False Accusation Myths in Star Trek: Voyager, ‘Retrospect’

18 Dec

So here’s a blog entry that’s over ten years late. 

I’ve been storming my way through Star Trek: Voyager recently. Apart from a few dodgy episodes (let’s not even talk about Threshold) and a dislike for any plotline that involves The Romantic and Sexist Adventures of Harry Kim, I’ve been overjoyed to find that the writing and character construction in this show still holds a lot of water. I have genuinely cried my eyes out over this crew, and I find Janeway in particular to be an incredibly inspiring character.

This evening I came home and watched ‘Retrospect’, an episode halfway through season four. It’s the series that saw Seven of Nine join the principle crew, and many of her stories so far have dealt with attempts to rehabilitate the former Borg and help her reclaim her humanity. A large part of this has been an emphasis on personal autonomy and independence. In the previous episode, ‘Prey’, Seven and Janeway argued about the boundaries of this independence, with Seven challenging the conflict between being encouraged to think for herself but also being expected to think like the rest of the crew. 

So when the Doctor helps Seven recover what they both believe to be the repressed memories of a physical assault, it is a powerful statement of how this character is beginning to think about herself and her body that she describes the attack as being ‘violated’. What she remembers happening isn’t a rape but a harvesting of her Borg technology, but nevertheless this is an episode thick with rape metaphors: because of the use of terms like ‘violated’, because of Seven’s anxiety attacks, because of the (somewhat blunt) parallels drawn between nano-probes and semen, because of the disbelief Seven encounters from her crew, because of the framing of the accusation itself as something which could destroy the accused’s life, because because because. 

When the episode started I was naively excited about the direction it was going. I felt it began with a series of interesting, if not wildly original, scenes covering the psychological effects of repressing, then remembering, trauma. Jeri Ryan delivered a glorious performance, and it was refreshing to see strong, unemotional Seven as an unusual depiction of a victim. I thought the reactions of Seven’s confidants were probably accurate even if they were a bit victim-blame-y in places, but I was full expecting that by having Seven’s male superiors raise her history of hallucinations, the show was preparing for a Janeway smackdown. There was no such smackdown, because for some reason my beloved captain had to be fair to a creepy weapon salesman rather than defend her crew-member (despite later claiming that she had been blinded by her desire to protect Seven. I do not think that means what you think it means, show). Still, the accused man’s reactions to the accusation seemed on point, particularly his incredibly self-centred attitude.

My alarm bells didn’t really go off until the examination of the ‘scene of the crime’, where the Doctor suddenly decided to take an out of character turn as a gross parody of the misleading psychiatrist/over-zealous activist. And then, as it was discovered that there was no concrete evidence of any assault having taken place, the episode came tumbling down.

What it boils down to is this: rape trials, if a rape even gets to trial (and the stats are abysmal), can often boil down to ‘she said/he said’. Voyager is not wrong to play out such a story. But that’s not the story ‘Retrospect’ told. For some reason, the episode veered off wildly into a half-boiled critique of the psychiatry of recovering repressed memories. As soon as it became apparent that the evidence of the assault was inconclusive, Seven’s recovered memories were neatly explained away (in the space of a few lines) as being residual trauma from unspecified medical procedures that were, y’know, probably performed by the Borg for some reason or other. Despite the fact that the Doctor had argued very convincingly that this was probably not the case earlier in the episode for reasons to do with Seven’s actual brain physiology, a few splatters of innocent semen nano-probes were enough to make him forget all of this other evidence and chalk it up to not really understanding Seven’s neurology yet. What. So suddenly this is a story about the Doctor being a crap psychiatrist and Seven being a lying liar and that poor poor dead accused weapons salesman who so tragically died whilst trying to destroy the whole ship and everyone on it because of the terrible lies of Seven and the cloudy judgement of her friends, blah blah blah…

Unconsciously, I’m sure we’d all like to believe that false accusations account for a significant proportion of the women raped every single day in this country, because that would mean that this crime actually having taken place is the exception, not the rule. It would be an amazing world to live in where women were not routinely victimised and assaulted by the people they love and trust. But the world we actually live in is one where on top of 1 in 3 women being raped, the few women amongst that number who do come forward will be routinely disbelieved and blamed. 

