Wednesday, April 1, 2009

King of the Dorks, Rapist No. 1, or: Have I Mentioned I Also Dislike Tarantino?

Oh! My goodness! So much talking about movies! I have been doing this all week, in case you haven't noticed, my main points being:

(1) When you only write women as bitches (bad), sluts (bad), or personality-free plot points who reward the hero with sex or love for zero reason (good), it kind of means that you have a problem with women having personalities or needs, which is misogynist.

(2) When you engage in the man-child construction, in which masculinity is written as inherently irresponsible and reversion to adolescence is either the idyllic fulfillment of masculinity or just man's natural state, this creates a dynamic in which women are either endlessly permissive caretakers or nagging shrews. It means all women are Mommies. This looks like a reversal of the old dynamic, in which women were infantilized and all men were Daddies, but it's not that simple: when Daddy lays down the law and tells you what to do, it's unambiguous, because Daddy is in charge. When women lay down the law, it's uncool: they're supposed to provide and support and love and serve, to provide all that shit that Daddy can't because he's too busy running the world, so when they impose authority, it's a betrayal and they're mean. This is very basic model-of-"ideal"-patriarchal-family-as-structure-for-justifying-sexism stuff, for which see every Women's Studies course ever. So the man-child thing still puts women in an essentially subservient position to men, but it re-writes the story for a historical moment in which women have more power, which makes them scary. (This was all in a post which I took down for reasons that - if you even care - you can read about in my tiresome meta-blogging statement below.) Point being: it is misogynist.

(3) Also, in today's post, we will learn that I basically think there is just about no reason ever to have a graphic rape or sexual assault scene in your movie. Can you guess why?

I am killing SO MUCH JOY this week, people. So, today, the one thing that always always always brings down the party, because: have I mentioned that I also really dislike Tarantino?

Now, I have not seen all of Tarantino's movies, because of this strange habit I have where I don't actively seek out things I dislike, but here's what I do know:
  • In Pulp Fiction, a black man who is the most powerful and feared person in the movie is raped by a couple of white dudes, which takes him down a peg. Oh, and then some other white dude TOTALLY KILLS THEM!
  • In Kill Bill, our heroine wakes up from a coma to hear two men discussing the fact that she has been raped hundreds or maybe thousands of times, in great itemizing-lists-of-things-one-might-do-whilst-raping-her detail, and also disclosing the fact that they are in fact planning to rape her again right now. Her reaction to this is to lie there long enough for the rapist to climb on top of her and start the rape. Oh, and then she TOTALLY KILLS THEM!
  • In Kill Bill, also, a prepubescent Asian girl "seduces" an adult man, and she's shown straddling him on a bed. Then she TOTALLY KILLS HIM!
  • In Kill Bill again, because there apparently wasn't enough implied rape of Asian children, a sexy under-the-age-of-consent Asian teen conducts a sexy under-the-age-of-consent seduction by talking to a dude about how she'd be such an awesome good under-the-age-of-consent fuck. In a surprise move, she then TOTALLY KILLS HIM!!!!
  • In Grindhouse, a man rapes a woman, at which point her lady friend sort of wanders away and lets it happen. I learned about this because Rosario Dawson, the lady who wanders, apparently objected so strongly to the idea that her character would be complicit in another woman's rape that she asked Tarantino to change the scene. He refused. If I had to guess, having never seen Grindhouse, I'd say he was merely using that inconvenient little rape detail to set up the fact that later, a dude is going to get TOTALLY KILLED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Now, I am not stupid, so I get the Tarantino thing: he's a fetishist, he obsesses about certain things and then he sort of puts all those things together and then a movie happens, so basically everything on screen is there because he thinks it's cool and there's no real grounding of the art in lived reality except that he's being meta and doing irony and there is commentary and did you know that he uses that one song that is from that other movie in that shot that is from some other movie also? COOL. The making-movies-about-movies thing has always seemed like a King of the Dorks move to me, the approach of someone who basically fears people or finds them uninteresting, hence the urge to engage primarily with objects, but that's not the problem. The problem is that, on the long list of Tarantino's fetishes, women and people of color are prominently featured. Oh, and rape.

So, the racism first, because it needs to be addressed: oh my God, Tarantino just loves his people of color. He loves the wacky non-white way they talk, and their crazy cool non-white behaviors, and all their many colorful non-white ethnic traditions and outfits. He especially loves how non-white the women ones are, because they are so exotic. Quentin Tarantino has seen so many movies with non-white people in them: movies with treacherous Asian dragon ladies and movies with sexy Asian schoolgirls and movies with cool black gangsters and movies with mysterious Asian martial arts experts and movies with strong, sassy black women. You probably haven't seen all those movies, huh, but that's OK, he will compile a Greatest Hits list and turn it into a screenplay and film it - and if the characters of color are exoticized or stereotyped or framed as intrinsically Other, well, that's how they are in the movies, dude, do you need the speech about meta and homage and commentary again?

