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      CommentAuthormuse hick
    • CommentTimeMar 15th 2008
    Can you ever tackle controversial subjects without the risk that you will be mistaken for condoning the acts in question?

    I just had a rejection letter for a short story where they told me they weren't looking for stories where women got tortured, like I was waving a banner for wifebeaters the world over.

    The guy in the story got his comeuppance in a pretty grisly way if that is of any consolation.
  1.  (1418.2)
    I think it all depends on how you handle the subject, what perspective the story takes, how gratuitous the depiction is etc etc. Case in point: Passion of the Mel Christ was a film that was supposed to convey the torturous final hours of Christ and how he died for mankind and the glory of yadda yadda... but all it did was pan slowly across his bleeding naked body as he cried out in slow motion for more hours than I care to remember... high-budget bondage porn if ever I saw it. So if you've gotta ask yourself why there's a torture scene in your story? Why a women being tortured by a man? What does it matter if the man dies? Is the fact that 'justice' is served an excuse for the content in the first place? Why do you need to give an excuse if it really is a valid and essential part of a plot? In what way is it valid and essential? etc...

    And assuming you have good answers for the above, remember that regardless of your message, many people simply don't wish to read or publish stories involving such extreme or taboo subjects, so even if you do handle it sensitively you're unlikely to have publishers banging down your door (I've had that problem with 'extreme' content before).

    ....however, something about the way in which you say "The guy in the story got his comeuppance in a pretty grisly way if that is of any consolation" makes me suspect that it wasn't the best handled social exposé ever...
      CommentAuthormuse hick
    • CommentTimeMar 15th 2008
    hmm, yeah that last line did come off a bit flippant. the story isn't flippant at all. i think the internal logic of the story and the main character make sense. emotionally it was the only way that the guy could communicate his feelings and the female character was willing to accept it to a degree. that could have been the problem rather than the torture i think -- that it was a case of two people in a semi-willing violent relationship that overstepped the mark.
    the 'justice' wasn't exactly administered for the beating of the woman anyway -- it was more of an inevitable end to a downhill slide.
  2.  (1418.4)
    If it's a controversial subject, there will always be that risk, and there's likely to always be someone who interprets the work as condoning the acts. The magnitude of that risk, as Paul indicates, will depend on the handling of it.
  3.  (1418.5)
    ah, you're right I imagine the the fact that it was half consensual was probably what did it. A very large number of people don't understand and don't want to understand what could motivate someone to acts of sadism or masochism. It probably didn't help that you went for women=sub man=dom either. Try switching the genders round and repitching XD They'll probably love it....
    • CommentTimeMar 15th 2008
    David Lynch got quite annoyed at accusations that Blue Velvet was misogynistic. His response was that it's absurd that when you portray a character people assume that they are somehow archetypal, i.e. if you're character's a woman, then she represents all women. People assumed that Dorothy represented Lynch's view of women as submissive objects to be abused. I've also heard accusations that Irreversible 'eroticises' rape. It seems that simply by depicting something in an unflinching manner you are deemed to be promoting it, although maybe that's part of certain people's knee-jerk reaction to being confronted with something they don't want to see - not that I'm saying anyone should want to see someone being raped, but I mean people don't always react terribly rationally when they are confronted with it.

    On the other hand, just because someone's intentions are not to condone something doesn't mean it will be taken that way. Oliver Stone came up with a whole satirical aspect to Natural Born Killers, which he himself admitted was retroactive, which just doesn't carry across in the film. For all they talk about it being a satire of the way the media loves violence, the film relies almost entirely on entertaining its audience with violent action scenes. I'm not saying it really encourages people to go out and kill, but the supposed intent just doesn't follow through in the final product. The same with things like Saw or Dexter, they tack on a carefully constructed but basically superficial morality to it to make it seem ok to create a thrill out of torture and killing.

