New Criticals

Some contemporary media command significant, and unexpected, feminist fandoms at least partly because they seem to question rape myths: and this intense feminist engagement, as some commentators have noted, can be unexpected. My own research on Game of Thrones revealed often complex and nuanced responses to the rape of Cersei Lannister, which seemed to resonate with the lived experience of women who take on the burden of concealing and rationalising sexual assault.  The show has been called out by feminist fans for such moments of complicity: such as the the very first episode, in which the fifteen year old Danaerys Targaryen appears absolutely objectified, or where women of colour are displayed as sexual objects during the Dothraki wedding scene. Yet ironically, this overtly fantastical text also represented rape in a way that resonated with many viewers’ own experiences:  the image of a powerful woman raped by a family member revealed much reparative work to be done in increasing understanding of what constitutes consent, but also encouraged fans to speak out about their own experiences. What might seem like a textbook example of anti-feminist representation became a potential rallying point for challenging rape myths. This is possible because media representations are never ‘just’ representations anymore: they exist in a complex network of online and offline conversations, which open up the ways in which we negotiate meaning in complex ways. There is no ‘right’ feminist way to read these representations: instead, feminist engagement emerges through confusion and entanglement. Fan spaces have made visible an engagement with media that is at once intensely affective and sharply critical. The paranoid and reparative are not oppositional but oscillate in the same space. This is not new, but makes visible as never before what feminists – and fans - have always known: that media are neither ‘merely liberatory’ nor ‘merely ideological’, but a site of struggle.