So, then, the women: he really loves the women of color because they're so exotic and not like white people at all, which is sexy, but white ladies can be sexy, too. All women, in Tarantino movies, are sexy. Sometimes women are sexy victims, and it can get really gory, you know, really edgy stuff with objects like needles and car wheels and swords thrusting into them intensely and the blood going all everywhere in these weirdly cathartic throbbing spurts of liquid. Then, some women are all strong and violent, and, like, dominant, and that's sexy too, like when two hot women fight each other and totally go at it, or like when a woman pierces a man with her sword and his guts spill all over her, or like when a woman rear-ends a man's car and calls him "bitch" and promises to "bust a nut in his ass."

The means by which Tarantino substitutes violence for sex or links them to each other are way too punishingly intro-to-psych obvious to even get into in detail (John Travolta's anxious because he wants to fuck Uma Thurman and he's not supposed to, then she's passed-out cold and he rips her shirt open and is anxious about sticking his needle into her; etc.) and are probably, to give him credit, conscious at least 40% of the time. This makes them no less creepy: it still sets up a dynamic where sex is about violence, and violence is about power, and sex is about power, and violence is about sex. Surprisingly, this is actually the very same context we live in every single day, which you know if you've looked at the statistics on rape and domestic abuse in this country. That's why defenses of "commentary" or "irony" fail in regard to his work: he's not subverting it, he's not presenting it as problematic, he's just perpetuating it. He thinks it's cool.

So, of course, rape happens in these movies. Rape has to happen in these movies: it's the most literal and obvious representation of the sex=violence=power dynamic. It happens to women (and a powerful black man, because that "feminizes" him, because that renders him less powerful and therefore less threatening) because when you, like Tarantino, view women less as individual people than as Objects, Classification: Sexy, hurting a woman sexually is the way you hurt her as a woman, through her primary function. Even though these are movies-about-movies, rather than movies about life or people, there are two really common, really destructive narratives (at least) that these rapes always serve. I shall now break it down:

#1: RAPE AS PLOT DEVICE = BAD.

My God, how many movies are there in which One Man's Quest for Justice (meaning: awesome fight sequences) is triggered by the fact that his wife/daughter/whatever has been raped, or murdered, or rapedandmurdered? When your female characters serve primarily as motivators or rewards or plot devices, one super easy way to get the story moving is to torture them, which will make the hero just so mad that he has to go off and cause action sequences. The woman-avenges-own-rape-with-fight-scenes plot is just as ancient and just as problematic. The idea that women have to get raped now so that they can kill later (a) reinforces the sexualized violence-as-power dynamic that causes rape in the first place, (b) makes gendered, sexual victimization a prerequisite for creating Strong Female Characters (who, for Tarantino, are just fetishized objects of a different, more dominatrix-y order), and (c) implies that violence somehow cancels out rape, as if the trauma ends when the rapist does. It doesn't. You can't get un-raped, and decrying the violence of rape while using it as a pretext for a movie that is all about celebrating violence is just a big huge automatic fail for oh so many reasons, which leads us to:

#2: RAPE AS SPECTACLE = BAD.

Here is how rape often happens in real life: between acquaintances or intimates, through coercion or by drugging someone, often without any other physical violence involved. Here is how rape often happens in movies: between strangers, as sensationally and brutally as possible. Action and horror movies are like comedy, in that they work on a system of set-up/payoff, whether it's joke/punchline or scenario/violence. You come for the pay-off, not the set-up, which means that, in these movies, rape is one of the pay-offs you come to see, so they deliver the biggest rape, the most extreme rape, the goriest rape: the best rape. There are people who collect these scenes, and get off on them - which makes sense, given the fact that the act of rape, and its effect on a woman's body, is given loving, detailed, highly eroticized attention throughout. (See also: the graphic-details rape description in Kill Bill. You don't see the rape, but you get to know every single thing that happens to her.) There have been precisely two rape scenes, in all the many I've involuntarily seen, that I respected, and they were on Veronica Mars and Mad Men, respectively: in one case, you see a girl getting passing out, then waking up to realize what has happened, and in the other, you see a struggle, then a woman's face looking away, then the room from her point of view. You see these things through the women's eyes, in both cases. You do not, as is usual, see things through the eyes of a voyeur, or a rapist. Yes, there are other over-the-top and graphic scenes of violence in Tarantino movies and movies in general, there are swordfights and assassins and ninjas, but here is the problem with framing rape as equivalent to those things: when I walk home at night, or take a near-empty subway car, I'm not afraid of swordfights or assassins or ninjas.

#3, BONUS POINT:
Here is an action figure of Quentin Tarantino. It is based on a character he played in a movie he produced. It is called "Rapist No. 1."



Yeah, are we done yet?


TIRESOME META-BLOGGING STATEMENT: So, I took that post down, for reasons mostly having to do with the fact that, in it, I talked shit about someone I used to know, and in various other ways made private stuff public, and sometimes, even sometimes despite my intent, people read what I had written as both personal and cruel - and the bits about that one particular person were, which was not OK, and I wouldn't want someone to do that to me, so I shouldn't do it. The politics of taking something down are weird, because it looks like you're trying to dodge accountability, and I generally believe that when you fuck up you need to own that - hence, this! - but the point is that I have no right to be a jerk, and if the world is better off without a particular post it will get removed. Also, as this relates to Blogging Ethics in General, please do tell me if there is an issue here from here on out, because when there are issues I try to fix them. There. Wasn't that tiresome?

