Me and special k have been watching a lot of The Sopranos recently, steadily working our way through the whole series. The last couple of episodes have been particularly graphic, and I’ve found my reaction puzzling.
There’s a rape scene in the stairwell of a private carpark. It’s filmed matter-of-factly, with no particular dramatic music, and in real time. It shows the woman (who we know and care about) struggle to her utmost but ultimately become powerless in the face of what is actually a very short-lived, spontaneous assault.
I felt everything you would expect: revulsion, fear, claustrophobia, nausea. I also felt, oddly, relieved. I thought: she survived that, and so could I, if I had to.
In another episode a young dancer/prostitute gets beaten to death by the mobster she thought was protecting her. Again, not premeditated and it just sort of happens and is awful and violent and suddenly over.
It was horrible to watch, partly because it is so taboo in our society for a man to beat a woman. But there was definitely, even in the smallest part, a reaction in me of recognition. Of looking a nightmare, a worst-case scenario in the face.
The greeks used to perform tragedies about sons unknowingly sleeping with their mothers and killing their fathers. They did it for the catharsis – the emotional experience of great sorrow and fear without the consequences real-life experience brings.
I guess we achieve the same by watching Tony Soprano eat Fruity Loops for breakfast and shoot people in the head.