Every day, it seems, I find myself looking up words and their etymologies, trying to get at the root of what something I've just read means. Sometimes it's a word in the Bible, and I end up wading my way through ancient languages I've never studied, searching for clues. Other times it's just words from daily life that suddenly pertain to some matter I'm struggling with or considering. Often the word has changed over the centuries; I find such words particularly fascinating—particularly when, as is often the case, the word's current meaning is at odds with what it once meant. Some of these word studies find their way into my writing projects. My goal is to post new words weekly, sometimes brand new material and sometimes excerpts from my books.

28 February 2008

My Daughters Have Eyes

My fifteen-year-old daughter, I recently discovered, has been watching at her friends’ houses teen horror movies that my husband Kris and I would never think of renting. She’s seen the Saw series, whose storyline follows a murderer who makes his victims hurt themselves—saw off limbs, for example—in order to avoid being killed in some other way. Most recently, she saw The Hills Have Eyes, a sci-fi film about cannibalistic mutants murdering and, in one scene, raping their human victims.

After Charlotte saw it, she had trouble sleeping for a while and one night turned the heat way down, despite the icy weather, so that she could sleep with the covers up over her head to protect herself from dream attacks, metaphorically speaking, without getting too hot. Nevertheless, she begged and begged to be allowed to rent the film and watch it again, this time with her younger sister Lulu. Her trump cards—that viewing it would promote sisterly bonding and that Lulu was liable to see it on her own one of these days with her friends—eventually wore me down. On the way to the video store, though, we talked about why she liked it so much and why she wanted to watch movies that scared her so badly she couldn’t sleep.

“It doesn’t have anything bad in it besides the rape. Just violence,” Charlotte reassured me as I pulled the DVD from the shelf and scrutinized the case—The Unrated Version!, it touted—and balked yet again as we approached the checkout line.

I returned the DVD back to the shelf twice before I finally broke down and rented it, thinking, as I usually do in this sort of parenting dilemma, that anything that causes my daughters and me to talk seriously about problematic issues like rape and evil “others” (mutants) was probably worthwhile in the end. I remembered, too, the movies I had snuck off to see in my teens—Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, and, the most disturbing film I have seen in my life, The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea, a frankly erotic and profoundly creepy movie in which young boys not only dissect a live cat in horrifying detail but spy on the widowed mother of one of them having sex and eventually murder her lover.

Charlotte was right, I decided as I laid my dollar bills on the counter. My daughters’ exposure to such monstrosities was inevitable, and I would rather be able witness their response and thereby, hopefully, help shape their evolving beliefs.

Later that night, after the girls had watched the movie and Lulu had pronounced it “not that bad,” we talked about the rape scene.

“You couldn’t really see anything besides the mutant guy spreading her legs, and that was from behind him,” they told me.

“And anyway,” Charlotte said, “after seeing that rape scene, I know I don’t want to be raped.”

“So then, before you saw it, you thought you might want to be raped?” I asked her, trying hard to keep my voice flat.

What if she really did fantasize about rape?, I worried silently. What if rape was as desirable for girls of their generation—influenced as they are by rap music values and parented by mixed up Baby Boomers like me—as all the other creepy things they seem to like? Body piercing. Tattoos. Hooking up. Shaved pubic hair.

“That’s not what I meant,” she said. “I just mean, rape really looks like a bad thing in the movie. Like, I’d rather be killed than raped by one of those mutants.”

It was the qualifications that did me in each time. Not that bad. Rape really looks like a bad thing. Rather be killed than raped by one of those mutants. I groped for what to say, how to reply to my daughters’ unconscious exposés of what it means to be a teenager in our time.

I wonder, though, if things have really changed that much. Consider the rapes of scripture. The Levite’s concubine, gang-raped to death and then dismembered and sent to all the parts of Israel. Lot’s virgin daughters offered up to the rapists at the door. Tamar—raped by the least “strange” of all rapists, her own brother. Bathsheba, sexually harassed and eventually widowed by the devout king of Israel—a man, we’re told, after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). Somehow, although they happened thousands of years ago, these rapes seem more real than a cannibal mutant rape and the twisted relationships they portray more horrific. Interestingly, too, the scriptural rapes and the movie rape offer same grim story: rape happens, our world is depraved, and honest consideration of these truths—and of the escape God offers us—is our only hope of getting out of life alive.

My daughters and I will have much to discuss in the coming days, I’m thinking, as they enter the horrors of human existence laid bare in popular culture and in the book on which we base our faith.


Spring said...

These past few days I've been reading II Samuel and thinking about David and Bathsheba. I even spent most of yesterday listening to the various versions of "Hallelujah" and contemplating the lyrics alongside the Biblical account of David's Big Sin(s).

Growing up in the Baptist church, I was always taught this story as a sort of cautionary tale. That David's first sin wasn't sleeping with Bathsheba, but rather being up on his roof when he was supposed to be, you know, kinging. That it's possible to unknowingly put into motion a downward cascade of sin that, once we start, is impossible to stop until we have illegitimate children who are slain by God and someone's husband's blood on our hands and our kingdom and household are irreversibly damaged.

Makes walking the straight and narrow seem pretty damn impossible, but also supremely necessary. And this was my upbringing in the Church.

It's taken me until just now to realize that the story is actually much richer than that. According to "Hallelujah," David never fully understood how to love God until he fell in love with Bathsheba and fell from grace with God.

I can't seem to find an account, though, that mentions much about Bathsheba and her feelings or motives, and I've been thinking about what it was like for her. Did she have children with Uriah? Did David force himself on her, and she had to obey because he was king? Was love involved, as "Hallelujah" suggests? Was the lust two-sided?

"Hallelujah" goes so far as to practically blame Bathsheba, comparing her to Delilah: "She tied you her kitchen chair / She broke your throne, she cut your hair / And from your lips she drew the hallelujah."

When you say Bathsheba was sexually harassed, my first impulse is to be all, hey, how do you know that? Then I realize that, no matter how you slice it, David was a peeping Tom. Bathsheba was simply observing the Jewish laws, performing her mikvah, and then a lusting king showed up on her doorstep.

I don't know. Do you have any further thoughts on this? I'd love to know your perspective on it all. Or that of anyone else who may be reading. :)

I used to adore scary movies, and I still do, in a way, but I'm finding that as I get older, I have less and less tolerance for them. When I saw 28 Weeks Later, I had a full-on panic attack right there in the theatre. My mom always says that she "just can't do" scary movies, and I think I'm finally understanding why.

mark said...

Thank you for being a parent who cares, who looks ahead, and for seeking to use the mind God gave you in an edifying way. I appreciate you.

Anonymous said...

The sad thing is, I think you hit the nail right on the head when you worried that rape is romanticized these days. Or maybe it was just me. When I was younger I remember equating rape with passion and intense desire. I shudder now to even admit that I thought that way. The world doesn't know the difference between love and lust and hate anymore. I deeply hope that when I'm raising my children I'm able to communicate to them these differences and teach them the truth about issues that my parents couldn't bring themselves to say to me.