34 comments:

  1. Thanks for explaining why you took that last post down. I thought maybe I had hallucinated it.

    And, wow, Tarantino is really awful. I'm glad I've never been exposed to anything other than the Kill Bill movies.

    P.S. I think you have the wrong link in this part -

    "I learned about this because Rosario Dawson, the lady who wanders, apparently objected so strongly to the idea that her character would be complicit in another woman's rape that she asked Tarantino to change the scene."

    because it takes me to the same post as Rapist Doll #1, with no mention of Rosario Dawson.

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  2. Ditto on thanks for the explanation for removing the previous post. I thought the analysis of the Apatow man-child was brilliant (and I have been recommending your blog right and left since I discovered it, just a few days ago), but I understand and respect your reasons for removing it.

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  3. @yinyang: I have fixed it! It is a link to a site that I have never before seen in my life and it was the first (well, second: the first tried to kill my computer) link for a search on "grindhouse rape scene," because I was pretty sure there was one and just wanted to check. More fun stuff: Tarantino really, really likes to cast himself as a rapist, for which see "From Dusk 'Til Dawn" and apparently a woman-shaming, show-me-your-boobs cameo in "Girl 6." Also, Captain Picard totally hates him! See:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/mar/06/filmnews.gender

    "The entertainment industry has been extremely irresponsible in perpetuating and stereotyping the violent attitudes of men to women," said Stewart, best known for his portrayal of Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek.

    "I condemn utterly films like Kill Bill. We are told it is about empowering women. All it does is empower a woman to kill other women."

    I would totally volunteer to ride in his spaceship now.

    Anyway, this is an example of the many things you can find when typing "Quentin Tarantino rape" into your local Google.

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  4. These posts dissecting movies have been really excellent, I really admire you, it's obvious you know exactly what you're talking about. Thanks for being awesome :)

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  5. I thought in Veronica Mars she wasn't raped but had sex with Duncan when they both were drugged. She thought she was raped until she learned the truth from Duncan about him maybe being her brother.

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  6. holy shit, this post was a-fucking-mazing!

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  7. OMG I love Patrick Stewart's comments!

    I would totally do his taxes for free :)

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  8. @ mars:

    Have you watched the whole series? There's more to it.

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  9. In Veronica Mars, she and Duncan *did* have sex while both drugged, but then afterward Beaver raped her. So both/and.

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  10. Thank you for writing this, I've held a nameless, indescribable disliking for Tarantino and his films for a long time but never been able to really explain why.

    Also, I adore Patrick Stewart even more, which I didn't think was possible after the clip of him taking about his abusive father for Amnesty.

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  11. There were some very sensitive & non-graphic rape scenes in the film "Lilya 4-ever", about a teen girl trafficked into prostitution from Russia to Sweden. The focus of those scenes was entirely putting the viewer in the shoes of the victim: we saw the rapist through her eyes. Other shots focussed on her blank face/eyes. The scenes are not erotic. They are also not really graphic, yet they are the most emotionally disturbing rape scenes that I have seen on screen.

    The Accused (with Jodie Foster)has an extremely grotesque & graphic rape scene. I am uncomfortable with it in a way, yet it seems to succeed in showing the brutality of the gang-rape on the victim, which was the intention, and I wouldn't say the scene really 'sexualised' the violence. Unfortunately the scene did feel a bit like a violent hard-core porn movie gone wrong, because the camera position made the viewer an observer of the rape (alongside the cheering all-male crowd of other observers in the pub), rather than showing the rape through the victims eyes. The victim's experiences were - in a way - lost in that scene.

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  12. I've always been confused by Tarantino; I am way, way, WAY too easily made ill by violence to ever see one of his films (V for Vendetta is my limit; it made me hyperventilate, but I was still able to enjoy the film. Anything more? TOO MUCH!).

    So I have to rely on secondhand accounts, and the first time I ever heard of him, it was from my screenwriting teacher (a dude) who liked to talk about how the under-representation of women in film was a tragedy and robbing us of good stories and it was one of the big causes driving his life. And Tarantino was his favourite director ever.

    At the time I made the logical assumption that Tarantino was somehow feminist or something, and have therefore been feebly defending him when the occasion arose! But now I have seem the error of my ways. Clearly, Tarantino is not secretly more feminist than people think; my teacher was less feminist than he thought. Oh well.

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  13. @zombietron: Oh, if only that really were true...

    @Deeky: WHY HELLO TO YOU TOO SIR!

    @Everybody, about the "Veronica Mars" scene: I called it a rape scene because that's how the character experienced it, and viewed it for most of the first season, and because that's how we were encouraged to view it, too. She even went to the police to report it. The whole twist where it turned out it was ACTUALLY her boyfriend/maybe-brother, and she was ACTUALLY conscious and consenting, but she didn't remember it because she'd been drugged, was weird to me, given the fact that the show made such a point of showing that she was drugged past the point of really knowing what the hell was happening ANYway, and that she was so clearly traumatized by it... like, "gotcha, it was her boyfriend, so it was OK!" I like the show, and think it handles rape in a smart way generally, but I kind of thought that was a cheat and/or dropping the ball in some screwed-up ways.

