Rape ain't what it used to be

by Paul William Tenny

I'll probably have my full, long-winded review of the Stargate Universe pilot up sometime tomorrow, but until then, I've had a few interesting experiences over the past few days that I'd like to share, along with a few thoughts.

I've seen a few people in different places complain about nonchalant treatment of "rape and genocide", which I found utterly confusing. I don't remember any rape in SG-1 or SGA and it seems like that would be something I'd remember. I'll let the genocide thing go for now because I still don't know any that's referring to, as for rape, I just found out how ridiculously sensationalist that entire manufactured controversy really is.

This began when information was leaked out about a guest star character the producers were still looking to cast for a future episode. You may have heard about this, and I know people have written about it. I can't really get into this without spoiling a big part of the show, so if don't like spoilers, stop reading right now.
Here is the character description, which you're about to find out is used for casting, not for writing:

[ELEANOR PERRY] (35-40) and quite attractive. A brilliant scientist who happens to be a quadriplegic. Affected since childhood, her disability has rendered her body physically useless. However, after being brought on board the Destiny as the only person who may be able to save the ship and her crew from certain annihilation, she is given temporary powers that enable her to walk again and to finally experience intimacy. Strong guest lead. NAMES PREFERRED. ACTRESS MUST BE PHYSICALLY THIN. (THINK CALISTA FLOCKHART).

It wasn't revealed here how this person was brought on the Destiny or allowed to walk again because that was a big secret for the show, but since you're still reading this, you either already know the secret or are willing to find out right now.

The gag is that the people on the Destiny -- can't really call them "the team" like you could with SG-1 or SGA, because believe me, these people do not at all resemble a "team" -- have some of the Ancient communication stones with them. They can swap minds with people back on Earth and through this gag they just go ahead and film a full body switch. The disabled woman above will switch bodies (minds really, but you know how it works) with somebody already on the ship, and then do things.

The rub is the "finally experience intimacy" part. A number of people were upset at the intimation that someone who is disabled can't experience intimacy. SGU Consulting Producer (and SGA co-showrunner) Joe Mallozzi addressed this on his blog, and I've seen at least one other person strongly agree with everything he said (I think it may have been SGA co-exec Martin Gero).

In fewer words, these things are drafted externally, not written by the producers or by the writing staff, and don't always reflect the reality of the show or a given episode. Leaks about what happen in the episode were from an early draft of the script that doesn't reflect what will air. And finally, Dr. Rush knows the disabled woman in question.

That really changes things a bit, it doesn't erase all concerns about the morality of what will happen, but again, that's probably the point of what they are doing.

Here we get to the sensationalist part where things are taken to a whole new level of WTF:

Unfortunately not all men on the expedition have a conscience and morals. That's the cue for the group's leader Dr. Nicholas Rush (played by Robert Carlyle), who jumps at the chance to have non-consensual sex with a lesbian's body. But read the scene for yourself (Eleanor is in Camille's body):

Before I get into this, let me point out that -- having seen the pilot -- this should in retrospect be somewhat obvious already. A lot of what we know about the show before it airs is that the people who inhabit it are flawed, imperfect people. It should go without saying that "not all men on the expedition have a conscience and morals" -- though it may be more accurate to say that some people on this show have questionable morals, which is not the same thing as having none at all.

First off that's kind of the point of this show and the direction it's taking. Second, this isn't an expedition. This is not a trained, tight team from the SGC made up of ideal personalities. And in no way do I think it's fair to single out the men, because based on what I've seen, I find it entirely reasonable to expect that the women in this show are going to have issues of conscience and morality as well.

But with that out of the way, I think that to a degree, you could make an argument that using these communications stones on someone who is not willing is a form of rape all by itself. It's an argument, maybe a bit thin, but an argument regardless. But when the transfer is willing? I think you have to accept the fact that your body may not be used exactly the way you want it to when you trade it in for someone else's.

How far is too far is a very legitimate point of debate, and I think that this episode, in part or maybe in whole, is meant to foster exactly that debate.

