Dr. Debra Ferreday joins us to talk Game of Thrones and rape culture

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Coventry University’s Media Department runs an exciting Media Research Seminar Series, organised by Dr. Adrienne Evans. Previous guest speakers have included Suncem Koçer, Charlotte Crofts, Catherine Grant, and Dr Christine Hine. 

PhD. student Poppy Wilde reflects here on our most recent seminar with Dr. Debra Ferreday.

When I heard that Dr. Debra Ferreday, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at Lancaster University, was the next scheduled speaker for the Media Research Seminar Series, I was immediately excited. As a PhD student within the Media Department at Coventry University these Media Research Seminars are a fantastic opportunity to meet with scholars such as Ferreday, whose presentation came prior to its publication in the journal ‘Australian Feminist Studies’ (forthcoming, 2015). As such these seminars also offer students access to the very latest research in the field, making them an invaluable event in the academic calendar.

In Online Belongings: Fantasy, Affect and Web Communities, Ferreday made the argument that ‘by reading through fantasy, it ought to be possible to account for the precise ways in which affect plays a productive role in the formation of communities’ (2009: 38). Such a reading questions the idea of digital culture as ‘virtual’ in that it disrupts the ‘binary opposition between the imaginary and the real’ (ibid.) by paying attention to the complex relationship between the subject and the communities to which they belong. This philosophy is one which I follow, as my own research explores posthumanist subjectivities in the context of game environments. When I then heard that her talk was on Game of Thrones I was even more overjoyed – as an avid reader of the books and fan of the HBO TV adaptation I was eager to hear what Ferreday had made of it.

Ferreday’s paper, entitled ‘‘Dragons, incest and zombies’ or ‘but… the Dark Ages!’: Rape culture and narratives of un/realness in Game of Thrones fandoms’ was a consideration of a particular scene in the TV show wherein Jaime Lannister rapes his twin sister Cersei with whom he has an incestuous relationship.

The scene in question is widely understood in fan cultures to have not initially been constructed in the books as a scene of rape (although as Ferreday points out this is somewhat questionable: although Cersei eventually gives what has been broadly been perceived by fans as ‘consent’ it is not without initial protest). However in translation to the visual spectacle of the TV show the scene is held by many fans to deviate from the text of the book, and was instead coded very clearly as a scene of rape where Cersei’s resistance is refused, as Jaime brands her a “hateful woman” before forcing himself on her (Game of Thrones 2014).

The fascination with this scene is as much about the fan responses as the portrayal of the scene itself. Jaime Lannister is, Ferreday argues, in many ways coded as the romantic hero; beginning as “rather a shit”, he becomes humbled (through loss of his right hand – mirroring Jane Eyre’s Mr. Rochester as Ferreday points out). Although this points towards his capacity to be transformed or redeemed, his next act is one of rape. The fan’s outcry against Jaime’s portrayal (who becomes a character who the reader becomes very fond of…honestly!) is, Ferreday argues, indicative of ‘real life’ response to rape stories. Ferreday’s paper shows us how often we hear of the ways in which rape has taken away the potential future of aspirational, charismatic, young men. This narrative is evident in a range of contemporary media stories, particularly when the men in question are public figures of attachment.

Ferreday points out that the outcry of Game of Thrones fans in defence of Jaime resonates with stories of real life sexual violence: for example, in the case of Welsh footballer Ched Evans, who was convicted of raping a 19 year old woman in April 2012. Following Evans’ release from prison, media coverage focussed on the potential for Evans to continue his career as a footballer; with discussions of his reintegration into society permeating TV chat shows such as ITV’s Loose Women. In her debut on the chat show Judy Finnigan came under fire for highlighting that the female victim “had far too much to drink” and stating “the rape was not violent. He didn’t cause any bodily harm to the person” (thereby immediately compromising her earlier statement that she was not “by any means minimising any kind of rape”) (Loose Women 2014). As Ferreday highlighted, this sort of treatment is another trope of rape culture – the ‘rape rape’ or ‘real rape’ argument, which questions the legitimacy of the ‘rape’ label. Again this is mimicked in Game of Thrones response to the scene, as even the episode’s director Alex Graves argued that the Jaime/Cersei rape scene became “consensual by the end” as Cersei “wraps her legs around him, and she’s holding on to the table, clearly not to escape but to get some grounding in what’s going on. And also, […] she starts to make out with him” (Vulture 2014). Graves makes this argument despite the fact that Cersei’s actual words are “It’s not right, it’s not right” (Game of Thrones 2014).

Ferreday’s title ‘‘Dragons, incest and zombies’ or ‘but… the Dark Ages!’: Rape culture and narratives of un/realness in Game of Thrones fandoms’ refers to the distancing arguments which are made as an excuse for leaving these narratives unquestioned within the show – ‘Dragons, incest and zombies’ represents the “but this is fantasy” argument, whilst ‘but… the Dark Ages!’ temporally distances the product from the consumer. Ferreday’s convincing argument is that these fantasy circumstances have an intriguing potential in their ability to test social codes as they both reproduce discourses that contribute to rape culture, while also providing spaces for fans to negotiate and discuss those discourses. Rather than upholding the “tendency to reductive reasoning” (Ferreday 2015) within wider moral public outrage, digital fandoms might provide a space to rearticulate, and open spaces for women to talk about their own experiences. In this way they hold the ability to more accurately represent the ways in which people negotiate rape narratives which do not fit normative tropes; for example when the media’s rapists, murderers and ‘perverts’ are seemingly otherwise attractive, rich and desirable, such as in the case of Fifty Shades of Grey, or The Fall. Ultimately these digital fandoms “provide a potential space for change through speaking out about silenced experiences of trauma” (Ferreday 2015) and accordingly fantasy could be considered as a space for thinking through; a place for transformation; and a field of critical intervention.

Ferreday, D. (2009) Online Belongings: Fantasy, Affect and Web Communities. Oxford: Peter Lang.

Ferreday, D. (2015) ‘‘Dragons, incest and zombies’ or ‘but… the Dark Ages!’: Rape culture and narratives of un/realness in Game of Thrones fandoms’ [seminar] 25 February 2015. Coventry: Coventry University.

Game of Thrones Season 4 Episode 3 ‘Breaker of Chains’ (2014) Sky Atlantic [21 April 2014]

Loose Women (2014) ITV [13 October 2014]

Vulture (2014) ‘Breaking Down Jaime and Cersei’s Controversial Scene With Last Night’s Game of Thrones Director’ [online] available from <http://www.vulture.com/2014/04/game-of-thrones-director-on-the-rape-sex-scene.html> [2 March 2015]

Poppy Wilde, PhD. Student, Media & Communications. 

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