Hannibal doesn’t do rape stories? Bitch, please.

[Tree, don’t read this. Spoilers for all three seasons of Hannibal.]

This issue has been bugging me for a long time, probably since someone forwarded me a story about how Hannibal‘s audience was mostly women and that was because it was a feminist show. Then I read Bryan Fuller say several times in interviews this summer that he doesn’t want to do rape stories because they are too complicated and need more attention than they can be given in that format. Last month I watched a video of a woman at the #Fannibal, practically in tears, telling Bryan Fuller how grateful she was that Hannibal doesn’t do rape stories.

Everyone then praises Fuller — for what exactly? Gentility? Feminist politics?

Restraint?

If Hannibal is an index of Fuller’s restraint, the mind pails at what a representation of his license would look like. I do not want to know what evil images lurk in the mind of Bryan Fuller if these are the “safe” ones. But let’s not forget — it’s a team of people who write this show and while many of the ideas are originally Fuller’s, several women inhabit that writers’ room as well. There’s a whole group of people engaged in pushing this stuff out in the name of feeding our desire for entertainment.

So all of those things I just cited were intra-fandom and it’s not a fandom I want to join or have really been prepared to criticize, because I have never achieved a balanced view of the show. I do not understand what makes people love it, and without that knowledge, it’s difficult to write meaningful criticism because I can’t take on the view of the series creators sympathetically for very long.

But now this same claim — “We Heart Hannibal‘s stance on Sexual Assault,” shows up in Ms. Magazine — a publication I used to read with interest and enlightenment when I was in my twenties, a medium important to the development of my political consciousness. It’s not just a fandom or two anymore — broader cultural and political claims are being advanced on the show’s behalf.

So I think it’s time for me to say, without rancor, something that I have been thinking for months. The claim that Hannibal doesn’t do rape stories is obvious and rather extreme form of shtuss.

Hannibal is no feminist show, if by that we mean a medium that seeks to define and pursue equal rights for women. The show would have practically no storyline if it were not for ineffectual women. It includes no truly independent female character except possibly Bedelia du Maurier, whose power is always subordinated to that of Hannibal, the psychopath she follows while apparently unable to separate herself from or report him to the authorities. Dr. Alana Bloom has no distinctive personality and is written as continually unable to set her professional concerns through with her superiors, who consistently ignore them and her. Dr. Bloom stupidly falls under Hannibal’s spell as well and then in series 3 turns into the stereotype of all anti-feminist stereotypes, the “surprise” bisexual. At the middle of season 3 (I did not watch the first seven episodes), she seems poised to take her revenge out on Hannibal, demonstrably evil but also clearly mentally ill, and now her charge. (That this power arrangement is not credible dramatically does not mitigate its severe disequilibrium.) Freddie Lounds (Lara Jean Chorostecki), who does move a few plot lines, does so as the epitome of the stereotypically unfulfilled tabloid reporter and also has to subordinate herself in the men in the story (including pretending to be dead, thus literally erasing herself from the screen, a plot line that Fuller’s team resorts to again and again when it comes to women) to accomplish her ends. Kade Prurnell (Cynthia Nixon), a powerful woman with an important role to play, is written as a bitch queen bureaucrat who just wants to keep Jack from doing his job. Jack’s wife, Bella (Gina Torres), is dying, and ultimately unable to get her husband to stop his crime hunting or ignore his fixation on the Hannibal / Will Graham binary to stay with her in her suffering. Myriam Lass (Anna Chlumsky) tries to take the initiative in a crime investigation and apparently spends years in imprisonment for it before she’s mutilated and returned to society to torture Jack. Abigail Hobbs (Kacey Rohls) falls under her father’s spell, and then Hannibal’s. The most independent female character in the entire program, Beverly Katz (Hettienne Park), is saddled with juvenile male sidekicks in her lab and when she does suspect that Will’s story about being framed is true, her curiosity (or Will’s desire for vengeance — depending on how we read it — both stories are clearly anti-feminist) get her killed and sliced up. And then then there are all the various mentally ill females on the show, both victims and killers. The best we can do for someone like Georgia Madchen (Ellen Muth) is pity her.

When a woman is powerful in this segment of the Fullerverse, then apparently primarily because she’s demonstrably mentally ill, manifestly ignorant of reality, incipiently homicidal, and/or so bitchy that any real person who’s worked in a bureaucracy knows she’d never have gotten that far with such behavior, and thus not inherently believable. If it’s too hasty step for me to infer that the writers of this show hate women, still it’s impossible for me to conclude that any of them have much respect for female autonomy, power, intellect, or capacity to act effectively. It is hard for me to see how that stance could be read as feminist.