    Anyway, yeah, in the second season it's made clear that Beaver did in fact rape her while she was passed-out, which is kind of having it both ways, but whatever.

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  14. This is an excellent post, and you've perfectly captured the creepiness of Tarantino in a way that helps me understand why I've always disliked him and reacted negatively to any attempt to portray him as subversively feminist. I've never bought it. Thanks!

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  15. There actually isn't a rape scene in _Death Proof_. There is an attempted one in the other half of _Grindhouse_, and I feel no urge to defend Robert Rodriguez at all, but there isn't a rape scene in _Death Proof_. At most, there is an implication that a minor character might make unwanted advances upon another character, but nothing confirmed or denied either way. I think Rosario Dawson is mischaracterizing the movie she was in.

    Also, two of the three things you've classified as rape in Kill Bill aren't rape: they're women characters using their sexuality to kill another man when he's naked and vulnerable. Which is exploitative in another way, but isn't rape.

    As for the one rape actually in Kill Bill it's actually pretty notable for not being exploitative or titillating at all.

    I don't expect you to see Death Proof, as you don't like Tarantino, but you are mischaracterizing the movie--it actually does manage to get beyond the cliches of writing women as bitches/sluts/personality-free plot points. The characters in the film have distinct personalities, needs, and the movie is about two groups of women going out and having fun together and talking without needing men around; it's quite notable in that regard, actually.

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  16. @Stu: I can think of a lot of things that are wrong with what you just said, so I'm going to take it point-by-point.

    Point 1: "there isn't a rape scene in _Death Proof_. At most, there is an implication that a minor character might make unwanted advances upon another character, but nothing confirmed or denied either way."

    I disagree. I've spoken to and/or read several other people who characterized that as a scene of rape, which was strongly implied if not shown. I haven't seen it but I kind of trust them more than I trust someone who says the following:

    Point 2: "Also, two of the three things you've classified as rape in Kill Bill aren't rape: they're women characters using their sexuality to kill another man when he's naked and vulnerable. Which is exploitative in another way, but isn't rape."

    Here's an interesting fact for you: those two "women characters" are both children (or, in one case, a teenager who is written as behaving and speaking like a child). They're also both sexualized in a titillating way prior to the OMGZKILLING! They're also both Asian. This not only plays into the weird-yet-prominent thing of infantilizing Asian women and then fetishizing them because of their perceived "childlike" qualities (or, in some cases, the fact that they are actually children), it is contra-representative to young women's reality, in which being subject to the sexual advances of adult men (which is really really really really common and you should maybe check with any person who has ever been an adolescent girl to confirm this) is, in fact, not an opportunity to "exploit one's sexuality" but creepy and gross and terrifying. Also, another interesting thing: any sexual contact with a person below the age of consent is in fact, statutory rape! Because non-adults are vulnerable to coercion on the part of adults, and that is why we protect them in our laws and such! Tarantino wrote those girls as the sexualized, sexual aggressors, and he wrote the men as hapless victims, and those were both CHOICES on his part which play into the "Lolita" myth that creepy guys get off on, and not the WAY MORE COMMON AND REAL REALITY of sexual predators targeting young women and projecting sexual desire or "temptress" motivations onto them.

    I mean, come on. It's like we were debating Apatow's characterization of the Paul Rudd/Leslie Mann relationship in "Knocked Up" and you were like, "oh, but she was a bitch, though." PLEASE. If there's one point I am making over and over and over again, it's that you need to look at the writer's agency in CREATING these scenarios, and which problematic narratives he's relying on, rather than biting down on the narrative he's created for you like a hungry bluegill going for a worm. But, you know, that's not popular, so... OMJEEZUS, SHE TOTES STRADDLED THAT PEDOPHILE AND YOU COULD SEE HER PANTIES AND THEN SHE KILLED HIM GIRL POWERRRRRR.

    Point 3: "As for the one rape actually in Kill Bill it's actually pretty notable for not being exploitative or titillating at all."

    I disagree. Also, it wasn't one rape, it was countless rapes. For more thoughts on this please see the post which you maybe should have read before leaving a very long comment.

    Thanks, and come again soon!

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  17. I did actually read your post, and I don't quite understand why you got all snarky about my leaving a "very long comment," which, after all, was shorter than your original post and shorter than your response to it. In fact, it was because I read your post that I felt a long response where I engaged your points with my disagreements as such. That doesn't seem quite worthy of being disparaged.

    But I don't think we're entirely disagreeing about the exploitation of young Asian women--Kill Bill does definitely play off the Lolita/Asian fetishization that you mentioned. However, I do disagree with you using these examples to characterize Tarantino as having a "rape problem." Neither of the murdered men are portrayed as out-and-out victims or Humbert Humbert types: in one case the murdered man is the man who murdered the character's father, and in the other, the character is a hapless gangster trying to pick up the girl in a bar. There is a certain sexual exploitation being used, especially in the first case (it's done in a anime style, and the exploitation is primarily gore-based, but definitely plays with the young girl sexuality of anime), but the second is two young people in a bar, no rape (statutory or otherwise) consumated.

