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Psychological Reports, 1988, 63, 607-610.

O Psychological Reports 1988

RAPE AS ENTERTAINMENT
WAYNE WILSON'
Stephen E Austin Stute Uniuersrty'

Summary.-Theatrical movies and television features distort aggravated rape and
neglect simple rape, thereby compromising the integriry of real sexual assaults. A col-
lection of 26 movies indicated three categories of rape as entertainment: the chsics
which subordinate rape to a significant drama, docrtdramas/mefodranms which mingle
fact with fiction and require substantiation, and exploifation films which use rape gra-
tuitously. Movie rape remains difficult to judge given a film's subjectivity and its po-
tential to dramatize sexual myths about rape deceptively.

How far w d Hollywood go in explo~tingthe act of rape? Well, con-
sider this scenario from a 1983 film, Cur~uzns the masked "rapist" positions
himself outside an apartment window, eyeing his beautiful "victim" as she
does all the lazily erotic things that a victim goes through before retiring.
Finally, with the movie audience presumably taut in anticipation, our
stealthy predator pounces upon his glamorous prey-and both erupt into
laughter. Foreplay between lovers, it appears, has become more and more
bizarre.
'

Characterizing the female as an entertaining victim seems a small liabil-
ity against the prospects of commercial success. And it is rape's commercial
success that has made this tragedy a staple of cinematic fare since the era of
silent films (see Alfred Hitchcoclc's 1929 movie, Blackmail). Leslie I-Ialliwell
(1985, p. 852), in his Filmgoev's Companion, lists a number of movies that
use rape as entertainment, beginning with ]ohnny Belinda in 1947. But by
the 1970s Halliwell gives up and admits that the act "became too cornmon-
place to be worth mentioning."
Commonplace as entertainment perhaps, but bitingly real and tragic
outside the movies. Sexual assault denotes a complicated offense. This com-
plication involves legal ambiguities surrounding the rapist-victim
relationship, the rape occurrence, and the lawful redress available to both
parties. For instance, one determination concerns whether the victim volun-
tarily consents to sexual intercourse. The notion of "voluntary consent"
seems redundant, but the phrasing is designed to cover instances in which a
female may give her "consent" under duress. Blue Velvet (1986) and When
She Says No (1984) are two movies that dramatize this problem, with the
latter film the more instructive.
Another complication addresses the legal bias associated with sexual
assault. Estrich (1987, p. 4 ) describes this bias as a differentiation between

'I thank Renea Martin for her assistance in analyzing the videotapes.
'Department of Psychology, Nacogdoches, Texas 75962.

perfectly suitable and credible in the scheme of things. A movie rape possesses integrity when it conveys a natural and logical action. Blind Justice (1986). Straw Dogs (1971). But how damaging is this miss to the integrity of a real rape? Integrity refers to aptness and hon- esty in judging a person or event. and When She Says No (1984). I Spit on Your Grave (1980). Rage (1980). Simple rape represents the more muted experience of rape by a known party that does not involve severe physical abuse or a weapon threat. Curtains (1983). although sometimes the most apt expression can be a dishonest response. the clanics. Estrich's point is that any hint of a victim's famil- iarity with the rapist or any incriminating behavior on her part (alcohol. Lipstick (1976). WILSON aggravated rape and simple rape. acknowledging those limi- tations that accompany a single viewpoint based on an analysis of videotapes that were conveniently accessible. Death Wish (1974). movies that use rape for entertainment do not respond well to this standard of integrity. The most positive category. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). Convicted (1986). or change in character that seems more appropriate than any other interpretation. Notably. the classics offer a deft treatment of sexual assault by sub- . a rare achievement for the movies. aptness depicts a dramatic response. The Boston Strangler (1968). from the rapist's motivation to the victim's aftermath of suf- fering. We know then that rape as entertainment services an illu- sion and that this illusion misses the mark of reality. The course of a movie rape. for example). Regrettably. Johnny Belinda (1947). The author presents this material. Movies opt for aggravated rape because of its greater dramatic value through violence. I n movies. event. Frenzy (1972). Blackmail (1929). Rape and Marriage: the Rideout Case (1980). I t was not practical at this exploratory stage to find subjects who could view and analyze all 26 titles or to deter- mine a representative sample of rape films. The Deliberate Stranger (1986). Aggravated rape concerns the legal ideal of establishing sexual assault by a stranger or strangers that includes severe vio- lence and threat with a weapon. A Streetcar Named Desire (19511. The movies' treatment of rape indicates a possibility of three film cate- gories. Blue Velvet (1986). Aptness and honesty usually share close quarters.608 W. Honesty denotes an expression that sounds true. looks true. and she can kiss her legal chances goodbye. includes those films of artistic merit that use rape to make a significant statement about life. should receive believable treatment. A Passage to India (1984). Frances (1982). The movies span almost 60 years and include Anatomy of a Murder (1959). These categories reflect an assumption of heuristic value but still await documentation as to their reliability. The Entity (1983). drawn from an availabihty sample of 26 titles. These films possess integrity in characterization and story. feels true. Born Innocent (1974). Blood and Orchids (1985). Rosernaty's Baby (1968). A Case of Rape (1974).