So consider this a retrospective fuck you, writers of Voyager, for perpetuating the myth that women cannot be believed when it comes to rape, and that the perpetrators are somehow equally deserving of our compassion. Consider that one human experience you shouldn’t have used just so that the Doctor could learn a valuable lesson about not being a dodgy hack psychiatrist. And frankly, how dare you belittle the experiences of rape survivors in order to teach Seven how to feel anger and remorse. Anger: I’m feeling it. Remorse: I hope you have some.

I think we can all agree it’s Hard Out Here

16 Nov

Hello again blog! I’m resurrecting this because, like a lot of folks, I have some thoughts about Lily Allen’s return to music in her new song, Hard Out Here.

I’ve obviously seen the discussion about racism in the video, but I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that as a white feminist in what seems to be a discussion about another white feminist (Allen) oppressing her black female dancers, my voice is really not needed in this debate. I’m interested in this aspect of it, but I don’t feel like I should be commenting on it. So I’d advise looking elsewhere for that.

I think Hard Out Here is interesting because there are two completely separate satires at play: the song and the video. Put together, the whole thing is a critique of sexism in the music industry, but in isolation the lyrics are much more general, except for the self-referential ‘you’ll find me in the studio and not in the kitchen’ right at the start. The rest of the song is a brutally sarcastic reworking of the sexism that is common to all women, regardless of their professions: the policing of our sex lives, the gendered, heteronormative pressure to look good or ‘you’ll end up on your own’ (i.e. without a man), the myriad abuses and double-standards we’re held to whilst still being told by a society that resists change that ‘we’ve never had it so good’, so we should just stop complaining. I’m never completely comfortable with the word ‘bitch’ because I would prefer gendered slurs weren’t normalised under any conditions, but this is the closest I’ve come to enjoying a reclamation of it. The sheer volume of ‘bitch-bitch-bitch’s that Allen hurls at the listeners actually seems to work to drive home how preposterous it is that a whole half of the population are routinely torn down and dehumanised by this word, and as an insult it isn’t even widely considered that bad.

Plus it’s pretty catchy. Not that my taste in music holds much stock.

The video is, as many people are pointing out, a different story. There are bits of it that I absolutely adore, and generally these are the parts focused on Allen as an individual, her own insecurities, and her own anger at the pressures being put on her by an unjust industry – her protest of ‘I’ve had two babies’ to the body-shaming being flung at her by her male manager, for example, and the absolutely EXCELLENT balloons. But I’m cautious about whether the slow-mo shots of twerking arses being drenched in champagne really work as satire. The aim is clearly to ridicule the degradation of women’s bodies in music videos (and thank fuck someone in a position of influence is hitting back at the disgusting mess left by Robin Thicke earlier this year). But I wonder whether this visual satire actually works when its framed by the very aesthetic it’s attempting to poke fun at.

It’s all very well for Allen to sing ‘and if you can’t detect the sarcasm, you’ve misunderstood’. That’s useful to anyone stupid enough to hear the song and think it’s somehow an anthem of the patriarchy. But sarcasm doesn’t work on video for the same reason sarcasm often fails in text messages or Tweets. Sarcasm is a vocal technique which lets us know what’s being said isn’t meant in the way we’re hearing it. Sarcasm doesn’t work anywhere near as well when we’re trying to look at it.

If you looked at those soft porn rip-off shots out of context, they wouldn’t be satirical. They would just be soft porn rip-offs. And yes, obviously satire only functions because of the context its placed in. But I do think there’s something uncomfortable about a bang-on song that shouts angrily and intelligently at sexism being illustrated by visual re-creations of sexism. If the video wasn’t a music video, if perhaps it was a parody skit within the framework of a TV sketch show, if it didn’t actively contribute to the overall depiction of women’s bodies in music videos, perhaps it would work a whole lot better. As it is, a good half of that video is visually made up of the stuff the song is critiquing. And that’s a problem.

So maybe, as an experiment, you might try listening to the song without the video? Or watching the video without sound? Does it change anything for you? I’d be interested to find out.

April – a few post-show thoughts

23 Jan

April - Bike Shed Poster A3 ultralarge

 

I never really know how to feel when a production of one of my plays comes to an end. I don’t particularly find it very relaxing to sit through a performance – if I can’t find someone’s hand to squeeze, I tend to sit in the back and hope my view will be blocked by other peoples’ heads. And I guess ‘April‘ isn’t a particularly relaxing play for anyone to sit through as it hurtles towards its fairly bleak ending, so I’ll assume I’m not the only one who breathed a sigh of relief after last night’s performance at the Bike Shed Theatre.