If Hannibal is not feminist, neither is it rape-free.

But, its defenders will say, the plot that drove the entire first season (Garrett Jacob Hobbs’ murders and eviscerations of a series of young Minnesota women) didn’t involve rape. A Freudian would have a field day with that claim, considering the number of violent penetrations of young, nubile female bodies with antlers that the viewer is subjected to on screen. The general level of symbolic violence against women in Hannibal is incredibly high, from female ears to entire arms to their reproductive organs (of this more in a moment). Ah, you say, but it’s equal opportunity violence, as men are also killed and killers. That’s true, but it’s a poor claim for any kind of feminism, in my considered opinion, that its cultural vehicles apply sexual violence equally to all the sexes. I know of no feminism that sponsors gratuitous violence as a normative ideal.

But whether or not we see forcible penis-vagina penetration in the show, in the Red Dragon story arc, Francis Dolarhyde still rapes women. Richard Armitage doesn’t do it on screen. He has been quoted several times now as saying it would have been a dealbreaker, but I find it an equivocation. If he has to imagine his character’s life to the point of writing diaries and emails in character and sharing them with people (like trophies?), he must have thought in detail about how Dolarhyde would have committed those rapes, and made Dolarhyde’s compulsion to commit them and resulting gratification he obtained from doing so a part of his inner emotional life, at least while he was playing the role. But even if Armitage isn’t playing those events, Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) has to relive it all, and while we may not see a rape in flagrante, it’s clear what’s happened. “Not showing the rape of a character on screen” is not the same as claiming that “no character was raped in the execution of this drama.” Off-stage rapes as a dramatic technique that go back to the Greeks. Aeschylus didn’t show Cassandra raped on stage either, though everyone in the audience of Agamemnon knew that she had been punished by Apollo for refusing to comply with his desires, then raped as Troy fell and, in turn, taken by Agamemnon as his concubine. In that sense, whether the violence is shown or only hinted at, we all know what happens, and so Hannibal remains the absolute opposite of Take Back the Night. Implicitly, then, Hannibal is a classic rape story — we just don’t usually see the rapes.

Symbolic and off-screen rapes aside, however, the key piece of evidence against the point of view that Hannibal doesn’t do rape stories is the twisting arc around Margot Verger and Will Graham, culminating in the horrid, lurid scene in a medical setting near the end of Hannibal 2.11, which stopped me watching the show for some time. Richard Armitage has said a few times recently that there are scenes from films he’s seen that he wished he could erase from his mind, and this one would be on my list. I assume everyone remembers the story line — Margot Verger (Katharine Isabelle) — is afraid of her brother, Mason (Michael Pitt), so in attempt to produce a child who can inherit the family fortune according to the sexist terms of her father’s will, she sleeps with Will to get herself pregnant. Hannibal, who put that notion in her mind, in turn informs her brother that she’s pregnant. Her brother then arranges for her to be in a car accident, transports her to a private facility, and has someone in his pay terminate her pregnancy by removing her reproductive organs.

No penis entering a vagina forcibly there, of course, but to me that entire story line reads exactly like a rape. The idea that just because no man is forcing a woman to have sex on screen or in the script means that there’s no rape or that the show does not do rape stories perpetuates a weird notion common among Americans, with our current neo-Victorian fixation on the inviolacy of a woman’s sexual “purity,” that the worst kind of violence that can happen to a woman is to be forced to engage in sexual contact with a man against her will. In a technical sense, perhaps, there’s no rape on Hannibal, but on the real level of sexual violence, Hannibal involves one rape story after another after another. Watching Margot’s eyes as she hears what her brother plans to do to her exposed me to a level of man-on-woman violence just as chilling as watching a forcible penetration. The fact that apparently Margot and Dr. Bloom (now unmasked as bisexual) end up with an heir and on top of things by the middle of season 3 (in episodes I have admittedly no desire to watch) emphatically does not make this part of season 2 not a rape story. It simply adds insult to injury by topping the rape off with a side of vengeance.

Still — is there really no forcible penetration in this show? Is nobody having sex against their consent? I would disagree with that conclusion as well.

I haven’t seen any reference to this point in the fan commentary I’ve been reading, but one key insight of feminism in my lifetime, anyway, has been that men as well as women can be raped. It’s hard to see how Will actually gave real consent to having sex with Margot, even though he wanted to have sex at the time, since he misunderstood the circumstances under which he was doing so. This fact of the narrative not only comes out explicitly in the script, with Will charging bitterly in Hannibal’s therapy room that Margot had said she was protected and Margot admitting that she lied to him to get what she wanted. It is even visualized, in all the not very sexy detail that U.S. broadcast television is allowed to provide. We see as much as possible of what happens when Margot seduces Will to steal his reproductive material for her own benefit. Even if I don’t find it all that sexy to watch Hugh Dancy miming on-screen intercourse, the actors clearly try to sexualize it and the camera — Fuller’s vision — wants us to view that way.

