Monday, May 14, 2007

Some Other Things That Aren't Cutting Edge

"The debate rages over whether or not this image represents an artistic interpretation of a sexual fantasy, or if it just glorifies rape. As the fashion industry continues to push the envelope and strives to remain cutting edge the line between risque and offensive continues to blur."

We're surrounded by images very like the one at the link above on a daily basis. If women aren't actively inviting objectification, "deflowerment" or merely "ravishment" (ie forced sex, rape), then they're looking pained and frightened and hungry and vulnerable. I've seen so many images like this one that I just sort of shrugged and went, "Yeah, another oh-boy-she-likes-it fuck fest circle jerk."


Then I read the script underneath it. About how the "reason" fashion designers are putting out ads like this because they want to remain "cutting edge." Though I'm sure this particular writer was just making an educated guess with that wording, I'd suspect the designers themselves would say something really similiar.

After all, if we're not beating up women in new and interesting ways in fashion ads, how are we going to remain new and interesting and cutting edge? If we don't beat up women, nobody will even pay attention! They won't want to buy these sexy clothes that invite men to beat them up. And what man doesn't want to beat up a woman wearing these clothes!

What gets me about so many -isms running rampant in mass media isn't even that it's just fucking wrong. It's that it's fucking lazy. You put a bunch of fresh young people in a room and we come out with the same sexist, racist, classist bullshit we've been churning out for the last fifty years.

Dear producers of mass media and writers writing about mass media,

Stylized rape isn't cutting edge. I could link to about a bazillion other ads just like this one.

Gory shots of female crime victims? Not cutting edge.

Raping women to show just how bad your bad guys are? Not cutting edge. (yes, even if the person allowing it to continue is female)

Women doing laundry dressed in thongs and pearls? Not cutting edge (yes, even if she's doing a superhero's laundry).

What frustrates me so much, reading and writing SF, is to see just how much we all keep rehashing the same old shit. I've come to expect it from the fashion industry, you know? But there's this assumption that the brutal treatment of women is a universally human thing. That we'll just always do this. That it's always been this way and will always be this way.

In a genre that's supposed to show us how things can be really different, that should challenge us to think beyond our assumptions, seeing even the stuff that gets high praise relying on the same sad assumptions of race and class (the way things are now is the way they will always be) is fucking depressing.

We can sit around and putz with SF gadgets and teleporters and FTL all day, but plugging in a new technology, a people on a new planet, and making everybody think and act in exactly the way they would today, without said technologies, here on this planet, is fucking lazy, and it takes all the gosh-wow-how-cool feeling from it. I just can't take your gadgetry seriously when your blond secondary female love interest only shows up to flirt with and fuck the geeky, misunderstood protagonist(for example - I am picking on BSG with the links, but I'm thinking primarily of Heinlein).

Obviously, SF isn't the only place where this happens, as seen in the fashion links above, but these are the sorts of things that influence us on a level we don't think about and aren't often aware of until after the fact, when we realize the only reason we included our heroine getting raped was to give her sufficient motivation to severely injure a guy. Because unless she was raped, you know, hurting a guy like that just wouldn't be OK (yes, I did this in GW. I have since taken out the rape backstory).

We all do this stuff. We put shit in there without thinking about it. These assumptions become so invisible - like het privledge, male privledge, white priviledge - that you just don't see them anymore. You take them for granted. And so you just keep on perpetuating them.

I want to see something really fucking cutting edge, all right. I want to see a fashion ad with powerful women who don't get beat up or shit on or hung by the neck, women who don't look starved and frightened. I want to see somebody thinking outside of the fucking box. And it's sad that even something as simple as that would be so fucking different that people would sit up and take notice. So. Fucking. Simple.

Sure I'd love to see something cutting edge.

But this isn't it.

6 comments so far. What are your thoughts?

Steph Burgis said...

I love this entry - and it's true across the board, culturally. I spent a couple years working in one of the "hot" opera houses in the UK, and what made me most crazy was the constant "need" of contemporary opera directors (almost universally male) to throw in extraneous rape scenes (not written or even implied in the libretto) just because...why? To Make It Real. To Be Shocking. To Be Cutting-Edge. To Go All The Way.

As a woman, it just made me want to kill them.

Thank you for writing this entry!

Kameron Hurley said...

Oh, *gawd.* And you know, I'm sure that whole, "Graphic. Gritty. Real," reason is why they decided to "deal" with the subject in BSG.

You know, men rape women. Women are brutalized, but for fuck's sake, if you're going to toss it in there as an afterthought because you want to be "real" and "shocking" you're doing everybody a disservice.

All you're doing is perpetuating the same old dirt.

Haddayr said...

I wandered over from Steph's journal.

You're right.

Not. Cutting edge. At all.

Played, played, played.

Side note: if you're doing a photograph of an "erotic dream," shouldn't the people involved look at least vaguely interested?

Heather said...

Fascinating entry. I can see how some authors might think they're bringing attention to rape by not ignoring that it does happen, but too often it does seem to slide into titilation/ shock-value territory. I'm trying to think of an example of a rape scene used well, but my mind is sliding away from every one I've read right now.

You mentioned: I want to see something really fucking cutting edge, all right. I want to see a fashion ad with powerful women who don't get beat up or shit on or hung by the neck, women who don't look starved and frightened. It's not a fashion ad and it's several years old at this point, but there's a Nike ad (YouTube link) from a few years ago that is one of my favorites. A woman is threatened by a chainsaw-wielding maniac in her bathroom. She kicks him (iifc) and runs away through the woods at high speed. He pursues her, but gets winded quickly, having to stop to catch his breath and put down his chainsaw while she runs far away, easily, through the woods. I loved how strong she is, how her atheticism trumps his chainsaw, how pathetic the male pursurer is shown to be, how confidently she runs through those woods. I get a "fuck yeah!" feeling everytime I see that ad. I think it's awesome.

This Salon article does a fairly good job of discussing the controversy surrounding it.

Kameron Hurley said...

if you're doing a photograph of an "erotic dream," shouldn't the people involved look at least vaguely interested?

Yeah, *my* erotic dreams just don't look like that... I'm generally having a hell of a lot more fun.

Kameron Hurley said...

Heather - I think the problem is when writers/media types just "throw rape in" as an afterthought, or as something "shocking" or "unexpected" instead of actually setting out to tackle a really complicated issue. It's all in the approach.

If the statement you're going for, as an author is, "Here's how I'm going to show that my bad guys are bad!" or "Well, the only way I can have my heroine be bad is if she was raped!" or "I need people to be SHOCKED! I know, I will RAPE A WOMAN!" then... it's not so much dealing with the issues surrounding rape, it's just lazy writing.

I have a hazy memory of the first Veronica Mars episode where it's mentioned offhand that she was date raped, and so far as I know, that issue wasn't revisited again (I sure HOPE it wasn't). If it wasn't, I think it was really brilliant. It became one of many things that had occurred to someone in their lives, not something used for shock value.