September 25, 2011
Hollywood's Bizarre Take on Rape
Commercials for the remake of "Straw Dogs" are running on TV. Designed to appeal to today's new audience, I wonder how many of the young people who'll go to see the remake are even aware of the controversy that surrounded the original "Straw Dogs" and its portrayal of rape?
The original "Straw Dogs" is a movie I've never seen and haven't thought about it decades. I knew there was an infamous rape scene --- one that supposedly inspired many male fantasies at the time. Just what made the rape so infamous and why it inspired so many fantasies is something I decided to see for myself.
And what I saw exemplified Hollywood's long history of its bizarre take on "rape"................
Because when I found a partial clip of the rape what I saw wasn't rape, but two people making love. The woman reaches up and pulls the man's head down into a kiss. After they're finished, they cuddle with the woman asking the man, "Hold me." Only in fiction and rapists' fantasies do rapes happen like that.
However, to be fair, the initial clip I found was showed only part of the "Straw Dogs" rape. So I found some additional clips to see the entire double rape. I'm still left with the impression that the first rape isn't a rape. It starts out as mutual with the woman, Amy, kissing, her ex-boyfriend, Charlie, then she refuses his next moves. She slaps him a couple of times. He slaps her back. When he drags her by her hair to the couch it looked like rape to me. But then it morphs into making love, and I'm left wondering if this is how the couple's sex life always went. Maybe role-playing and rough sex is how they always did it? And that's where the controversy of "Straw Dogs" lies. That's also where the fantasies lie because it fed into the belief that a woman would "enjoy it."
Then a second, unquestionable rape happens. While Amy and Charlie are cuddling on the couch, a second man enters the house and forces a rape at gunpoint. Amy is screaming and crying through this act which just highlights the difference between her reactions for the first and second rapes.
In the United States we've currently got a very clear, unambiguous concept of rape. If a woman doesn't give her consent, if she says no, intercourse after that is rape. If a woman is too incapacitated to understand what's going on and to give her consent it's rape. (That includes being drunk out of her mind.) If a woman is drugged and her ability to consent is taken from her, it's rape.
But throughout Hollywood's history, it frequently and famously had a different take on rape.
For over 70 years, one of the most romantic scenes of all time is Rhett Butler carrying a struggling Scarlett O'Hara up the stairs in "Gone with the Wind" to have his way with her, as it would have been prosaically phrased at the time. Today, we'd call it rape. But in "Gone with the Wind," the next morning we see a happy Scarlett in her bedroom. Even the very first time I saw the movie, I had a major disconnect with this sequence.
The interesting thing is that "Gone with the Wind" doesn't have a large male fan base. So that means it's primarily women who find that scene to be romance rather than rape.
Back in the late 70s and early 80s the biggest couple in the U.S. wasn't a celebrity couple, no version of Brangelina or William & Kate. It was the fictional "Luke and Laura" of the soap opera "General Hospital." I wasn't watching "General Hospital," but unless you were living under a rock, you heard about "Luke and Laura." They were everywhere. Their wedding got the highest ratings of any daytime show in history. But because I hadn't watched "General Hospital" what I didn't know and only found out years later is that the famous Luke and Laura romance began when Luke raped Laura.
Only in fiction is rape romance. In Hollywood rape can lead to true love.
In real life, rape leads to trauma, both physical and psychological.
But, again, even though it's Hollywood that makes these portrayals of rape, it's primarily women who followed the Luke and Laura story accounting for its massive popularity. Hollywood makes it. No one makes us watch it. And no one makes us idolize it.
From what I've read in the remake of "Straw Dogs" the rape scene is unambiguously portrayed as rape. If it is, then it's redressing one long standing wrong.
Hollywood has a long history with its bizarre take on rape. And we had a long history of enjoying it.
It's long past time they both stopped.
For more about my take on movies read "4 Classic Movies that Are Way More Depressing than You Think They Are Based on the Movies" or "The Old Yeller Abyss." Please take a moment to look around the Archive.