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Hey “Californication,” there’s a difference between rape and sex

Posted on Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009 at 1:22 pm

Author: Renee Martin

“Californication” stars the Golden Globe award-winning actor David Duchovny as bad boy writer Hank Moody. It has just begun its third season and has been a hit for Showtime. The central drama focuses on his inability to maintain a relationship with the mother of his child, Karen van der Beek, played by Natascha McElhone. The supporting characters include Evan Handler as Charlie Runkle, Pamela Adlon as Marcy Runkle, and Madeline Martin as Becca Moody.

The show has pushed boundaries from the very beginning. It has featured a scene with Moody, a middle-aged man, having sex with an underage teenage girl. There have been scenes of BDSM, drunkenness, drugs and lesbian sex. The relationship between Moody and Karen functions as a slight cover to legitimize the outrageous juvenile behaviour of the male characters, which is wrapped in a thin layer of satire. Even as the male characters profess to love the women in their lives, their antics imply that women are actually disposable the moment an orgasm is achieved. On “Californication,” masculinity is ultimately sardonic and puerile.

Hank Moody is a man-child who claims to love women, but at the same time, he is ready to reduce them to parts in order to satisfy his sexual inclinations. At one time, his best friend Charlie Runkle acted as the voice of reason, but as the series has progressed, Runkle has displayed his own desire to privilege his sexual needs over his wife and even his job. Not satisfied with being humiliated when his actions lead to disaster, Runkle even financed a pornographic movie. When he could sink no lower, he began to desire the comfort of the familiar and once again sought out his wife. Unfortunately for Runkle, Marcy had moved on.

In the second episode of the third season, we find Marcy and Charlie sharing their home while pursuing a divorce. Marcy has made it very clear that, despite the wishes of Charlie, their relationship is over. In what is obviously a form of rebellion, Marcy begins dating a Black man. Charlie refers to him as his Nubian brother, thus indicating that it is his color which we, the viewers, are directed to focus upon. The big Black penis, though unspoken, is meant to be conceptualized as invading the sanctity of whiteness.

As the evening progress, Charlie shares a drink with Moody and upon his return home, he hears Marcy and the Nubian brother engaged in sex, which he immediately perceives as rape:

“Marcy: Oh Jesus, you’re going to rape me, aren’t you?

Nubian Brother: You bet your sweet-ass, rich White lady.

Marcy: I’m not rich.

Nubian Brother: You own a spa. Don’t lie to me.

Marcy: Oh, oh my God. Put that thing away. That big thick purple thing.

Nubian Brother: That’s right, you better recognize. This thing is a one-eyed, one lord, purple White woman eater.”

When Charlie bursts into the room, he finds the Nubian brother penetrating Marcy from behind. Even as he jumps on top of the man, attempting to pull him off of Marcy, the Nubian brother continues to thrust. When questioned on his actions, Charlie professes to be saving Marcy. Naturally, a pure White woman could never desire sex with a Black man. This is further legitimized when Marcy admits that they were “role playing” and that she and her lover were engaging in a rape fantasy.

This scene plays upon racism and sexism, even though it is attempting to be humorous. We are meant to laugh at the baffled Charlie and ignore the ways in which the Black man is ultimately demeaned, even as he is constructed as powerful. The viewer is further meant to be ignorant to the ways in which this scene legitimizes the myth that when women deny a desire to participate in sex, a little force will ultimately change their decision.

You will note that throughout the entirety of the scenes in which the Black male is involved, he remains nameless, while all of the White characters are named. He is not presented as an equal and is represented solely by the presence of his penis. The idea that all Black men would ravish and/or rape White women is not new. It is a long-employed strategy by White males to prevent any form of affection and/or romance from occurring between the two parties. Even as the White male views the White female as his natural partner, she is never to be understood as his equal. It is the desire to control the bodies of White females, while at the same time oppressing and opposing Black men, that has resulted in the mythology of the Black male rapist.

If women actively consents to rape then the whole concept of being forced to submit to sexual intercourse and/or tampering becomes a nullified concept. The idea of submission to rape is further reified when Charlie enters a conversation with his boss, Sue. When she is asked whether or not women fantasize about rape, she responds:

“Yes, Charlie, women do fantasize about rape. Now, my own features a handsome stranger. Think Jack Nicholson, circa “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” sneaking into my bedroom and taking me in my sleep. He pulls down my panties. He enters slowly and slips right in. The pussy never lies. Remember that, Runkle. I kick, I scream, but it’s too late. I mean the juices are flowing; the train has left the station. We are headed for a big fat rocky orgasm. Sweet Jesus, guide me.”

Though “Californication” declares that such thoughts are only fantasy, it does not delve into the real horror that is rape. Rape is the grossest form of violation and to turn it into a comedic routine takes a form of hyper insensitivity to all rape victims. The mere fact that the women in the above scenes are actively and enthusiastically consenting to sexual congress makes such action by definition not rape.

When we consider that misogyny has become commonplace on “Californication,” it is difficult to believe that such fantasy comes from a place of female agency. It infers, instead, a desire on the part of kyriarchy to further confirm that all female bodies exist for the sexual gratification of men. Despite attempting to construct the women on the show as existing with a form of power, “Californication” is regularly reductive, because the emotions and actions of the women on the show are filtered solely through a male lens.

