Rape in the Media; Is There a Limit?

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Unless you’re living under a rock you’ve probably heard of the television series The Walking Dead, what you may not know is that the TV series is based off of a well-established graphic novel series of the same name. 108 issues deep, the series has tackled a lot of issues in a post zombie apocalypse world and if you’re a fan of the show you know that when times get tough in TWD world, they also get ugly and gruesome. The comic books are able to tackle headier issues than the TV series is able to on cable, and because of that I think the story line has changed a bit in the TV series to avoid having to portray extreme acts in a cable friendly manner (for example the reason why Michonne hates the Governor is WAY different in the comics, and much more intense). There is also a video game based off the comic book series (we’ve talked about it a lot on the podcast) that places the player in the middle of difficult decisions that can mean life or death for anyone involved, but it also lacks the same level of extreme acts that the comic book series presents.

One thing that you’ll encounter in the comic book series a surprising amount of times is rape. I won’t give specific examples so as to not spoil it before you read the comics, but I have often times been caught off guard by the presentation and treatment of the act. One of the biggest draws of the comic series for me is the artwork, there are times when I have to sit back and admire sets of pages just because of how well conveyed emotion/character is conveyed. A side effect of that is that when there are intense moments, such as a rape scene, they are conveyed so well that it is difficult to stomach. There are even moments when the outright violence sends shivers down my spine, like a very specific scene in volume #17 (if you’ve been reading along).  

What I wonder as I read these is why these moments that are not cut out for television and not present in the video games (so far) are okay without some sort of warning for the graphic novels. I understand that no one is forcing people to read the series and anyone who does read them made the choice knowing what kind of things take place in the TV series or really in any kind of media about zombies. What concerns me is that the ever-growing popularity of the TV series has probably led a lot of unsuspecting people to read the comics; people who have been raped or brutally beaten. There is nothing to warn them that they are diving into a series that readily deals with these topics, no trigger warning whatsoever.

Which leads me to think about other comic book series I’m currently reading that present rape and extreme violence on the regular, do they offer any sort of trigger warning? Is this a trend in graphic novels/comic books that rape is a common theme throughout? The Gears of War video game franchise deals with a lot of heavy topics, such as the doom of mankind and the deaths of loved ones, but it never tackled rape. The Gears of War comic book series, on the other hand, spends almost all of Book 2 discussing how women were sent to “birthing farms” in order to repopulate the Earth. It is not a pretty subject and the women were not being artificially inseminated, but instead were put in rooms with soldiers who needed to “let off steam” after rough tours of duty.

I acknowledge the fact that these graphic novels/comics deal with worlds that are heavily laden with dark themes, but does dark necessitate gratuitous scenes of rape? I would obviously argue that no, it does not but I am sure a lot of people will argue that because they are presented as dark and not condoned, that they are being dealt with in an acceptable manner. Sorry, but these in-your-face rape scenes are not “acceptable.” Examples of what I think are gratuitous scenes? There are multiple ones from many different medias, but a few that come to mind (with the help of Sam!) are:

  • The rape scene in the movie The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • When a prostitute is raped and murdered in the streets in the video game Red Dead Redemption
  • The cut scenes in Dragon’s Crown when the female character is bound and the player is able to “poke” around
  • Without giving spoilers, the aforementioned scenarios in Gears of War and The Walking Dead graphic novels (if you’ve read either you know exactly what I am talking about)

And trust me, there are plenty more movie scenes, video game experiences, and graphic novel presentations of gratuitous rape.

I want to get one thing straight; I am not trying to say that rape should never be presented in any form. Obviously it is a very difficult topic to deal with and one that people feel needs to be brought to attention, instead of pushed under thru g and forgotten about. But in order to achieve this we do not need to include unnecessarily graphic and vivid rape depictions. Insinuation of rape gets the message across just as clearly as someone having to witness a character being raped. The gratuitous scenes serve no purpose other than to put graphic images in the media it is being presented in.

I’m curious to know what you guys think about this, are you just as offended by insinuated rape as the graphic scenes? Do you think there is a way that rape can be treated so that it does not come off as harshly for those who have experienced rape? Do you think rape should be removed from media all together?

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3 Responses to “Rape in the Media; Is There a Limit?”

  1. Alexander B. says:

    I don’t think there’s any need for it to be so graphic, like you said insinuation of rape gets the message across just as clearly. I had to stop watching The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo because of it. Definitely think there should be warnings on anything contains scenes or references of rape. I don’t think it should be removed but handled with greater care.

  2. Alisha K. says:

    I think this is a tough one, because you’re talking about a post-apocalyptic world and I think part of the experience is that, as a reader, you should feel exactly the way you describe. There are horrifying things (though the instance I know you’re referencing is almost certainly the worst) throughout the series. NO ONE is safe, everyone suffers, and there have been a lot of moments that have shaken me to my core. But, as you say, I knew this going in. I chose it.

    I find the graphic novels good but flawed (far superior to the show), but for me, what redeems these scenes is not only that they are realistic, but that they do affect the survivors. Maybe they should be affected more (there is one horrifying event, for me, that didn’t have the sort of impact I felt it deserved, and that’s where I almost stopped reading), but while the characters are hardened and callous, these things do affect them, and they affect us, as the readers. I find it much more disturbing when people just bounce back from horrifying things in media and then act like nothing every happened. Here, at least, we know they’re suffering, and that they’re desperate, and that they are on the razor’s edge.

    • Nicole Marie says:

      I definitely agree, I think the biggest issue I take with the comics though is that one character in particular isn’t as affected as I feel I would be if I had gone through what she has. This is tough to discuss without spoiling anything, haha.

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