The point may very well be to demonstrate a moral dilemma that will make the fans think about what they are seeing. And while some fans are doing that now -- before even seeing it -- they don't really seem to get it. It may be reasonable to criticize the actions of the Rush character and I might very well agree with that criticism once I've seen the episode (it's very near the end of the first season so don't expect to see this for a while), because that's the point. And not just the point of this story, but perhaps a microcosm of the series itself. But to take that literally and criticize the writers for writing characters that do dubious things -- essentially blaming the writers for what the charters are doing -- at least to me, is taking things a bit too far.

You don't see people accusing the writing staff of House of being misanthropes just because they write for a character that happens to be one, in a show that revolves around that character who regularly does things that none of us would do.

You don't see anyone accusing the writers of Dexter of being secret homicidal maniacs that think murder is sometimes -- many times in the case of Dexter -- justified and acceptable.

The original problem about the "finally experiences intamicy" thing is an understandable reaction from people who didn't have all the facts, and I think that has mostly been settled by now. But this crap about rape, I'm sorry to say, looks like little more than trolling by people who are looking to pick fights over something they already don't like, even though they don't know much more than what you can get from a book dustcover.

And I think that's a real shame.

* * *

On to the other issues now. It strikes me as interesting, the response to my "first impression" story on the SGU pilot. Most of the people who commented on my story and on the forums where that story has been linked seem to be from the "I knew I wouldn't like it and this confirms my worst fears" crowd.

Not all, but most.

That's really quite surprising to me. I always try to be fair when I'm doing semi-professional criticism -- I've both lauded and bashed Atlantis more than once -- and it's gratifying to see that acknowledgment both here and on the forums. But it was never my intention to confirm anyone's worst fears or to sell the show, and if anything, it feels like a lot of people got the wrong impression from...well, mine.

What I did was list some of the things that stood out to me, and then commented on them a little bit, in preparing myself to see the pilot again so that I can write a proper review. When I said there was no humor in the pilot, that wasn't entirely accurate, and first impressions rarely are. There are a few funny moments, especially when David Blue's character is introduced. And I've been told that there are humorous moments in later episodes.

I find that easy to believe because the pilot is a rather dramatic piece of work that doesn't have a ton of room for humor. There's not a lot of funny to be found in what happens to people in Air, but things will undoubtedly change because we're talking about different stories as time goes on. I don't particularly remember a ton of humor the SGA or SG-1 pilots, either.

If my statement that the humor is gone put you off, please don't take it so absolutely. The humor is mostly gone from the pilot, not from the series. I don't know what is gone from the series because I haven't seen all of it, and neither have you. And even then, my opinion of humor is probably not the same as yours.

Those kinds of misconceptions have been somewhat rampant these past few days, and as much as I enjoyed writing that story, and seeing it bounce around the Internet (GateWorld, SyFy.com forums, televisionwithoutpitty.com, Twitter via the official SyFy account, and from Mark Savela and John Lenic, amongst others, and poor Joe Mallozzi who has been asked no less than three times to read it on his blog), I do regret not making a number of things more clear.

The problem is that had I made the more clear, it would have been a review, not my first impression.

So if you read that, please stick around another couple of days for the full review. I'd appreciate if you did.

And don't go near the official SyFy forums. I almost died there. True story.

Update - My full Stargate Universe review is now online and available.
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its not your fault, its that the makers of the show who are taking a dump on the fans right now and its pissing people off. here we have a show that wants to revive the franchise that it just killed. the creators are like "wow we want to sit with the cool kids lets just leave our nerdy friends and start acting cool"

having said that, lets just hope that SGU lasts as long as SGA because i dont think it will. story will dry up fast especially knowing that there will be no villians and they will travel to a new galaxy every now and then. why do they have to travel between galaxies anyway? -- so we can have some "drama" time between these people? sex in hyperspace? and why do they have to explore any planets at all when their only mission is to get home? its not like they are gonna find a hatch. and romance in shows like this suck because they seem out of place and we always know it wont last as they usually end in some sensational situations leading to a break up or some cases death. lets also hope we dont get threesomes, its not so far-fetched at this point.
all im trying to say is, its too much change for a show that prided itself on being traditional and having that fun hopeful theme get taken away turns the show into an ordinary bore fest. but we will see.
You saw no rape on SG1 or SGA? What about Hathor and Lucius?