    Anyway, I didn't bring up Knocked Up but for what it's worth I thought the Paul Rudd character definitely came off much the worse in that movie--I thought it was a good extrapolation of the movie cliche of a childish man who expects a woman to make him into a grown-up but resents every "grown-up" thing that she does. Even her being written as something of a "bitch," as you put it, didn't make the disparity in their relationship any better. For what it's worth.

    Regardless, I don't feel like the rape of The Bride in Kill Bill is something that pretty much anyone would find titillating. It's pretty obviously set up as a repugnant thing, and there's nothing remotely sexy about it (it is as unsexy as Marcellus's rape in Pulp Fiction). I would even go farther and say that I can't think of a single titillating sex scene in Tarantino's movies at all.

    Tarantino's heroes are largely sexless--they are movie icons, and The Bride is "cool" by his logic not because Uma Thurman is sexy but because she's deadly with a sword. Which is transforming her into a male role, in a certain sense, except the movies he's riffing off of in this case are female revenge films.

    Moreover, Death Proof is interesting because, for the vast majority of the movie, it's interested more in inverting the usual serial killer tropes. You spend a terribly long time getting to know and like the women, just listening to them talking and sympathizing with them, and then they get killed off horribly. Rather than disposable co-eds getting killed, there's an effort to make them as much people as anyone gets to be in a Tarantino movie. Most of the movie is spent in watching sympathetic characters relating to each other. In fact, most of the complaints about the movie amounted to, "All they do is talk!"

    And then the second set of women comes along, and you spend time getting to like them, as well. And so rather than wanting the serial killer to win (like he does in all the standard horror movies, even if the last remaining virgin manages to kill him off at the end), he's beaten at his own game.

    There is the character who's left with a guy, and I know you're not alone in believing that she was left to be raped. But there's definitely nothing explicit: there's no titillating rape scene, or rape revenge set up, or anything like that. It's just a narrative plot thread left hanging. I do see how a rape could potentially be read into it, but I didn't read it that way, and yes, other people I've talked to about this since I read this didn't see it either.

    Either way, I don't feel that it really fits into an argument where you're claiming that Tarantino puts "graphic rape or sexual assault" scenes in his movies.

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  18. "At most, there is an implication that a minor character might make unwanted advances upon another character, but nothing confirmed or denied either way. I think Rosario Dawson is mischaracterizing the movie she was in."

    I think you're the one mischaracterizing the situation. The "minor character," Lee, was set up to be a major one, before the other girls inexplicably and unforgivably left her behind with some creepy redneck who very possibly could have been a rapist. We don't know for sure, because Tarantino didn't even think it was important enough to show us what happened with her, but it's heavily implied, and even if the guy seemed perfectly nice it would have been dangerous and stupid. But he was a total creeper, and she was the weakest girl among them. Rosario Dawson was, as always, dead on. It made no sense.

    Other than that, I find Tarantino's movies to be a guilty pleasure. I'm not even a fan of violence in movies, but I like the dialogue and the stories. I think he definitely glamorizes violence, but he also shows the repercussions and most of his movies are about people trying to break out of violent cycles of behavior. I hated "Death Proof" though. All style, no substance whatsoever, and I found the group of girls who get killed off half-way through the movie far more interesting than the second group, so I felt annoyed throughout the entire second half. And then of course leaving Lee with the rapist killed the entire thing.

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  19. Thank you for helping my understand why I hate Quentin Tarantino.

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  20. I still believe that quantifying the guy they left Lee with as a rapist does seem to be reading too much into it. He's definitely skeevy. That's beyond a doubt. And it's not outside of the realm of possibility that he could be a rapist.

    Leaving Lee with this character is meant to illustrate that the other characters were so infatuated with the idea of taking the Dodge Challenger out for a ride that it short circuited their better judgment and they were willing to leave their slightly annoying friend in a questionable situation.

    The actions of the characters are not the best, but there's a big difference between what they do and "graphic rape or sexual assault."

    As for @Souza's comment: "We don't know for sure, because Tarantino didn't even think it was important enough to show us what happened with her," this is a mischaracterization of the movie as well. To the best of my knowledge, Tarantino has said that his movie was made to resemble an actual grindhouse movie where plot threads are left unresolved because the production studios either couldn't afford to shoot all the scenes or completely forgot that scenes needed to be filmed. Death Proof is set up with this in mind. Ultimately, to fit this goal, and to resolve the movie on the beat he wanted, he decided to end the movie at the exact moment Stuntman Mike was defeated, rather than having a resolution that involved returning the busted up car to the guys they borrowed it from and retrieving their friend.

    In this light, Tarantino refused to let Rosario Dawson change the scene he wrote because he wanted to preserve that ambiguity and dangling plot thread.

    As for the figure of him as "Rapist #1" it's worth noting that that's from Planet Terror the other half of Grindhouse, produced by him and directed and scripted by Robert Rodriguez, and itself a parody of b level monster movies. I bear no love the works of Robert Rodriguez, but Tarantino has a habit of appearing in Rodriguez movies as pretty much the most dispicable character in the film so he can be dispatched in as gruesome a manner as possible. Which is what happens to him there.

