AWFJ Women On Film – The Week in Women, April 10, 2009 – MaryAnn Johanson

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Date rape, animal porn, and a boost to women’s voices.

IS DATE RAPE FUNNY? That seems to be the big question of the day, because — yup — Seth Rogen’s character date-rapes Anna Faris’s character in Observe and Report, opening today. Faris tells the Onion’s AV Club that she found the scene so shocking that

I just thought, “We’ll shoot it, but it’s not gonna be in the movie. I don’t have to worry about that one.”

But there it is, in the movie, and it’s shocking.

New York magazine’s blog Vulture considers how the film frames the scene:

The movie doesn’t mitigate that sex scene at all. In fact, it makes it even more clear than the trailer does that when Brandi and Ronnie get home from dinner, she’s unbelievably trashed on antidepressants and tequila. Not only does she throw up all over the place, she can barely walk — and she certainly can’t give any kind of informed consent.

I’m not sure that Vulture’s attempt to mitigate the scene works:

But, given all the horrible things Ronnie does later in the movie — out of spite, or stupidity, or flat-out psychosis — this scene winds up seeming a lot less awful as the movie goes on. For one thing, as horribly misdirected as it becomes, his “courtship” of Brandi is the only thing in Ronnie’s life that comes partly from a place of sweetness rather than entirely from a place of darkness. (Sure, plenty of it comes from his sociopath-level desire to wield power over the world, but not all of it.) He may have no idea how to interact properly (or even legally) with a woman, but he’s desperate for connection and helpless before her limited charms.

And he even shows a glimmer of self-awareness — after all, mid-rape, he stops for a moment, worried about whether he’s doing the right thing. Yeah, he’s so deluded and terrified that her drunken reprimand convinces him he is doing the right thing, but at least he thinks about it, which is more than you can say for his behavior in the rest of Observe and Report.

But actually I believe that pertinent question isn’t “Is date rape funny?” — because, of course, it isn’t — but is instead: “Is Observe and Report really a comedy?” The film is being marketed as a comedy, and it does not fully succeed as the the very dark portrait of Ronnie as an reflexively violent, mean-spirited, self-involved ignoramus that it apparantly sets out to be. But I don’t think it gives a stamp of approval to Ronnie’s behavior.

Vulture finds the scene “explosively funny” — I do not — while also being “deeply uncomfortable,” which I think almost anyone would agree with. I think we’re sure to see much debate, even among feminists, about whether there’s anything redeeming in this particular example what appears to be, on the surface — and perhaps below the surface too — Hollywood’s casual misogyny.

MAKING WOMEN SOUND BETTER. Who knew that sexism extended this far into the technological realm? From IMDB’s Studio Briefing:

Traditionally, most microphones employed by broadcasters have been designed to enhance the male voice. But Neumann, one of the largest manufacturers of studio microphones, announced Thursday that it has developed the new KMS 104 Plus that is optimized to improve female voices. The handheld mic, the company said, boosts the bass range in the human voice, making female voices sound fuller and provides “optimal intelligibility of words.”

Just as I learn about something new to be angry about, a reason not to be angry about it comes along as well. Nice.

PORNO FOR A GREEN PLANET. Isabella Rossellini turns sexographer in the sweetest way with Green Porno, her series of Web shorts for the Sundance Channel about the mating habits of all the Earth’s creatures. In the new series, which just began, she highlights the sex lives of marine creatures. These cute, weird little films are creative wonders, and beautiful examples of boundaries that can be pushed when women — or filmmakers of any gender — step outside the system and follow their own voices.

OPENING THIS WEEK. In addition to Observe and Report, discussed above, tween girls — and tween girls alone — get a treat in Hannah Montana The Movie, which may be silly, but at least it’s about a girl.

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  • Katey Rich

    What’s interesting to me about Observe and Report is that it’s taking a fairly traditional way of looking at a main character– earning your sympathy and then testing you as that character does a series of increasingly awful things– and turning it into a comedy. Jody Hill’s first movie, The Foot Fist Way, did the same thing less successfully. Is date rape funny? Of course not. But Observe and Report is a movie that gets laughs when its main character hits children, does heavy drugs, makes racist jabs and shoots a harmless man in the chest at point blank range. The date rape scene is just one of many, many awful things that Ronnie does, and the scene is so powerful and, yes, funny, because it’s such a huge moment of crossing the line.

    I do worry that people will see the movie and think “Oh, she’s giving consent, it’s fine!” But I don’t think that’s the point– Jody Hill and Seth Rogen are making a satire about American masculinity and specifically about this deranged character, and they don’t support half of what he does.

    It’s also fascinating to watch the debate this movie has sparked. When was the last time a mainstream comedy managed that?

  • Joanna Langfield

    When I saw that scene, among the oh so many reactions that flew through my shocked mind was: I can only hope that any woman who sees this will learn a lesson. Even if only for vanity’s sake,(because believe me, you’ll never want to look like that!)DON’T drink/dope/dumb down too much on a date. Could it be that, by seeing this horrifying visual, young women in particular, who don’t want to 1. get raped and 2. look stupid, will be more thoughtful about putting themselves into what could become a compromising position?

    Wouldn’t it be ironic if this controversial scene, which is stirring up so much hysteria in the feminist community, wound up actually saving a few potential victims?

