Saturday, May 30, 2015

When is it ok to use rape as a plot device?

Game of Thrones and Outlander have both been in the news lately because characters in both suffer a rape. GOT features a lot of rape in it because it's set in a very dark, very violent early medieval type fantasy world. Outlander is set in the 18th century it does feature some rape and is unique because it touches on the taboo subject of male rape. GOT is used to pushing boundaries and the latest rape was nothing different. Sansa was raped off screen by Ramsay Bolton and this annoyed a lot of people. There are many who are tired of rape coming up a lot in fiction. And it can be a tired stereotype. A lot of the time it is used as a plot device to move a story forward or trigger a change in a character. The rape victim has to find the strength to pick themselves up and find the strength to go back on with life etc. What annoys people when it comes to female rape is how often female characters across multiple genres and mediums are subject to it. Authors have a tendency to go "Well, the character is female, what's something terrible that happens to women a lot? I know! rape!" It's like people don't know how to add an obstacle for a female character to overcome that isn't rape, about a man/or finding a relationship, or motherhood. It's old. It's tired.

In Outlander Jamie is raped by Captain Black Jack and it's one of the most gripping and wonderfully written scenes in the book. It is emotionally devastating and beautiful and sad. The plot shows just what an incredibly strong woman Claire is and at the same time touches on a subject that is not shown enough and that is male rape. It is terrible what happens to Jamie. But the scenes that follow when Claire doctors him back to his former self are beautiful and touching and worth the read.

People said that GOT had crossed a line with Sansa's rape but I don't think it did. Firstly in my opinion it was not the most graphic thing to happen on the show. What annoyed me about it was how silly Sansa was to put herself in that situation. Now she is stuck firmly in the role of the damsel in distress and I am really hoping hard that she will save herself because otherwise her rape would've been pointless to her character development instead being a plot device for another character to either come in and rescue her or "come good" again.

I roll my eyes a little when people gasp and clutch at their pearls when GOT does something to shock again because that's GOT does! It's a dark and gritty fantasy drama! No one is safe! The GOT world is unfair and brutal and cruel and that's the whole point of it. If you don't get that by now then maybe this isn't the show for you. What I'm saying is that rape is apart of that world but - at the same time - if used too much it can still be stale and boring and tired. So save yourself Sansa. Be strong. Don't be a damsel in distress.

As for Outlander I think Jamie's rape served much more of a purpose and was not just thrown in for shock value like Sansa's was. Jamie's rape is shocking because male rape is just something that is not seen on TV and in some circles is even deemed not real. Jamie's rape was all the more brutal because it took a big, proud strong man and broke him. It was done on purpose. It was planned. It wasn't thrown in at the last minute. And he was saved by his wife. Was it wrong? No. I don't think rape shouldn't feature in books and tv and film. If done right it can be emotionally powerful. It is when it is done lazily that it is tiresome. Don't chuck in a rape scene "just because" your character is female. It has to have a purpose. Is your character going to learn and grow from it? Don't put it in for shock value.

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