Content warning: This post discusses rape and violence against women, and contains spoilers for Mad Max: Fury Road and Game Of Thrones S05E06.
Why yes, this is the second post in a week about what Mad Max: Fury Road is doing right, so right. Or, at least, more right that a hell of a lot of the shite that’s on our screens these days.
Readers of this blog will likely be aware that the most recent episode of Game of Thrones, “Unbroken, Unbowed, Unbent”, featured a rape scene which was not in the books and seemed to serve little purpose (although I’d argue it did serve a function, and a fucking horrid one at that). Defenders of the scene, and defenders of the show’s attitude towards rape in general tend to follow a similar line. “But it’s accurate that in a medieval setting, women would get raped!” “Would you rather they just ignored the issue?”
First of all, the historical accuracy argument is fucking bullshit in a show where dragons and zombies gad about doing dragon and zombie stuff, the climate produces seasons that last for decades, and everybody has a full smile of straight white teeth. Let’s see it instead for what it is: a fantasy setting where, along with all of the above things which didn’t really happen in medieval Europe, it’s also a dystopian world where women are treated as chattel and therefore rape and violence against women is commonplace. Here, the “would you rather they just ignored the issue” argument has slightly more traction.
The thing is, if that is indeed a conscious part of the world that has been built and is being explored in the show, the writers and producers are still doing a fucking terrible job of pulling it off. If they want to explore these issues and show this horrible world they’ve created, they can look to Fury Road to see how it’s done.
Fury Road takes a look at violence against women in a dystopian world, and it does this without a single rape scene–hell, there’s probably only a few seconds of screen time dedicated to showing any violence against women. Instead, they explore it through competent writing, realising that we do not need to be shown these things to appreciate that they are bad and that they are a very real problem for the victims. Instead of being shown women being victimised, we are shown the impact it has on them, their desire to get away. We see instead their feelings, scrawled in paint across the room in which they were kept. We see them angry, we see them sad. We see its perpetrator, and we despise him without having to have every little detail of his violence rubbed in our faces.
It is entirely possible to address and discuss these issues on screen without subjecting the audience to the horrors. In fact, it’s easy to write a blow-by-blow rape scene. It is perhaps more challenging, but infinitely more rewarding for the audience to use some fucking subtlety and actually delve into what this means rather than what happened. Fury Road went to the length of employing a feminist to consult on the handling of violence against women, and it shows, because what emerged was a far better and more nuanced exploration of a world rife with gendered violence than much else.
We live in a ridiculous world full of dreadful writing if I have to call a fucking Mad Max film subtle and nuanced.