What happens to Will is exactly the same thing that Lot’s daughters did to him. If I remember correctly, alcohol was involved in both cases. It’s still someone having sex with at best dubious consent. When it happens to a man, we just call it “succumbing to temptation” rather than “rape,” and label it as sexy rather than violent, which makes it okay for us to watch. A guy is the victim. Both of the participants (we assume) got off. But it’s still a rape story.

In my mid-forties now, I’ve given up the hope that U.S. network television will become any friendlier to the cause of equality for women in my lifetime. But I also won’t kid myself when people feed me women’s subjection, disempowerment, and victimhood through violence against them, excuse it as “not rape stories” because it’s a mirror of what we’re used to seeing as rape, and even label it feminist. And I certainly won’t praise the mind that comes up with it.

~ by Servetus on August 6, 2015.

55 Responses to “Hannibal doesn’t do rape stories? Bitch, please.”

  1. Once again, you’ve given me food for thought, especially where Richard is concerned. He scares me sometimes, with the roles he chooses.

    I do, however, agree with you about what happened between Will & Margot. That was completely messed up.

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    • Food for thought is what I aim to give.

      Note that I’m not saying he should[n’t] have taken the role — I can see why he took the role, now even more since I’ve seen this realization. I am saying only that when he says he couldn’t have done this show if he’d had to rape / murder on screen, he is not being honest with himself about the role that rape plays either in this show or in the lifestory / construction of his own character.

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      • When I read his quote about not taking the role if he’d had to rape/murder on screen I thought it was a bit odd. His Lucas character murdered an innocent girl on Spooks (is that considered a spoiler when the series is long gone?). Why was he OK with that then and not now? Is the man he portrays less of a rapist if the rape takes place off screen or is implied by a medical examiner? I suppose we are supposed to praise the show’s restraint in not showing the act, which they could not do on US network TV in any case. I am glad he took the role and I also can see why it appealed to him. And Serv, with all the food for thought you have provided over the years, I should never be hungry again. 🙂

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  2. […] this link on Me and Richard Hannibal Doesn’t Do Rape Stories. Bitch Please, for an insightful and provocative feminist […]

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  3. I haven’t watched any of the show except RA’s scenes, but I get the sense there’s all kinds of raping going on, on screen — just no penetration. And I thought it was disingenuous for RA to say he only agreed to play the role as long as he wouldn’t be involved in actually portraying the violent parts especially considering his techniques for getting into character. Although that makes it easier to watch the show since I only watch the RA scenes and don’t need to watch the violent scenes, or at least not so far.

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    • Definitely true that rape (which I defined obliquely in this post) includes all sort of things beyond forcible penis / vagina contact.

      I think we’re not going to see him be more visible violent than he already has been in several roles — or at least very, very little of it. I also don’t want to create the impression that I really have a problem with it — I am not asking for the regular depiction of rape on network tv :). But I do think the fact that we don’t see it makes it easier to forget that it is happening.

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  4. Als ich zum ersten Mal hörte, dass keine Vergewaltigungen zu sehen sein würden, dachte ich bloß: was für eine typische Heuchelei. Abschlachten in allen nur erdenklichen Variationen und abartige Praktiken en masse, aber nein, zum Glück bleibt uns “das Schlimmste” erspart. Vergewaltigung ist Teil des Orinalplots und natürlich gehört es dazu. Es muß nicht gezeigt werden, aber es als Vorzug zu preisen, dass es uns erspart bleibt ist vor all diesen restlichen Monstrositäten ein schlechter Witz. Ich bin mir sicher, RA hat sich mit der Thematik befasst und spielt sicher auch den Charakter so, weiß aber auch (Annahme!), dass er damit einen empfindlichen Nerv in der (amerikanischen?) Öffentlichkeit trifft und spielt das jetzt runter. Gesellschaftlich opportune Heuchelei halt. In meinen Augen wären seine Taten dadurch keinen Meter schrecklicher. Das Maß des Erträglichen ist schon mit dem Offensichtlichen voll.

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    • and maybe that’s what’s bugging me — does he feel he can’t say, “yes, I chose to play a horrible rapist serial killer because i thought it would be good for my career” ? Because in fact, rape stories implied and explicit are all around us. So it’s just this role that raises the potential of problems?

