Sunday, April 28, 2013

Princeton, Not Prison: The Good Wife's Take on Rape Culture

**Trigger Warning: Rape**

The Good Wife usually does it's ripped-from-the-headlines episodes, and this was no exception. Except, it's ridiculously timely. The actual references are Bitcoin, "women can't get pregnant from rape", Aaron Swartz, the recent rape cases such as Stubenville, as well as Anonymous. But Anonymous made headlines last week with the Parson's rape case (which you can learn more about here and here) in a similar fashion to this case. But this only happened a week ago and could not have been the reason The Good Wife included this storyline.  They are just so on the nose that coincidences like this happen, especially when it comes to news and events that involve technology. Unfortunately, The Good Wife gets criticized for how topical it is (an example is here)  I think this an unfair assessment  because the show uses popular media brilliantly and is not appropriating the storyline because they can, but rather they are making a statement on these events. . In the world of the 24-hour-news cycle, which has majorly screwed up recently (see: The Boston Marathon), The Good Wife shows us intricacies of these cases that are not just focused on "who?". This is not something the show should be criticized for, but celebrated. This episode really highlighted the writer's way of taking complicated, real-life situations, and making them into a great (feminist) episode of television.

But before I get into the major themes, I wanted to point out a tiny portion of the episode. A small detail that I liked is that the police officer asked if she said yes to sex, not if she said no. The difference between 'yes' and 'not saying no' is incredibly important when it comes to rape and that is something lost on the media. We often hear 'no means no' but really, it should be 'only yes means yes'.

The lawyers on The Good Wife generally win their cases. This was pointed out to me by my mother, and I realized that I hadn't paid attention to the firm's win-loss record. Although the verdict is important, The Good Wife is not about whether the client is guilty or innocent or if they got the justice they deserved. Every once and awhile, sure, the show chooses to focus on a client winning who deserves to win. But most of the time? We don't know. Take Lamond Bishop or Colin Sweeney for example. They are complicated characters who bring complicated cases to the firm and the writer allow us to decide if they are guilty or not. This perception is filtered through the lawyer who represents them, and it usually is Alicia. This means that we see the good side of people, even if they aren't, because that's who Alicia is. The important part is that the writers let us decide rather than try to one-up the viewer by having an innocent-looking client be guilty. In last weeks episode the focus was on whether or not Sweeney committed a crime, and we were shown fairly conclusively that he didn't. This week, the focus changed from if it happened to how it was covered up. The show does this wonderfully by telling us that the question was not if the client was raped. The first scene of the entire show sends the message: this was rape.  The show did not delve into a "maybe she was lying" portion. He did it. He got away with it. And now he needs to pay. This is such a refreshing change of pace from shows that either use rape as a story device or treat possible rape victims like they might be asking for it. The Good Wife is showing us what rape culture looks like in the legal system.
First Shot.
The show opens with Rainey being held in contempt for tweeting about what the perpetrator did to her. Then, evidence was thrown out on technicalities, even though it showed that the perpetrator was guilty and most of the evidence relied on technology. It modernized it (I mean, the title of the episode had 'modern' in it), by showing how technology plays a part in rape. We can see this in the Stubenville rape, as pictures played heavily in convicting the two boys. .(Sidenote: Because this episode relied so heavily on technology, here's a fantastic article by Emily Bussbaum at The New Yorker about how important the relationship between technology and "The Good Wife" really is.)

In that case, even though there is photographic evidence showing exactly what happened to the victim, people still believe them to be innocent. And that is a major part of rape culture. The episode illustrated it with the video discussing the perpetrator wanting to shove things into the victim's vagina. Yes, how Anonymous gave the information to the firm was questionable, but it was evidence of what had happened. At the end, we feel like we won, as we watch Alicia (longingly) watch Will hug Rainey in a slightly hopeful ending to this case as she is no longer held in contempt.. I hope The Good Wife takes this case us again in the future, because we still do not have a conclusion to this case. Even if we don't, The Good Wife has provided us with an analysis of rape culture in the legal system that needs to change.




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