    I think any work that goes to extremes will inevitably attract negative criticism from people who automatically assume that by showing something it is endorsing it. But that's a reason to only do it when you really have to. I've seen a fair few writers who think the best way to 'push boundaries' is to show extreme violence. Not only is it not boundary pushing to do so anymore, it almost always draws attention away from the actual message. I knew someone who wrote a script where one character tortured and killed another on stage. He said it was really about the nature of love and not really about the violence. So why show the violence then? He had obviously read some Sarah Kane and decided that showing violence on stage was the way to be 'challenging', without considering what else about her plays made them so effective. Violence is not the only way to be challenging. The best way to reach people and get a message across is in fact not to shock them if you don't have to. But for a good example of a film that is at times quite shocking without ever really showing anything I would recommend Fritz Lang's M.
    • CommentAuthorKosmopolit
    • CommentTimeMar 15th 2008
    "The same with things like Saw or Dexter, they tack on a carefully constructed but basically superficial morality to it to make it seem ok to create a thrill out of torture and killing."

    I know where you're coming from and I initially avoided Dexter for that very reason.

    But a couple of friends whose opinion on such things I respect kept recommending it to me so I finally sat down and watched the first series.

    Dexter strikes me as something of an exception. For one thing, the killings are very ritualised and while they're cathartic there's very little in the way of gore or torture. For another, as the series progresses, his self-justification starts to break down in various interesting ways.
    • CommentTimeMar 15th 2008
    To be fair I haven't watched a lot of Dexter. I did also avoid watching Goodfellas for years because I felt that it was mainly 'appreciated' by macho film students who idolized the gangsters and thought they were cool, and used the morality of the tale as an excuse to enjoy the violence. However when you take it as a whole it's a very well made film with a moralistic structure.

    Perhaps Dexter isn't the best example, but my point still applies to Saw and a host of other films that basically revel in torture and killing while presenting a weak justification along the lines of either some kind of moral code given to the killer, or that the film is 'representing real life'.
    • CommentAuthormunin218
    • CommentTimeMar 15th 2008
    Dexter and Saw don't equate to one another well. Read the first of the Dexter novels, you'll see what i mean. The novels are better than the series (though the series was good). It's more about a very skewed look at humanity.... Dexter sees normal human interaction as odd, because he's a sociopath. It kind of makes you laugh at stuff. Some of the best bits are his views on sex.
  4.  (1418.10)
    Muse Hick, never forget this: the world's filled with unbelievably stupid people. So there's always gonna be idiots who misinterpret the story because they can't spend two minutes actually thinking about it instead of believing in the first impression.

    A good example is the Brazilian film that won the Golden Bear in Berlin, Tropa de Elite (Elite Squad). The movie was considered "fascist" by many, while it's the exact opposite of that. By the way, very recommended film.

    What you have to do is be subtle. And in the end, think: what's the final idea your story leaves? What does it all build-up to? Are you waving a banner for wifebeaters, or showing what a bunch of pricks they are?

    You have to be pretty thick if you think when a torture scene is shown, it means the creator condones it. So don't worry so much about people who accuse you of that.
    • CommentTimeMar 15th 2008 edited
    "Hard Candy" is easily one of the most unsettling movies I've ever seen. The premise, a young girl lured to a sexual predators lair where roles reverse, is pretty ripe for exploitation, but it goes past that and is a better story for it.

    I'm going to spoil the flick here

    The girl isn't just an avenger, she's as deranged as the guy she's torturing. The movie has you sympathizing with a sex predator, then her, then the predator, back and forth and around again.

    Finally, you're led to believe that she drives him to suicide out of some sense of vengeance, but you realize that she's not only done this before but is, quite probably, going to keep doing it. Because, like him, she likes it.

    The expectations shifting makes the controversial material secondary to the strength of the narrative. If you go in reading a story about a rapist who gets what he deserves that feels like wish fulfillment at best and simple exploitation at worst.

    One of the first books by Ellis I read was the issue of Transmet where a young woman is talking about how her brother used to abuse her, and how after every instance he would buy her a stuffed animal. Talking about sexual abuse can be cheap and titillating, but that made the victim and to some degree her abuser, utterly human. Years later I can still picture those panels and words clear as day.

    If you tell a good story, even one filled with vile things, a story that moves people and is populated by fleshed out characters, than you really can't go wrong.

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