Skip to content

The Capacity for Violence

April 3, 2009

We all have the capacity for violence. Rape, and promoting rape, is not limited to cis straight men, to white men, to men of color, to men you don’t know, to men at all, to cis people, to straight people, to people who aren’t survivors, to people who aren’t your close friends, to people who don’t speak out against rape, to people who don’t volunteer on rape-crisis hotlines (that really sucked, by the way), or even to people who don’t write forwards to anti-rape anthologies, or who haven’t written songs against date rape and dedicated them to Sarah Palin.

Those last two categories are pretty specific, huh?

In case you’re wondering, I’m talking about this (trigger warning):

If it’s hard to see, here’s a basic rundown: a Katy Perry lookalike comes onstage to lip sync “I Kissed a Girl.” A few people make brief passes at her, then Margaret Cho, wearing a purple strap-on, and Amanda Palmer come up from opposite sides of the stage and trap “Perry” between them. Cho takes “Perry’s” hand, puts it on her strap-on, and *holds it there* while Perry looks anxious and uncomfortable and tries to remove her hand. Then Palmer touches her belly, “Perry” momentarily looks more uncomfortable, and then suddenly “gives in” and starts acting enthusiastic, making out with Palmer and pushing her butt back towards Cho. (You can see her facial expressions better in this video if it’s hard to see clearly.)

Just in case it wasn’t clear that this was a revenge fantasy rather than just a “oh she really wanted it it’s ok” fantasy (still rape promotion, but still)–A curtain goes up, and when it comes down, Cho is dressed as a minister/pastor/whatever, and “Perry” and Palmer are in wedding dresses… and “Perry” is bound hand and foot, with duct tape over her mouth. She tries to hobble away, and Palmer stops her, making an expression of overdone, false-looking bliss with a sinister undertone. (This part is somewhat more easily visible here) A “Fuck Prop 8″ banner goes up and the crowd cheers.

There’s really not a lot more to say. I understand being angry about “I Kissed a Girl”–I’m none too pleased about it myself. (Not knowing my name, fine, I can work with that, but I’m your “experimental game”? … Excuse me?) The song is exploitative/exoticizing/fetishizing/objectifying whatever other words you want to use. Basically it’s gross, keep your hands off my sexuality. But resorting to dramatizing sexual violence as a revenge strategy? (Hell, revenge at all?) Not cool. And it’s not as though Cho could ever objectify or fetishize anyone. Nor Amanda Palmer.

At Women & Children First, one of two Chicago stops of the YMY! tour, there was a comment exhorting [straight/bi] men to stand up and say they’re not rapists, because otherwise all the women would assume they were. But standing up and speaking out doesn’t make you an ally/not a rapist. Not raping people makes you not a rapist. If you don’t think of yourself as a potential perpetrator of violence and consider carefully how to exist in the world as nonviolently as you can, you will perpetrate it. Violence, including but in no way limited to sexual violence, is the norm in this society, not the exception–though often it’s not quite as blatant as Cho and Palmer just put on display for us, or quite as clearly intentional.

X-posted to Taking Up Too Much Space

About these ads
12 Comments leave one →
  1. April 3, 2009 1:18 pm

    I’m confused. It’s clear watching the video that the woman playing Kate Perry is in on the act. I can’t tell from your post if you’re just objecting to the fantasy or if you really think the Kate Perry impersonator is getting assaulted, because it’s obvious to me that she’s play-acting fear.

  2. April 3, 2009 2:47 pm

    Awesome post, Cedar. I’m glad to see you calling this out.

  3. April 3, 2009 3:04 pm

    Amanda,

    It’s a dramatized sexual assault–I agree that the actress (for lack of a better word) is in on it, but the performance asks the viewer to identify with the assailants in a ain’t-this-great kind of way.

  4. April 6, 2009 8:15 am

    Watching it, I felt I wasn’t seeing an endorsement of rape so much as an S&M scene played out as political satire. While I get what you’re saying about the way that routine rape fantasies reinforce rape culture, I also think that S&M fantasies played out for hip audiences have a far different context, and to treat them as exactly the same as the classic “girls like rape” fantasy played out sans queer context for straight men is problematic. The exagerrated “fear” didn’t say rape to me. It said S&M.

    • April 6, 2009 11:49 pm

      Amanda,

      Why is it SM as political satire as opposed to rape as political satire?

