Thursday, June 11, 2015

"CECI N'EST PAS UN VIOL (THIS IS NOT A RAPE)": EMMA SULKOWICZ'S CONTROVERSIAL SHORT FILM: Yeah, we're talking about this elephant in the room, so fair warning, this blogpost is rated NC-17.

There's no comfortable way to go into this subject, some of you may even find it appalling that I'm even bringing up this elephant in the film world room, but most of you already know that I don't typically write about what everybody else does, so it probably shouldn't surprise you that much. Besides something this provocative and controversial should at least be given acknowledgement, if not discussion. So, let's discuss,... "Ceci N'est Pas Un Viol", aka "The is Not a Rape", Emma Sulkowicz's short film.

For those who don't know Emma Sulkowicz, in 2012, she was a visual arts student accused a fellow Columbia student of rape. (Some sites give the accused's name, others don't; I'm not gonna give his name because, frankly I'm not quite sure what the standard or procedure involved is regarding his identity, so I'm gonna err on the side of caution and not give it here.) He denied the claim, saying the sex was consensual. An investigation by the university, concluded in 2013, said that the accused was "Not Responsible". This led to her performance art piece, "Carry That Weight" or "Mattress Performance", where she carried around a 50 lb mattress every day and everywhere on the campus of Columbia University, until the moment, her rapist, was no longer also continuing to attend the school. This started last September and continued this, until, he graduated last month and yes, she did carry the mattress, along with other student's helping her, (Which was allowed by the rules of the performance, that she could accept help from those who offered, but would not be allowed to ask for help) at her, and his, Graduation Ceremonies. In total, nine months, and yes, the irony in that the project lasted as long as a pregnancy, was planned. He has now sued the School and others for allowing her performance piece to continue, and leading to gender-based harassment, as well as sullying his college experience.

For those who are or think they are familiar with the details of this;  I'm not getting into a he said, she said discussion, over the validity of either side's perspective of the night in question. For one thing, it doesn't matter. Really, it doesn't, 'cause, let's say she's lying, so does that mean that this guy isn't a rapist, or that rape, particularly on college campuses isn't a real problem that needs to be addressed and discussed? Yeah, bullshit. And, frankly, even if the truth is somewhere in between, I'm not gonna patronize either side's feelings about what happened, 'cause it's obviously effected them and if in Sulkowicz's case, if she is, making this whole thing up, just to come up with the arguably the best performance art piece this decade and now the short film I'll be discussing that she made, and becoming a highly-respected and vocal leader and symbol of the Anti-Campus Sexual Assault Movement, gaining the respect and admiration of cultural and political leaders ranging from documentarian Kirby Dick, performance artist Marina Abromovich and New York Senator Erica Gillenbrand among others, as well as major acclaim from the art circles and feminist circles across the nation, then..., damn. Seriously, that would be a lot to do for something that was bullshit; I don't care who you are. Forget the symbolism for a second, walking around with a mattress in front of the guy, reminding everyone that "You raped me on this..." for a year,- okay, the mattress was bought, but still, it's the same kind of mattress in the Columbia dorms, but fuck. Somebody that determined, I'd presume that he did something at least. And yes, there were other complaints from others, all of which he was cleared of, (Although some of those complaints were from acquaintances of Sulkowicz), but if you're thinking he was the only person on campus who was ostracized for being a serial rapist, no, there were others who came forward with other claims, all of which were disregarded by the University, who frankly isn't thrilled about the press Sulkowicz's has gotten as she's claimed that Columbia University and other schools for that matter, would rather keep serial rapists on campus as oppose to dismissing or expelling them, or turn them over to the police. So, let me put it this way, if you think this is all fictional, then you're pretty much delusional. I could find the statistics for you pretty easily, but even still, most everybody's aware of how under-reported rapes are, including and especially on college campuses.