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that you didn't see those events as rape considering that the entire Stargate staff didn't see them as rape either. It's a real shame and it showed a profound lack of awareness that is perpetuated through their work. Their initial response was similar to yours as well, an arrogant brush-off that those who saw it as rape were merely trolling or looking for a controversy. It was trivialized and laughed off by fans and writers alike.

If the Stargate staff is intentionally seeking controversy through a storyline where a lesbian's body is raped by a man then they should step up and take responsibility for it and the resulting debate. If they're still blind about the stories they write and their implications then they're in the wrong line of work. Excusing it and playing diversionary games by taking swipes at fans is childish and nonproductive.

"I don't remember any rape in SG-1 or SGA and it seems like that would be something I'd remember."

You'd think so, wouldn't you? But apparently you have a much bigger problem, you don't even recognize the act of rape when it happens. And if your perception of what happened on SG1 or SGA is that flawed, what on earth makes you think your perception of what is happening on SGU has any crediblity?

Maybe this will jog your memory - Lucius in SGA. He used the chemical coercion of multiple women to overcome their objections and have sex with them. The storyline made it absolutely clear that without his use of the drug they would never have consented. That's rape (ever heard of the Earth equivalent, rohypnol - there's a reason why its called a date rape drug).

In SG1 Apophis had sex with Sha're's body while she was controlled by her symbiote - and Sha're mond was completely aware of what was going on but was unable to do anything about her body was being used. That's rape.

I suggest you do the following for homework - go re-watch Hathor & figure out which of the SG1 team members is raped in that ep.
"its not your fault, its that the makers of the show who are taking a dump on the fans right now and its pissing people off. here we have a show that wants to revive the franchise that it just killed. the creators are like "wow we want to sit with the cool kids lets just leave our nerdy friends and start acting cool""

I think you have this backwards - it's the "fans" that are taking a dump on TPTB. I believe you also meant to say that we have a show that wants to continue a strong franchise that the "fans" are trying to kill.

Anyway, I'm staying away from this subject for the most part. I will say that if you have trouble with this particular subject, turn your TV off, especially with such a broad definition - you may find it in a lot more shows than you think.
"I think you have this backwards - it's the "fans" that are taking a dump on TPTB. I believe you also meant to say that we have a show that wants to continue a strong franchise that the "fans" are trying to kill."

No I'm pretty sure it was right the other way around.

The fans didn't cancel Atlantis so the fans could make a shiny new show that has alienated a not so small part of the fan base from the franchise.
so Tenny, were you blown away by the pilot or was it so and so? im serious. tell me honestly, was it worth canceling Atlantis?
What I find most interesting is that you've answered the comments about the production end of SGU and Atlantis, but you haven't bothered to respond to the serious and worthwhile comments about rape storylines within the franchise.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but it feels like your brushing these thought provoking points right under the carpet. Are you still willing to deny that the scenarios the other commenters have presented are not in fact rape storylines within SG-1 and SGA? Do you still think that this isn't a worthwhile topic to talk about?

It's not just an issue of privilege and the hot button triggers of your audience. It's about sensitivity and THOUGHTFULNESS. What the fans are asking is that the writers and producers examine what it is that they're doing. We're asking TPTB to take a good long look at their story lines and how they are so easily dismissed because it's "not really rape" or it's "not really about disability." Well, here's the thing. It is. And the way these ideas are being handled and the way the fans are being treated is abysmal.

We're in the 21st century kids. You think we'd be past this point already.

I'm asking you, directly, as one person who's made a rather lengthy argument to the contrary. Do you still think that this isn't an issue when there are so many people bothered by it? Do you still think it's not a problem when there are plenty of examples proving otherwise? Are you going to side with TPTB, put your fingers in your ears and pretend we're not here?

Because we're not going away and we're putting a face on this issue. You hopped into this dialogue, so please, feel free to reply.
How lucky for you that you didn't see rape in SGA. How lucky for you that you can see the episode in which Lucius drugged himself so people were compelled towards him, women had sex with him--when they certainly wouldn't have without the drug--and don't see rape. How lucky that no one has ever used your body against your will. How lucky that you have the privilege to see rape and not recognise it. It must be very pleasant where you live.