      More importantly, given that you’re recognizing it as a ‘rape fantasy,’ you’re acknowledging that the character being played by “Perry”–that is, her persona in the scene, not once but twice removed from the actual actress on stage–is not consenting to what’s happening/is being raped. So, you accept that the narrative within-the-scene is nonconsensual–our difference of opinion is whether there’s an actress playing the part of Perry-being-raped, or an actress playing the part of Perry playing the part of a character-being-raped.

      I think it’s important to be able to recognize nonconsent/rape–both in real life and in art. What would it take for you to see that nonconsensual narrative as not within-a-bdsm-scene but what-is-being-portrayed? What would have to be different? No breaking the fourth wall (directly addressing the audience) and no speech (since there weren’t either in the original), and no change to the narrative itself(i.e. no ‘she never “gives in”‘ or ‘Cho shoves her onto the ground’)–plus these have to be changes the audience could actually see.

  5. April 6, 2009 9:04 am

    Perhaps obviously, the context changes how we read the text, so I’m not surprised that feminists disagree on what we’re looking at. I cringed because I read it largely the way Cedar did. I get a lot less upset at expressions of anger from folks who have been targets and have to fight for basic human rights than as defense of privilege by the privileged, but I still did not like what I saw as a rape-revenge fantasy fro an audience that wouldn’t tolerate it if it were not directed at their enemies.

    My read is informed by my own position as a BDSMer. Reasonable BDSMers are going to disagree on this, I expect; so for example Clarisse, who is a BDSM educator, and me, and Cedar all thought it was problematic, but speaking for myself lots of BDSMers think I’m a bit of a stick in the mud and other feminist BDSMers may view it differently.

    I have a strong preference for context in presentation of BDSM. I really don’t like nonconsent fantasies presented in media where it’s not clear that the consensual context has been negotiated and continues — which is not to say I’m opposed to fear, just to the presentation of nonconsensuality as okay. To use the terminology some sex reasearchers do, I like the material to be “framed,” presented in a way that makes clear what’s real and what’s not; that states the otherwise unstated assumptions. That’s not a preference because I think it work the best as art, that’s a political preference. And one reason for it is that I want a bright line separation to reduce the avenues for abusers to use BDSM as an excuse for what they do. I like to maintain clear “our community does not do that and does not tolerate that” boundaries. But again, that’s hardly a universal sentiment within the BDSM community, such as it is.

    • April 6, 2009 11:59 am

      I thought about this a lot last week, but I was thinking about it on the El, where I didn’t have Internet, so I didn’t post a more comprehensive response. And now Thomas has said a lot of it for me, so I don’t really have to. But I would like to highlight this:

      I really don’t like nonconsent fantasies presented in media where it’s not clear that the consensual context has been negotiated and continues — which is not to say I’m opposed to fear, just to the presentation of nonconsensuality as okay.

      Yes, exactly.

      Furthermore, if I actually felt like the Katy Perry rape fantasy were being presented as a BDSM rape scene — where everyone involved talked it over ahead of time and discussed their preferences — then I might be okay with it. But it was not presented as a BDSM rape scene. Now, imagine that this who Cho-Palmer-Perry scene had gone exactly the same way except that ahead of time, all parties were depicted sitting down and talking about just how much Perry wants to try out a BDSM rape scene. Imagine that before all these forceful gestures and duct tape and pretending to escape, the audience saw a conversation in which the Perry lookalike said: “I love thinking about being forced and duct taped and trying to escape! Can we try that?”

      That would be a representation of a BDSM rape fantasy. But what we are currently watching is not. What we are currently watching is a representation of rape. And of course a representation of rape is not the same thing as rape. But it really, really bothers me to think that anyone would watch a scene in which rape apparently occurs and then write it off as “oh, well that’s consensual BDSM” even if there are no indications of consent.

      Another question worth considering might be this — and I’ll preface it by saying that I’m not sure how I feel about this issue, but thought it was worth raising anyway. The question is: Even if we agree that this is a representation of Katy Perry enjoying a BDSM rape scene (and I don’t, but let’s assume that I do) … are we violating Katy Perry somehow, by representing her that way?

      To some extent, this feeds into larger issues of “In what ways is it okay to satirically represent public figures?” Those issues have been discussed a lot, and for most people, it boils down to free speech. We can satirically represent public figures however we like. Of course we can. In a society that values free speech, we must be able to do that.

