Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Veronica Mars & Violence

Last night I watched a re-run of Veronica Mars, the great show staring Kristen Bell. Each season of VM (it's on the 3rd now) has a central mystery. The first season, it was Who Killed Veronica's Best Friend? The second season, it was Who Made The School Bus Run Off The Road And Kill Those Kids? [One of those kids was one of Veronica's good friends, too. So you might not want to get too close to Veronica if you're a girl. If, however, you're a petulant rich kid bad boy, you'll get a far better fate than you deserve.] This season, the central mystery seems to be Who's The Serial Rapist On Campus? I say "seems" because I haven't been watching. Yeah, I wait for the DVDs. It's better that way.

This bothers me a bit. It's not really possible to just sit back and enjoy the intrigue and drama when the macguffin of the story is rape. The first season's murder involved movie stars, terminally ill inmates, wise-beyond-their-years teeenages, and other elements that took the story into the realm of soap opera. It was dramatic, and you felt for the characters, but it was fantasy. The second season was similar. Someone rigging a bus to run off a mountain highway in order to get revenge for a childhood trauma is, again, the stuff of soap opera. Now, when I say "soap opera", I'm not trying to belittle the show. I love the show. I'm saying it's a step beyond realistic.

Now in this third season, the topic is rape. There are certainly soap operatic elements, with multiple conspiracies, and vendettas and scandals. However, rape on a college campus is just too realistic to be part of an entertaining show. It really happens on a lot of college campuses, and it really does get covered up, and the perpetrators really do go unpunished far too much of the time. That all makes it very difficult for me to enter that entertainment mode, where the horrible things happening to people on screen make up part of a fun story. For example, war in a John Wayne flick is thrilling. War in a documentary about Iraq is depressing.

There's a similar thing that happened in comics a couple years back. DC comics ran a story called 'Identity Crisis'. One of the major plotpoints in this story was the rape of a superhero's wife. The inclusion of that element was far too much. Violence in superhero comics is crazy, it's unrealistic. Rape is too real. It's too cruel and too real for entertainment value. I've known young women who just assumed that at some point they'd be raped, and there really wasn't anything you could do about it, because statistics show that a large portion of the female population is sexually assaulted. No one is walking around fearing that they're going to get killed by Joker Gas, or ripped to shreds by Sabertooth. See the difference?

Now whenever I see that particular villain in a comic, I don't think, "Oh, there's the notorious Dr. Light! What nefarious scheme is he up to now?" Instead I think, "Why isn't that bastard dead?" And I have less repsect for the heroes who let him continue to walk the Earth. And it infuriates me that subsequent stories have made it clear that the heroes are supposed feel bad for altering this villain's mind so that he was less of a threat. That's just absurd. They should feel bad that he's still drawing breath. But that's a rant for another time, perhaps.