So whatever your thoughts on Sulkowicz...- actually why would you have thoughts on her? That's part of the problem, the perception of modern culture to slut-shame and ostracize, and Sulkowicz got a lot of it, even currently. Seriously, why would you have any thoughts on this? For one thing, you and I don't know what happened, and there's no discernible reason to assuredly believe one person over the other, and why, is that even a thought? Is she telling the truth; is he telling the truth? Are we, supposed to have an opinion on this, one way or the other, just as an outside observer who isn't privy to the particulars? Sulkowicz continues to be put through a lot for her accusations and her performance, most of which are variants of people claiming that, her claims are untrue, and I don't know why? Like a 22-year-old co-ed, that's...- yes, I know females have lied in the past about rape, but-eh, why would anybody remotely form an opinion on her. I mean, on campus people, who live with her and have personal experiences with her of some kind, that I get making a determination on whether to believe her or believe him, even if the media and it's audience is also the jury box of America, um, this path is a waste of time, and since most of it, is directed viciously at Sulkowicz, to those people, most of them, it's not about criticizing her art, ideas, beliefs, concepts, or protest, it's, as George Carlin would say about Conservation Pro-Lifers, it's about people, mostly, who are "Anti-Women", and they will do anything that they can, whether it needs to be done or should be done or not, to humiliate and degrade women, especially those who make such claims. Insert your own Sandra Fluke/Rush Limbaugh reference, 'cause that's mostly what this is. (Oh, not to mention one of numerous judicial points I can make, about how her and numerous others' claims of sexual assault, not leading to prosecution, or trials of anytime, possibly be because of a lack of evidence by either the "beyond a reasonable doubt" or the "preponderance of the evidence" standards for judicial or civil cases, doesn't mean inherently that her or his claims are false; it means that there's not enough proof in the view of the court and/or prosecutors to proceed.)

Anyway, to show the shit she's getting firsthand, to those who've heard of this video and have had trouble finding this video, you're not alone. Shortly after it was put up online, hackers immediately attacked the site and it's been up and down ever since. Even yesterday, as I wanted to re-see the original posting of the video on her site, I had to go through about half a dozen sites and links to find it, finally able to connect to it through the Bustle article at the link below.

The original site is the link below, or at least it should be:

If you're still having trouble with it..., you can find the video on Pornhub, and probably every other free porn site you can think of. But it's important to see the video on the site, as it's originally intended. Sulkowicz put the video in context for us, through, what is admittedly a strange but unusual, report-structured explanation, complete with the title, her name and the date, in the top left-hand corner and then a quixotic title that seems partially edited out, "A_____'s S_____t". There's five spaces between each of those words, and other than that, I have no idea what they mean. She then opens with something she's calling, a "Trigger Warning", which reads:

"Trigger Warning: The Following text contains allusions to rape. Everything that takes place in the following video is consensual but may resemble rape. It is not a reenactment but may seem like one. If at any point you are triggered or upset, please proceed with caution and/or exit the website. However I do not mean to be prescriptive, for many people find pleasure in feeling upset." 

There's other words she could've used instead of trigger, in fact, she just could've just called it a "Warning", and not let us focus on the word, but since she does, there's a multiple meanings here. First she's insinuating that the images in the video may indeed cause a negative reaction, in some way, causing us, the viewer to be triggered or upset, but then saying the thing that could trigger the upset feeling might be enjoyable to some. "I do not mean to be prescriptive"? As in diagnosis? Well, upset could mean, just regularly negative reactions to viewing a scene of sexual attack/violence like the one we're about to see, but it could also mean, upset that we're seeing the author, portraying this attack. She calling out both sides, those angry that what she'll be portraying and those for whom, just her existence at all, causes outrage, and indeed, triggers, a reaction, like a gun, causing the audience, to literally and figuratively, take a shot at her. A verbal shot anyway, although I wouldn't be shocked if she's indeed had death threats against her. "Trigger" also has another meaning though, one that means, arousal. It's another word for a person's fetish, or something that can 'cause a reaction, but in this case, whether it's the portrayal of sex/rape or something within or regarding the act thereof, can as well 'cause that reaction. Take, a girl who dresses in a way that's a little too sexy or revealing, in some ways, this is unfortunately giving credit to the idea that "If someone dresses like that, aren't they asking for it", but it's more the effect that is caused by people who may think way, but a better example might be, just a regular fetish that simply turns people on, say, how some people are turned on by leather, or lace, or anything. She mentions she not prescriptive, she's not diagnosing the audience's fetishes, she's simply acknowledging that they exist and while this is an upsetting video, she's not admonishing anyone who may indeed find it arousing. (It's worth noting that, while the actor's face is blurred out and his name has been deleted from the credits, it's rumored that the performer is a known fetish porn model, closely associated to the bdsm porn subculture.)

