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Daily Reads: Rape Scenes Aren’t Just Awful, They’re Lazy, ‘Magic Mike XXL’ is a Fan Service Film About Fan Service, and More

Daily Reads: Rape Scenes Aren't Just Awful, They're Lazy, 'Magic Mike XXL' is a Fan Service Film About Fan Service, and More

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

1. Why TV Needs a Break From Rape Scenes. Game of Thrones” has gotten into some hot water for its persistent, punishing depiction of rape, including one scene last season in which its director shot a rape scene and claimed it was a consensual. Wired’s Laura Hudson argues why rape scenes are just examples of lazy writing in our media landscape, especially when everyone depicts the horrible act in the most superficial, uninvolved way.

Because rape is widely acknowledged as a Very Serious Topic, there’s also a tendency to treat rape scenes as a means to be edgy or shocking. You know, as a way of creating really serious, mature content. Most of the time, however, this approach radiates nothing so much as ignorance and immaturity. One of the reasons that creators of media like to include rape in their work is specifically because it elicits strong feelings, even when divorced from all context and consequences. Think of it as a recipe for cheap drama: Take a story, add one rape, stir vigorously, and presto — instant emotional reaction! This is both incredibly lazy and incredibly callous, but it works, so people keep doing it. Rape has been so overused and misused in popular media that adding yet another manipulative sexual assault to the world just to heighten the stakes of a story or have a Very Special Episode is not just one of the most offensive things a writer can do, it is also one of the most boring. This also holds true when writing backstories for female characters, and trying to create challenges and struggles that motivate and shape them as individuals. There’s a tendency in media to reduce women to their genitals and what men want to do to their genitals; too often, the combination of “woman” and “bad thing that happened in the past” defaults to “something bad happened to her genitals, probably.” In reality, millions of other bad things happen to women every day — car crashes, tornados, gentrification, crappy health insurance — so unless there is a highly specific and deeply considered reason to use rape, it’s better to use literally any of those instead. And if rape is the only tool someone has in their bag for creating “complex” female characters, it’s time to get another bag.

2. Matt Zoller Seitz on “Magic Mike XXL”. 
Magic Mike XXL” has garnered a lot of praise for its loose, episodic narrative, Steven Soderbergh’s photography and its democratic aestheticization of bodies, and its generally likable tone. Critic Matt Zoller Seitz reviews “Magic Mike XXL” and explains why it’s “experimental fluff.”

Does the movie work? Intermittently, sometimes brilliantly. Reid Carolin’s script features plenty of talk about the importance of appreciating and creating beauty for its own sake, as well as the invigorating properties of orgasms and sexual spectatorship and sensual indulgence, and the necessity of men listening to women and worshiping them like royalty. There are points when Mike and the gang are characterized as sexual deliverers, angels of mercy, or some such, and the movie is really not kidding about any of it, even when (especially when) Mike is talking about how much he loves cookies. “Any god worth believing in sends you dudes in thongs when in need,” Zoe tells Mike sarcastically, in a scene where the boys really did show up out of nowhere and make women’s lives better just by being so damned sexayyyyy.

3. “UnREAL” Deconstructs “The Bachelor”. 
Lifetime’s new series “UnREAL” has been getting a lot of attention for its biting, satirical depiction of reality television. Though the subject may seem old-hat, “UnREAL” attacks the medium by targeting the producers who have a vested interest in manipulating contestants. The New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum explores how the series stands apart from other “behind-the-scenes” shows.

“UnREAL” takes a fresh route into the subject matter by dramatizing the lives of the producers, especially Rachel, who, despite appearances, considers herself a feminist — she’s the type who might watch “Everlasting,” but from an ironic distance. Airing on Lifetime (the channel for women!), the show is, like the one it tweaks, a pink and glittery concoction, full of catfights and love triangles. Even better, it was co-created by someone who knows the score: Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, who was a producer on “The Bachelor” for nine seasons. A Sarah Lawrence-educated film student who worked first for the feminist producer Christine Vachon and later for the fashion photographer David LaChapelle, Shapiro took a classic paycheck gig when she moved to L.A., working on “High School Reunion,” a terrible show that I may have watched all of. When that job ended, Shapiro discovered that she had been trapped by her own naïveté: she was contractually obligated to work on “The Bachelor,” whether she liked it or not. According to interviews that she has given while publicizing “UnREAL,” she left the franchise — by fleeing to Portland — only after threatening to kill herself if she wasn’t released from her contract.