For some of us, it's not so pleasant. Rape is the same as what it used to be. And your attitude is the same as attitudes like yours have always been. Rape means lack of consent. It means coercion. It means intercourse with someone passed out drunk. It means holding someone down and forcing them. It means telling someone they have to keep their job. It means telling someone they have to for a promotion. It means drugging someone and doing it to them when they can't say yes or no. It means all these things. And certainly, it means using someone else's body in a way they can't agree to sexually. Yes. That's what rape is.

And until you really get that, you're just perpetuating a society that promotes it.

As several people have commented already SG1 and SGA did have instances of rape. I didn't watch SG1 in 'real time' but I did watch SGA when it aired and I can tell you that the rape was definitely talked about at the time by fans, and was brought up by fans to the powers that be. They were - as you are currently - unaware that they very much portrayed Lucius was a rapist, but tell me how this conversation can be taken as anything but rape:

LUCIUS: See, that's the great thing about this herb. Nobody gets hurt...I'm a nice guy. I never make them do anything they didn't wanna do.

SHEPPARD (pointedly): Six wives.

LUCIUS (raising his eyebrows and smiling wickedly at John): Sometimes all at once.

(John looks like he's trying not to throw up.)

Especially when based on this information from one of the wives from earlier:

WILLA (bowing her head): I am ashamed to admit that I refused to share his bed more than once ...

To me that sequence of events seems to go: she refused him (multiple times), he drugged her, he had sex with her (often including other women).

That's rape, dude. Legally, morally, that's rape.

And since you can't see that, I'm not surprised that you didn't see the many layers of wrong in what was leaked, which included more than the character side that you printed. Sure, it's still supposition because they haven't filmed or edited it and things can change, *however* based on the fact that they have presented rape (and sexual molestation actually, see: Duet) for laughs in the past, you can begin see why we are extremely hesitant to put our faith in them.

On a side note, I think it's kind of funny that you are saying that fans are being sensationalist by getting angry about several pieces of leaked information that all seemed to corroborate each other when you are - it seems to me - writing an entire article based off of a single quote that does not encapsulate the entirety of the argument at all.

For reference this article explains it well and has numerous links for you to peruse:

As a final point, when the writers of Dexter start having dead bodies pile up around them under suspicious circumstances you can be assured that we will start questioning them as secret homicidal maniacs. As it stands, the Stargate powers that be have been parading around their 'dead bodies' in episodes such as Hathor, Duet, Irresistible, etc. for years and most of the time they don't even realize their doing it.

This, quite frankly, leads us to believe that it's not the characters that are the problem, it's the people who are guiding them. There's only so many times you can tell fans that it wasn't meant to be rape before they start questioning your morals.
So now you're deleting the comments of the folks you don't agree with?

Classy, dude. Classy.
Your claims to encourage open debate would perhaps hold water if you had responded to any of the people in this thread who've offered you evidence of rape in the SG universe, or suggested - as politely as anyone could dream of, considering that your post is thoroughly infuriating and misinformed on general matters of sexual assault - that you rethink your claims.

Anger in the face of injustice is, in and of itself, a just response. That someone swore is not remotely surprising to me. And while personal attacks are never particularly pleasant to endure, it's perhaps worth considering why your words would infuriate someone to the point of them calling you names. Other commenters have provided you with perspective enough to understand that, I think.
I saw no garbage in the comment you deleted; it was a good comment, and you were wrong to criticize it. I can say that because I read the comment and I wasn't upset by it; I actually thought the comment had merit, that it brought up some interesting and thought-provoking ideas. That it made you angry and upset or that you saw things wrong with it, things that you found offensive and felt brought the level of discourse down, isn't as important as what I, an objective, dispassionate, level-headed viewer of the comment, think about it. I'm in the best position to pass judgment on your ridiculously sensationalistic reaction to that comment, not you. Therefore, your criticism and deletion of that comment was unjustified. (Apparently, "open debate" ain't what it used to be, either.)
The issue under discussion is rape, not the general parameters of what symbiotes do on a day-to-day basis, so rejecting that example on the basis of what it doesn't address is specious. You said rape hadn't occurred in SG1 or SGA; several people have countered with examples that prove the contrary. Making the issue the question of symbiotes in general is just moving the goalposts - it doesn't make your original claim any more supportable than it was before.

