Sorry for the multi-part posting, but there’s just too much to say.
I’ll begin with the inciting incident—
Last night some friends and I stomped and hollered at a Black Joe Lewis concert, and then we all went to eat pizza.
I’ll give the best account I can of what happened next, but I was concert deaf and concert buzzed and I’m sure I’ll get some things wrong. Here it goes.
At some point, three men near our booth at the pizza place started talking about rape. Specifically, they said that because a woman (Friend? Acquaintance? Someone in the news?) did not report her rape for two weeks, she hadn’t really been raped.
At this point, our friend group consisted of four women and two men. One of the men spoke-up. He said something like—
Hey, if you guys are gonna denigrate women, could you keep your voices down?
Some back and forth between this friend and the trio. Then one person in the trio got angry. A little more back-and-forth between the friend and the angry man ended in the angry man yelling and pointing. He kept repeating—
KNOW YOUR PLACE
Then he walked away, as did one of his friends.
The third friend, however, stayed. He apologized in that way most of us have had to apologize for the behavior of someone we are with late at night with a beer in our hand. People, I know, have made such apologies for me.
After this apology for his friend, the man who stayed said something like—
That wasn’t the point I was making
The man who stayed was, apparently, the man who had said that a woman waiting two weeks to report her rape meant that she hadn’t been raped. He wanted to explain himself.
After briefly letting him try, my friend Anne told him what he was saying was pretty offensive. I think one or two other sentences were exchanged wherein the man tried to make Anne see that she was misunderstanding him. Then the man said—
Okay, how do YOU define rape?
This is not, by even the slightest margin, the worst or most provocative story of this kind. It’s not even the worst one I’ve experienced personally.
I do want to talk about it though, because I think there are a few things about rape culture writ clear in this one night.
Now, what was said, and what all happened when someone asked them to stop saying it, I will get to later. I mean, that last thing that was said? Right before we left?
Yeah, Imma get to THAT.
But there’s so much to unpack here. If I try to start anywhere other than the beginning, I’m going to get completely lost.
Three men drink beers and proclaim that a woman who has charged someone with rape was lying. They do this in a loud room full of drunk people eating pizza.
Now, as an exercise, imagine yourself a filmmaker. Let’s say you are making a movie about friends who, through a series of events, grow closer.
Or they grow apart. Take your pick. It doesn’t matter. It’s going to be a summer release. Everyone’s going to watch The Avengers instead anyway.
But the studio is trying. In fact, you just learned that they’ve decided to take this pretty standard, skeletal script and place the characters from Saved By the Bell in it. (Screech isn’t included, though, because porn.) This is going to be the Saved By the Bell: High School Reunion movie.
Right. So you’re making the Saved By the Bell: High School Reunion movie, and the emotional underpinning of the movie hinges on Jesse, Slater, Zack, Kelly, and Lisa discussing whether or not they think that girl from Miss Simpson’s Poetry class really was raped, or if she was lying about it.
As the director, when you storyboard the scenes where they talk about the rape, are you going to place the characters somewhere loud and crowded and full of drunk people eating pizza?
Probably not. You probably place them someplace quiet. You probably have them seated close to one another. You might put them at The Max, after hours. They are the only ones there. Soft lighting.
Why? Because rape is a serious subject, and it deserves the attention and thoughtfulness that a crowded, boozey eatery can’t provide. Middle East Peace Accords don’t get hammered-out in a Chuck E. Cheese.
But this whole script bores you. You graduated from Film School, for fuck’s sake, why aren’t you making the next Breathless? Then inspiration hits. You decide to make this movie a comedy.
You know it’s a difficult sell, but it is possible to make funny rape jokes. And it is possible to treat a serious subject comedically. Weekend at Bernie’s is essentially a one and a half hour prop gag with a corpse.
Taking this movie as a guide post, you note that there are any number of things that make comedic movies about serious subjects successful, but one of the keys lies in treating that serious subject casually.
So, if you want to make your Saved By the Bell: High School Reunion movie a rape comedy, you might start by having your characters talk about this girl’s rape while swilling beer in a loud room full of drunk people eating pizza. This will let the audience know that rape itself isn’t important. It will let the audience know that the rape itself is being treated casually. This will let the audience know that, despite the seriousness of the subject, this is a comedy.
And that’s one of the things that rape culture does. Rape culture directs us to take a conversation that should be had soberly and quietly, and places that conversation in a loud, boozey room full of drunk people eating pizza. It does this so that we don’t really think about rape in any kind of detailed, thoughtful manner. Rape culture treats rape casually. Rape culture treats rape victims like they don’t matter.
As did the men last night. These men were talking about the brutal, traumatizing violation of a woman in a loud, boozey pizza joint as if it deserves the same attention and empathy and thought as topics like which restaurant serves the best chicken wings and who will win the NBA Championship. These men discussed rape casually.
And when someone overhead and objected?
Well, one man got angry and yelled and left. One man followed. One man tried to explain that we had missed his point.
No. No we didn’t.
Rape is not casual. Discussions of a woman’s rape should not be casual. Treating them as such treats the victims like they don’t matter.
Why would anyone want discussions of a woman’s rape to be casual? What could possibly be gained?
Maybe you want to discuss rape casually because, land of the free home of the brave, you can? Because you’re entitled to discuss whatever you want, however you want, wherever you want?
Yes. You absolutely have that right.
You have the right to make a Saved By the Bell: High School Reunion rape comedy. That doesn’t mean you should.
And while I’m pretty sure there will be studio executives and producers telling you that your Saved By the Bell: High School Reunion rape comedy is a bad idea, there might not be people in your life that will tell you that talking about rape in a casual manner, treating its victims like they don’t matter, is a bad idea. In fact, rape culture is gonna tell you that you should discuss rape casually. It will direct you to think there is absolutely nothing wrong with how or when or where you talk about the brutal, traumatizing violation of a woman.
Which is why other people have the right, and I would argue the responsibility, to tell you that what you are saying is offensive.
Because if you are discussing a woman’s rape in a loud room full of drunk people eating pizza, you aren’t having a serious discussion about rape.
If you aren’t having a serious discussion about rape, you are having a casual one.
If you are having a casual discussion about rape, you are making casual conversations about rape acceptable.
If you are strengthening rape culture, you are hurting women.