a culture of secrecy, that’s the way society dealt with it.’”

Yes, and the Catholic Church has always been proud about how in step it is with society at large.

P.P.S. You know, something that has always struck me is the irony of it all, really. Even violent criminals look down on child rapists. You have to let this sink in. These Roman Catholic officials are worse off than some  prick doing 10 to 15 for robbery and assault with a deadly weapon.

“Fully sexually available to men”? Haven’t we been through this?

Yes, Virginia, we have.

Still, this is kind of a special moment in the history of the feminist blogosphere: transphobia AND rape apologia, in one nifty little stocking stuffer of a post:

sex-pos transwomen–if i were born male, like you were, i might be “sex-positive,” too.  you know:  exhibitionist, pro-porn, and squeeee!-fully sexually available to men.  if only…. — from someone called factcheckme

This darling individual also goes on to make the following precious statement:

while the T’s in GLBT have all the political power and protection that comes from co-opting the GLB movement…

“Political power and protection,” eh? “Protection” that results in hate crimes against trans women all over the world? “Protection” that ensures that major media outlets can’t even be bothered with using the right pronouns when it comes to talking about a murdered trans woman? THAT kind of protection?

crazy + powerful = “eccentric,” doncha know!  and “eccentric” is f-u-n, which is about all it takes to be wrapped in the teeny-tiny bosom of the twenty-something fun-fems.

Just to give you one example: It sure is “fun” when you’re going out with a friend in the cosmopolitan urban center known as London and the two of you have to be extra-careful when it comes to choosing a pub or restaurant, because both of you know without a doubt that if you choose the wrong one, something ugly will happen to your friend. While I’m fully aware that bad things can and do happen to all of us, I know that statistically speaking, violence against trans women is nothing to joke about. And it makes me bitter. And it makes me angry. Because all I want to do is have a couple of drinks, talk about pop music, and eat some goddamn oysters. And it’s assholes like you who think that my friend doesn’t deserve the basic human dignity of a normal evening out, let alone the basic human dignity of going through life without being discriminated against and scorned.

I’ll press my teeny-tiny bosom against anyone I damn please, in the meantime. So sorry that I didn’t ask for your approval first. Funny how it works out, doesn’t it? First it’s men telling you all about whom “nice girls” should and shouldn’t associate with, then it’s fellow feminists. Same shit, different demographic.

To go back to the comment about us being “fully sexually available to men,” Ren is right, Caroline is right, this is offhand rape apologia. It’s as if the people who spout it honestly believe that there is a certain class of willing “comfort women” out there. I don’t even know what kind of twisted logic… Actually, wait, I do know exactly the kind of twisted logic we’re talking about here. It’s the same twisted logic that leads certain men to utter phrases such as “you can’t rape a slut” in all seriousness. So revolutionary, that.

Bernard-Henri Lévy’s immortal genius

Let me show you it.

I’m not going to talk about how rape apologia is a bad thing, because if that’s not clear to you by now, you 1) fail at life and 2) are hanging out on the wrong blog.

I am, however, going to say this: McCarthyism? BHL, you compare the outrage over Polanski’s crime and the aftermath of said crime to McCarthyism? I suppose I shouldn’t expect anything less from a man who once said that the face-veil is an “invitation to rape” – because, clearly, rape is something one is able to invite (grab a goddamn dictionary from one of your mahogany shelves, you creepy, over-indulged jackass, and avail yourself of the definition of the word “rape”; you might want to follow that up by asking yourself what is it about a woman in a face-veil that gets you violently excited to begin with, because if this isn’t some weird personal issue regarding women’s availability or lack thereof, then I am Persephone, queen of the underworld) – but still, I just have to say it one more time:

McCarthyism? FREAKING MCCARTHYISM? So, when Mike Tyson went to jail for rape, that was just like the Boer War, right? I mean, that’s about as much sense as you’re making right here, you narcissistic, overgrown pretty boy. Realizing that I once thought of you as hot makes me want to take a bath in a goddamn vat of Lysol.

Why don’t you just go back to dropping pearls of wisdom such as your earth-shattering revelation that “everything matters to everybody”? Even though reading pompous drivel like that makes me feel like my eyeballs are about to start bleeding, something tells me you do less damage while paddling about in the shallow end of the pool. Seriously, aren’t there better things for you to do than “provocateurizing” about Polanski – such as making sure the right amount of buttons is currently unbuttoned on your boring white shirt? Or, hey, I don’t know, maybe you could just get more pies to the face, or something.

Hat-tip to Sady.