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      • Vielleicht ist das schon sein Dilemma, dass er wegen der öffentl. Wahrnehmung in den USA oder auch anderswo nicht mit dem “Stigma” des Vergewaltigers in Vebindung gebracht werden will. Ich glaube, das ist mal wieder so ein bisschen ein Akt des vorauseilenden Gehorsams. Ich hätte das an seiner Stelle garnicht groß thematisiert. Bloß die Betonung “aber zum Glück DAS dann nicht” nervt mich maßlos. Ich meine, wer im Schauspielergewerbe unterwegs ist muß doch per se darauf vertrauen, dass er persönlich nicht mit der Rolle verwechselt wird. Und muß ich als Zuschauer nicht unterstellen, dass genau diese extremen Charaktere den Beruf so anziehend machen? Sonst wäre er besser Florist oder Verwaltungsfachangestellter geworden 😉 .

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        • yeah, I don’t know why he can’t say “people do horrible things in life and in fiction, and in working in my profession I have to act some of those things out when I take a role, and i wrestle with that in different ways and I’m not entirely consistent in my views.”

          I get frustrated sometimes with the way that the general cyberpublic demands absolute consistency from everyone at all times, but one has to admit that the people disseminating the material also seem to feed that impulse.

          vorauseilendes Gehorsam trifft es genau. I think this is a good point about the career in general — e.g., he dies a lot on screen because dramatic characters meet a disproportionate number of violent deaths. That’s one of the things you have to do to be an actor. Verwaltungsfachangellter — LOL. I could say a lot about that. Armitage, are you a man or are you a mouse?

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  5. Reblogged this on Just wanna say… and commented:

    Very interesting views. I haven’t seen enough of the show, to be able to agree or disagree…

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  6. I personally think the whole interview on Richard Armitage’s explanation of not wanting to perform the rape scenes seems clipped and edited since we never really hear his complete reasoning behind it.
    It does seem like he is contradicting himself. However, his past roles where he performed horrible violent acts against women and children were before he became more famous around the world. Since the Hobbit trilogy, he has been given more opportunities to pick and choose his projects.
    You have to agree that Bryan Fuller has re-imagined the whole Hannibal storyline by adding and taking out things from the novels. So, in a way, Richard Armitage’s Dollarhyde is a bit different from the one in the films and novel.
    Frankly, I don’t think anyone would watch Hannibal if there wasn’t the depiction of violence. It’s all fantasy of what the audience wishes they could do to rude people they can’t stand, but not actually commit the act.
    In reality, stories of violence toward women around the world are far worse than the stuff conjured up in fiction. Hannibal is not real. It’s all made up. We should not overthink and stress about this show. Just watch and enjoy it. I know I will be this weekend. ; )

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    • I haven’t seen the films; I have read one novel. So far the Dolarhyde in the novel and in the tv series are quite consistent (although we have been told there will be some differences) and not that different at all. Both are disturbed men who kill, rape, and bite / eat the bodies of those they have killed and raped. There are some gender flips in female characters (female characters who in the books or films were men who are now women, e.g., Freddie), although the fact that the characters are now women does not seem to have increased their power.

      “I don’t think anyone would watch Hannibal if there wasn’t the depiction of violence” — this seems like an extreme claim to me. Most of the shows defenders say the violence is not integral to the motivation for their love of the show. I am certainly not watching the show because I have revenge fantasies. And many of the shows victims are either not actually rude when we see them on screen, or we don’t know what they were like — because we don’t see them at all before we experience them as corpses.

      Obviously, we know that Hannibal is not real — no one commenting at this blog is in any state of confusion over that fact. That does not mean that its characterizations and representations are immune from criticism. Re “overthinking” and your adjurations to [me?] — please read the comments policy. Such statements are a means of delegitimating an argument without addressing the actual points of the argument. If you tell someone not to overthink (or take too seriously) something again, you will be blocked.

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  7. Enjoy it? Enjoy watching how deeply and violently misogynism is embedded in the world I live in? No, I’ll pass, even though I’m curious to see RA in this role. I read The Red Dragon. That’s enough.

    Thanks for this exposition, Serv. You’re right on the money.

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    • That mirrors something I was thinking several weeks ago — which was essentially that the reason I don’t watch network tv in the first place is that it’s so representative of the dominant culture’s attitudes toward women. Who needs it? I have worked to find other redeeming things to talk about in the show but at this point, I’m mostly watching for Armitage.