She continues...

"Ceci N'est Pas Un Viol" is not about one night in August, 2012. It's about your decisions, starting now. It's only a reenactment if you disregard my words. It's about you, not him."

Hmm, uh, we'll get back to that. Here's what else she adds:

"Do not watch this video if your motives would upset me, my desire are unclear to you, or my nuances are indecipherable.
You might be wondering why I've made myself this vulnerable. Look--I want to change the world, and that change the world, and that begins with you, seeing yourself. If you watch this video without my consent, then I hope you reflect on your reasons for objectifying me and participating in my rape, for, in that case, you were the one who couldn't resist the urge to make "Ceci N'est Pas Un Viol" about what you wanted to make it about: rape.
Please don't participate in my rape. Watch kindly."

Okay, as much as even my eyes are rolling at the "I want to change the world" part, although I do like the idealism, this is how you can tell that we're dealing with a performance artist. It's not about the actual content of the video, what the actual subject is, as much whether you or I watch the video and then, why we watch the film, and then, what we do with it, if anything. I'm writing this blog. I don't know what that means or says about me, probably that I'm a bit of a sadist who is in fact, capable alienating his entire audience by devoting a blogpost on his entertainment blog to this kind of subject matter, but hell, it wouldn't be the first time I've alienated everyone. (Hell, this will be the second time this month) That said, I doubt she's talking about me. She's more directly talking to people, who do see her as, whatever the archetype that's berating and trying to shame her, constantly. The people, who, probably do see this as simply a porn, which it isn't, no matter how many idiots post it on Pornhub, or even just those who say that it's porn, on Youtube. (Go ahead, just type her name in, and most of the video say she's done a porn.) She's not only telling us, to not look at this film, like that, "If your motives would upset me, desires unclear, nuances indecipherable, as if anybody would have those traits would even understand what half those words means, but that's apart of the video. She knows damn well that people would in fact do this. You see-, I know some people get upset at me when I mention how I agree with Roger Ebert's thoughts that video games aren't as high an art form as film, and some bring up performance art as another art form that similarly incorporates the audience's actions into and apart of the art piece itself as a defense of video games. Here's the problem with that, that's not exactly true. Yes, the audience reaction is a key component to performance art, but unlike a video game, where you are indeed creating or becoming part of the art itself, the reaction of the performance artist's work, isn't as random as you think. A video game puts up an obstacle for the audience to go through, it's not manipulating the emotions, so much as, simply creating an obstacle course, but performance art is controlling and manipulating our reactions. It's anticipatory. While some people react differently than others but the audience is controlled by the artist. She's playing us. However we respond to the art, is apart of the art, but it's not like the reactions are random. Take her idols, Abromovich's infamous "Rhythm 0" piece, where the audience was given 72 objects designed to give pleasure or pain, including weapons, even a loaded gun, and were advised to do basically whatever they want to her, humiliating and objectifying her, cutting, slashing, ripping her clothers off, beating, torturing etc. even the gun was almost used, at one point although even the audience convinced the guy to put that down, and then when the six hours of this was done, she walked towards the audience, who then scattered. As grueling and defiling as this is, it actually was manipulative. Allowing the audience partial control, aware of the possible consequences, but then, bringing those actions into another light, by simply confronting them. That was back in '74, this isn't the modern-day equivalent this video, but the reaction, without the personal confrontation, is essentially the same, as long as Sulkowicz is treated as a figure, or an object that's open for ridicule, a certain amount of the public at large, will indeed treat her and this film as such. In this case, she's challenging the audience, to equate some of these negative reactions with those, essentially of rape. In essence, she claims that, the people who say, put this video out Pornhub, completely out-of-this-context, and treat her like this, with raping her physically. Which, is, something I would agree with. I would equate that example, to say, a disgruntled ex, putting a personal homemade sex tape of their former significant other on a website, without the other's consent, as retribution after they had broken up, essentially to be a rape of that person too? Just because one consented to being taped by somebody else in a compromising situation, doesn't mean that they consented to that footage being shown to the entire world, especially if it's just for petty retribution.

