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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


In one sense the above is true of any criminal activity: it may be amusing to imagine oneself a daring thief or a flawless assassin, but one suspects that both play better than they live.

Rape is another such criminal act, but it does not spring from some amorphous "rape culture" centered in the conspiracy of men to keep women down. To be sure, individual men do strive to do this, but they don't comprise a "culture" any more than do retaliatory attempts by women to control or diminish males.

Whether one is speaking of the phenomenon of rape as practiced by men or, more rarely, by women, it becomes significant in art primarily because it blurs the distinctions between sex and violence. In VIOLENCE *AINT* NUTHIN' BUT SEX MISSPELLED PART 2 I wrote:

While there are ways in which sexual partners can attempt to "assault" one another-- ways which include, but are not confined to, rape-- sex is dominantly isothymic, in that sex usually requires some modicum of cooperation. Violence, then, dominantly conforms to Fukuyma's megalothymic mode insofar as it usually involves a struggle of at least two opponents in which one will prove superior to the other, though in rare cases fighters may simply spar with no intent of proving thymotic superiority.

As I have also said before, the fact that I advocate freedom in the depiction of both sex and violence does not mean that I consider all usages of these kinetic elements to be good uses of that freedom.  In this post I took issue with a BEAT-poster who seemed to want to see rape depicted only in ways that supported a particular ideological position. However, that doesn't mean that I haven't seen stupid, unimaginative depictions of this particular crime. Brad Meltzer's 2004 series IDENTITY CRISIS stands out in this regard.

The only thing one can say in defense of this idiotic story is that when Meltzer chose to have Doctor Light rape Sue Dibny, he was to some extent following in the footsteps of many professional comics-creators who had sought to make superheroes more "realistic" by having them encounter greater levels of sex and violence-- that is, graduating from the levels appropriate to "juvenile pulp" to those of "adult pulp." The transformation has been ongoing since the late Silver Age, as I chronicled in broad strokes here.  So, even though IDENTITY CRISIS is a very bad comic book, it is not, as one critic claimed, "the comic that ruined comics." That ruination, if one chooses to deem it that, was in the works a little before Meltzer was born-- though it is amusing that he came into the world in 1970, the same year I deem to be the beginning of the Bronze Age, the time when commercial comics took their first major steps toward "adult"-erating their products.

At any rate, Doctor Light's rape of Sue Dibny is a "fake-rape," not least because it is depicted through the medium of two fictional characters. However, I don't state above that all "fake-rapes" are good; just that, if there is good in this crime, it will appear only in gestural entertainment.

It would be easy to refute the notion "rape should not appear because it aggravates the female audience and/or because it's the last resort of a lazy creator" by quoting the use of the crime in artistic types ranging from Shakespeare to Joyce Carol Oates. But since I'm defending the crime's provenance in popular fiction, it behooves me to cite two works of popular fiction-- both of which are also politically incorrect for a variety of reasons, apart from the depiction of "sex-as-violence."


A. Sherman Barros said...

Hi Gene,

Here's a series of essays that I will follow very closely,as the representation of sexual violence in fiction is one of my main interests.

Obviously, when one reads statements like the one you've quoted ("rape should not appear because it aggravates the female audience and/or because it's the last resort of a lazy creator"), one feels hard pressed to ask: why, then, should any kind of illicit behaviour be represented, since every human action will probably cause offense to some individuals, groups, or classes?

I also fail to see why rape should be the last resort of a lazy creator (for me, that would be the constant killing and ressurecting of heroes): lazyness is never in content, but in execution. Robin Wood, in his book on Howard Hawks demonstrates how the use of genre formulas, stock charcaters and situations can be best used by someone of great creative power, to enlarge his characters and give grandeur to the themes.

What we are dealing here, once again, is with Politicaly Correct acephaly.

Consider that in film, as in comics, there are much more killing, maiming, fighting, shooting, slapping, abusing, than in any normal situation outside of war. However, in films and comics, rape is probably the only crime that has a presence far below reality.

Well, guess I'll develop a little more in future comments.

Just one last note to say that I do not very much take to the term "fake-rape" as it can mean a consensual simulation of rape, a sex role play game some couples do, the way brainless feminists refer to consensual sex after they’ve had a few drinks, etc... I much more prefer the term "fantasy rape", as it conveys both the non-real status of the rape, and the secret frisson everybody feels when confronting it on the screen or the printed page. And yes, I mean that: everybody - man and woman.



Gene Phillips said...

Hi Sherman,
I take your point about the different ways "fake-rape" might be received; in this context it really means only "fantasized rape."

I certainly agree that formulaic ideas can carry great expressive power thanks to superior execution. My biggest problem is that, though I can point to significant examples of such execution in pop fiction, like Howard and Mitchell, it's hard to find examples in the medium of comic books, where bad execution is the rule. But I'll keep working on the problem, so thanks for your input.