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  8. Offensichtlich ist ein Ranking der Grausamkeiten aufgestellt worden auf der rape ganz oben steht? Und da es zum “Schlimmsten” aller Grausamkeiten gekürt worden ist, darf man die Tat an sich nicht zeigen? Wie krank ist das denn? Das Aufschlitzen von Körpern, Kehlen, ganz zu schweigen von Spielgescherben die den Opfern überall reingesteckt werden ist also weniger schlimm wie rape?
    Dazu fällt mir – ganz ehrlich -nichts mehr ein!
    Abgesehen davon, dass ich im ganzen Hannibal noch keine wirklich “starke” Frauenfigur entdecken konnte, der nicht irgendwann von einem Mann den Garaus gemacht wurde…….
    Wenn ich eine Beurteilung über das Frauenbild in Hannibal vornehmen müsste, würde es sicher vernichtend ausfallen.
    Danke für die ausführliche Diskussion!

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    • I feel like this is an oddly American idea (although I’m not willing to say that it’s solely American). it seems like all sorts of horrible things can be done to a character (or a person) but as long rape isn’t one of them, as you say the worst has been avoided.

      I’m not defending rape — then again, I think every violent situation has to be understood contextually. Rape is potentially a far worse act, for instance, in cultures that prize virginity than in those don’t.

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      • Ne pas oublier que la première victime est la personne violée , les dégats physiques et psychologiques sont incommensurables . La société , la famille viennent après ajouter une double peine .

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  9. I tend to agree with this post. While we don’t see women being raped, there is plenty of violence against women in this show because it is an element of the books by Harris. It is not glorified or treated as ok, but it is nevertheless present. And even the female empowerment themes this season don’t ring true. Alana was a smart, compassionate, moral person (if perhaps weak) in Seasons 1 and 2, and now she has become strong in a dubious way through her desire for revenge and willingness to get her hands dirty. Chiyo and Bedelia are also supposed to be strong women on the show, but their behaviors were bizarrely orchestrated by Hannibal.

    With regard to Richard’s comments, he wants to do Hannibal, and it is clearly good for his career. So I hear some rationalizing in his comments, but I am ok with that.

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    • thanks for the comment — interesting to read something from the perspective of someone who has enjoyed the show in the past.

      I am okay with him wanting to do the show and it being good for his career (and in general with any personal autonomy issues he might have, like wanting to shake his rep as a ladies’ favorite or whatever). I would also appreciate it if he would just say that. I’m not okay with the rationalization of rape because it doesn’t happen in plain view, though.

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      • I still like the show, but didn’t like parts of the first half of this season. Some of it was too slow for me, and many of the characters were behaving bizarrely and inexplicably. I still found many things to like. For example, I didn’t understand Bedelia’s motivations but nevertheless enjoyed every scene she was in. I’m loving the Red Dragon part so far.

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        • Bedelia is the main thing that could tempt me to watch those first seven episodes, because she has a mesmerizing screen presence and I find Gillian Anderson’s personification of her extremely convincing (that is SO how high priced therapists behave and speak that it’s almost eerie).

          But I have someone I trust who, without telling me why specifically, is urging me to wait until I’ve seen the show to the end before watching the first seven episodes, she thinks episode 7 is so awful it could put me off watching the rest of the ones Armitage is in.

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  10. You found the perfect word: SHTUSS 🙂
    It is a violent show from A to Z. In my opinion we even witness Will being raped by Hannibal, when he drugs him and puts the ear via tubus in his throat …
    That said, I enjoy watching the show despite all the obvious un-equality and gore. To me this is the TV equivalent of visiting a show with paintings from Francis Bacon. I never read any of Thomas Harris books and will not now – because I’m not really fond of that genre. I think Bryan Fuller has a way of finding beauty in horror and I appreciate the visual outcome.
    Of course some scenes in Hannibal made it on my “wished-I’d-never-seen” list: the killing of the nurse (I’m REALLY sensible when it comes to violent acts against eyes … Neil Gaiman’s Corinthian is my nightmare #1), also the human mural escape was very painful to watch and Mason “dismembering” his sister was quite disturbing.
    As for Mr Armitage & “dealbreaker”s – having seen every episode of the show so far – this sounds like hypocrisy. But this is maybe just an attempt to soothe the anti-Hannibal-fan-fraction in general. It doesn’t matter if he didn’t have to act all those crimes, because to the viewer – even if he just witnesses Will Graham in the act – his character did.
    Just as you said Servetus – in his mind, he would have to commit all of those horrid things anyway to deliver a convincing performance.
    I don’t know if anyone brought this up already: as Guy of Gisborne he actually killed Marian, his only love. Sword through stomach in broad daylight. Is this less violent? Are “passion crimes” excusable?

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    • also on my list — any scene that involves touching the surface of an eye. I cannot even express how much that bugs me. Mason mutilating his own face while under the influence of drugs.

