About Sex and Rape

couple-having-sexThere has been recently a lot of talk about sex and rape in fiction. Of course, sex and violence have forever been major hooks in movies and books. In Hollywood, violence is a key feature, but of course sex is much cheaper to stage and in other markets it has been used ad nauseam by so-called intellectuals exactly for the same type of reasoning Americans use violence: to appeal to our most basic inner selves. In recent times I have also heard a lot of speeches about what it seems to be the ‘fascination’ for rape themes – people complain about the use of rape as a theme to develop characters and ‘enrich’ stories. Do they have a point? Let me speak about it for a bit.

Sexual writing has been here for millennia. Not to speak of other artistic depictions of the subject. Sex is part of life, it rings with our inner beings and of course that means it will show up in art and fiction. We are all trying to encapsulate in one way or another the basic truth of the Human Drama, of the stories we all seem to be a part of. So sex must be present, of course. Obviously, there is a difference between the fictional depiction of sex or sexual encounters and pornography. I’ll try to differentiate one for the other, let me know if you agree: pornography depicts sex to sexually arouse and entrance the reader; erotica or fictional depiction of sex, on the other hand, describes life, and sex as a part of life. The first is showing sex, period. The second is showing life with sex as part of it. Can we tell a story without sexual content? Of course. But should we, for moral reasons? Of course not.  That’s simply not what we do. We writers don’t shy away from life just because it’s inconvenient or morally ambiguous, or difficult to face. So, if it makes sense, sex should be there. With as much or as little detail as it makes sense.

Irreversível-Cannes-Veneza-600x338How about rape? Rape is not exactly sex, in the sense that, as many criminologists would tell you, rapes are more about power and violence. I don’t know if you ever watched Gaspar Noé’s movie IRREVERSIBLE. I remember watching it at a movie theatre and witnessing the incredibly graphic scene of Monica Bellucci’s rape. Bellucci is one of my sexual icons – I think she’s basically gorgeous. But I remember watching her get raped by a criminal in that manner was the single least sexual arousing scene I ever watched. If you ever had an illusion that rape has to do with sex, I dare you to watch that movie. Rape is about power and about violence. And it’s horrific.

Of course, Freud would tell you something a bit different and I would tend to agree with him: all power cravings and violence have to do with sex. There’s something inherently connected within these concepts. Think of Stalag Fiction, for instance. In the 1950s and ’60s, in Israel, with the ghosts of the Holocaust still hanging over everyone’s heads, a series of very popular pornographic and/or erotic novels were published depicting sexual happenings, usually between Nazi captors and Allied or Jew captives in or around Concentration Camps. It was forbidden very quickly, but it is obvious that these sexual fantasies were coming from the very ghosts the whole society was trying to overcome. That disgusting violence invaded sexuality and fantasy. But that, one could argue, was also a way to exorcise it – to expel the demons from the deepest corners of the mind.

stalag-israel-4

So should we write about rape? Should we write graphic sexual, violent and despicable acts? I think there are two things to take into account here. First, gratuitous sexual and violent contents are simply bad writing, in my view. We are telling a story, we should respect our characters – having graphic scenes to shock or arouse makes you nothing but a pornographer. I’ve written rape scenes, and if you are minimally empathetic with your characters (and you should be), then you’ll find they are no fun to write. Still, I wrote them because they conveyed something to the audience: what the environment was about or what molded the character’s story. There should always be a point to what the characters suffer – scenes I wrote were never there just because ‘they were cool’. And in one way or another, I had to deal with the weight of the scenes and what that did to the story – and that was the point, actually. And remember: rape is a real phenomenon. It happens, maybe even more than we think. And worst of all in times of war, when it’s weaponized and tolerated. So how can we ignore it if it happens? Should we pretend it’s painless, as in the mainstream movies of the past? That’s much worse than actually depicting it.

Secondly, censorship has no place in fiction. We should not chastise fictional writings just because they are uncomfortable or even morally reprehensible. If you don’t like it as a reader, put the book aside or give it a bad review or bad mouth it to your friends. Pure censorship is the resource of the weak and the ignorant. Fiction’s role is one of disruption, experimentation, learning, feeling and thinking. It’s a way to expand your mind and only dictators, totalitarianists and Nazis believe societies will be better off by censoring.  Creativity is the exercise of Freedom.

Mulholland dr. (14) (Lynch)

And that’s pretty much what I had to say for today, fellow knights. Keep moving forward. See you around the next campfire.

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