Now, she also provides a few "Questions to help you reflect", for those who do watch the film without her consent, but-eh, I'll get to those if we need to, let's get to the film itself. You can watch it, and follow along if you want on the site above, or where ever you're able to find it. And, WARNING: SPOILERS, and from, GRAPHIC CONTENT AHEAD. It begins in a dorm room, shown from four different cameras, each taking up a quarter of the screen, a la Mike Figgis's experimental feature, "Timecode" although as far as I can tell, not only is each camera showing the exact same scene, but it's the same unbroken shot, or it at least seems that way. They're resemble hidden security cameras, which in one interpretation, would be disturbing on a whole different level of privacy invasion, but I think the reasoning behind this, is to show the timestamp, which ironically has the date scratched off. Is this for us to interpret that this is supposed to be a reenactment of her August rape, or is this to represent that, this could happen, anywhere at any time?

Well, anyway, Emma and the actor with the blurred-out face, enter the room, and begin making out by the door way, each taking each other's clothes off. Emma's noticeable wearing only a loose t-shirt, and daisy dukes with panties, that are quickly taken off and the guy, actually lovingly picks her up and carries her gently to her bed when she is completely naked, he is still wearing his pants, which will come off shortly, lovingly holding and caressing her, with his hands and mouth. As he takes his pants off, he makes down her body and begins cunnilingus. I-, well, this probably reflects more on me than the film, but I couldn't help but think about Judy Gold's in "The Aristocrats", when she's telling her version of that joke, and makes it a point to begin with the initial sex act, being the guy going down on the girl, because of, feminism, or something. It's funny in the movie, trust me. (I also, well, he goes down on her, before she goes down on him, so this is clearly not a porn.) Anyway, they then, switch roles and she gives me a blowjob, and yes, this is graphic. She then gets a condom from a nearby nightstand, and then, they have sex. I'm not gonna give a blow-by-blow of all the details, but the important thing to note is that, this is at least now, a consensual sex act, which Sulkowicz claims that the rape started out as, before things turned, literally and figuratively. Everything seems fine at for awhile, but while the actor is on top of Emma, he then suddenly, violently smacks her in the side of the face, without warning. You hear her pant in pain, and squeak "Ow,", although, she stills seems to be somewhat okay with this, even uttering, "Oh, yeah," as they continue. He then smacks her in the side of the face again, and the two "Ow!" from her are louder and more clear. He then takes his hands, which her already aggressively pushing her down into the bed, and places them on her throat. You hear her mutter to "Stop.", which he doesn't, either the sex or the hands by the throat. He then repositions her, pushing her legs up into her chest further and then, ripping off the condom, which is thrown violently onto the floor, and he goes inside her anally, causing sudden distress moans and she struggles to fight him off, to no avail. This is when this consensual encounter turns into a rape. After she gives up fighting, he finishes and she is left in the corner of her bed, in a fetal position, when he picks up clothes and walks out of the dorm, still naked. Emma lies on her bed, stretching herself out and tentatively walking, looking through a bag, before finding a towel to wrap herself in, before she also exits the room. When she comes back, she takes off the towel and then, makes her bed, starting with putting a sheet on over it. (Remember, the incident took place at the beginning of the calendar school year, she hadn't yet unpacked or made her room; in fact, you'll notice that her stuff is still in bags and that the dorm room is noticeably empty.) She puts a pillow, and another sheet which shee crawls under and lies down. She now sleeps in the bed, presumably for the first time, the bed that is the location of where she was just raped. (Which if you consider this film as a companion piece to "Carry That Weight", makes the symbolism of the mattress even more powerful than at first)

The short is eight minutes and ten seconds long. in full, I don't know whether it was one take, but it was shot like that by the film's director Ted Lawson, who Marina Abromovich recommended for Sulkovich, and seems to be, at least from her perspective or account, the night of her rape.

Except it's, not a rape. No, I'm not saying that it isn't a rape, she is! Remember the part of her report I said we'd get back to....

"Ceci N'est Pas Un Viol" is not about one night in August, 2012. It's about your decisions, starting now. It's only a reenactment if you disregard my words. It's about you, not him."

