On Gratuitous Rape
This is not a happy-go-lucky post. If this subject matter disturbs you, I suggest reading something else, or perhaps waiting a few days–I plan to blog more frequently in the future.
The taste of the modern public has been, as of late, for dark and “gritty” fiction. Whether or not said fiction actually is is a subject for someone else’s post, but consider: The Hunger Games. Game of Thrones. The Malazan Book of the Fallen. The Witcher. Actually, I could rattle off a whole list of popular, dark, fiction, and invariably most of them are going to contain rape.
It is every artist’s responsibility to choose what goes in his work. It is every artist’s right to decide the same thing. If an author does not wish to include rape–such is his right, and none other can argue that he is doing it wrong. A post on the subject of pen-and-paper I read long ago, now lost to the sands of the Internet, noted that there is no such thing as a “must-rape” situation. It is always possible for the GM, or for the author of the fantasy novel, to find a legitimate reason why a female captive is not molested by the barbarian tribe. Is it “unrealistic?” Perhaps, but we do not complain about the existence of the barbarian tribe in the first place, or dragons, or wizards, or knights who can shoot laser beams out of their swords. An author always can find a way out. Always.
No, what I am going to rail against is a well-meaning complaint, that is indeed valid when phrased correctly, that nonetheless has dire consequences if taken to its logical conclusion. That is, namely, that a given rape in the story is gratuitous.
Let me be clear. I have no tolerance for explicit sex scenes, let alone explicit rape scenes. This is not the cry of a pervert deprived of depravity–who gives a damn what they want? No, my complaint with this objection is what it implies.
If, we say for the sake of argument, there is such a thing as gratuitous rape, it implies that this is a subcategory of rape, leaving… non-gratuitous rape? Important rape? Meaningful rape? Necessary rape?
The truth is–the truth of the actual reality we live in–is that there is no such thing as necessary rape. There is no situation where rape is appropriate, or fills out our story arcs, or is necessary to set up a plot twist. All rape is gratuitous, cruelty for the sake of pleasure and power. By saying an author should only include rape when it is necessary for the plot implies that the plot relies on rape to begin with. That is sick. That concept is far more stomach-turning than some twisted fantasy.
The correct complain is whether a rape scene is exploitative–is it in there because the author wanted to gratify his cruel desires, or because… Well, what valid reason is there to put in rape to begin with? Truth be told, only because it fits the story. Maybe the barbarian tribe does rape the female captive, because that’s simply what they do. It is not necessary to the plot, but it is a detail the author saw fit to include.
Yet again, we see we are dividing rape scenes into “good” and “bad”, which is an unsettling concept to begin with. And yet, to make a specific example, Mirai Nikki is loaded with rape, and I can’t say it’s exploitative. (Another may disagree–I am speaking of my own thoughts on it here) The protagonists are broken, fallen people, who strive after godhood yet know they themselves are no gods. They fight and they kill and they rape–yet without the rape scenes, the taboos that would preside over such a fatal battle royale would make it too clean, too clinical. The Hunger Games has teenage boys gain power over teenage girls, but they kill, and do not make an ugly scene about it. Mirai Nikki shows that there is no taboo that would not be broken for power, no law too sacred to overthrow in search of becoming omnipotent.
And yet–and yet still I am unsettled, because Mirai Nikki toes the line between fanservice and horror. It glories in its bared breasts, its lopped-off limbs and the loss of eyes and hands. Is that really what they should have done? Was it artistic nudity, or simply softcore porn under a different name? I don’t know. And that disturbs me.
The City and the Dungeon is a world like our own, and so there is murder, kidnapping, and yes, rape. I have no intention of writing a rape scene of any kind for a book in the series–I, the author, so decree it. But it is the lightest thing I have written. Other stories–which you will be seeing, God willing, after C&D2, are not so much darker, but simply that the darkness is more open. I won’t say what is and isn’t coming. But I will say that the concept of rape in art is not a simple division between “gratuitous” and “necessary.”
I have always been inspired by the story of Fredrick Douglass, a slave who escaped slavery to become a renowned orator and author. His is not the story of a man who was second-rate, shooed into the spotlight only for his relative accomplishments compared to his past. What use would that be? No, he was not merely any random speaker, but Fredrick Douglass, a name that survives to this day in history books, no matter how often it is skimmed over.
A shameless plug for someone else.
I have seen, and admittedly indulged in that fan activity I will call the Fact Checking Game. It goes like this: First, you take some work of fiction, particularly a popular one, and you find some fascinating idea or claim it has. Then you deconstruct it with real world logic, checking all the facts and invariably coming up with an unrealistic or at least implausible conclusion. At this point, bemoaning that the creator did not think of this may commence. As a sequel, you can find some plausible counterpoint, and argue with the proponents of the former conclusion until the cows come home.
This is not, in itself, a bad thing.