I’m not relieved that it’s over, because I’m really going to miss working with New Model Theatre - with Tom, Eloise, Alice and Nick. The real relief for me is in watching my writing stand on its own two feet without falling over. That’s a nice feeling.

There have been a few tricky moments in realising this play, as there are with any production, so another source of relief to me is that we absolutely had the right team – the right cast, the right crew, and the right director. And we took the right opportunity to get it seen at the Bike Shed. I sincerely hope that From Devon With Love becomes a regular festival there.

It’s weird, because in so many ways, that’s sort of it. It’s done. We did it. But that’s not it, because I’m really very proud of this brutal little play, and I’m hoping it’ll go further. Maybe I’ll have something more to say on that front soon.

If you did see it last night – or last December when it was on at the Coffee Cellar – we’d love to hear from you about it. Feedback is so crucial to new theatre – we need the criticism so we can learn how to get better, and the praise so we can show how well we’ve already done! So please take a second to leave a comment on the New Model Theatre Facebook page - or leave a comment on this post. And thank you from all of us for being such a lovely audience.

Exeter’s Safer Sex Ball is not sex positive – but it could be

19 Jan

I’d guess I’m not the only student at Exeter who’s fed up of our uni hitting national news for all the wrong reasons. Over the past few months, the annual Safer Sex Ball has been embarrassing us all over again – firstly for the racist ‘tribal’ theme and more recently for an illegally distributed video of a couple at the ball having sex in the student bar. Last year, of course, we also had the SSB’s official publication (the ‘shag mag’) providing a glowing example of how not to be safe about sex by making a rape joke concerning stripping a girl naked without her consent.

SSB has always been controversial, which is probably why it’s always been so popular. To be honest, after feeling pretty disgusted by some of the decisions the organisers have made over the past two years, my knee-jerk reaction to hearing yet another tale of SSB misconduct is that the whole event should be thrown out. It seems so completely corrupted now that the ‘safe’ bit of the ball is like an afterthought, a joke, a vague memory of why SSB was founded and what the charities it sponsors are striving to achieve around the world.

I’m a confessed outsider when it comes to SSB. It has never felt like ‘my kind of thing’ because I’m not overly fussed about the idea of stripping off for a party. I would be fine with doing it in principle – me and my body are on pretty good terms. But I was at a friend’s birthday last week, fully dressed, in a pub. And I left that pub because a man was staring at me. An old man, by himself, staring at me, consistently. He didn’t react at all whenever I caught his eye (and I did a lot because you feel it all over when someone’s staring at you) and he didn’t stop. Another friend had to walk me out of the pub to make sure he wasn’t going to follow me home, because that’s how intimidating he was. I’m sure other women have had similar experiences. So when I say SSB isn’t my kind of thing, it’s not because I have a problem with the dress code, it’s because I already have enough incidents racked up of being harrassed and scared and upset without having been in my underwear and pressed up against a thousand other drunk people. I would rather not put myself and my body in that situation.

I think that’s what SSB is trying to be about, underneath it all – us, and our bodies, and our myriad sexualities. That’s what sex positivity is about. It’s about being comfortable and accepting. It’s about being honest about sex without glamorizing it, and recognising its place in humanity without shame for those who like a lot of it, or those who don’t have it at all. It’s about knowing yourself, your body, and what you want, and being able to tell your partners that, whilst also being damn sure that they are in the same place. It’s about consent, enthusiastic consent. And it’s also about acknowledging that other peoples’ sexualities are different to yours and that is absolutely okay.

SSB falls down on this when it sexualises other peoples’ cultures. Or when it thinks consent is something to joke about. It falls down when it fails to put enough security staff in a bar to separate a couple before they got caught on CCTV. Or when it doesn’t make it clear that despite the condoms being handed out at the door, there are, in fact, laws about where you can and cannot have safe sex. Or when a proportion of the people attending get so drunk beforehand that they aren’t even allowed into the venue. And most importantly, it falls down when all of this becomes what the event is perceived to be about by the wider community, when in reality the purported campaigns of SSB are completely different (apparently ‘sexual health and safer sex’, ‘no means no’ and ‘positive body image’, and the fact that I had to Google to find that out indicates they’re failing to reach everyone with those messages).