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  21. @Stu: I, of course, understand your pain at reading a blog that is 99% jokes, and writing in specifically to defend something the writer has criticized, and constructing your defense along lines that the writer has specifically said she does not buy, and then, tragically, finding that the author of the blog that is 99% jokes MAKES SOME JOKES in her response. There is no way you could have anticipated such a thing! It is a betrayal of your fundamental expectations as a dude who writes into blogs he does not apparently read to criticize their writers! Etc!

    ANYWAY, we're not going to derail this conversation into some argument that is All About You. You've had your fair share of time here, and here's my response.

    (1) Yes, Tarantino's female characters are indeed highly sexualized. They are sexualized in a violent way, either as victims or as Strong Female Dominatrixes. Yes, we were meant to be turned on by both 11-year-old O-Ren and nonspecifically-minor-aged Go-Go, and yes, this keys into a rapey dynamic because THEY WERE KIDS. Yes, violence, in these films, is sexualized, and sex is sublimated into violence, through both juxtaposition and basic visual/metaphorical work with penetration-as-power and carnage-as-orgasm, etc. I submit to you, from Kill Bill, (a) Uma Thurman spanking a man with her sword, and (b) the could-it-be-any-more-obvious post-stabbing line, "do you still wish to penetrate me? Or is it I... who has penetrated you?" (Dun dunh DUNNNNNNNH.) If you are missing this, I don't know what I can do for you. But it was all in the post.

    (2) In the "Rape as Plot Device" and "Rape as Spectacle" sections, I moved from talking specifically about Tarantino to talking about the conventions on which he played, and my statements therefore broadened to describe, not specific Tarantino scenes, but rape scenes in film and TV as a whole. If you are missing that, I don't know what I can do for you. But it was all in the post.

    (3) I further submit to you that the rape of Marcellus Wallace, in addition to doing some very dirty narrative work (what with the racist punishing-the-powerful-black-man thing, the homophobic gays-as-predatory-perverts thing, and the sexist figuring-penetration-as-"feminizing"-and-therefore-disempowering thing) was pretty classic Rape-as-Spectacle, in that it was pretty obviously amped-up to be as sensational and viscerally affecting as possible. It was also Rape-as-Plot-Device, because it was basically just deployed to set up a fight scene. I would furthermore submit to you that the rape scene in Kill Bill was Rape-as-Spectacle, even though we learned about the rape through dialogue, because here is the dialogue:

    "No punching her. The nurse comes in tomorrow and she got a shiner or less some teeth, jig's up. So, no knuckle sandwiches under no circumstances. And by the way, this little cunt's a spitter. It's a motor-reflex thing. But spit or not, no punching... no monkey bites, and no hickeys. In fact, no leaving no marks of any kind on her. After that, it's all good, buddy. Now, her plumbing down there don't work no more, so feel free to come in her all you want. Keep the noise down, try not to make a mess... not every time but sometimes this chick's cooch will get drier than a bucket of sand. If she's dry, just lube up with this."

    Excessively detailed, rhetorically centered (in case you asked) on the rapist's experience of the rape, and intent on creating the clearest and most viscerally affecting and sensational picture possible for the reader. He didn't have to film it, because by putting all this in dialogue he was able to create an EVEN CLEARER version of the rape in the reader's mind which could not have been filmed at that level of detail without making the movie an NC-17 (the bits about lubing her "cooch" would have sealed the deal on that). Clever, if you respect that sort of thing, which I do not. Furthermore, it was Rape-as-Plot-Device, because it was used to set up a few fight scenes and then never really mentioned or dealt with again. In both cases, rape, a clear and present threat for every woman in the world, was used, in a quick, dirty, sensational way, without giving serious thought to it.

    One thing you don't seem to be getting is that Rape-as-Spectacle does not HAVE to be sexualized in a vanilla way to work for people to get off on the rape. What it HAS to be is sadistic and sensational, because that's how that particular mode of desire works. There are people who get off on the rape scene in "Irreversible," for fuck's sake.

    And if you missed this, Stu, IF YOU MISSED ALL OF THIS, again: I don't know what I can do for you. But it was all. In. The fucking. Post.

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  22. <---- I said "reader" when I meant "viewer." Twice. This is the only portion of the above statement that does not fully reflect my intent and/or beliefs. I blame it on beer. DISREGARD IT, THEREFORE!

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  23. Seriously, okay, I'll go away now. Between you criticizing me for writing too much and criticizing me for not responding to absolutely everything you've written, I don't know what you expect me to do. But enough about me.

    As for your jokes, no, I'm not a regular blog reader, but I did read your entry, and I found it interesting, and I responded. This entry about rape wasn't very jokey, and so I responded in a not-very-jokey fashion.

    You might want to work on this, though, since it seems like your "jokes," come off as pissy rather than funny..

    You'll note, if you like, that this is the first time I actually was critical of you, rather than just disagreeing with you and explaining the points of my disagreement in as brief a comment as possible. If you feel I was being disrespectful before, I apologize. It wasn't my intention.

    But you seem to have equated disagreeing with you as disparaging you.

