Rape scenes are lazy

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Que the defenders in 5…4…3…2…

I’m really hoping the rape alluded to in this season of true detective is only alluded to rather than shown…

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I have slowly stopped watching teevee cop shows as their writing gets lazier. Most recently I gave up on Law & Order: SVU. Every week, sometimes arcing over three weeks, a nice lady gets raped; or raped and murdered; or raped, tortured, and then murdered, and it got old. Borrowing plot-lines from current events, and forcing the show’s main characters to act around a crime that likely occurred in a small town in the Midwest as though it went down a few blocks from the New York Precinct Station made for many silly stories. Watching the intrepid sergeant and her fellow cops chewing the scenery made me finally decide to steal back an hour of my life.


This, minutes after I just read:

Nude rape scene booed by Royal Opera House audience


“This is just lazy writing/directing” was pretty much my first thought after seeing the Sansa/Ramsy episode of GoT.

It’s like how really effective horror/scare films actually don’t show much (e.g. The Orphanage, Alien), but they allude to it. They don’t show you the horror, not just because they don’t have to, but actually showing you would be less scary/horrifying than skillfully alluding to it, and showing you the aftermath.

The sacrifice of Stannis’ daughter is a great example (although weird that it was smack in the middle of the episode). We didn’t need to actually see her burn, we heard her cries and saw the reactions on the faces of the people (and her parents) watching. That was, counterintuitively far more effective than simply showing it happen would have been. It was a much better directed/written section.

The Sansa/Ramsy episode was way less shocking/upsetting than it should have been for me, precisely because they showed it happen. Somehow showing that just robbed it of its power.

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Is that right? I’ve not seen the episode, but the reviews I read suggested it was only heard rather than seen, with the camera on Theon’s tortured face as he unwillingly and impotently witnessed it.

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It’s not a “how to do rape scenes” article

That’s an interesting thought. What are the best cinematic ways to do a rape scene?

I also have a lot of cinema irritations. I don’t like Jack Bauer getting critical information by torture, having loud explosions in space, or having the hero outrun an explosion. I think those are all lazy devices too.

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Well they don’t show the whole thing, but there’s definitely rape going on onscreen, at least as far as I can remember. There is a bit of Theons face, but that’s about it. It’s definitely not as graphic as the Denarys/Drogo scene from the first season.

You’ll have to watch Irreversible by Gaspar Noe to get the answer.

Sansa starts undoing the cuffs of her dress, Ramsay orders Reek to watch, Ramsay rips open the back of her dress, cut to Sansa bending down from the perspective of her face, her face rocks a couple times, rest of it is on Reek’s reaction.

This reminds me of something I was reading not too long ago about a group scoring TV shows for depictions of veterans. What they were looking for? Shows where somebody happened to be in the military once. Shows that got lower scores were shows that felt that they had to shoehorn in some formulaic painful past from their time in the military. It’s not that veterans don’t experience PTSD, but after a while, in show after show: It’s Meaningless Plot Device #3,563.

It’s the same thing with rape onscreen. It’s a gimmick, and has the overall appeal and sensibility of those Very Special Episodes of sitcoms we watched growing up. Is there a way to depict rape accurately and interestingly? Eh. Your mileage may vary, but I find that I have yet to come across something like that, and my sense is that it would take more than a screenwriter going, “Hey, let’s throw a rape in there. It’s what everyone is talking about these days.”


Maybe Dr. Melfi’s rape scene in “The Sopranos?” I’m not sure if that one was before it became an over-used plot device or if I just hadn’t seen any of the other examples yet.

Like PTSD, at some point rape went from “serious social issue no one wants to talk about” to “lazy plot device.” I’m just not sure when.

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I totally agree, and also feel the same way about dogs in movies and books. As soon as one shows up, you know it’s going to get killed or die in some way that’s supposed to make us feel bad. This is just lazy writing for writers who lack the creativity to elicit an emotional response from their viewers/readers by relying on this hack. Drives me crazy.

The best rape scene I’ve never seen conveyed the horror more completely than any of these lazy, graphic rape scenes, which in my opinion are also cheap titillations to rape culture apologists.

Shenandoah. Conveyed everything possible with that slow walk up the stairs, sword clanging, thumping up.

Can’t find a clip.

I think a huge part of it is that it almost always shows stranger rape, and it’s not what most women actually experience. I think people expect it to be that clear cut, who’s the bad guy, who’s the good guy. But sometimes it’s not clear at all. It leads to that, “It’s not rape rape,” thing.

Also, a lot of the rape scenes end up being motive for men to be heroes, instead of for women to grow or evolve. You see sometimes a strong woman become very beaten and gutted acting after these scenes. It neuters them.


You wonder what these people saw in their own heads instead of what was onscreen. This scene was restrained not just for a series noted for it’s explicit sex & violence, but for adult targeted film & TV in general. Broadcast TV has had far worse. And complaining about rape plots in SVU, a show about sex crime, seems bizarre. I watched it once, definitely not my cup of tea.

As for the plotline, this was not thrown in for yucks, it was the culmination of years of her story of being treated as a pawn and having her girlish romantic illusions shattered. She was betrothed to the mad prince who had her beaten and would have happily raped her on their wedding night, then married off to honorable Tyrion, who did not force himself on her, and being creepily manipulated by Little Finger who obviously would have liked to force himself on her but didn’t want to “spoil the merchandise”.

If you want to talk about lazy writing, start with time travel, evil twins, body snatchers & amnesia.

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Really, you think that’s the best cinematic way to do a rape scene?

I hated it. Nearly impossible to watch for anyone with a shred of empathy. It seemed to me like exploitative torture porn.

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Also notable, is John Scalzi’s “A Useful Moment From a Mentor” post, where he talks about why he has never included a rape scene in any of his work, and never will.


Thanks. His friend’s reaction is pretty much mine too. I wish more writers would ask themselves why, and whether it’s really worth subjecting viewers who still have at least a shred of empathy left to such scenes.