Who enjoys entertainment that is brutal & sexist?

My husband came home the other day with a DVD of an epic fantasy TV show that one of his work mates said was terrific, his favourite show. We watched it. I found it extraordinarily brutal and sexist, and I wondered about this guy.  If you enjoy entertainment that is brutal and sexist, what does that say about you? What about those who enjoy brutal and sexist entertainment without even realising that it is so? The answer is a little frightening when you watch a TV show that is supposed to be popular. Popular means that a lot of people enjoy it.

How can you enjoy watching men slaughtered for the fun of it? Not in self-defence, or even in war, and not in a context of crime where the murder is clearly illegal and immoral, but in a society where no wedding is complete without at least three deaths!

How can you enjoy watching women treated as fucking machines, as nothing more than a handy receptacle for a man’s erection? My guess is that you’d have to be either male or a woman with little self-respect.  What about incest? Not just hinted at, but shown in the act, from behind and every bit as bestial as the rest of the sex in the show. Wouldn’t it have been more powerful to show a little tenderness in the relationship, or to at least have made it different in style to the other sex scenes?

I am not a prude. I enjoy a little romance, even the occasional erotica—so long as it’s well done—and I prefer sex in my movies than violence. I’m not against the topic of incest in a novel or film, but I can’t abide violence and denigration in the sex act. Consensual sex games is another matter, but then we’re talking about pornography or, if it’s sensitively portrayed, erotica.

I don’t dismiss rape as a taboo subject never to be dealt with in literature. It is a problem that must be tackled and film and literature can have a powerful voice against it, but no one should see it graphically, and if it is glorified and presented as a perfectly acceptable thing, then the writer is being socially and morally inappropriate.

I strongly believe that artists should be aware of the power their work has to affect audience’s behaviour and so be socially responsible in their publications. To dismiss the representation of harmful behaviour as pure entertainment is to contribute to the proliferation of such behaviour in society.

If you show someone a movie where someone makes a bomb, then the audience knows how to make a bomb. If you show someone abusing a women, then the audience knows how to do exactly that, and if it is set in a society where such behaviour is acceptable, the abuse is presented as just fine and dandy.

You can protest that a show set in medieval times must have such things because that is how it was, but you do not need to show them. Neither can you convince me that there was no love in such times, surely modern writers and film-makers have an obligation to at least balance out graphic indications of sexism with equally graphic indications of a healthier kind of relationship between men and women.

This show, (I never memorised the name, so don’t ask me) though not on Australian television, thankfully, was shown in the US on television, a media where anyone can watch it, and if the person who told my husband that it was a great show was correct, many do. No wonder Western society is so sick.

Every time you watch or pay to see this kind of stuff, you are helping it proliferate in our society. If you don’t care, you should. If you don’t believe that it has an effect, read the third paragraph up from here again and study the educational research that shows that children learn from what they are presented with. It is obvious, actually.

I’m not calling for censorship, I’m calling for responsibility in writers, producers, filmmakers, TV programmers and audiences.

How do you feel about all this?



  1. Jennifer Janes says

    I absolutely and totally agree with you Tahlia. I have been ranting on about the same thing forever it seems. I am absolutely convinced that the myriad depictions of violence (particularly that perpetrated against women) we see in the media, advertising etc, are at the heart of the brutality and lack of respect we see proliferating in all our cities.
    With our minds we make the world and if we fill our minds with pornographic cruel crap, it is bound to inform our actions.

  2. says

    I assume you’re talking about Game of Thrones? I know what you’re saying about the violence and sexism and what-not, but … part of the point of the series is that this stuff is BAD. Are women treated like third class citizens only useful for sex and making babies? Sure — but to counteract that are strong female characters who fight back against the domineering men in their lives, which I think is very inspirational. Is violence glorified? Yes, admittedly, it is. But if you take a step back and look at the show as a whole, it becomes clear that the point isn’t actually that violence is good — the point is that we need to fight for what we believe in. There’s also a lot of great philosophy in there as well — the importance of thinking for yourself, the importance of loyalty and keeping your promises, the importance of looking beneath the surface and not taking things for granted just because you’re told to do so … etc. That being said, I agree that the show takes a lot of things too far, and that they would do well to tone it down.

  3. says

    Yep, that’s the one. I’m glad to hear that it has some redeeming features. Personally, I couldn’t watch past the first episode, though, and I saw no strength in the women in it at that point. Had I seen that I may have given it a chance. The pretty girl who was given to the savage didn’t even change in to something that didn’t show her nipples! Seriously, who wrote this? If she was that freaked out by the guy, she would have put more clothes on!
    All those good aspects you mention are obscured and diminished by excessive violence and sexism. They could say their good stuff better without it. So why put it in? And more disturbing, perhaps, is why do people lap it up?

    At least you can see it. I suspect that many don’t even notice. They wouldn’t notice when they treat their wives, sisters and co-workers the same way either.

  4. says

    I understand and agree with some of your points, however, I find that people choose to watch these types of movies and television shows as an opportunity to visually experience things outside of their normal lives and comfort zones. We watch these stories and see these characters suffer and it gives us a chance to root for them and hope they succeed in the goals they are trying to achieve. We develop emotional connections with these characters and it pains us to see them suffer in brutal situations. These shows in a way, give us a greater appreciation for our own lives, because I would like to think most people would rather not live in a world full of violence, rape and incest.

    • says

      This is a good point, but we get this with any well written story that has challenges for its protagonists. In this particular series, the women were there only as sex symbols, and so stereotypical and shallow that I doubt their situation would raise compassion in anyone. You have to identify with someone as a person before you can have compassion for them. If you show them as delighting in their rape, what is there to have compassion for? It merely continues the idea that women secretly enjoy it and want it. We can only really deal with issues such as rape when we don’t turn them into titillating entertainment.