[CONTENT NOTE: Contains references to rape, and discussion of depictions of sexual and physical abuse that may be distressing.]
It should have surprised nobody that reactions to the debut of Gaylene Preston's Christchurch quake drama Hope and Wire (Three, Thursdays, 8.30) were polarized to put it mildly -- including here on Public Address. But what really did surprise me, and shouldn't have for a moment, was this passage in Christchurch Press writer Vicki Anderson's strongly negative Hope and Wire like punch to the stomach:
Later I showed the first episode of Hope and Wire to a colleague for his reaction.
"It's like they are raping the city," he said. "And what shocking acting. I'm off home now, I'll wade through old-school stereotypes and several skirmishes with skinheads to get there."
I'll save everyone a lot of time and say this up front. I'm writing this in suburban Auckland. And inevitably, I'm watching Hope and Wire at a distance - in every conceivable sense - it would it be downright arseholy to expect Anderson, her colleages at The Press who lost a co-worker in their now demolished headquarters, or anyone else in Christchurch to share. But I really wasn't overly impressed and Tweeted accordingly:
The point where I turned off was when Stereotypical Racist Skinhead punched Equally Stereotypical Goth Girlfriend in the stomach. And judging from the promos for next week, she's not the first woman he's going to assault.
And that's probably going to be the point where I turn off for good, for one very simple reason. I don't know about the Christchurch quakes and their seemingly endless aftermath. I can't answer the question whether Hope and Wire is "too soon", "too much", "not enough" or a half-boiled curate's egg. (Philip Matthews long and thoughtful review is all the more impressive for not even trying to.)
But I know exactly what being raped is like. Over twenty five years ago, while at boarding school, I was anally raped with an object by a pack of thugs who thought it would be cool to humiliate the faggot. I wiped the blood off my arse, hid (and later burned) my stained pants and kept my damn mouth shut for two decades. Because I knew I wouldn’t be believed. Because I knew the verbal and physical bullying would just get worse; and that there would be people absolutely convinced that if I wasn’t a mentally unstable and malicious liar that I must have done something to deserve it. Like actually being gay — and we all know what those people are like, right?
It still affects my life, every relationship and action. And Anderson's "colleague" can take it from me that it's abso-fraking-loutely nothing like any of the many television shows I've found infinitely less palatable than Hope and Wire.
But the fine editors at The Press and Stuff website who published Anderson's column shouldn't take my word for it. Ask anyone at Christchurch's only rape crisis center -- but they can't because it closed the same day the review was published and the media was far too busy sniggering over David Cunliffe's manpology... without troubling themselves with the rest of a speech that rather admirably spoke some much needed truth to Kiwi rape culture.
If Anderson wants to continue as a television critic, perhaps she'd like to start exploring why rape is so pervasive on popular and/or critically acclaimed shows. Like Scandal and House of Cards for two. Downton Abbey and Breaking Bad for two more. Mad Men and every damn season of American Horror Story. Even Game of Thrones (whose pilot kicked off with a violent wedding night rape and steadily went downhill from there) finally hit it's very special low -- though (Gods be praised!) plenty of men were on hand to explain how it wasn't really rape. If you couldn't afford to subscribe to Soho, Prime is currently playing season three and next week has the charming episode where three different female characters are subjected to graphic threats of rape and murder in consecutive scenes.
That would be a more useful exercise than comparing one of the highest profile women in New Zealand's film industry to a rapist.
And it might be a good start to an honest self-examination of Because that's how rape culture works, and I'm over it. It's dying a little bit more when television shows women constantly subjected to relentless threats of sexual and physical violence. It's feeling a surge of impotent rage when the Willie Jacksons, John Tamiheres and Bob Joneses of the media are more interested in slut-shaming victims rather than holding rapists to account for their crimes. And it's when people who should know better -- like everyone at a major metropolitan newspaper -- trivialise human suffering by using "rape" as a rhetorical flourish.
A few paragraphs on, Anderson writes: "I also felt fiercely protective of how my city and my fellow residents had been portrayed. After all, we're in this together, right?" I don't presume to speak for all abuse survivors, in Christchurch or anywhere else. But yet again, I don't feel the media is anywhere near us. And that has to stop.
[Comments on this post
won't be open are open, but I'm mostly off-line until Wednesday afternoon. Everyone please be mindful that Public Address is a safe space for everyone - including women and abuse victims.]