As for SGU - unless Wray gives Perry explicit permission to use her body for a straight sexual encounter, there is no consent. Even if there is opportunity for Wray and Perry to have that conversation (which seems unlikely, given what we know of the device in question and its operation) Wray is not completely free to do as she wishes - her body's continued existence, and the survival of her colleagues, depends on Perry being able to go and fix the ship. That's a situation of duress; it makes any consent questionable at the very best.

But that's not really the point. The point is that you have the luxury of finding this discussion absurd because you're a guy who doesn't have to face rape culture every day of his life. This little situation in SGU is a moment of drama for you because you don't have to face it in real life. You can choose not to see how pervasive these issues are because they don't effect you - emotionally and physically - every moment of every day. You don't have consider how to avoid the promise of sexual assault as you walk someplace after dark; you don't have to endure sexual harassment and catcalls on a daily basis; you don't have to endure men telling you your experience wasn't actually assault, or actually rape because of a hundred-and-one exceptions they think apply. Your body has not been sexually used by someone else against your will.

This is not some abstract playground. And frankly, a whole bunch of us female sci-fi friends are sick and tired of our bodies being the locus of entertainment and dubious "education" in this fashion. What's new about a woman being assaulted? What's entertaining about someone trying to find a way to rationalize that her body isn't being sexually abused when we know full well what abuse is?

Let me say, in closing, that the title of your post reflects every bit of the luxury you posses, and the blinders you're wearing. Rape is exactly what it used to be - it's not new, it's not different, it's not suddenly permissible, or taking on all manner of new forms. Rape is pervasive, on screen and off, and we are tired of it. Enough. There are better things to do with female bodies and female characters than assault them.
One can encourage debate and not participate themselves.

One implies that one has something to "teach" us by doing this because it is a behavior most common in professors, parents, or people in authority. You are neither my professor, my parent, nor someone in authority and choosing to post something like this and then not discuss it is smug, condescending and kind of rude. Obviously you can choose to appear however you want in your own blog, but as a heads up, it's not giving anyone a good impression.

I find it somewhat amusing that a person can get all worked up over that, but seemingly not care about the invasion a symbiote poses on its victim to begin with. To get upset over what Apophis did, as opposed to what the symbiote in Shar're did, stinks of sensationalism and missing the point.

The thing is, the inherent issues with the symbiote did get addressed in several episodes. The invasion, the disgust, the horror at witnessing your body act in ways that you do not approve where discussed. Sha're's rape was not. So it's not that we're not upset with what the symbiote did, it's that we're upset that no one seemed to notice that there was more than just the symbiote that was the problem. The double standard here isn't with us.
But I didn't see that word as "swearing"; it's the sort of word that adults do, in fact, use, all the time and was entirely appropriate to the subject being discussed. And I didn't see anything wrong with her directing her response to you, the person who made the original post. Therefore, since I don't see anything wrong with it, and being the objective viewer of both participants to that interchange that I am, I judge that you were wrong in your response to it.
At first, I gave you the benefit of the doubt in thinking perhaps you just needed some examples to understand how very wrong you were.

Instead, I find that you are willful in your denial of things. You deliberately do not want to understand. You're not ignorant; you're obstinate.

You really don't want to consider anyone else's reality when you make these incredibly offensive statements because you have the luxury of your privilege.

You don't see how hurtful you (and-more importantly-your mindset) is. You don't want to see. That, in my opinion, is worse.

You don't see how just trying to educate you is costing the people in your blog. You don't realize how your comments are just as poisonous as any other person who denied their abuse.

You (and people like you) are part of the reason why we have such an insidious rape culture.

No Love At All,


After reading your post, especially the *title*, I was horrified. But after reading the replies to your post, especially those from Cate and Red, I have hope that there are still intelligent people who understand the issue. I wish I could have read the comments that were deleted. Do you delete most of the comments that prove just how wrong your opinions are?

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