Rape in Entertainment

Part Wev in an emergent series*… [Trigger warning.]

I wasn't really intending to turn this into a series (it's colossally depressing that it even needs a series in the first place), but a lot of this stuff seems to be in the ether right now. Last night, I saw (again) the trailer for The Last House on the Left, about which I've been meaning to write for ages. The film, a remake of a 1972 film with the same theme, is a protracted rape revenge story that begins with an explicit rape scene of two teenage girls, followed by gruesome scenes of torture and assault as one of the girls' parents avenge their daughter's brutal rape after her attackers (in a zany coincidence!) seek refuge at their house. [Please note: The trailer may be triggering.]

That's entertainment!

Aside from the obvious problem with this film (at least obvious to anyone with a basic sense of decency, which necessarily precludes every person involved with making it) using scenes of graphic sexual assault and torture for fun and profit, it's eminently worse that all of it is served up under the guise of familial love.

The tagline of the film is: "If bad people hurt someone you love, how far would you go to hurt them back?"—thus justifying the commodification of sexual assault for consumption as entertainment by attempting to bury its ugliness beneath some half-assed philosophical exercise on love and loyalty, without a trace of irony.

Now there's some jaw-dropping cynicism for you.

And beneath that layer lies something even more grim: Using a family's limitless, unwavering support for a sexually assaulted member to rationalize this pile of reprehensible rape-porn is predicated on the idea that limitless, unwavering support is the natural, common response to a sexual assault on a family member. The ostensible premise, serving to "legitimize" the objectionable material, is that the revenge is the point of the film, not the rape and torture itself.

Thing is, the notion that limitless, unwavering support is what most sexual assault victims receive from their families is total bullshit. It is, consequently, a fiction that is being used to justify selling rape as entertainment.

Certainly, families exist (and Maude bless them) who rally, without hesitation or qualification, around one of their members after a sexual assault, but the typical reality for survivors of sexual assault, who tell their families, is less impressive. For many survivors, there is initial support, followed by the same kind of pervasive silence that surrounds sexual assault throughout our culture. Don't talk about it; pretend it doesn't exist. And those are the lucky ones.

Other survivors never get any support at all, just shame and/or silence; some experience initial support only to have families turn on them when they don't "get over" their assault quickly enough. A&E's documentary series on addiction, Intervention, is littered with female addicts who were sexually assaulted at a young age, whose families express regret for that horror in the same breath as exasperation that their daughter-sister-granddaughter-niece won't get over it already.

The truth is, for many parents whose daughters are never quite the same after being sexually assaulted, the frustration at losing their happy-go-lucky little girl is taken out on the little girl, revictimizing her by expressing frustration at her struggle, or exhorting her to "get back to normal," or putting discussion of her life-changing event on lockdown, because it makes other people uncomfortable.

That the film uses what is, for most young survivors, an absurd fantasy response from hir parents to legitimize a film that treats their nightmare as a swell bit of distraction to consume while eating popcorn, is indescribably hostile.

And, you know, the chanted mantra about what was done to "my/your daughter" by both parents and rapists is no great shakes, either. It's difficult to say whether it's more infuriating that The Last House on the Left drags us back to the days when rape was a property crime, or that it casually underscores without regret the fact that even among people who manage to giving a flying fuck about rape, most only care when it happens to one of their own.

(Except, of course, for the people who care passionately about paying $10 to be titillated by it.)

It's perfect, really, that a film whose very existence is contingent on a culture's yawning apathy to a pervasive crime could so splendidly reinforce the narratives that feed the indifference on which it depends.

Product of the rape culture. Purveyor of the rape culture.

And so it goes.


* Previously: Law & Order: SVU, Trigger By Void, Watchmen: The Triggering, Rape Is Not a Compliment, Don't Be This Guy, Rape Is Normal, I'm Mad at You Just Because I Know Who You Are: Dane Cook, In Things That Make Me Hate the World, and the Rape Is Hilarious and Soaking in the Rape Culture series, the latest installments of which are here and here, with older posts linked at the end of each.

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