Obviously, the vast majority of students who attend SSB have an amazing night, and it’s a night that isn’t necessarily sexually charged every single second. When it comes down to it, it’s a ball, so it’s about getting drunk and dancing – and the dress code is just an added element of fun. It doesn’t inherently make it an immoral place where ‘bad things’ are more likely to happen, because an outfit has fuck all to do with sexual assault (alcohol has something to do with sexual assault, but in this respect SSB is no more dangerous than a Cheesy Tuesday at Arena). So the thing is, it wouldn’t actually take that much to bring out the sex positive core of SSB. It would take organisers who are much more savvy on social justice issues and much more aware of the environment they’re creating. That’s about it. There men everywhere – like my charming gentleman in the pub, who I personally hope treads on a Lego – whose ingrained misogynistic values lead them to make women feel uncomfortable, and SSB is not special – yet. It could be. If the organisers were explicit enough about it and made sure there was some way of enforcing it, it could be declared a revolutionary sex positive safe zone where it is every person’s responsibility to respect everyone else. It could foster a really inspiring attitude rather than making us all look like idiots.

We just need to be open to talking about this, and understanding why SSB keeps tripping up. We can’t just brush everything negative aside because ‘it’s for charity’ or ‘it’s only a bit of fun’, because that’s ignoring problems rather than solving them. I’d love to see RAG declare next year that SSB is going to be a fully sex positive environment (even if actual ‘activity’ might still be off the table) – and I’d love it even more if they followed through.

April at the Bike Shed Theatre, Exeter

10 Dec
New Model Theatre, 2012

New Model Theatre, 2012

I’m absolutely thrilled to announce that ‘April‘ will be performed at the Bike Shed Theatre, Exeter, in January 2013. It’s going to be a part of their From Devon With Love mini-festival, which includes a brilliant, eclectic mix of various different performances from local practitioners – and I’m very proud that ‘April’ is going to be a part of that.

The two performances at the Coffee Cellar went brilliantly and were very well received. Thanks to everyone who came. If you’ve got any comments about the show, it’d be great to hear them over on the New Model Theatre page. And to anyone who didn’t or couldn’t come this weekend, please please please book a ticket for January – here!

Roll on 2013!

April – How To Take All The Keys Off a Broken Keyboard with a Bulldog Clip

24 Nov

First, take two old keyboards that have been given to you by a lovely and generous work colleague of your father’s (thanks so much, Richard Ferris).

Second, hold aloft your trusty bulldog clip. A screwdriver will obviously work just as well (if not better), but you’ll definitely lose that desperate-student, will-use-anything-to-create-theatre vibe.

Third, lever an edge of the bulldog clip under the key of your choice. Time to say goodbye, Del. key.

Fourth, apply enough upward force to the end of the bulldog clip to ensure that the Del. key pops out of the keyboard, hits your sloping top floor ceiling and bounces from the top of your head on the way back down.

Finally, capture the escaped Del. key and put it safely in a plastic bag.

Repeat!

To find out what on earth we’re doing with all these massacred keys, make sure you come and see April! Friday 7th December, The Coffee Cellar, Exeter.

April – Upcoming Performances

21 Nov

I’m very chuffed to announce that ‘April‘ has a couple of performances lined up. Yay! We’re producing it with the director’s (Tom Nicholas) new company, New Model Theatre. The first show is rapidly approaching – Friday 7th December, at a lovely little venue on the Exeter Quay called The Coffee Cellar. It’s a small space but that’s pretty perfect for us – we want the audience to be as close to our two lovely actors as possible!

Rehearsals are well underway and Alice (April), Nick (Will), and Tom are ploughing through the blocking – I think we might be able to give it a very early stagger through at the end of the week… Something I’ve heard from both actors is that one of the strangest things about this duologue is not being able to make eye contact – most of the action happens online, so the characters can’t see each other and the actors pretty much stick to their separate spaces onstage. After a run of the scenes they’d already blocked on Sunday, they felt like they hadn’t seen each other for half an hour! It’s going to make it even more interesting when the webcam scenes happen and they are allowed to ‘see’ each other – and hopefully it’ll be as novel an experience for the audience as it is for the actors.

If anyone is in Exeter on the 7th December and you’d like to see some new writing, you can contact tom@tomnicholas.com to bagsie a ticket. Hurry though, since we really don’t have very many!

And here’s a little peek at what it’s looking like at this early stage. It mostly looks like lots of serious faces and sitting in weird positions. THEATRE.

(Oh, and we’re keeping the second performance quiet at the moment, cause it’s just too exciting to share right now!)

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