Tackling TV’s Rape Problem: Why ‘Broad City’ and ‘Shameless’ Could Change How We Talk About Sexual Consent

Emma Kenney in "Shameless," Abbi Jacobson in "Broad City" (Credit: Showtime/Cliff Lipson/Comedy Central)
Emma Kenney in "Shameless," Abbi Jacobson in "Broad City" (Credit: Showtime/Cliff Lipson/Comedy Central)
Emma Kenney in “Shameless,” Abbi Jacobson in “Broad City” (Showtime/Cliff Lipson/Comedy Central)

 

(Salon) – Television has an uncomfortable love affair with rape plots.

The short history of the medium has coincided with lifted restrictions, both legally and culturally, on what’s fair game to portray or discuss in our media. Film has its fair share of stories centering around rape—including the disturbing sub-genre of stories centering on abuse but given a pretty veneer of romance, ranging from that one particularly charged scene in “Gone With the Wind” to last weekend’s “50 Shades Of Grey.”

But it’s different for TV—a medium that plays host to more rape plots in the 10 p.m. hour alone than film could possibly match in a month. Television is the home of the crime procedural, the teen soap opera, and “The Bachelor,” among other affronts to humanity. With the explosion of prestige television, there are any number of prestigious dramas offering up several hours of meditative investigation of a single rape or sexually driven murder, and all of those put together could not even match the sheer number of rape cases that will be presented to a viewer of a “Law and Order: SVU” marathon on USA.

For a fan of television—from “Top of the Lake” and “True Detective” to, yes, “SVU”—it’s a disturbing focus. Not just because rape is a brutal, horrible act to experience, inflict or witness; that goes without saying. But also because it feels, so much of the time, that the shows in question are uninterested in portraying rape as anything more than a plot device.

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