Note for rape, rape culture, and victim blaming. Additionally, my reactions will contain spoilers of the episode.
So. I have been sort of curious about the Alfred Hitchcock Presents series of late. I happened upon them while searching for something for class. Then I sort of stumbled around to episodes at random. Tonight, I saw the series premiere.
[Season 1, Episode 1, Aired 10/2/55]
I’m actually sufficiently perturbed by it that I can’t do a critique in complete sentences — though I’m not actually not fully triggered by it — so what you get is categories and numbered lists.
One thing that bothered me on an isolated level:
- When Carl is initially questioning Elsa about what happened, she repeatedly says of her attacker, “he killed me.” If I hadn’t seen the word rape in the episode description, I’m not sure how long it would have taken me to figure out that she was actually talking about rape. I likely wouldn’t have figured it out right away; I would probably have been like, “Why is she saying she was killed? She is clearly still alive.” While I like to think I would have figured it out within a few seconds, I’m not sure if that’s primarily due to my background as a survivor or if others would interpret it the same way in the same time frame.
And yes, part of this may be because I was not around in 1955 and therefore do not know if this was a common substitution at the time. If it was a realistic portrayal of how a sexual assault survivor might characterize what happened, especially right afterword, then obviously that’s it’s own thing. But what it sounds like to me — because “killed” just rings so false in those repetitions — is that “killed” was a substitution because this was going on TV. Like an editor or an advertising executive, rather than a writer crafting an authentic character, decided that “rape” was too taboo a word to say.
Things that bothered me in more pervasive ways:
- When Elsa goes out to sunbathe, after remarking on the attractiveness of the younger woman’s body, Mrs. Ferguson gives Elsa a Very Concerned Look, accentuated by Dramatic Camera Angles. This suggests to me that Mrs. Ferguson is either concerned about Elsa’s attractiveness — Elsa’s exposed attractiveness, as she is outdoors in a swimsuit — in a general sense, as though every attractive woman wearing less clothing than “normal” is fair game for assault. Or else — and this is the one that’s actually creepier to me, though I’m not sure it’s the more likely — that, inside the reality of the story, Mrs. Ferguson is aware that there is a predator in the area who may target Elsa, yet she says nothing about this to Elsa.
- The rape of Elsa fits a cookie cutter mold of what constitutes “acceptable rape” according to a lot of Hollywood (and print publishing and culture in general) portrayals. That is, not only is Elsa conventionally attractive, but she’s also a devoted wife who is raped by a stranger. Which, I’m not suggesting that we stop telling the stories of survivors who fit this description, but too often they’re still the only stories we tell. Or at least, they’re the stories we’re most likely to tell where we portray the victim as fully deserving of justice, understanding, and sympathy.
This is a bone of contention with me not so much for what it is in itself but rather for how placing this narrative on a pedestal silences other stories.
- And this is what bothers me most — Elsa says she can identify her attacker. In fact, she cannot but instead says, “It’s him!” of presumably innocent people on the street (two are shown in the episode, but the implication is that this would happen over and over). Given that in most instances of rape where the victim is a woman, her attacker is someone she already knew and could therefore identify, it needlessly — and harmfully — creates the impression that women survivors are unreliable when it comes to accurately naming who raped them.
Moreover, when Carl bludgeons the first man Elsa identifies, he does so because she identifies the man as her attacker. Well, he does it because he chooses to violently take a life, but the life he chooses to take is based on Elsa’s apparent recognition. And in this case, I’m not sure whether this is a rational interpretation of the episode or whether I’m combining it with an overload of personal experience, but I feel like, at the end of things, we’re supposed to sympathize with Carl — for killing a person — because Elsa identified the wrong person to kill. Which is fucked up in a number of ways, the most relevant here being that it blames Elsa, at least in part, for Carl’s actions.
I don’t know how to end this post except to ineloquently say, “I don’t like this.”