      But I guess I think that we should try to respect others’ sexuality while we exercise free speech. I try not to misrepresent people’s sexuality. For instance — aided by Cedar — I hope I am becoming better at being sensitive in the ways I represent trans, or speak of Cedar in terms of zir trans identity. In the same way, while I don’t like Katy Perry, I’m not sure I’m comfortable supporting any effort to misrepresent her sexuality.

      One last thing I want to point out. Again, even if we agree that this is a representation of Katy Perry enjoying a BDSM rape scene (and once again, I don’t), what does it mean that Cho and Palmer decided to demean Perry by representing her as the submissive in a BDSM rape scene? Am I supposed to take this to mean that submissives are stupid, ridiculous, mockable? If we can degrade people by pretending that they’re submissive, then what does that mean about how we think about submissives? I think the problems there are obvious.

      Whoa, this was a longer comment than I anticipated writing. I better get back to my real job.

      • April 6, 2009 12:19 pm

        Furthermore, if I actually felt like the Katy Perry rape fantasy were being presented as a BDSM rape scene — where everyone involved talked it over ahead of time and discussed their preferences — then I might be okay with it. But it was not presented as a BDSM rape scene. Now, imagine that this who Cho-Palmer-Perry scene had gone exactly the same way except that ahead of time, all parties were depicted sitting down and talking about just how much Perry wants to try out a BDSM rape scene. Imagine that before all these forceful gestures and duct tape and pretending to escape, the audience saw a conversation in which the Perry lookalike said: “I love thinking about being forced and duct taped and trying to escape! Can we try that?”

        I think it could even by smoother and more symbolic than that, as long as they conveyed a clear message of consent — it is art, after all. Cho appears at :58, and the other woman starts kissing Palmer at 1:10 or so. In between, there’s a lot of discomfort-face. If anywhere in there Palmer had knelt, or extended her wrists together for binding, or kissed one of the other women’s hands — something the audience would take as shorthand for affirmative agreement, then I’d be fine with it.

    • April 7, 2009 12:17 am

      I’m pretty well with you on this. As with your reply to Clarisse, I think that the framing doesn’t have to be as explicit as “let’s negotiate a scene” but does need to be there; if Perry were make a clear nod at some point, or telegraph a wink to the audience (totally breaking the fourth wall, but whatever).

      But the bigger issue is, w/rt context, why would the scene happen at all if it wasn’t about revenge? I mean, without that, what’s the point? Maybe to establish Perry as a “real” lesbian, but then a)you’d want to use the real Perry, and b)you wouldn’t want the discomfort. The idea that Perry has this fantasy of being raped by Palmer and Cho and that they’re bringing her on to indulge that fantasy…is kind of silly and doesn’t really correspond to how Palmer introduces “Perry.” On the other hand, if Palmer and Cho think the audience shares with them a fantasy of raping Perry, and they’re bringing an actress in to help them indulge that, and the context given is she-wrote-this-obnoxious-song… The only thing that adds up to for me is “let’s indulge your fantasy of ‘getting revenge on Perry by inflicting sexual violence on her'”–what does it even mean for it to be bdsm in that case? The non-bdsm version becomes “let’s indulge your desire to ‘get revenge on Perry’ through a fantasy of inflicting sexual violence on her”…..

      or am I missing something?

      (there’s also the issue that, if certain percentage of folks read it as revenge-through-rape, it really doesn’t matter what the artistic intent was, it still promotes rape as revenge.)

  6. lee permalink
    April 6, 2009 11:05 am

    This is a really interesting thread and I’m glad you posted it, Hazel, not just for what is central to your argument, but especially for the other posts you linked to re: allyship and “tranny chasing.” I think the en vogue fetishizing of trans people in our queer communities and the trans misogyny that is wrapped up in this is really important to be dialoging about.
    But, back to the performance. I watched multiple videos of it and read all y’all’s takes on it and watching it, I was just confused. I was like, I don’t get it, what are they saying? Who is representing who/what? Is that weird? I was just kinda like, I don’t understand your message.

    • April 6, 2009 11:52 pm

      I guess I’m confused–what are you confused about? I’m happy to clarify but I need to know what to clarify. ;)

  7. April 8, 2009 12:38 am

    I just fixed my html, turns out the embedded video didn’t show up? I’m confused how that happened/I could’ve sworn it was in there earlier, but it’s there now. …sorry everyone.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 968 other followers

%d bloggers like this: