Warning: This post contains information about domestic violence, rape and sexual assault and may be triggering for some readers.
I’m a script writer for film, TV, and stage. I’m also a script editor, and I make sure my bills are paid by being a script reader for a major world leading script development service, but I’m not going to say which one.
I have a literary agent — they’re a biggie, but again, I’m not going to say which one. That’s not the point. I’m just trying to vaguely share my credentials so you don’t read this thinking: “Who’s this wanker telling me how my industry works?”
I’m also a survivor of Domestic Violence (but also don’t assume you know my gender now — or my ex partner’s gender. You’re probably wrong.) I’ve used that experience through a great deal of my work — and weirdly, the experience of processing it through my writing has made me a much healthier human being. As Nora Ephron once said, “everything is copy.” And she was damned right about that.
"The experience of processing it through my writing has made me a much healthier human being." Image: iStock.
But, I’m not entirely sure the writers of HBO’s Game of Thrones are using their personal experience of rape and domestic violence in their writing.
I’m pretty sure they’re using rape and DV as a plot device from which they move on swiftly, rather than an event through which to reveal long form character.
And it sucks. It sucks hard. It’s both dangerous and demeaning to the real world survivors of such events.
In the show, we can comfortably look at it from afar and say: “Yeah, but Westeros isn’t the real world — it’s fantasy. So it’s okay.”
Game of Thrones. Image via Macall B. Polay/HBO.
No it isn’t.
No it isn’t.
Fuck no it isn't.
Not only is it not, but it’s also an extremely dangerous precedent for the global industry.
Why? Because of what it’s doing to aspiring (usually male) writers who watch Game of Thrones. When the top of the industry uses rape-as-non-issue, those below then think it’s a pretty neat idea to use rape-as-non-issue in their own work.
They watch and think: “If the big wigs are doing it, so can I.”
Pack mentality rules in the world of television writing — writers and producers alike are programmed to want “the same, but different” because they know it will sell.
For example, if I read one more script that uses the "X Days Earlier" device on page one, just because Breaking Bad used it, I’m going to scream — or throw my laptop across my office. But realistically, that’s a style choice, and it will, thank the Lords of Kobol, die as it becomes cliched — which is great.
Rape? Rape is not a style choice. It’s not a fad.
Is rape a male or a female issue? (Post continues after video.)
It’s a real horrible thing that happens and has happened all over this planet to lots of people — male and female.
To use it to force an audience to feel pity for a character by making them get banged up by a spouse, or flat out forcibly penetrated just to telegraph: "These two characters have fallen out" (like the first major superfluous rape in GoT) and then move on, without actually then fully recognising the gravity of the event that has just transpired, is not just terrifying. Lately I’ve been reading several scripts a week that use rape in such a mundane way that it seems to be becoming a "normal" thing.
Let me repeat that: Inconsequential rape has become a normal thing in TV writing.
This has got to stop. Now.
Rape and domestic violence are found throughout literature — and yes, I’m including screenplays in this. Normally, they are moments that characters rarely can walk back from — the character must be punished.
The brothers in Titus Andronicus are not only killed for raping Lavinia, but they’re exsanguinated and fed to their murderous mother.
There was controversy in season five when Sansa was raped. Image via Facebook.
While criminal charges for domestic violence and rape are still frustratingly difficult to prosecute, there has been a long history of public shaming for these crimes — just look at the old English mob custom "Rough Music." Large crowds would create effigies of the alleged offender and bash pots and pans until it drove the person out of town.
Okay, not a great practice for precision in criminal law, but you get the point. Rape has had some form of consequence for a long time — for both victim (honour killings anyone?) and perpetrator.
Listen to Rosie Waterland break down Game of Thrones in five minutes. (Post continues after audio.)
But in Game of Thrones and many of the scripts I've read, rape is all of a sudden different.
It happens, but then exists in the narrative without consequence, unnoticed, unexamined — leaving all characters involved unaffected.
The event is background detail. And there’s something really fundamentally wrong with that.
My fear, ultimately, is that if the writers at a powerful, influential show like Game of Thrones create rapes on screen that have zero consequence for anyone, and then aspiring writers think that’s okay, what on earth is that going to make VIEWERS think of the act of rape in the long run?
I have no idea. But as a victim, I’m terrified.
This post was originally published on Medium and was republished with full permission.
You can follow the writer on Twitter here: @BritScriptReadr.