Friday, July 21, 2006

The Rape Scene

I recently learned that child actress, Dakota Fanning, has signed on to a role in the movie Hounddog. According to reports, the film takes place in the south and has Fanning’s character raped in one scene and appearing nude in others.

Any cinematographic rape scene is disturbing. But, a 12-year-old girl? Reports indicate that Fanning’s mother and agent are supportive of her casting, believing that this role could have Oscar potential. But, at what cost? Should Fanning have taken the role? True, women (even girls) are raped at alarming rates, and to deny this fact just because we’re at the movies might not seem that honest. And, true, any woman (or person, for that matter) can choose (especially with this knowledge) whether or not she’d like to see the film. But what about the people who choose to see the film because of this, who are excited and aroused witnessing the sexualized Fanning’s attack? And what about Fanning, who’s not just baring her body (a la a young Brooke Shields), but who’s vicariously victimized, who consciously knows that “we’re just playing,” but who may somehow still internalize the violence and disempowerment of the scene?

When we value a woman for her body (or, on the other hand, condemn her for it), we’re setting the stage for objectification. There’s a fine line between exposing a female body (as a commodity) and aggressing upon it, and the consequences are even more disturbing when the body is that of a little girl.


psychbaby said...

All arguments aside, that just makes me ill.

PalmTreeChick said...

That's just seriously disturbing!

overanalyst said...

do you think ms. fanning recognizes what rape means on emotional and societal levels? i know i wouldn't have when i was 12 years old.
i read your blog a lot, and i thinks it's a very valuable and relevant commentary on our times. would you give me your email address, if that's something you would give out online? "eating disorder" defined my life for far too many years. i would love to write to you. and please don't have reservations about not giving me your email address, if you don't want to. thanks for all that you're doing here. -

Shakti said...

I don't think that the people making the movie have the responsability to worry about whether or not sexual perverts will find the scene arousing, as you brought up. I mean, if you want to look at it that way, then we should all don hijab and wear burkas to be free from the gaze of men. I do think, however, that Fanning could possibly be imprinted by the scene, for the human body and the human mind probably have trouble differentiating 'make beleive' from 'real.' I once read that the brain can't tell the difference between people it has gotten to know on tv shows and people it knows in real life, which explains why people develop 'relationships' with the characters and mourn their loss when they 'die' or have something tragic 'happen' to them. I think that in being an actor, one possibly faces the same phenomenon.
At 12, I don't think Dakota is a moron. I think a lot of us underestimate the intelligence of kids; I know when I was 12 I was at a level where I could have probably acted a scene like that and understood its moral and psychological implications, but I probably would have lacked the emotional maturity to fully grasp it. I think intellectually Fanning probably 'gets' what rape 'means,' in other words, but who knows what kind of imprint it will leave on her soul.

littlem said...

Shakti said:

"I don't think that the people making the movie have the responsability [sic] to worry about whether or not sexual perverts will find the scene arousing, as you brought up. I mean, if you want to look at it that way, then we should all don hijab and wear burkas to be free from the gaze of men."

I've got to disagree. First, I thnk that analysis is more than a bit absolutist. There are a few degrees of grey between movie audience market analysis (that is, after all, why they have an MPAA rating system) and burquas/the hijab -- which latter, as I recall from talking to Muslim friends of mine that have been raped, never stopped "the gaze of men" anyway. (I think it's REALLY wrongheaded to put the burden on women of "controlling men's urges", but that's a different rant.)

I think the studio suits are showing incredibly bad judgment, and I hope the movie gets boycotted.

I think all I'm going to say -- since I believe there are very subtle power dynamics between so-called "alpha and "beta" men, and "alpha" and "beta" women, and between men and women, that we as a society tend to shy away from scrutinizing -- that there is a difference between conceding that SEX sells and permitting RAPE to sell.

I think that the fact that they're considering a 12-year-old actress to do the part is appalling. I have no idea how old Jodie Foster was when she won her Oscar for "The Accused", but the central dramatic conflict of the movie was sufficiently mesmerizing and horrifiying without her having to be underage. And Anna Paquin got her Oscar without having to be raped. This had better be a damned good story.

And why wouldn't it mark her? Unless you were an abused child, and even if you were, what did you know about the psychological dynamics of rape when you were 12? Throw a few million dollars and career advancement in there to muddy the waters of the decision, there's a great set of concepts.

Baaaaaaaaaad idea, IMO. Whatever exec green-lit this needs serious cognitive-behavioral therapy, stat.

Haley-O said...

OH MY GOSH. I am so disturbed right now. I cannot believe it. Shocking. And, so disappointing. I can't believe Fanning's parents would permit her to do such a role, at whatever psychological cost, for the sake, it seems, of an Oscar. And, you know she'll get the oscar. The minute an actress bares all, she gets nominated. Scary that the same applies to a 12 year old. This is so upsetting.

allisonsky said...

Dr. Stacey,
What a well written and true post. I think it is actually discusting, and borders statutory rape. They could have used a mannikin or something, and not even let her see the scene. And Haleo I agree with you all the way.!

drstaceyny said...

pb/ptc/as--Yeah, pretty disturbing (and maybe even disturbing just to think abt, but when the movie is released, I think it'll be helpful to have this knowledge when you decide whether or not you'll go).

oa--that's a good question. Understanding it cognitively vs. emotionally (as Shakti mentions) are two different things. I might add that unless you've been assaulted, it's hard to "understand rape," (and even then it might still be difficult) as we can philosophize all we want, but it's ultimately a uniquely personal and emotional experience. You're welcome to email me--my address is on my profile (though I won't re-type here in case of spam). I don't need to be contacted by any more breast enhancement salespeople.

shakti/m--interesting debate. I'm curioius where others stand re: producers' responsibilities/boycotting/etc.

m-just looked it up--if my math is right, Jodie Foster was 26 when she won the Oscar. Little bit different than 12, huh? ; )

Haley--good point abt nudity. Argh.

Flowerchild said...


ps22 said...

While I see shakti's point, i agree with littlem. Responsibility has to start somewhere. I understand the idea that media puts out what the public wants (e.g. US weekly), but c'mon - i highly doubt people (other than pedophiles) were standing around chanting "please show me a 12 year old girl getting raped." We all know that publicity and marketing are powerful tools and they are inappropriately used to sub-consciously and illicitly convince and manipulate people into thinking they want something when, otherwise, it would have never crossed their mind. I can't tell you how many stupid complilation CD's I've bought from Starbucks thinking it will help induce me into some sort of coffee-tasting, melodic-sounding, culturally-enhanced sanctuary.

Kelly said...

When I first read about this, I was appalled. Dakota Fanning is only 12 and while she may be a bright and precocious girl, she is just that - a girl. Her mother especially, but her agent too should be guiding her career while protecting her from such extremes, instead of hoping for the glory of an Oscar. Even though it is all an act, the idea of a little girl having to pretend that she is being raped is disgusting.

Body issues and objectification aside, she is a little girl!