    So I'm on my way. If you're interested, a conversation about your post was going on here: http://ldragoon.livejournal.com/364193.html

    It's what lead me here and encouraged me that there might be value in responding at the source.

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  24. Yeah, Sady, how dare you! How dare you do "humour" WRONG & upset STU! You REALLY need to WORK ON that. Teh menz haz spoken!

    Not at all incidentally, I found your blog the other day (linked from hoyden about town)and read the entire thing in a night. One of the BEST BLOGS EVER, in my opinion. Some of your pieces were great verging on genius and truly breathtaking! I will be reading them all again very soon!

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  25. Stu:

    "To the best of my knowledge, Tarantino has said that his movie was made to resemble an actual grindhouse movie where plot threads are left unresolved because the production studios either couldn't afford to shoot all the scenes or completely forgot that scenes needed to be filmed. Death Proof is set up with this in mind. Ultimately, to fit this goal, and to resolve the movie on the beat he wanted, he decided to end the movie at the exact moment Stuntman Mike was defeated, rather than having a resolution that involved returning the busted up car to the guys they borrowed it from and retrieving their friend."

    Meh. I get the intention here, but it just doesn't seem like a good enough reason to justify the situation for me. And even if that plot thread had been resolved, it still wouldn't have made sense to me for the girls to leave her there like that. It was out of character for these women, who were supposed to not only be friends, but were supposed to be smart and tough.

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  26. I'm agreeing with Stu here. It seems like you haven't even seen Tarantino films and criticize them on a few scenes as if you have. You don't even respond to Stu's point about how the grindhouse movies to me made the women victims the center of the plot instead of mere subtexts. And just because some saw the scene with Lee left behind as 'rape' doesn't mean we all did. I don't assume rape everytime a woman is left alone with a man, especially in the context of this film where all the other women kill a man who threatened their lives.

    The Buck scene renting out a comatose Uma, I found to be disturbingly believable. People like that exist. But you seem to think Uma's motivation for all her killing is rape, when it's not. You missed the whole point of the movie. There is a whole plot that has nothing to do with rape. The Asain girl stuff was a bit over-the-top but Taranntino's doing it to idolize gory anime, hence the over-the-top scene of the crazy 88 fighting Uma's character.

    If there were no rape scenes in any movies we'd be complaining that no one ever talks about rape. Rape happens; a lot. I don't see the rape in his films the way you do- I just don't. I don't think he's making light of a serious situation. I find nothing wrong with him using ethnic women in his films for roles- no one else seems to want to use them in their films. I don't see anything wrong with him using ethnic characters in his film especially because they aren't stereotyped into the same kind of character.

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  27. Well done on the man-child thing especially. I bet I'll wind up linking that around a few places.

    Movie rape scenes invariably piss me off for the very reasons you discuss. There's one that's terribly ambiguous, though--not ambiguous that there's a rape, but I swear, when I watched it, I almost thought, "Wow, this filmmaker is not a total jerk." Strangely, it's from Hitchcock's movie "Frenzy," from the late 60s. Who would have thought?

    Maybe if I went back and saw it today, I'd feel differently, but at the time I thought it showed the act for what it was--hideous--while still showing the woman as a functioning human being rather than part of a spectacle. This may be the misty fog of time doing a good PR job for Hitch, though. It's been a good six years since I saw the film.

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  28. Hi EF. Just a few things here:

    "It seems like you haven't even seen Tarantino films and criticize them on a few scenes as if you have. You don't even respond to Stu's point about how the grindhouse movies to me made the women victims the center of the plot instead of mere subtexts."

    I have seen "Pulp Fiction" and "Kill Bill"; haven't seen "Grindhouse" because, as I said, I didn't like either "Pulp Fiction" or "Kill Bill." I hear Grindhouse is about girls getting revenge on some guy who kills a few of them in a gory manner. As I've said in the post above, I find this predictable and repetitive and problematic, and I don't really want to devote my time to watching yet another iteration of it.

    "The Buck scene renting out a comatose Uma, I found to be disturbingly believable. People like that exist. But you seem to think Uma's motivation for all her killing is rape, when it's not."

    I never said that this was her entire motivation. I do question why - if the movie is about a woman tracking down the man who killed her husband, terminated her pregnancy (or so she thinks) and tried to kill her, Tarantino needed to throw countless rapes in there, if not for cheap effect. And I don't think the fact that she got to kill or maim two of her many rapists justifies Tarantino's just throwing a rape in there without taking it seriously or making it and its effects a major factor in the Bride's character and the film's narrative.

    "The Asain girl stuff was a bit over-the-top but Taranntino's doing it to idolize gory anime"

    I question the value of "idolizing anime" as an end in and of itself. If I wanted to watch anime, I'd watch it. If you put an anime homage into your movie, you'd better do something interesting with it, and have a point other than "I watch anime sometimes and I think it's cool." Like (if this movie really is about "empowering women" as QT claims) subverting it in some way other than using it to set up another predictable and repetitive revenge-killing scene.

    "If there were no rape scenes in any movies we'd be complaining that no one ever talks about rape. Rape happens; a lot."