  • Jennifer Merin

    It’s interesting that Observe & Report, a film that’s designed to appeal to audiences in the mood for mindless escape romp would penetrate the compelling issue of date rape as profoundly as it has. As MaryAnn says, the questions Q&R raises aren’t necessarily limited to whether or not date rape is or could be considered to be funny. Also in question are the filmmaker’s intent in including the scene, level of awareness about how date rape figures in to the film’s story and message, and how the scene itself is acted, filmed and edited. That is the seed of serious discussion. It’s unusual for such heady issues to be raised by a film that’s intended to have mass middlebrow appeal, and is being marketed directly to young and hormonal audiences. Perhaps we should be taking a closer look at the message the film ultimately delivers, rather than curtail consideration with cursory comments that date rape isn’t funny. Even if it really isn’t.

  • Edward Douglas

    Yeah, the scene kind of bothers me. The first time I saw it, which was on the online Red Band trailer, I kind of laughed because it was kind of awkward and you think “Yuck” but then she half wakes up and prompts him to keep going, so you laugh. That was pretty much the same reaction at the screening on Tuesday… that got the biggest laugh, so obviously people hadn’t see that scene before, because it’s not really funny at all the second time.

    But the thing people are forgetting (or deliberately ignoring) is that there is a huge chunk of time that is cut out of the movie where we don’t know what happens…. yes, she’s totally trashed, but we don’t know what she says or does after they start kissing in the driveaway to prompt him to be on top of her like that… people are just assuming that she just passed out and he’s taking advantage of that. I get the impression that he’s so enamored with her that he would never make that sort of move unless prompted and he’s so messed up already (bipolar, delusions of grandeur) that his perceived feelings and confusion about what to do in that situation makes him make the wrong decision.

    And I’m only saying this because I’ve been in the EXACT SAME SITUATION… exact that it wasn’t very funny when it happened to me, and I chose to take the high road and let the woman (who I had real feelings for) sleep it off rather than follow up on her clearly drunken advances.

    Personally, I think the debate about that one scene in the movie is kind of ridiculous and seems to be done merely to “sell newspapers”.

  • EKSwitaj

    What Edward Douglas above forgets is that this is a fictional movie, so there’s no such thing as what really happened during the time. To argue that that time might have been filled with the woman doing something to create the situation in which she is violated (and really, no matter what someone that drunk says, they cannot give meaningful consent) says a lot more about you than it does about the movie.

  • Edward Douglas

    No, I don’t think *I* am the one forgetting this is a fictional movie… but if you’re going to try to put it into real world context, then you have to think of the scene(s) that aren’t shown.

  • Chuck

    In the trailer, the scene certainly seems to be making light of the problem of date rape. At the very least, seeing the scene in trailers and elsewhere has succeeded in making me *not* want to see the movie. I’m usually a Seth Rogen fan, but that scene is pretty disappointing.

  • Katey Rich

    And Ed, you doing the right thing helped you avoid what could have been a very real charge of date rape– no one can give consent when they are that inebriated. That’s what worries me most about this scene and its reception, despite the fact that it fits into the movie– that people take her slurred line as her giving consent. It’s not consent, and people need to recognize it.

  • Erin D.

    I thought it was a little weird that the film got so much coverage out of SXSW but no one thought to mention the rape scene.

  • Jennifer Merin

    i think that Ed’s speaking about the film with reference to his life experience is terrific…because it’s an indication that behavior shown on screen–good behavior or bad–is a stimulus for the audience to reflect on their own lives. From start to finish, Seth Rogan’s films and Seth Rogan’s characters are excessively in your face, presenting and/or making fun of bad, stupid, inconsiderate, smarmy, crude human behavior and social interaction. Some of it’s funny–mostly, perhaps, because what he acts out is in some ways the guilty subtext of real life. It’s a kind of asexual pornography that entertains a lot of people–innocently enough that nobody complains about it, even though it reveals exploitive situations. Insert the overt sexuality of date rape, ‘though, and the Rogen genre suddenly engenders outrage. My, my…are we so narrow in our thinking, in our ability to observe and report, that we can only wrap our minds around the notion of exploitation when it’s presented in the form of date rape?

    For the record, I think date rape is wrong–in whatever context it occurs or is shown–and I am opposed to the gratuitious presentation of brutal behavior–sexual or otherwise–on screen. But this film and its date rape scene seems to be a Pandora’s box for date rape discussion on a very broad scale. Whether Rogen et al intended that to be so or find the whole ‘brouhaha’ to be entirely embarassing, the debate is leading to greater awareness of an evil in our midst, and that is a good thing.

    Actually, this scene reminds me of another that seems to me to be somewhat akin to it, a scene in which another pretty blond is too much under the influence to give informed consent about anything. I’m thinking of the ‘reunion’ scene from “In Her Shoes,” the one in which a too-drunk-for-informed-consent Cameron Diaz and a high school buddy rush into the bathroom to get it on, and she pukes and he withdraws and she feels dejected/rejected by him. Call it date rape-interruptus, but Diaz’s character’s disappointment, her thoughts that she’s a failure because she can’t get him to screw her is in some way equivalent to Farris’ “Why’re you stopping?” Yet there was no flap about that scene, and the movie was generally applauded by feminists. Why? Because the film wasn’t billed as a comedy? Or because it was a film that reflected women’s perspectives? Or because Diaz’s character finds redemption from her bad behavior and turns her life around? Probably for all those reasons and dozens more. Maybe just because it’s a better film. Anyway, it’s a film that I very much favor. But, it hasn’t stirred up all this fine and meaningful consciousness raising discussion–which, as Joanna Langield points out above, may just serve as a cautionary tale to young women who see the film and are so shocked by the date rape scene that they learn and follow ways to avoid the real thing in their own lives.

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