Written by Chuck Wending for Terrible Minds. Published in May, 2015.
“Some folks will say — okay, there are topics and subjects you can’t write about. Which is nonsense, obviously. Everything is the domain of fiction. Nothing is forbidden, everything is permitted. It must be, for fiction to maintain its teeth. Fiction only has meaning when everything is permissable. Rape and sexual assault is one such topic — some will say it’s off the table. Which again: it can’t be off the table. That’s a very good way to ensure silence around the subject, isn’t it? Saying you can’t speak about it in fiction is adjacent to saying you can’t speak about it for real, which is already a problem that doesn’t need worsening by made-up rules of fiction.
So, take that subject, and filter it through the lens of Game of Thrones and then Mad Max.
Both use sexual assault in the storyworlds.
In Mad Max, you can’t accept women as “things” or livestock without then making the leap to say, mmmyeah, it’s probably not by choice. Okay? They didn’t sign up for it. That’s frankly the whole point of the movie, isn’t it? (Again, see the art above quoting the movie: WE ARE NOT THINGS.) If you leave Fury Road and look back upon the series, you see a few powerful women here and there (Aunty Entity, and, erm, that one lady with the crossbow?), and you also would get to see an on-screen rape scene in The Road Warrior – one viewed through spyglass at a distance, but it’s very clear what’s going on. The confirmation of women as object is shown when one of the women in Fury Road is cut open so that the child inside her can be seen, even though it may not be alive.
In GoT, rape is part of the fabric of life. It’s woven right in there. It’s almost background noise — I’m pretty sure if you turn on the show and zoom in, it’s like Where’s Waldo or trying to find Carmen Sandiego. There’s maybe always a rape happening on-screen somewhere, at some point? “Did you find the rape happening in every episode?” (It’d be like a really super-gross party game.) Characters talk about rape. They do it and exposit scenes while they do it. They accept it and expect it. Folks will say this is based on medieval history, though really, it’s based more on medieval myth, and of course, once you throw dragons and active godly magic into the mix you pretty much signal that you don’t have to base your fantasy (key word: fantasy) story on anything, really. (But “it’s based on history!” is always a good crutch for lazy storytelling, so whenever an editor or critic challenges you, don’t forget to say loud and say it proud.)
So, two very popular storyworlds.
Two portrayals of a world where women hold dubious power and are seen as “things.”
One of these is roundly criticized for it.
One of them is roundly celebrated for it.
Game of Thrones catches hell for its portrayal of women and this subject.
Mad Max is wreathed in a garland of bike chains and hubcabs for it.
What, then, is the difference?
Let’s try to suss it out.
In Game of Thrones:
– rapes often happen on-screen-ish
– they happen semi-often
– they happen to POV characters (Dany, Cersei, and now, Sansa Stark — given that there are six total assumed major female POV characters in the series, that means 50% of them have undergone active sexual assault on-screen)
– twice the rapist is a character we like (Drogo, Jamie)
– often used to motivate characters or sub in as character development
– seemingly meant to shock, often male-gazey
– history of it in the show
In Mad Max: Fury Road:
– the assault is implicit, not explicit, happens way off-screen
– not a focal point, per se, of character development
– though does provide seeds in the bed for character development — meaning, the event is hidden so that we don’t see it, but what grows up out of the dirt still suggests that it happened
– not much history of it — but again, Road Warrior has an explicit instance?
– we are never on the side of the rapist
– not male gazey because not on-screen and because of female POV (Furiosa)
I don’t know that this tells us enough yet, so let’s unpack it some more.
Head over to Terrible Minds to read the rest of the unpacking and more on the many differences between Mad Max and Game of Thrones!