Thursday, August 26, 2004

Manipulation examination: Just when you thought we were done with the controversy surrounding the treatment of Sue Dibny in Identity Crisis, Sequart's Julian Darius weighs in for the defense:

"Is Sue Dibny’s rape manipulative? Well, yes. But no more than an image of Aquaman crying.

"Put another way, 'manipulative' has two definitions. The first is simply to manipulate in the sense that we manipulate a pencil when we write with it. There’s no negative connotation here. A good work of art is manipulative in this sense. The pieta is manipulative. Showing that a character is a good person may be characterization, but it’s also manipulation -- getting you to identify with that character. Apocalypse Now showing a boar sliced to ribbons instead of Kurtz is manipulative, but it is also one of the most powerful sequences on film.

"The way most people use 'manipulative,' however, is in the sense of 'crassly manipulative.' The same characterization of a woman as a busy but good person, preparing food and petting her dog, becomes crassly manipulative when the wide-eyed serial killer enters, stabs the dog to death in a scene with copious spurting blood, and then brutalizes her. Whether we’re shown the brutalization or it occurs off-panel or off-screen is by itself irrelevant: saying that the sweet wife in Seven has been beheaded can be even more manipulative than showing her death. The question is whether the 'manipulation' is artistically crass.

"And whether something is artistically crass -- or 'cheap' or 'easy' -- is entirely contextual. Few would be so crass as to condemn a drama about a woman who was raped coming to terms with that abuse and learning to relate again to men. Although, it is worth pointing out, such a drama would more than likely be staged in the vein of Lifetime’s original movies, which notoriously play with the line of crass manipulation in order to advance emotionally a particularly fact-starved version of feminism. But using rape casually, particularly to escalate the emotional stakes of a story, would be artistically crass."