Ob Scenus

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April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Child Abuse Awareness Month

A church member on social media asked if anyone watched Downton Abbey, as she was wondering if it was worth the time investment to get caught up on previous seasons. I commented that, although it is a very famous show, I have never watched Downton Abbey because I understood that one of its episodes contained a rape scene. Then, I realized that there are many television shows and movies I do not watch, or stopped watching, because they contain rape scenes.

Before watching a television show or going to see any movie, I check it out on the International Movie Database website. On the website, you can click the "View Content Advisory" link under the Parents Guide section to see how much profanity, violence, and gore are in any movie or television show.

I usually enjoy watching mysteries and thrillers, but, chose to forgo watching Bates Motel, because I read on imdb.com that it contained a 20-second rape scene. I turned off the pseudo-period drama Reign, three-quarters of the way into an episode, because of a rape scene (and, I will never watch any more episodes of Reign). The Cold War drama, The Americans, about Soviet spies living in America in the 1980’s, seemed like such an interesting show, since I remember that era. However, the pilot episode contained a rape scene, less than 15 minutes into it. I clicked it off and never looked back.

I do not say any of this to seem more spiritual or more holy than anyone else. However, my issue with portrayed rape scenes is this: I think rape scenes tend to objectify women and I think it is harmful to desensitize us to the horrors of rape. 

Therefore, I do not patronize movies or shows that trivialize something so repulsive.

Is rape appalling? Yes. 

Does rape happen? Yes.

Yet, I do not see how showing the actual act is essential to the moving along of a plot. Some of you might remember the 1991 movie The Prince of Tides, starring Nick Nolte and Barbra Streisand. That movie did not only depict rape, but also two acts of child rape. There are ways to illustrate the horror and the impact of rape in the storyline, without explicitly showing the rape. I cannot see how showing the actual rape (thrusting, screaming, etc.) is anything other than gratuitous and objectifying.

In ancient Greek theater, the word “obscene” or “ob scenus” was used for scenes that needed to happen "off scene" or "off stage", because certain acts were considered too graphic for the audience. Sounds like a good idea for many things!

I believe desensitizing people to the terror and trauma of rape does not help our culture at all.  There must be a better way to bring awareness of such a crime into our consciousness, without also feeding our sick human need to watch others suffer.

What are your thoughts on this?

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