Monday, April 1, 2013

Is Rape the Final Taboo in Horror?

Okay class, settle down. Take your seats.

Today we're going to be talking about an extremely touchy subject, but we are all in an educational setting Bobby! Put your phone away! You think I can't tell you're texting?!
...Anyway, we are in an educational setting so I ask you all to approach the subject as horror academics.

At the beginning of the course, we went over the appeal of horror, and we concluded that we enjoy horror because it allows us to experience our greatest fears in a controlled, fictional environment. Under this premise, horror can [and has] include virtually anything that induces fear: monsters, spiders, death, torture, disease, darkness, isolation, children, serial killers, the devil, confinement, and so on. There is one atrocity, however, that is still debated even among fans as being acceptable in horror: rape.

Despite the deep-seated terror and fear associated with the act which make it an ideal subject for a work of horror, many people are extremely uncomfortable with rape scenes in movies, and many horror publications specifically state that they will not accept submissions which describe rape in detail. When it comes to dramas, most people are willing to accept that some stories will involve rape, but even many die-hard fans of the horror genre find it in very poor taste to include it in a film.

Why is that?

We've all seen and read about all kinds of disturbing and depraved acts in horror before, like infanticide
BOBBY! If I see that phone one more time, it's going in my desk along with your fat little fingers!
...Where was I? Oh yeah; we've seen infanticide, necrophelia, and every kind of murder and torture imaginable, but we consider rape to be crossing the line. Arguably, it's distasteful to depict a rape when victims of the crime may be watching the film, but we've paid for and sat through movies based on actual murders a million times before... we weren't complaining, even though we knew the victim's families wouldn't appreciate the movie. That's horror! We use fictionalization to deal with dark, unsettling emotions that we sometimes have difficulty processing.

In an article titled "Beyond the Comfort Zone: Rape in Horror Films," one blogger wrote:
Many men have stated they find themselves angered by rape on screen. That is a desired effect of films that attempt to shock. So that film is then doing what it set out to do.
Most of the negative comments from women that I have come across seem to spring from a feminist viewpoint. They are pissed to see women portrayed in a weak fashion. However being the victim of rape does not make you weak. It makes you a victim. There is no shame in that.

The Last House on the Left (1972)
A very interesting perspective which makes quite a bit of sense. I can relate in that I (as a male) do get uncomfortable when I see a rape scene in any movie, but I know that means that the movie successfully triggered an emotional reaction in me. Rape scenes aren't meant to be fun to watch. The fact that both genders have a profound negative reaction to the subject would objectively imply that it is equally or more "effective" in a horror story than murder. When I saw the original version of "The Last House on the Left," I was aghast that there were multiple rape scenes, each more graphic than the next. When both of the girls were killed less than an hour into the movie, my immediate thought was, "These fuckers better get what they deserve, especially that asshole with the big nose." Tension builds and builds as the criminals cross paths with the parents of one of the victims. At the end of the movie, the big payoff is that the parents slay the deranged people who raped and murdered their daughter (and they save that prick with the nose until the very last minute of the movie). Seeing the feature in it's entirety, it's undeniable that the rape scenes effectively progressed the plot of the story and are part of what make it so chilling, memorable, and— key word horrifying.

Perhaps the question is tasteful portrayal; can rape be portrayed "tastefully?" Maybe the concern is that a film containing graphic rape scenes could be viewed as "rape porn" and encourage sadistic members of the audience to go out and harm someone. Understandable theory, but if access to [regular, non-violent] pornography only reduces the rates of sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancy, rape, and divorce, then it seems unlikely that a rape scene in a movie would have much more clout than an individual's own psychological factors. In Psychology Today, Michael Castleman wrote:
Why would social ills decline as porn becomes more widely available? No one knows. But the one thing porn really causes is masturbation. Internet porn keeps men at home one-handing it. As a result, they're not out in the world acting irresponsibly-or criminally.

When you keep your hands busy, you stay out of trouble; Idle hands are the devil's playground. One could theorize that if a film was, in fact, created with the intent to be distributed as "rape porn," we might even see a decline in actual rape as a result.

Obviously I do not endorse rape (I really shouldn't even need to say that at this point in the lecture), I don't think writers should include it in their horror movies if it doesn't add to the story, I'm just saying that it's very interesting that nearly anything is fair game within the horror genre except for one topic. As horror scholars, it's something I would like us all to contemplate.

That's all for today; class dismissed.

Bobby, for the next session I'd like you to bring a 4-page essay about why my horror lectures are a more valuable use of your time than tweeting skanks in bikini tops. That's right, I've seen your Twitter account.