Monday, November 18, 2013

Did I Really Just See That?!

Trigger warning: discussion of sexual abuse.

  If you've read my blog before, you may be wondering why I'm writing about such a serious subject, especially since I haven't written anything in such a long time. I mean, my blog is all about analyzing tv shows in a lighthearted and probably much-too-invested manner. I try not to spend too much time on serious issues, and I really try to avoid controversy. But this is something that I want to write about, because it's something I feel is important. 

  As I was watching episode 20 of King's Family, I was shocked to realize that it contained a scene depicting a sexual assault. And not only that, it characterized it as something that was acceptable and even funny. Now, I'm not an expert on soap operas, despite writing this blog, and I'm sure there are other dramas, soaps, and movies (and probably even books) that have similar scenes or themes. As far as I can recall, I haven't seen anything like this before in other shows or movies, but I have a general awareness that it's been done before, and it will probably be done again. However, today, watching this particular scene, I was disgusted to watch this subject and how it was handled.
  First, some background: This is a family weekend drama that deals with the travails of the titular Wang family, especially the romantic lives of the three oldest daughters. It's geared towards appealing to a wide range of people of all different ages, and is billed as dealing with all sorts of issues that families face in today's world. 
  The issue I'm addressing in this post involves the second daughter, Ho Bak, and her husband of 10 years, Se Dal. Ho Bak is a hardworking, sacrificing wife and mother who struggles to take care of her own household while trying to maintain a strong relationship with her parents and siblings. Her main weakness is greed, but that's mostly nullified as a character fault by the fact that her greed is borne out of love, in that she is desperately saving her money to invest in both a house and a better future for her sons.
  She struggles with her mother's blatant favoritism of her older sister Soo Bak and the disdain her mother shows toward all the other daughters in the family, most especially Ho Bak. Even her older sister treats her with contempt, despite Ho Bak's many sacrifices to make Soo Bak's life easier and her efforts to take care of  her sister's children, even if it means spending less time with her own. (It's true that Soo Bak pays her for her help, but it's not enough to cover the abuse she puts her through.)
  On the other hand, Se Dal is a lazy, good-for-nothing husband (as presented in the series), who spends all his time goofing off in internet cafes, wasting his time and Ho Bak's hard-earned money. He's irresponsible, unemployed, and not very kind to his wife. He even conspires with his mother to try and steal the money Ho Bak has saved for a new apartment in order to give it to his mother to waste on her failing business. (I understand that this situation is due to familial piety, and that as the daughter-in-law Ho Bak is expected to contribute to the family. But the mother-in-law does nothing on her own to save her business, and the show even depicts her as being selfish and demanding—not exactly a villain, but certainly not a sympathetic character.) 
  Then, after Se Dal is finally bullied into a job by his wife, he begins an affair with a woman who is the opposite of Ho Bak: elegant, needy, entitled, selfish, and rich. He tells Ho Bak that he wants a divorce and spends most of his time avoiding her. Ho Bak is determined to make things work between them, and is desperately trying to win him back and fight for their marriage. It's made abundantly clear that Ho Bak is the saint and Se Dal is the devil in this storyline.
  Now we move ahead to episode 20. Se Dal goes out drinking and comes home drunk. Ho Bak helps him undress and get into bed, then undresses herself and turns off the light. It's made clear that her intention is to have sex.
  The next morning, Ho Bak sings to herself while preparing breakfast for her family. Se Dal runs out in his underwear (funny underwear, too, because it bears the image on the 50,000 won bill, reflecting both his mistress' wealth and Ho Bak's love of money. . . and everything covered by that "money") and asks her what happened the night before. "Did we. . . do that?" Ho Bak points out that they're husband and wife, after all, and Se Dal yells at her for violating him.
  This is a similar scene to one that is often repeated in kdramas: a man wakes up next to a woman after a drunken night together and crosses his arms over his chest protectively. Or a woman says something that the man takes as an innuendo and he makes the same defensive gesture. Typically, the man is fully clothed, and often the initiator of anything that might have happened between them (though usually nothing has happened). It's really hilarious, because nothing untoward has actually happened, but the guy freaks out, and I laugh pretty much every time I see this in a drama. 
  This scene, too is meant to follow that pattern. It's hysterical. A man in amusing underwear screeching that his wife has violated him after a night of passion? Comedic gold. Especially because Se Dal is so deserving of some kind of a comeuppance, and his wife has done that by seducing him. Hilarious, right?
  Only it isn't.
