For crassly exploiting the tragedy of rape for the purposes of “entertainment,” the December 4th episode of CW’s Reign is the Worst TV Show of the Week.
When CW’s historical “drama” Reign premiered in fall of 2013, most reviewers pegged it as yet another in the CW’s long chain of teen soap operas like Gossip Girl or 90210, albeit one with a (laughably inaccurate) historical setting. Critical consensus was that the program was a “guilty pleasure”-style campy soap, more focused on fashion and teen angst than any kind of genuine drama – with one Internet wag going so far as to dub the new program “Mary, Teen of Scots.”
Yet, while the critical establishment dismissed Reign as a harmless (if mindless) airy confection, from the first the PTC has been concerned about the program’s potential for harm. In our initial review of the show, we noted the program’s emphasis on bloody violence (including a graphic decapitation), as well as a scene of a couple having sex as the entire court watched – with one handmaiden so stimulated by the sight that she was explicitly shown masturbating on a stairway, after which she was presumably raped by the French king. As we said on another occasion shortly thereafter:
This is yet one more example of the way that the entertainment industry is attempting to bring premium cable-level violence and sex to prime-time broadcast TV. Truly disturbing is the fact that such content is being squarely targeted at the CW’s key audience of teen and pre-teen girls – an audience already regularly sexualized and exploited by the CW and the entertainment industry generally.
Sadly, it has taken a truly horrific move on the part of Reign’s producers to make the rest of the world sit up and take notice of the show’s content. On the December 4th episode, the show’s protagonist, young Queen Mary, is attacked by a group of men who sought to assassinate her husband, the king. Finding the king is not in the castle, one of the thugs smashes Mary in the face, knocking her to the floor. He then straddles her and bellows, “Hold her down! HOLD HER DOWN!” and, with a hand around her throat, in slow motion he brutally rapes her.
The PTC itself has received emails from the public, expressing their outrage with the episode. One correspondent stated that
I am reliving past events from molestation because the CW network failed to put a trigger warning before their rape scene on their TV-14 rated show Reign…The writer has done nothing but cause distress to her fanbase since the show aired, and I hope you can help undo her damage on young viewers. Twitter, Tumblr and more social networks, including the media, can give tons of examples of why using rape as a plot device is so wrong and why it needs to be stopped.
Sexual violence permeates television today – and always under the guise of so-called “entertainment.” From Law & Order: SVU (an entire series about rapists and child molesters) to Family Guy (with its non-stop “jokes” about rape), and now to Reign, those who create and market TV programming show a positive enthusiasm for exploiting the most depraved and tragic behavior, reducing it to a cheap shock in dramas and fodder for “comedy.” But it doesn’t have to – and shouldn’t – be this way.
For the better part of half a century, television producers managed to provide viewers with compelling entertainment without exploiting the tragedy of rape. Some may say that, in failing to depict such things as graphic violence and rape, the TV programming of an earlier era wasn’t “realistic.” But practically NOTHING on TV is. If the real world was not as innocent and light-hearted as it was depicted in television of the 1950s, neither is the it the total cesspool of gore and depravity so lovingly portrayed by the creators of TV today.
The entertainment industry’s knee-jerk response to this observation is typically that they are trying to “start a dialogue” about serious subjects. But this is a lie. Where is the hour of prime time on CW (or CBS or NBC or Fox) devoted to a serious, sober discussion of rape, its causes and consequences, and the methods of dealing with it or reducing its incidence? There is none. No commercial network has ever, or will ever, air such a program in prime time — because doing so would mean sacrificing an opportunity to make millions more dollars selling beer, detergent, and fashionable clothing.
Instead, the alleged “entertainment” industry gleefully exploits real-life tragedy – thus further traumatizing real-life victims. Even apart from the email received by the PTC, commentators on numerous websites also reported that this episode of Reign triggered flashbacks and reactions to their past victimization. the same. Is this really what viewers of a light-hearted costume drama deserve? Apparently, CW thinks so.
Rape is a serious – more, a tragic and horrific – subject. It should be the concern of every individual to work for a world where it never happens, and where victims are treated with the seriousness and compassion they deserve. But the chances of all segments of society manifesting such an attitude are greatly lessened when rape is reduced to a joke on a cartoon show watched by millions of young men – or to a cheap stunt on a teen-targeted historical romance soap.
For brutalizing its lead character – and its audience – by using rape as a cheap plot device, CW’s Reign is the Worst TV Show of the Week.
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