Oh dear, we've been here before...yet this time, I'm grossed out.
It has been a few days, and I still cannot get that image of Jason Stackhouse out of my mind.
I’m going to go on the record and say that Crystal’s rape of Jason was not only super icky but also downright disturbing. This man has been captured, stored in a freezer, tied to a disgusting bed, tortured (repeated panther bites sure qualifies), drugged (with Viagra, to facilitate the forced sex, ‘natch), and then raped while a crowd of female onlookers watch.
The worst part of that line of female onlookers is that I wondered if the show wants me to see all of them as in a queue to hop on board. Gross.
Jason Stackhouse is a rather clueless character. But he has heart, so even when he becomes super annoying, he always find a way to bring you back in. Often, his storylines are frustrating because you just wish he would open his eyes and stop talking to that super dangerous woman (with each season, just insert a different dangerous woman, and you have Jason’s storylines pretty much summed up). Yes, I have sometimes wanted to fast forward his scenes. Yes, his ripped bare chest has often been his primary redeeming feature.
But the character, even a horndog character likes this, does not deserve this story line.
Let’s think about all the ways this storyline can go really, really wrong. It will be something along these lines…
1) Someone assumes a man can’t be raped, particularly by a woman
2) Someone laughs at the notion that Jason would be upset to be raped by a hot woman
3) Someone notes that Jason has already slept with Crystal, so it can’t be rape
4) Someone suggests that within a love relationship, only assault (not rape) is possible
5) Someone comments that Jason is a slut, so he got what was coming to him (there are many variations on this theme—he should have known better than to hang out with a bunch of panthers, etc.)
6) Jason falls back in love with Crystal through this experience
I could probably go on, but let me tell you what all the above statements have in common. They are all vicious, vicious lies. And we tell them all the freakin’ time.
Perhaps part of the reason I am troubled is that we’ve been here before with True Blood. Tara, who is still the reigning champion of annoying characters (but don’t worry, Tara, there is such a long line of characters behind you vying for the title, I’m sure you can hand over the crown soon enough), but she, too, did not deserve to be raped, tortured, and manipulated by a psychotic supernatural.
Tara’s storyline was almost made too easy. Franklin Mott had zero redeeming value. He was a monster, and acted accordingly. The role of the rape in Tara’s storyline was to encourage her finally to stand up for herself. This is not an unknown trope with young female characters. In its more banal form, Marianne of Sense and Sensibility has to be brutalized (emotionally) in order to mature. Yet even there, the sense that a part of her character (the part that shines brightly) has to be forced out of her by pain and anguish disturbs me. You see, Marianne has to be broken to be ready for real love with a more appropriate partner.
Is rape a narrative trope? One that makes annoying characters more sympathetic/strong? Is it how we tame characters that reach too far beyond likeability or believability?
One other important point for the True Blood writers: rape is not sexy. If I ever see even the tiniest hint that Jason’s victimization by Crystal should arouse me, I’m going to be very angry. True Blood has a lot of investment in sexiness—just look at that poster with Sookie and the three men that vie for her heart. True Blood achieves sexiness in the most unexpected places—most often when characters stare longingly or the sexual tension becomes palpable. But quite frequently the sexiness is not achieved in the bedroom (or bathroom stall, whatev’)—that is just mechanics. Real sexiness happens in the moments that lead to the bedroom.
I may be exposing my gender here. I am not aroused (often) by explicit sexuality. But I am quite aroused by sexiness. As once discussed in a podcast available on this site, the gross use of nudity on Game of Thrones disappointed me less because I’m a prude and more because I like genuine sexiness.
But when rape is the center of the storyling, I want responsible writing. Rape is not a topic television has to avoid, per se (this was a question posed after the rape storyline on Private Practice played out during the last season of that show). However, how rape should be displayed, for what purpose, and to what extent is a very tricky issue, and the line between honest depiction of a human experience of violence and downright exploitation is very, very thin.
I’m not sure how True Blood plans ot handle this story with Jason. My fear derives in part from the fact that he’s male, making the depiction of male rape one that can educate or one that can resort to all the worst stereotypes about aggressive male sexuality. But I’m also afraid because Jason is the comedy relief. If he has become a victim of a violent crime, will the show be willing to portray his trauma without a snicker? Without Jason being unintentionally funny? Because again, there is nothing (may I repeat, NOTHING) funny about rape. Ever. I hope you know what you are doing with this storyline, True Blood.