  Wait, what? Why isn't it funny? It's clearly meant to be funny. It was written to be funny. If this particular drama had a laugh track, I'm sure it would have played during this scene in a sure sign that the situation is funny (or at least meant to be). The music is definitely telling us that this scene is funny. So, why isn't it funny?
  (Let me be clear here. If you watched this episode and thought this was funny, I don't blame you. We were supposed to find it funny. We were supposed to laugh at the emasculation of Se Dal and at Ho Bak's desperation. The whole situation was presented as another humorous and misguided attempt by Ho Bak to save her crumbling marriage. Like the time she put a laxative in Se Dal's drink, which was also supposed to be funny, but is not the topic of this post.)
   If we look beyond the surface of what's going on here, these two scenes are actually about rape. And it's handled in a most offensive way—as a comical take on how to keep your man. 
  So let's look more closely at the real situation here: Se Dal was so drunk he was passed out. Unconscious. Unable to give consent. However, he had previously made his position clear on the topic of "conjugal relations" with his wife: he moved out, asked for a divorce, and for a long time had resisted all her attempts at any kind of skinship, declaring in no uncertain terms that it was something he didn't want. Which is, in fact, the exact opposite of consenting. So Ho Bak took advantage of his drunken stupor (not being at all impaired herself, by the way) and forced sex on Se Dal. (And, judging by the gleam in her eye when the idea popped into her head, she's hoping to get pregnant from it. Which is also terrible.) 
  Some people may object to my classifying of this situation as sexual assault. It is commonly believed that a man can't be raped by a woman. Besides, this is a married couple, and sexual relations are an important part of any marriage. Many people may think that Ho Bak has the right to have sex with her husband as part of her marriage vows. And that any man—especially a married man—is grateful any time he gets to have sex. 
  But these things aren't exactly true. A full-grown man can be raped by a woman. Men have just as much right to decline sex as women do. Even within the bonds of marriage. And just because men are generally more willing than women to have sex, it doesn't mean that they have actually consented.
  To illustrate my point, imagine that the genders had been reversed in this scenario. I'm going to let you paint the picture for yourself, just swap the two characters and imagine the same scene I described above. 
  If things had been switched around, with the same music, the same tone, the same sequence of events, people would have been outraged. Clearly, there is nothing funny about a woman being violated by her husband while she is dead drunk. There's no way any drama would play that situation for laughs. It would be pulled off the air faster than you could say lawsuit. As it should be.
  So why is it okay for this same situation to happen to a man? Why is it okay for Ho Bak to do something like this when it wouldn't be okay for Se Dal to do the same? Why is it funny instead of horrifying? 
  If you ask me, it isn't. It isn't funny at all. It isn't a joke. This is a serious issue. Se Dal may be a complete tool, but he still doesn't deserve to be sexually assaulted because he treats his wife like crap.  
  This scene should have been treated as any other dramatic depiction of rape. Actually, it really shouldn't have happened at all. But if it had to happen, it should be shown as a tragedy, not some farce. Se Dal is a victim, and it's terribly offensive and irresponsible for those involved in creating this drama to paint him as anything else.
  So I'm done with this drama. I'm done with any other drama that could joke about sexual assault like this (and I am sure there are others, since we all know Dramaland recycles plot points incessantly). I believe it was never the intention of the writers and director to joke about rape. But—inadvertent as it may have been—they did make it into a joke, and it's not okay. It's not okay to dismiss or belittle the women and men who have suffered such traumatic ordeals by making fun of these situations. 
  I know that this is a drama about fictional characters in a fictional world, which may make any statements it's making seem trivial. But these issues aren't so trivial, because they are also a reflection of the the world and the attitudes of our society in general, and they are attitudes that need a major adjustment. Especially in regards to sexual crimes. 
  If we continue to accept these things as a matter of course, or comedic fodder, or something to be swept under the rug of apathy and ignored, we are contributing to the problem. It's not okay to turn a blind eye to these issues. It's not okay to make them into jokes. Instead, we should face them head on so that we can help those who are victims in the real world to find healing and peace and strength to move onward. 
  Even if it's some silly drama that inspires us to make some kind of a difference, let's all move forward and make life a little bit better for everyone.  

1 comment:

  1. Loved this post! Amen! I wish that drama as a whole isn't so ready to show forceful skinship as a desirable thing, and most of all rape. SPOILER The "love scene" in Spy Myung Wol is totally a rape, and it really, really bothers me a lot END SPOILER. And I really appreciate that you point out that men can be victims of sexual abuse as well.