Rape no laughing matter - except on TV

Thursday, May 28, 2015
Christopher Gildemeister, Ph. D. - Guest Columnist

It's beyond sad that the love of rape and other sexual depravity that dominates Hollywood today has become an object of humor and so-called "entertainment" on the airwaves.

Most Americans would agree that rape is not a laughing matter – but those in the entertainment industry feel differently. In the last week, there have been several examples of violent sexual assault of women and children on TV – and the networks have done nothing to stop it.

During his opening monologue on the May 16th episode of NBC's long-running late-night comedy show Saturday Night Live, comedian Louis C.K. (best known for his series Louie on the FX basic cable network) remarked:

"In the '70s, there was a child molester who lived in my hometown, and it wasn't a big deal. It wasn't like, 'Hey, we caught a child molester!' It was like, 'Yeah, that's the house where the child molester lives. Hey kids, don't be stupid or you'll get molested. Stay away from the child molester's house, or you'll get molested I know, 'cuz he did something to me when I was your age … He liked teenage boys. That's when you found out. He didn't like me. I felt a little bad… Child molesters are very tenacious people. They love molesting childs. It's crazy. It's like their favorite thing! It's so crazy, because when you consider the risk in being a child molester … there is no worse life available to a human than being a caught child molester. And yet they still do it. Which from – you can only really surmise – that it must be really good. From their point of view, it must be amazing, for them to risk so much."

Louis finished his routine by comparing molesting children to eating his favorite candy bar: "They do taste delicious, but they don't taste as good as a young boy does."

Most press coverage noted the monologue's offensive content in passing; but ultimately, the industry applauded Louis for being "refreshing and ballsy" and "pushing boundaries," rather than castigating him for using child rape as a subject for humor.

But the SNL monologue was just the beginning. On the Monday, May 18th season premiere of ABC's The Bachelorette, contestant Ryan M. got drunk and sexually harassed Bachelorette Kaitlyn by slapping her rear. When another contestant called Ryan on his behavior, he replied, "Why am I not raping you right now? That's my whole thing." This horrific declaration would be sufficient to get Ryan fired from any workplace; yet, as TIME magazine notes, "the cameras just rolled and a producer in an editing booth somewhere decided to leave that clip in."

Finally, the Sunday, May 17th episode of HBO's Game of Thrones featured a graphic rape scene between two characters. Given HBO's and the series' cachet as a "quality cable drama," what happens on Game of Thrones influences other writers in Hollywood – and therefore, what happens in the rest of popular culture.

So disturbing was Game of Thrones that Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) tweeted that she was "done with" the program, adding: "Gratuitous rape scene disgusting and unacceptable." The New York Times further noted that various media sources have decided to stop covering the program, due to its graphic and repeated use of rape and incest as plot devices, with one outlet calling Game of Thrones "gross, exploitative, and totally out of ideas."

In a powerful essay in The Blaze, writer Matt Walsh challenged the love of rape and other depravity which dominates Hollywood today:

It's easy to tell a story where the characters are horrible and horrible things happen and people have sex and then everyone dies. It's cheap. It's juvenile. Yes, horrible things are a part of life, but so are redemption and goodness. A more enthralling, exciting, fascinating part, in fact.

TV shows and movies offer a relentlessly nihilistic view of the world because the people producing them lack the intelligence to go deeper, say something profound, and make virtue interesting. So they compensate by populating their scripts with sociopaths and deviants, hoping we'll confuse "grim and filthy" with "bold and smart."

It is sadly ironic that, while senators and critics and top organs of journalism condemn Game of Thrones – an adult program rated TV-MA and airing on a premium cable network which adults have to specifically request, and pay an extra fee to receive – no one says a word when Family Guy, a cartoon rated TV-14 that airs on the publicly owned airwaves in prime time and is watched by hundreds of thousands of children, uses rape and child molestation as a subject of humor, thus desensitizing the most innocent and vulnerable members of the viewing audience.

Today's media mania for rape is the legacy of programs like Family Guy. So commonplace has joking about rape become in the entertainment world today that an entire news article was devoted to the fact that CBS' Late Late Show host James Corden actually said it's okay to be offended at the thought of children being raped.

We are now at the point that those who work in the entertainment industry consider being offended by rape more of a stigma than showing, discussing, or turning rape into a joke. And these same people influence the thoughts and attitudes of millions of others, including children, by the entertainment they write or produce.

At a time when 76 colleges and universities are under federal investigation for not doing enough to protect victims of sexual violence on campus and nearly one in three women in America is sexually abused, it is long past time for the entertainment industry to take responsibility for what it chooses to put on America's airwaves in the guise of "entertainment."

Christopher Gildemeister, Ph.D., is senior writer/editor at the Parents Television Council, a nonpartisan education organization advocating responsible entertainment.

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