more admirably depict the complications of rape mentioned earlier in defining sexual assault. if viewers do not know of Gerold Frank's (1966) biography. Albert DeSalvo. or of other sources on DeSalvo's behavior. but the consequences remain too risky and too likely to end in a noncinematic fashion. the rapist's rehabilitation (Rage). The tragedy that ensues becomes a lesson in morality for chil- dren and adults alike. True cases are easier to judge than pretend cases that assume reality. although viewers still need independent information to sub- stantiate either version. are best illustrated in Johnny Belinda. By contrast. highlight rape issues. presenting the issue of rape as real or with the appearance of reality. A Streetcar Named Desire. they cannot fully appreciate the movie's dis- torted profile. the legal ambiguity sur- rounding marital rape (Rape and Marriage: the Rideout Case). Viewers. so disagreements can arise regarding the film's integrity and its proper classification. each film harbors a measure of subjectivity. This possibility of disagreement allows for more than . offers an inaccurate portrayal of the sex Idler. rhe category of docudramas/meIodramar musters a potpourri of mixed blessings. however. Why? Because Lipstick boasts higher production values and better performances. and To Kill a Mockingbird. but Lipstick the more dangerous. for example. exploitation films. may not recognize the mingling of facts and falsehoods unless they have access to factual sources elsewhere. The two films. with varying legitimacy. low-budget vehicles (I Spit on Your Grave) to slick productions that deceptively use rape for gratuitous effect (Lipstick). These dramas focus on sexual assault. No doubt many rape victims desire per- sonal retribution. making the use of sexual assault appear more credible. A false charge of rape in To Kill a Mockingbird brings forth a due process that can only lead to one verdict. to cite one problem. and the confusion as to whether an alleged victim gives her consent under stress (When She Says No). RnPE AS ENTERTAINMENT 609 ordinating this issue to the drama's basic intent. A few movies. A Passage to India. dwarfs the first two classifications. Unfortunately. Such films are likely to show how rape causes turmoil for the victim and for the victim's social and sexual relationships. Two problems make movie rape difficult to evaluate using integrity as a standard: the movies' subjectivity and the movies' potential to dramatize sexual myths about rape deceptively. The classics. The Boston Strangler. The bitter repercussions of rape's aftermath. 1 Spit on Your Grave is the cruder movie. involve a raped heroine who wreaks personal revenge by killing her attacker. in other words. These overstated dramas range from sleazy. First. Southern community during the Depression. A third category. for instance. A white woman makes the charge against a black man in a small. such as the rape victim's plight after her attack ( A Case of Rape).

HALI~NVELL. 1985. Cambridge. Es~ructr. New York: New American Library. (8th ed. Accepted Airgrist 10. and (4) the assumption that rape produces no pro- longed aftereffects of suffering (9 films neglect this issue whereas Johnny Belinda.610 W. But unless moviego- ers are enlightened concerning the use of sexual myths for dramatic effect. KATZ. (19871 Real rape.l? (1985) Stopping rape. REFERENCES BART. it is assumed that each category of movie rape bears a testable relationship with the viewers' susceptibility to sexual myths. Confirmation of these relationships will help to establish the validity of the film classifications described. S. Moreover. Second.P. Other specifics of movie rape also deserve study. (1979) Understanding the rape victim. MA: Harvard Univer. WILSON one suitable interpretation. A Streecar Named Desire. Katz & Mazur. 1979).. and whether this punishment reflects a realistic expression of justice. New York: Pergarnon. (2) the futility of resisting the rapist (only Blackmail shows a success- ful defense).) New York: Scribner's. L:(1985) Halliwell'sfilmgoer's companion. & O'BRKN.G. FRANK. Press.S. New York: Wiley. 1988 .M. (1966) The Boston strangler. as film critics constantly remind us. Evidence exists to challenge these sexual myths (Bart & O'Brien. rape as entertainment encourages at least four sexual myths about the vic- tim: (1) an overemphasis on false reports of rape (7 of 26 films use this topic). such as the rapist's motivation and punishment. and A Case of Rape are most effective at countering the belief). (3) the desirabihty of attempting personal revenge (6 movies promote this theme). & MAZUR. the exploitation of rape as entertainment wdl continue to foster misconcep- tions about sexual relationships.