My colleague Jason Kuznicki argues that those who take charity should suffer a social stigma. Underlying this argument is the unspoken assumption that social stigmas are a good thing generally.
I’m not convinced that this assumption is valid, as I’m inherently suspicious of any argument as to what emotional state I should be in at a given time.
Convince me otherwise.
I’m not sure what role Alex is playing in this question when he says “what emotional state I should be in at a given time.” Is he the stigmatized or the one doing the stigmatizing? I also don’t know if putting it in terms of emotional state is how I would frame the question. However, do I think there is value in collective acts of shaming and contempt? I do indeed.
If I am to be fully honest, I will admit that I am writing this post largely as an excuse to engage in a rant about something I read about not long ago. As I’ve mentioned in the past, a large part of my soul is inhabited by an elderly British spinster librarian who is convinced the world is going to hell in a handbasket, and who spends her time in a near-constant state of being appalled. I have decided to call her Millicent.
Millicent wants to bash in some heads with her umbrella over this:
But Rodleen Getsic — who endured unspeakable acts while shooting the film “The Bunny Game” — is no mere scream queen. Ms. Getsic, 37, plays a prostitute abducted by a crazed truck driver (Jeff Renfro), who drugs and strips her and chains her inside his rig. For the rest of the film’s 76-minute running time he sexually assaults her; slaps and spits on her; shaves her head; and drags her, in a grotesque rabbit-shaped hood that gives the film its title, on a leash through the desert. There are other indignities as well, but in the film’s most brutal scene the actress is actually branded on her back. Shooting digitally in black and white in an aggressively shaky style, the camera unflinchingly captures it all, while an assaultive metal soundtrack underscores Ms. Getsic’s screams.
There’s no digital or prosthetic abracadabra at work in “The Bunny Game,” unlike that in “Hostel,” “Saw” and other so-called torture porn films. Adam Rehmeier, the director, said that other than drug and alcohol use, nothing in the film is simulated, and Ms. Getsic has the branding scars to prove it. In a making-of documentary on the DVD, released in July by Autonomy Pictures, Ms. Getsic says, “Part of my soul did die in making this film.” [emphasis added]
Do my horrified eyes deceive me, or does this mean that the other actor actually sexually assaulted her?
There is this to consider:
In an interview Ms. Getsic described her participation in “The Bunny Game” as “more art than film.” She fasted before shooting started and found herself in a meditative state during scenes. And for the more physical demands of the role she drew on a rape and other sexual abuses she endured when she was younger.
What she is telling herself was a “meditative state” this aghast reader calls a “dissociative state.” I cannot reach any conclusion other than that the filmmaker took a woman who had suffered horrible trauma, exploited the resulting psychological vulnerability, and tortured her for the sake of his ghoulish, monstrous movie.
So what does this have to do with shame? How does this help us assess the value of stigma?
Because Ms. Getsic consented to be horribly abused in the making of this film, essentially making the director and other actor agents in her own self-mutilation, there is no legal remedy I can see to its existence. For all its depravity, I do not see how the law prevents films of this kind from being made, so long as some warped parody of “consent” is obtained.
Yet we do not want them made. We do not want any woman’s pain to be used as a means to a twisted “artistic” end. We must find a mechanism other than the law for declaring something impermissible. And that mechanism is stigma. It is saying to this filmmaker, along with the moral failures and fools who would call what he made “art,” that his work and his viewpoint have no space within our society. We cannot cast them into prison, but we can cast them out of our communities. We can refuse to screen their films or take seriously their opinions.
Why? So we can tell our daughters that, should there ever come an assault on their persons, that we will cherish their dignity and seek to have it restored. That we have no place in our society for those who would seek to exploit their resulting pain and vulnerability, which we would strive mightily to remedy as best we can. That those who do otherwise are unwelcome among us, even if what they do falls within the realm of the legally permissible.
Where these lines are drawn and who draws them are open questions. Is stigma often counterproductive, useless or harmful? Of course. Has it been used as a tool of oppression and exploitation? Of course. Should it be deployed judiciously? Of course. But some acts are shameful, and for them stigma is the only appropriate response.