October 28, 2014

MOSER | ‘Grape’ : Not That Kind of Rape Joke

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By JULIA MOSER

Regular readers of this paper, or regular readers of this paper on Wednesdays, will know that last week, I saw the film Fury with my friend and fellow arts columnist Zachary Zahos ’15. I was very pleased that he admitted in writing to being my friend, something he might regret in a few years when he’s up for a Supreme Court nomination or, more likely, a job with James Cameron that does not tolerate any friendships with vocal opponents of the film Avatar.

Zach, in his column, mentioned a scene in Fury that was somewhat unexpected, and gave the movie added depth and dimension. It made me cry — an action which did not cease until the conclusion of the film. This is how Zahos described the scene: “About halfway through [Fury], the battlefield carnage halts for a 20-minute interlude in an apartment that two soldiers, played by Pitt and Logan Lerman, have entered with the intent of raping the female occupants.”

I would argue that, while the description is not wrong, it’s not 100 percent accurate either. It’s less a portrayal of rape, than a much more complex and intricate exploration of what comedian Amy Schumer calls “Grape.”

In an interview last year with Terry Gross on Fresh Air, Schumer explained the concept. She said, “Most women I know that I’m close to have had a sexual experience that they were really uncomfortable [with]. If it wasn’t completely rape, it was something very similar to rape. And so I say it’s not all black and white. There’s a gray area of rape, and I call it ‘grape.’ It’s the guy you went home with in college, and you said, ‘No,’ and then he still did it, or maybe you woke up and it was someone you were dating.”

But that gray area of rape that is not black and white, where the perpetrator isn’t evil and probably someone familiar, and things are confusing and blurred, we are not used to seeing portrayed on television and in the movies, even though that is what most women experience in real life. So I give Fury high praise for its realistic representation of a difficult issue.

The sex in Fury was consensual-ish. The cute German blonde girl led Logan Lerman into her bedroom and he was nice to her and he played the piano and she sang and it was all very cute and nice and he held her hand and made her feel safe.

Except that her town had just been blown up and everyone she knew except her terrified cousin in the other room had just been killed and she was petrified and didn’t speak English and felt like she had no choice because if she didn’t sleep with Lerman willingly, he or Pitt might just do it anyway.

So it wasn’t really consensual, but it also wasn’t exactly rape. It was grape — although definitely falling closer on the rape side of the spectrum than the every other sex scene in the average Brad Pitt flick.

Fury’s depiction of grape sets it apart from the vast sea of films and television shows that aim to tackle the issue of rape. Rape, we are used to seeing in movies and TV. We are used to watching Detectives Benson and Stabler spend 42 minutes finding the man who tackled a sequin-clad daughter of someone important on her way back from a party in an alleyway after her drink had been roofied. We are even somewhat used to films like Monster and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, in which female protagonists are brutally raped.

But that gray area of rape that is not black and white, where the perpetrator isn’t evil and probably someone familiar, and things are confusing and blurred, we are not used to seeing portrayed on television and in the movies, even though that is what most women experience in real life. So I give Fury high praise for its realistic representation of a difficult issue.

While dramas, like Fury, can challenge us and make us think, I am of the strong belief that comedies too can, and should, be real platforms of debate. Comedy about race and gender inequality can hold a mirror up to society, provoke us to question and protest these inequalities. So why can’t the same be true for rape, or grape?

For the second column in a row, I will now refer to Lena Dunham’s recent book Not That Kind of Girl, which you all should read (and which I told my editors I would review and then never did). In it, Dunham reveals she was sexually assaulted in college. She was graped. And during a discussion in the Girls writers’ room, the story came up. One of the writers in the room said, “I just don’t see rape being funny in any situation.” Dunham responded, “But that’s the thing… no one knows if it’s rape. It’s, like a confusing situation that …”

She trailed off, but the point was made. Rape isn’t funny. Grape isn’t funny, except that Amy Schumer proved it can be, by first making us laugh at the juxtaposition of a bunch of oblong purple fruits and a felony, and then letting the real and more serious message of the joke sink in. So too did Louis C.K. when he couldn’t “even rape well,” in the episode “Pamela: Part I” on the most recent season of Louie.

Like any touchy subject, grape needs to be handled carefully in the media and especially in comedy. But I don’t think that means it’s impossible to do or that we shouldn’t give it the old college try.

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