      I would not count myself in the “anti-Hannibal” fan segment, but I honestly don’t think poor arguments really help him with this group (if he cares about any particular fan position at all), insofar as it’s primarily violence as such that bother them, not rape in specific. They object to what the show does aesthetically and morally per se — not in terms of a catalog of particular moral ills.

      I agree that there is very much a sort of scale of “okay” violence / “okay” rape in our media. Because RH was written on some level as a children’s story, the violence all has the “fairy tale exception” written over it (in fairy tales, it’s okay for the villain to kill women and eat them). Similarly war stories have certain kinds of exceptions built into them (very much based on which characters are the heroes and which are the villains). In the case of Hannibal, because the violence is so heavily mannered and aestheticized, really anything goes — so the more “beautiful” the horror, the better.

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  11. Very thought-provoking post, Servetus. These ideas that Hannibal is a feminist-friendly show never sat well with me, though I don’t probably view shows in general with any eye-toward whether or not they’re feminist, just whether or not they entertain me. When you get right down to it, Hannibal is really a sick and twisted show, as Hubby informs me every time. I acknowledge that, however aesthetically presented it is. As for Richard, I completely agree that it seems a bit of a cop-out to claim that acting out the murder and post-mortem “activities” of Dolarhyde would have been a deal breaker, though maybe it’s the truth. Perhaps he’s ok with going there in his mind but not on set. Don’t get me wrong… I think he’s knocking it out of the ball park in terms of performance, and I’m pretty obsessed with Hannibal at the moment because of it. But may as well own it- he was offered the opportunity to explore perhaps the darkest character he’s ever portrayed, and he accepted the challenge. Not everyone approves. I wonder how he’s going to explain the decision to tackle Bridget Cleary!

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    • Right, in some sense Bridget Cleary is worse. It is about a normal man killing his wife, rather than a psycho killer with a rocky childhood killing strangers.

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      • I’ve been pondering this from time to time (I’ve seen a lot of documentary footage of historical atrocities and I used to show a lot of it to students when I taught modern history), and it never bothers me anywhere near as much as this play violence on Hannibal has. I think there could be several reasons for that and I won’t go into them here, but I do think one aspect of Cleary is that if it’s made realistically, there isn’t a pacifying aesthetic vision that covers up either the mental illness involved or the violence. So a lot will depend on how the project is set up, visualized, and executed.

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    • If you’re looking for a feminist tv show, you’ll wait a long time, and it’s not my primary criterion either. I’m usually looking for tv where the misogyny is not a strong element of the piece, or else there is some political, aesthetic or critical quality that to me makes it worth it despite my potential objections. I think that’s the category that a lot of viewers of this show fall into myself — they are convinced by Fuller’s artistic vision to push objections they have to its disturbing elements underneath. It’s a beautiful death tableau, so we’ll ignore the fact that, in fact, those people who make it up are, in fact, dead.

      I think he should do whatever he wants — and if that division is meaningful to him, which I can understand (I, too, justify certain fantasies precisely on the basis that they are not reality), more power to him. I just wish that there was some acknowledgement that this is a rationalization. I think the energy of Fuller’s rejection of moral / political criticism on the basis of aesthetic and philosophical grounds (“it’s really a love story”) makes it okay for others not to think about what is really happening here. I really wish he would own it and I think that owning it would not only make these interviews stronger and more interesting, I think it would bolster his artistic independence.

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  12. If I understand Mr. Fuller correctly the most important and/or maybe the only reason why “man rapes woman” does not happen in Hannibal is that it is over-used on tv. If a male character in a show acts violantly to a female character it’s usually rape.

    In other words: No man rapes a woman in Hannibal because it’s boring, without glamour.

    Cynical? Maybe. shrugs

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    • That is definitely an element of his explanation. On the face of it he’s correct to say that rape is not handled well on television and I don’t disagree with him or even, if that were the reasoning for not doing rape stories, for him not doing them on that basis. What bugs me is that he keeps saying he isn’t doing rape stories when he is clearly doing them.

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  13. There’s a lot of rape imagery on Hannibal, but rape imagery is not, and has never been actual deception of rape. Women being mounted on antlers, Margot having her uterus removes, Will having a tube shoved down his throat, they’re not rape, although we’re maybe suppose to link them to rape.

    Fuller is not inherently against rape of women in fiction either. When the controversial episode of Game of Thrones came out he defended it. He just personally is not interested in telling stories where women get literally raped.

    Only slightly related, but I found your listing of the very different women who make up this show, and then your dismissing of them for very different reasons, a bit off putting. I’m thankful that this show has had so many different women, in many different roles, and not a single one of them has been without flaws. Hannibal is a story filled with grey characters, it wouldn’t be right to only have women (or any gendered character) as the lone shining beacon in their world.