The title, translates from French to "This is Not a Rape", and it's not. It's not even a reenactment of the events at hand, by her own admission. It does seem that way, admittedly, but this was just a consensual, planned out sexual encounter. Not even between two people or based on a previous experience, but between Emma and the other actor. That's just, a sex/rape scene in a movie, really. "It's only a reenactment, if you disregard my words. It's about you, not him." Me and everybody else are putting into this film, what we want to put into it, whether we despite or disregard her as the slut who cried rape, or a personal artistic statement that shows a realistic and unglamorous portrayal of a consensual encounters turns non-consensual, or, in my case, some of that, plus I thought about a Judy Gold joke.  I don't know whether or not she'd approve of that part, or any of what I'm doing with this blogpost but that's what I brought into this. And yes, as I wrote, where I directly referenced the film with details about the rape from some account, I wrote about the incident in some ways, as though it was a reenactment. Part of that, was intentional to mislead you readers, but also because that's how, to some extent I saw this piece of art as I was viewing it. Now, I have no idea whether that makes me a consensual viewer or not, but this is confusing and yet thoughtful. Is this a reenactment or not. If she saying not to consider as such, so that we may then consider it as such, kinda like how when, before an episode of "Law & Order" they put that "Not Based on a True Story" warning, only for those episodes that are clearly based on true national news stories. I said this was performance, and performance art, is a manipulation of our experiences, and it does what good performance art does, forces us to confront our own reactions to what we're presented.

Confront, or in her word, help you "reflect".  I mentioned the questions she gives us to reflect upon before, here they are now, all ten of them:

Are you searching for proof? Proof of what?
Are you searching for ways to either hurt me or help me? 
What are you looking for?
Do you desire pleasure? 

Do you desire revulsion? Is this to counteract your unconscious enjoyment? 
What do you want from this experience? 
How well do you think you know me? Have we ever met? 
Do you think I'm the perfect victim or the world's worst victim?
Do you refuse to see me as either a human being or a victim? If so, why? Is it to deny me agency and thus further victimize me? If so, what do you think of the fact that you owe your ability to do so to me, since I'm the one who took a risk and made myself vulnerable in the first place? 
Do you hate me? If so, how does it feel to hate me?

I won't ask, request or demand any of you answer these, especially the "perfect victim" or "worst victim" question, which is, even among everything else, just terribly written. Actually, my issue with these questions is that they're for the people who don't view her film consensual under her guidelines, and I gotta admit that, I think most of the public who she describes as those non-consensual viewers, wouldn't reflect on any such questions already, and probably wouldn't read them to begin with.  I guess that means, they're for the consensual viewers as well, but on the opposite end of that, most of those questions, probably are already what the consensual viewer would think about. (Hell, I essentially answered some of these earlier in the blog, especially those "Searching" questions) Now, I have no idea which one I qualify as, what I know is that, this film, with this prologue of a report before it, is the most interesting piece of film I'd seen this week, and that's it's worth exploration and analysis no matter which interpretation she intended, her interpretation one or our personal interpretation's of the film. Or our interpretations of our interpretations or whatever. You can and do start, going around and around on this if you really dig into it, as you've all probably noticed. And that's one of numerous reasons why "Ceci N'est Pas Un Viol" should be discussed and talked about, and doing so, at least trying the best you can, under the guidelines that Sulkowicz insisted on.

However, I would add one other question to those that might be worth answering, before we finish pushing this elephant outside (Okay a multiple-question, question):

"Why is your view of rape in this society? Why? Is this because of how it's portrayed by the media and culture, or by other experiences, inspirations or teachings? How does or doesn't the western media and culture portray/consider rape? How do they consider the victims of rape? How do they consider the accused rapists themselves. What preconceptions do you have when someone says they are a victim of rape? And are those preconceptions, in some way, influenced by the media/culture's perspective on rape, and/or on women in general, and/or on me (Sulkowicz) specifically? Does the media inspire the current cultural conceptions on rape, or does the media just reflect the thoughts and preferences and opinions of modern society on rape?

I'll let some other more thoughtful and knowledgeable people answer any those questions. Oh, and-eh, in this rare instance, while I am usually tolerant of most every opinion outside of spammers, I will delete any and all responses to this blogpost that, here or on social media that are clearly from a perspective that's undesirable to me, upsetting to me, and/or are unable to grasp or take into account the nuances that this piece is intending to present. I'm not as generous as Emma Sulkovich and willing to allow the thousands of comments on the film's site, probably about half of which are indeed at best, insipid.

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