4. The Rewriting of David Foster Wallace. 
This summer, James Ponsoldt’s new film “The End of the Tour” will enter theaters. It depicts the last leg of a book tour for David Foster Wallace’s (Jason Segel) magnum opus “Infinite Jest,” and the ensuing conversation between Wallace and Rolling Stone writer Dave Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg). Since Wallace’s death in 2008, many have elevated him to the level of a saint or a martyr, and have looked to his work for answers on how to better live life. Vulture’s Christian Lorentzen examines how Wallace’s work and legacy has been re-written by the public since his death.

A large part of Wallace’s appeal, for me anyway, was that you could always tell that he was kind of an asshole, ever on the verge of being cruel, and not just to himself. Banishing contempt entirely may be a good way to live, but it’s another kind of death for writing. Which is one reason it’s worth remembering, as the image of Wallace as slacker saint and liberal sage hardens into Hemingway-esque concrete, that he was a Reagan voter and a Perot supporter; a jealous guy who once contemplated buying a gun to knock off a woman’s husband; and a person who put to paper both the notion that the “good thing” about 9/11 was that it brought Americans together, and that “AIDS’s gift to us lies in its loud reminder that there’s nothing casual about sex at all.” Wallace never wanted that piece republished in a collection — in fact, he wanted it forgotten. He’d probably be the last person to argue for his own sainthood. None of these arguments would be worth rehashing if the dead man’s sentences, written in what he liked to call “U.S. English,” weren’t still so gloriously alive. There was something in him that could absorb American language in all its registers and compound it into a voice that in its every deployment said more about the country than whatever Wallace himself happened to be saying. One of the most frequently aired complaints about Wallace was that he was a show-off, that his own voice drowned out those of his characters, that there was something self-indulgent about his massive forays into antic cultural comedy. But I think he knew, having the self he had, the only thing to do with it was to put it to work, like crippled Hephaestus, hammering together his warped and magnificent books.

5. “The Decline of Western Civilization” Rises Again. 
Penelope Spheeris’ classic documentary trilogy of the L.A. punk scene “The Decline of Western Civilization” is finally coming to DVD after being out of print for so long. For PBS’ Independent Lens, Noel Murray takes a look at the Spheeris’ trilogy and also recommends some a couple more music docs as well.

Each of director Penelope Spheeris’ three “Decline of Western Civilization” documentaries contains a moment where the various punk and metal bands featured in the films stand on the stage and read a disclaimer to the audience, warning them that by attending the show, they’re consenting to being photographed. Spheeris and her editors cut all the announcements together, being sure to keep in any moment where the men and women at the microphone insult their fans or mock the entire “Decline” project. These scenes are important, because they cut to the heart of what Spheeris’ films are all about: the flippant anti-authoritarianism of youth culture, the illusion that rockers and their fans are on the same level, and the disturbing awareness that being an anarchic rebel can only carry a person so far. This week, Shout! Factory is releasing the three “Declines” in DVD and Blu-ray box sets, answering the demand from documentary devotees and music buffs who’ve been waiting for Spheeris to clear up any lingering rights issues and get her best work back out on home video. Watched in succession, 1981’s “The Decline of Western Civilization,” 1988’s “The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years,” and 1998’s “The Decline of Western Civilization III” tell a story about 20 years of life in the Los Angeles music scene — functioning almost like a rock musical version of Michael Apted’s “Up” series. It’s not just the announcement montage that these three have in common. They share a point of view, and a generosity of spirit that gives their subjects the benefit of the doubt whether they’re begging in the streets or living in a mansion.

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