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    • Thanks for the comment, and welcome. I think those things you mention are either rape (removing a uterus against the owner’s explicit will — in order to kill a fetus? that’s pretty much rape to me, it involves forcible destruction of sexual and reproductive organs of a woman — it just doesn’t involve a penis), or so close to rape that the distinction is meaningless. I personally believe that sex without informed consent of both partners is rape no matter who the perpetrator is, although I acknowledge that not all will share that definition. I purposely didn’t define rape for the purposes of this post because definitions are so divergent, but there are definitions of rape available that would cover all of the things that have been cited and many others that were not. However — if “we’re maybe supposed to link them to rape,” if the “not rapes” make us think of rapes, how is the show then not full of rape stories?

      Fuller’s general attitudes about rape on TV or in fiction are not really of interest to me, although I think I probably have read the same comments on GoT that you did. I don’t watch GoT although all of my friends do. I’m not sure what Fuller’s defense of rape stories when others execute them is supposed to demonstrate with regard to this particular question. The focus of this post is a single example with which I am familiar and limits itself to the question: “does Hannibal do rape stories?” Whether Fuller would do them or defend them in another setting doesn’t have any bearing on the finished product we see on screen here.

      re: offputting — this is a matter of perspective. None of these women conform to any idea I’ve ever formulated about what a strong female character might do (with the possible exception of Bedelia du Maurier). Note that I am not claiming that women have to be nice, beautiful, and admirable or “lone shining beacons.” Bedelia du Maurier is attractive physically and intellectually, and she would be a strong woman character, potentially, if all her strings weren’t constantly being pulled with such effect by Hannibal. Kade Prurnell would be unattractive even without the fact that the male characters in the show reject her authority and act successfully to subvert her power, with the script asking us to approve of this. But because she’s written this way, she’s hardly a reflection of the desire either to (a) see women as they are or (b) discuss them in a setting where their priorities are considered equal to that of men.

      re: “my dismissing them” — I think they are worth dismissing. I personally think that the female characters on this show are largely offputting on their own terms. They don’t conform to even a basic definition of feminist that would involve “women having equal power with men.” I note only that most of the women are curiously powerless when it comes right down to it — and even the powerful ones are outpowered or made ineffectual by their male counterparts; the script does this to them over and over again; and by insisting on our identification with and love for the male characters who do these things, the script asks us to applaud them. Moreover, I don’t believe that any description that I made is inaccurate. Admittedly, the one female character I did identify with and admire — Beverly Katz — was an ethnic stereotype (“smart Asian girl”) and either was killed by Hannibal for being too curious or died as the tool of Will’s attempt to exonerate themselves, so that would tend to prejudice me, I suppose.

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  14. Well said, Servetus! I have refrained from watching, H–even though Richard Armitage is in it–for many of the same reasons you share above.

    However, I do look forward to Richard Armitage’s other projects yet to be released–especially, “Urban and the Shed Crew”.

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  15. Wow…a lot to process. Not having read the book nor seen any episodes, only being informed by interviews (no graphics) and fan discussion, perhaps I shouldn’t put in my 2 pennies. However, the violence of the topic (serial killings )in Hannibal was enough to turn me away from the beginning. Then to hear Fuller praise the work as “non-rape” in nature as if it were a virtue kind of makes me choke on my dinner. I do not appreciate the selling of ourselves as virtuous when we pick motes out of others’ eyes and have beams in our own. Was he digging at Outlander? Surprisingly, I have watched that show- every episode – and there have been rapes and other troubling events. What made me watch those (sometimes behind my hand) was the historical aspect of life in the times/culture represented and the nature of the relationship developing between the two main characters. While there was rape of the actual penis/vagina kind and of the sodomistic kind between men as well, I could tolerate the act better understanding the evil nature/mental illness of the character of Black Jack Randall. The base nature of his desires are somehow different to me than the ones in the characters of Hannibal. ..Will, Dolarhyde, and the other cast you mentioned in detail. It just seems like there isnt a single character that isn’t a deviant (The Reba character ) ??? Hard for me to say as I can not stand to watch. I cannot stand to watch so much deviant behavior without any lightness, morality that I can relate to. That’s something for me to ponder further about myself….
    All in all, it’s quite a leap for Fuller to praise this series as a feminist friendly, non-rape show. The rabbi who must praise himself has a congregation of one!

