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Daily Reads: ‘Game of Thrones’ Has Always Been About Rape, Superhero Movies Rewrite 9/11, and More

Daily Reads: 'Game of Thrones' Has Always Been About Rape, Superhero Movies Rewrite 9/11, and More

Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential news stories and critical pieces to you.

1. The Rape Scenes on “Game of Thrones” Aren’t “Gratuitous.” They’re What the Show Is About. Last Sunday, many “Game of Thrones” viewers were outraged and appalled when Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) was raped by her new husband Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon). Plenty of people have said they’re finished watching the show because of its flippant attitude towards sexual violence and the experience of survivors. But, The Washington Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg argues that the series has always been about rape, the consequences of rape, and the denial of sexual autonomy.

If reading this litany has been exhausting, it’s testament to just how well “Game of Thrones” has done at leavening this grimness with humor, tenderness and moments of real human connection. But it also ought to suggest how odd it is to accuse the showrunners of adding a sexual assault to somehow up the stakes when, dragons aside, intimate violence is already at the core of so many of the series’ storylines. There’s no requirement that anyone like any of these storylines or that anyone who feels exhausted from spending his or her days in a world marked by sexual violence retreat to a worse one for pleasure. But that’s not the same thing as proof that “Game of Thrones” is generally careless in its depiction of sexual assault or that rape doesn’t serve a purpose on the show. Sansa Stark isn’t ruined, as a character or as a person, because she was raped. She lives, and her story continues, even if you’re not tuning in to watch it.

2. Superhero Movies, 9/11, and Coping with Grief Through Ritual. Superhero films are the dominant, most popular cinematic genre today right now. Audiences flock to the theaters to see the new Marvel film or see what D.C. Comics has cooking up. But why do we run to superhero movies so quickly? Vox’s Todd VanDerWerff believes it’s because we’re all trying to rewrite 9/11 into an epic day of heroism.

In “Iron Man,” the first film from Marvel Studios, Tony Stark tries to change to better himself, to right past sins. But in “Age of Ultron,” he realizes that nothing he’s done has mattered. So scarred is Tony by what happened in the first “Avengers,” he inadvertently creates even greater horrors out of his own fears. His attempt to bring peace to Earth still creates war. He’s still making weapons, everywhere he goes. Increasingly, superhero films aren’t just dealing with the aftereffects of 9/11. They’re dealing with America’s inability to effectively safeguard itself from everything all of the time. Whatever we’re working out through these movies, it’s erupting out of the subtext into the text, bit by bit. Maybe that increasingly confrontational boldness is why we’ve turned these movies into borderline rituals, like a kind of exposure therapy, where we get greater and greater access to that which we fear.

3. ‘Shipping TV Characters and The Science of “Steggy”. On the series finale of “Mad Men,” Stan and Peggy finally got together at the very end, warming thousands of shippers’ hearts in the process. But why do we even ship fictional characters to begin with? Slate’s Erin Coulehan discovers that shipping actually scratches innate biological impulses.

Apparently, it’s human nature to lust after love stories, especially on-screen, psychologist Dr. Jared DeFife explained to Huffington Post. We empathize with characters involved in will-they-won’t-they relationships, like Stan and Peggy — not to mention Carrie and Mr. Big, Meredith and McDreamy, Blair and Chuck — and use these examples to rationalize our own unsmooth courses to love. “Romantic tension over the course of a series or over the course of a novel or set of novels that’s unresolved keeps our interest,” DeFife told HuffPo. “We keep playing it out in our heads. It keeps our engagement going with it cognitively.”

4. The Heroic “Mad Max” Masculinity. “Max Max: Fury Road” continues to garner praise from audiences, not just for its non-stop action and fluid filmmaking, but because it presents a different type of masculinity than usually seen on screen. Slash’s Angie Han unpacks masculinity in “Mad Max,” the different forms it takes, and how it’s changing the game.

It is immediately obvious that the toxic culture established by Immortan Joe is harmful for women, but “Mad Max: Fury Road” makes a point of showing us that it’s no picnic for men, either. Nux and his War Boy brethren aren’t enslaved like the women are, and they’re entrusted with guns and cars. However, they’re similarly treated as objects — as weapons and tools — rather than people. In the midst of one battle, a leader wonders aloud, “All this for a family squabble?” There’s a bit more to it than that — healthy babies are apparently hard to come by in this world, making strong breeders and viable fetuses valuable. But Immortan Joe’s fight certainly isn’t about the sanctity of life; he’s perfectly willing to let dozens of his followers die for him. What keeps the War Boys in line isn’t locks or chains, but something more insidious. Immortan Joe has manipulated them into worshipping him, to the extent that they believe dying for his cause is their ultimate calling. Even when Immortan Joe isn’t around, that warrior mentality is reinforced by other War Boys, who follow his lead and promote a culture of violence, destruction, and aggression.

5. Simon Pegg Clarifies and Further Explains “Controversial” Comments. 
In an interview with “Radio Times,” Simon Pegg made some controversial comments about nerd culture, if by “controversial,” you mean a “standard critique.” Pegg essentially claimed that since nerd culture has taken over the mainstream, society ah become infantilized and “dumbed down.” On his own blog, Pegg clarifies these comments and tries to further explain what he meant.

The idea of our prolonged youth is something I’ve been interested in for a very long time. It’s essentially what “Spaced” was about, at least in part. One of the things that inspired Jessica and myself, all those years ago, was the unprecedented extension our generation was granted to its youth, in contrast to the previous generation, who seemed to adopt a received notion of maturity at lot sooner. The children of the 70s and 80s were the first generation for whom it wasn’t imperative to “grow up” immediately after leaving school. Why this happened is a whole other sociological discussion: a rise in the student population, progress in gender equality, the absence of world war; all these things and more contributed to this social evolution. What fascinated Jess and I was the way we utilised this time. For Tim and Daisy, not having to grow up in the way their parents did, simply meant a continuation of their childhood. For Daisy, it was the pursuit of her girlhood dreams and fantasies. For Tim, he channeled his childhood passions into his adult life, cared about them as much, invested in them, the same level of time, importance and emotion. His hobbies and interests defined who he was, rather than his professional status. In the 18 years since we wrote “Spaced,” this extended adolescence has been cannily co-opted by market forces, who have identified this relatively new demographic as an incredibly lucrative wellspring of consumerist potential. Suddenly, here was an entire generation crying out for an evolved version of the things they were consuming as children. This demographic is now well and truly serviced in all facets of entertainment and the first and second childhoods have merged into a mainstream phenomenon.

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