The other night I watched a really bad movie — I forgot the name — but it involved caves and scuba diving and my self-inflicted choices were that or “Love Actually.” When the first two characters died —a woman and the only ethnic person— I almost stopped the movie. Have we learned nothing since the 80s? Or, at least, since T-Dog died in Season 3 of “The Walking Dead”? Then the only other female character died a death so gnarly I had to fast forward. But she was a stuck-up bitch who refused to wear a wet suit, so she deserved it…right? I finished the movie (underwater caves!), but I couldn’t sleep that night and later had flashbacks to that scene the next day.
A few days later I read Rebecca Solnit’s piece about books women should not read, and after getting my mind blown, decided to trust my instincts about the media and art I consume. The imprints left on my psyche of seeing women tortured, killed, mutilated, raped or denigrated verbally or otherwise in every multitude of imaginative ways as conceived by mostly male writers who may or may not — probably, mostly not — respect women, have to be just at least as bad for me as gluten.
The effects of violent imagery towards women on my brain does not go away in a day or two. Twenty years ago I went to see Cape Fear with my friends and to this day, the scene where Robert Deniro bites Ileana Douglas causes me to experience a PTSD wince. In fact, every time I see her, I think about the scene and worry about her happiness. Has she had an OK life? Was she abused in her relationships? She did marry Martin Scorsese.
Here’s a short and incomplete list of scenes from movies and TV shows that continue to traumatize me.
1) Cape Fear (yes, it’s worth mentioning again) – Scene: When Robert DeNiro bites Ileana Douglas cheek off. I can not imagine what that scene provided to the story, let alone the world, except to disturb me. Teri Gross discusses this scene in a recent interview with Ileana Douglas.
2) The Sopranos – Scene: Silvio murders Andrea. Tony tells Andrea that Silvio will take her somewhere safe. For a moment Andrea imagines driving away alone. Run Andrea! Run! Alas, she ignores her instincts and gets whacked by the cheeziest thug on “The Sopranos.” I have fantasies of her life as a fugitive and late at night I sometimes wonder what the world would be if Andrea had lived. [Note: Special mention to the scene when Dr. Melfi gets raped in Season 1)
3) House of Cards – Scene: Doug Stamper, Chief of Staff to POTUS and murderer, kills Rachel, former prostitute. For a moment, he lets her go, but then changes his mind and murders her, even though he has a limp. Again, why could she not have run off into the desert, hidden and lived….?
4) The Following – Scene: Almost every one. I hated this show with a passion I could spend on more productive experiences.
5) True Detective – Scene: When Matt McConaughey discovers the first female victim. I don’t know how many others he discovered because I stopped watching the show. (If I want to see hot actors take themselves too seriously, I’ll just go back to my Meisner acting class.) More nightmares…
6) The Fall – Scene: Sociopath/doting husband and father ritualistically murders young woman. Apparently, if a show features a strong female lead, it gives it license to depict new levels of gruesome deaths for multiple young women.
7) Fargo – Scene: Martin Freeman’s murder of his wife. Same note as “The Fall.” Also, this show gets credit for attempting to rewrite the feminist triumph of a [SPOILER ALERT] pregnant Frances McDormand single-handedly capturing the killer by giving that credit to Solverson’s husband.
The list goes on. (I have not watched Dexter, much of SVU, or ). I don’t know when I became so desensitized to gruesome images of violence against women. Did I decide at some point that it’s cool to watch this shit? I used to carry a feminist crowbar with me whenever I watched or read anything, ready to pull out the entrails of misogyny. I’m proud of my 19-20 year old self for having the capacity to think that Nabokov set back child victims’ rights a few centuries, Hemingway might have been less vapid with a positive male role model, Jack Kerouac needed to get a real job, and Ulysses by James Joyce (which I was assigned a three times), exists for insecure lit majors needing reasons to feel superior. I’m not anti-man writing. Fitzgerald, Shakespeare and Tennessy Williams remain the gold standard. But I also include Zora Neale Hurston up there right next to them. Who is Zora Neale Hurston? EXACTLY.
I’d love to watch detective shows and hate-watch the parts I don’t like and go and live my life like a normal person (i.e., white male), but these shows don’t exist in a vacuum. They either mirror, inspire or re-calibrate the status quo which consists of at least one woman in every three being beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. I don’t know how many women are murdered on standard TV a night, but, six women are murdered each day in Mexico. Is there a connection? I’m going to skip the sarcasm and just say that as women we live in a cultural milieu of blood, knives and fear.
I have no answers. I have an addiction to serial episodic TV. Sure, I can stay away from detective crime shows starring Kevin Bacon, but am I seriously NOT going to watch the next season of House of Cards?
What shows traumatize you?