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    • Part of what makes Rutina Wesley such a success is how beautifully cheery she is. i haven’t watched Outlander, but I think the distinction potentially lies between realistic violence and unrealistic violence. Maybe the problem for Fuller is really that it would be hard to stage a convincing rape in the atmosphere of the aesthetics he builds into the series. The blood and gore is potentially beautiful because it’s distancing, but maybe it’s not so easy to stage an aesthetically distanced version of a rape. (no idea, just a thought). Every character in Hannibal seems to be deviant in some way, but it’s a sort of cartoon character, wink wink nudge nudge kind of deviance, until they get down to the killing.

      re: praise — other people praise him for it, too, it’s not just him praising itself. (If it had been that I might have left it alone. What crossed my boundary was the article in Ms.)

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  16. Oooh, and I totally forgot to mention my surprise at Richard’s comment on the portrayals of rape being a deal breaker? But yet being involved in this series as a serial killer who raped and mutilated his victims? Considering his past roles? That Lucas role in the last episode KILLED me….guess that somewhere in his psyche is the line he draws, but for me, playing this character (while a great acting opportunity to show his tremendous gifts ) is to be all Dolarhyde is, both on screen and off. I’m not going to nitpick. ..we each have our gray areas….

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    • Oh, and its me again. …just saying that there is literally NO tv that comes anywhere near morality for me. We are SO FAR GONE for that since the Lawrence Welk Show….I often find myself screaming and quoting Phoebe ffrom friends. …”My eyes! My eyes!”😁👀

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    • everyone makes their own rationalizations, I agree. I just wouldn’t want rationalizations to somehow get confused with principles.

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      • when I was a little girl my grandmother and I used to argue in a friendly way on Saturday nights after my bath about whether to watch Lawrence Welk or Emergency!

        That was probably the beginning of the end. Although John was SO cute.

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        • Lol…we used to play act that show in the neighborhood. ..my older by two years neighbor was that character. ..swoon! Manhunt with a dozen kids on the same block? Priceless!

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  17. So, so late into this, but I’ll give my two cents anyway.

    I agree completely with our two German speaking friends, re: CraMERRY and suzy.When BF told the audience that Hannibal won’t show rape, I immediately thought: Well, but you’ll show murders; The show revels in the most gruesome and gory murders, present them as an art form, and make them into entertainment. So I’m completely with you on the ‘grading’ of horrific acts.

    On the other hand, I DO get BF’s argumentation for not showing them, but it just gives me a sense of a show with the incorporation of a massive double standard.

    Initially, I was opposed to watching because of a potential manipulation of the spectator (me). The more I consider it, it seems this manipulation is also related to the double standard. Why should we feel sorry for a murderer (FD) when we know what he’s done? We ‘know’ because we’ve read the book, or because the acts are implied and WG has to relive them. One can argue that WG is certainly a rape victim, one of emotional rape on several levels.

    Now you analyze and conclude on yet another double standard in Hannibal. The show’s primary segment is supposedly women, but if we put on our feminist glasses, we must ultimately reach the conclusion, which you have so eloquently presented. The portrayal of women in Hannibal is seemingly limited and old-fashioned. I write seemingly, because I have only seen two episodes of a previous series, but based on this viewing I agree. OTOH, the books were written in the 1980s, and much has happened since then. I just think that if the writers can change the gender of characters and adjust story lines accordingly, why not bring the characterization of women up to date?

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    • I feel like the 80s have been experiencing a comeback lately in US political life, so maybe this isn’t coincidental. ???

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  18. I’m late. I read it a few days ago while at camp with spotty Internet and wanted to chime in…..Thanks for this. My knowledge of the show or story is limited, but I am very interested in how mainstream media portrays its fare (or how a respected publication construes it) because I believe it’s critical that each individual think for themselves and consider what type of material they will mentally consume as entertainment or information.
    I’m certainly of a party that would say that what is intended to be understood as having happened off-camera is still an integral part of the story. I’m actually quite surprised and rather disturbed to hear that the show is being promoted as no-rape or feminist friendly when rape is an essential violation committed in the story. (Using objects constitutes rape in my definition. Antlers?! Omg.)
    So, if we don’t see it happening, it didn’t happen? I don’t get it.

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  19. To add insult to injury: this week Gillian Anderson’s character put her entire hand down Zach Quinto’s character’s throat. The camera gave us a few of how it looked from inside. All by itself that would be pretty rapey, but then a fan tweeted at Fuller that this was the first instance of fisting on network TV, and Fuller RTed it. Given that I’m pretty sure from contextual clues that Zach Quinto’s character didn’t assent to that and it happened against its will, it’s just so much bunkum. No rape. Nudge nudge wink wink.

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    • The whole problem seems to be that Fuller’s definition of “rape” is very different from your definition.

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      • I honestly don’t believe — all of his piety aside — that he even believes his own definition, given the amount of time he spends undermining it.

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