The Dolce & Gabbana maybe-gang-rape ad of two years ago looked rather harmless at the time. It was just one of those nonsensical things fashion types do to look arty or whatever-bleeding edge "LOOK AT ME!" and all that. But through the prism of the last month's gang rapeof a 15-year-old girl outside her high school's homecoming dance, it looks a little, well, harder to look at. Events like that certainly make Whoopi Goldberg's Roman "I don't believe it was rape-rape" Polanski statement look even more absurd. All this, and the LAPD recently celebrated having reduced, by 64%, its backlog of unprocessed DNA evidence from thousands of rape and sexual assault cases. Only 2,500 left! Rape as a focus for media "debate," or as something for marketers to exploit, is out. Domestic abuse and sexual harassment, however, are in.
Chris Brown punches his girlfriend and goes right on to put out a new album and a side of beef choked a popular cocktail or something, and OMG did Paris' new bf like totally abuz her or what? (Telling that Hollywood gossip site The Frisky ("Love. Life. Stars. Style.") has a Domestic Violence tag. Of course, so does Jezebel.) Even poor Oprah got into a kerfuffle by booking gospel singer BeBe Winans on her show despite her personal "no domestic abusers" policy, though she later put him on hold. (Winans is currently charged with tuning up his wife.) And then there was this: Mackenzie Phillips: "We have to talk about when you raped me." Mackenzie Phillips' Dad: "You mean when we made love?"
Did you also know that October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month? This is a holiday that marketers have yet to figure out a feel-good way to exploit and profit from. Unlike its fancier cousin "rape," "domestic abuse" is so mundane that only the most ripped-from-the-headlines-L&O:SVU-worthy cases or celebrity versions make big news (see above). But do a Google News search for "domestic abuse" within the "last week" alone and it does not get any less depressing: "Oklahoma City police sergeant suspended amid domestic abuse investigation…" / "Stone Roses Singer Arrested On Domestic Abuse Charge" / "Earlimart man arrested on suspicion of spousal abuse" / "Domestic violence cases on the rise" / "Man Threatened Wife With Saw" / "Obama's half brother recalls their abusive father."
But hey, it's also sexy, right?
Right? (Warning: YouTube link contains some nudity, and may be not safe for work if you consider Jessica Alba getting whipped with a belt or Jessica Alba acting "not safe.")
To entertainment's credit, there have been two recent compelling storylines about domestic abuse that aren't "Law and Order: SVU"ed-up. The first is from "Mad Men", particularly the Joan and Greg arc (though that relationship's depictions of abuse have detractors as well). The other is the ongoing rape storyline of Gemma on the FX show "Sons of Anarchy."
And what about domestic abuse's poorer cousin, harassment? Well, funny you asked-because harassment is entertainment gold.
This year has seen three films that, with reversed gender roles, would never have been made. Surprisingly (or not, maybe), two of them star America's SweetheartÃ‚Â®Ã¢â€žÂ¢Ã‚Â© Sandra Bullock.
· All about Steve: "Convinced that a CCN cameraman is her true love, an eccentric crossword puzzler trails him as he travels all over the country, hoping to convince him that they belong together."
· Obsessed: A "sexy," "catfight thriller" about a temp worker stalking her boss that "scratched and clawed its way to the top of the box office."
·The Proposal: "A pushy boss forces her young assistant to marry her in order to keep her Visa status in the U.S. and avoid deportation to Canada." (Right? Letterman was just having a little fun, get over it… or was he?)
Sexual harassment even has its own offensive high-fashion ads!
And then there are advertisers who look at sexual harassment and say, "That's a great way to sell something to everyday people."
When I recently passed around an ongoing ad campaign by Broadview (formerly Brinks) Home Security, looking for reactions, many friends of mine came forward with sobering, frightening experiences with men they had dated or knew. These ads are running in heavy rotation on cable networks with "target rich" demographics, such as WE. They are, in the opinion of the women I spoke with, "compelling."
So those last two were a little lighthearted but frame the ultimate larger point: Our media is saturated with allusions to domestic violence and this saturation may allow many to feel like the subject is on the forefront of everyone's mind, and is being addressed. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Finally, if you would like to talk to someone about sexual abuse, domestic violence or stalking and harassment, RAINN and the Domestic Violence Hotline are good places to start if local law enforcement doesn't give a shit about you, which it seems is pathetically common.
Abe Sauer also has a blog.