The most pervasive topic during the HBO executive session at the 2016 TCA summer press tour was asking network president Casey Bloys about the heavy use of sexualized violence to advance the story in shows like “Game of Thrones” and the upcoming “Westworld.”
Bloys’ response was to say that violence in HBO shows is perpetrated against many people, not just women.
“I think using ‘Game of Thrones’ … and ‘Westworld,’ violence is … everybody, it’s not just specific to women, it’s men and women, it’s kind of indiscriminate, I would say,” says Bloys. “I don’t necessarily see it as specific to women. I think the point of — is there a lot of violence in ‘Westworld’? Yes. But I don’t think it’s specific or isolated to women.”
He later quipped, “We’re going to kill everybody!”
But the point was more that it’s not just about violence, it’s about sexuality violence and rape, the criticism of which Bloys says “is valid.”
“To the larger point of is it something we think about, yes, I think the criticism is valid and I think it’s something people take into account. I don’t think it’s something we want to highlight or are trying to highlight, but the criticism is ‘point taken’ on it,” says Bloys.
The problem is … if the criticism really is valid and the point has been made, then will HBO start to dial down the violence against women that makes rape so commonplace? Will the network put its money where its mouth and make a stand about not tossing those plot devices around like confetti?
Female rape is used as a plot device far too often on screen (and not only on HBO) and because of its pervasiveness, it has lost its shock value, making it feel as run-of-the-mill as any other dramatic turn of events. But that’s exactly the problem — it shouldn’t feel that way. And it most certainly has not been a two-way street. Violence against men on TV is not the same as male rape on TV. Male rape, whether perpetrated by other men or by women, is hardly ever seen on TV.
And we’re not saying it should be. Nobody is championing “more rape on TV!” But it shouldn’t be the case that female characters are raped all the time on TV and then be considered groundbreaking when there was male-on-male rape on “American Crime.”
That was a shocking plot for ABC’s award-winning drama, but nobody is ever shocked anymore when a woman is raped on TV. And if HBO wants to assert that the criticism is valid and say “point taken” in regards to sexualized violence, then … prove it. Do better.
UPDATE: When asked about the sexual violence in “Westworld,” co-creator Lisa Joy gave a thoughtful answer about using it without glorifying or fetishizing it.
“‘Westworld’ is an examination of human nature — the best parts of human nature … but also the basest parts of human nature and that includes violence, it includes sexual violence,” says Joy. “So when we were tackling a project about a park in which the premise is you can come there and do whatever you want, whatever desire you have, with impunity, without consequence, it seemed like it was an issue that we had to address.”
“Sexual violence is an issue that we take very, very seriously,” she continues. “It’s extraordinarily disturbing and horrifying, so in its portrayal, we really endeavored for it to not be about the fetishization of those acts. It is about exploring the crime and establishing the crime and the torment of the characters within this story and exploring their stories, hopefully with dignity and depth.”