    Which is why I want to see MORE films that focus, not on the act of rape, and not on contra-representative rape-revenge plots, but on how patriarchy permits and encourages rape, and how people survive rape trauma. Tarantino doesn't care enough about rape as a widespread problem to keep himself from using it as a cheap effect. That's my issue with his work.

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  29. I agree with Stu and EF in some senses. I will admit that I enjoy some of Tarantino's films. But I also see many of your points. However, speaking about any film entirely based upon hearsay is irresponsible, and unlike with Seth Rogen's recent utter failure of a film, you don't have access to a trailer that can give you context.

    There is absolutely no rape scene in Death Proof. One of a group of four girls is left with the owner of a car that the other three want to take for a test drive. The man in question is admittedly a little creepy and definitely attracted to the woman being left behind. I will not claim otherwise. But a weird man in the presence of a female does not make a scene a rape scene.

    Perhaps it does not seem socially appropriate, but I know plenty of woman who might leave a less interested tag-along friend behind for an opportunity to do something they want to do badly enough. In fact, one of the female characters SUGGESTS that their friend might be interested in the male character and says that she'll stay behind to insure that they don't steal the car. So rather than being a rape scene, it is a scene of women who are being really inconsiderate of a friend. Wow. That's never happened before. Like, I know none of us have ever done things like leaving a friend alone at a party because we have something else we want to do, or leaving a friend to walk herself home at night, or anything like that. We're all always perfect and never leave people in potentially questionable situations because we're putting our own needs first. It may not be P.C., it may not be respectable, but it is a very real part of life. Woman should look out for one another, but we don't always and that is all that the scene portrays.

    Another note: I will not claim that the scenes in Kill Bill you mentioned to do not fetishize Asian women or that they don't exploit children. I will say, though, that the age of consent in Japan, where both characters you mentioned were from, is 13 and may well have been younger 20+ years ago when O-Ren bedded and killed her parents' murderer. I'm not saying that this makes it okay, only that within the context of the film itself, they may well not have been rapes because they were considered to be able to consent.

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  30. Sometimes I find rape revenge movies and the shit that Tarantino churns out enjoyable and oddly comforting and other times I find it bland, boring and just plain ridiculous.

    It's a love/hate relationship.

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  31. Hey. I realise you hate all the Tarantino films you've seen. But you should totally see Jackie Brown! It's the best film he has made, with a central character that, I believe, doesn't objectify women or blacks. It will be interesting to hear your thoughts, even if I am risking a beatdown...

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  32. Another note: I will not claim that the scenes in Kill Bill you mentioned to do not fetishize Asian women or that they don't exploit children. I will say, though, that the age of consent in Japan, where both characters you mentioned were from, is 13 and may well have been younger 20+ years ago when O-Ren bedded and killed her parents' murderer. I'm not saying that this makes it okay, only that within the context of the film itself, they may well not have been rapes because they were considered to be able to consent.WOAH! I just had to repeat that because the logic of it blew me away. Let me rephrase, "I will just say that in [random middle-eastern country] honor-killings are legal when the woman is guilty of adultery. So if I make a movie that fetishizes a scene like that, I'm just saying that I'm not really fetishizing murder since, legally and culturally speaking that's not murder."

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  33. Latest comment ever, but: I've seen Deathproof. I enjoyed some aspects of it and not some others. But, about "is it/isn't it a rape scene":

    In the scene where they leave their friend in the cheerleader uniform behind, she's seated, he's towering over her, and she says, I'm pretty sure, "Gulp," in this cartoonish little way. She's obviously intimidated by him, and given the context that this is Tarantino, and also that, IRL, we live in a world CHOCK FULL OF RAPE, I came away with the impression that she was being left behind with a guy that very well could sexually assault/rape her, and making her just say, "Gulp" makes the scene play like she's a character in Looney Tunes.

    I'm a lady, and I laughed at the "gulp" and was at the same time very disturbed by the scene, and am disturbed that I laughed. And the thing is, if Tarantino wanted to leave a plot thread dangling, it could've been anything. But he chose to make the dangling plot thread that's never followed up on, "This chick gonna get raped." Which is exactly what Sady's talking about -- using something that happens to 1 in 4 women every single day as a gag, or as spectacle, or as a shock, or a twist, or as plot motivation, with seemingly no awareness that this is a thing that happens to 1 in 4 women every day and that our culture makes it that way.

    I get the feeling from a lot of these movies and filmmakers that, okay, here's the Real World With Serious Problems way over here, and those can be dealt with via Serious Documentaries and a benefit concert, and then here's the rest of moviedom, where dudes' Artistic Vision must be kept pure and uncompromised by that icky real world stuff.

    Sady, I love your blog. Keep doin' your thing.

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  34. Linked here from Shakesville. This was such an amazing commentary. I've 'enjoyed' to some degree, some of Tarantino's films, but they're not the kind of thing you can really, fully enjoy for a lot of the reasons you listed. I love that you picked out even the itty bitty details of things that infuriate me about these tropes, but are just too hard for me to articulate. Awesome piece, and I thought you also dealt really well with Stu and some of the other commenters who seem determined not to get the blatant meaning of your points. I'm definitely bookmarking this for the next time QT comes up in a convo I'm having. Thanks!

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