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  1. i too am troubled by men (and women) who claim that there is any such thing as a “rape fantasy” or “rape play.” this is the language of the misogynist, who believes that rape is the same thing as “rough sex” or consensual sex thats so hot the woman later regrets it (huh?)

    for the same reason that “autoerotic asphyxiation” could not be properly called “accidental death play,” the fantasy of having consensual, rough sex with someone you trust not to actually hurt you is NOT a fantasy about rape. rape, like accidental death, is BY DEFINITION something that you do not want to happen.

    so, is there anyone who can legitimately fantasise about rape? yes–but not women, as the victims of rape. by definition, only a rapist could fantasize about rape, as a wanted act.

  2. “Despite attempting to construct the women on the show as existing with a form of power, “Californication” is regularly reductive, because the emotions and actions of the women on the show are filtered solely through a male lens.”

    Agree. I find the show, and Duchovny’s character (as well as some parallels with the reports about his offscreen behavior) to be profoundly irritating.

    I would have trouble with the kind of rape play as well as race play depicted in the show personally, although a fairly recent Racialicious post argued that it can be nonproblematic among consenting adults. But yeah, set against the backdrop of a show that’s already presented as misogynistic, it’s troublesome.

  3. While I had cable (not very long) I gave this show a try. I turned it off half way through the first episode when they portray what amounts to at least a violation of the female. This episode also had brutal torture of Duchoveny’s character’s penis post Vasectomy. The instant he could fornicate he went into a dark room and had his way with a naked female, his wife walks in, and yet it is the shame of the unnamed female who was used as a sex object. That was the moment I knew this show would only disgust me. I tried to finish it, and I am unsure if I did, as I turned off my TV when the police decided to randomly Brutalize Duchoveny’s character in order to distract you from his behavior.

  4. I was really angry with the show last week and I am actually a fan, while now reconsidering it. I was deeply disturbed by the absolutely horrible final scene with Charlie actually raping his wife. We, the viewer, are supposed to believe there’s a man on earth dumb enough where this could be a pure misunderstanding?.. and it sickens me the writing on this show is so poor that someone would think this is comedy… yeah, I have trouble caring about characters when we’re only just into the third season and the two male leads have already acquired the title “unwitting rapist” for seperate exploits.

    I’m angry that someone would think that I would enjoy this or that I would find validation or humor or a chance to live out “every man’s fantasy” (as I hear the show pitched)… No.

    The show’s arc has unpardonable actions leading to a pathetic loss and an expediant recovery. It goes over the line at the expense of the long-term likeability of its characters (and show).

    And a lot of people had to read this script and it still got a thumbs up? I could almost understand someone as dumb as Charlie’s character thinking that this was a shocking comedic twist on a “taboo”… but then no one pointed out to that moron that rape is not a taboo, it’s a damned crime?!?!

  5. I enjoyed your article and your viewpoint, and it is clearly well attuned to your reader base. I must however ask you to consider that the show is perhaps nothing more than an extreme satire of male stupidity and the idea that is so often expounded by women, that men think only with their penis. Generally the men in the show set out with good intentions and end up being foolishly led astray by extreme stupidity. Hank has on many number of occasions chastised another man for refering to women as “bitches”, punches someone for calling Karen a “cunt”, defends a transvestite, gets beaten up for trying to defend a stripper, and in essence throughout the whole show he is far less likely to chase the women than to attempt to help them. His intentions clearly do not always, or infact never go to plan, but that is part of his tragic flaw, that he is unwilling to leave things alone. While the show has some racial undertones, without knowing what the L.A region is like from the inside, I would suggest that they are mostly trying to represent reality and satirically comment on it (for example the perceived liberalness of the constituents in California, and yet the revokation of gay marriage and what I can only imagine is a series of other hypocritical ideas). On the subject of the “perceived rape” by Charlie when he arrives home, I contest that he did not immediately assume it was rape, he heard the words “Oh God, you’re going to rape me aren’t you.” Firstly with the disbelief that rape fantasy can exist for a woman, and secondly with the prevalence of so called “date rape” I would suggest that a man or indeed woman walking in hearing that would be expected to attempt to intervene. Also the argument that the black male remains unamed while all of the white male characters are named and as such is a racial slight, is seriously flawed, because in the rest of the series there are plenty of unamed characters with small parts, men and women of plenty of racial denominations. You cannot expect every character to have a name and in this case he features for all of 30 secs and 4 speaking lines. I guess you can interpret it as racially inflammatory if you want but I think it’s really in the eye of the beyolder. Essentially I think the show seeks to be extreme in an attempt to comment on the place we are in as a society. It has always been my belief that none of the problems of the world will actually be fixed until we can openly talk and ultimately laugh at their moronic foundations. The show constantly strives to say what others are far too afraid to, and serves it’s purpose, though it is clearly not for general consumption. People of extreme sensitivities and vulnerable viewpoints are velcome not to vatch. Anyway, end rant. I’m not a usual reader but I’ll bookmark and read again.

  6. It is obvious and apparent that everyone is addicted to Californication, The show though outrageous and sometimes ridiculous is one of the most entertaining programs in TV history. Men rule the world, and always will. Women are here for our pleasure.

  7. im a big fan of californication. i think the script is brilliant. just watching it makes me want to be hank moody; sex addict, alcoholic, chain smoker.

    but we all know this is just a TV show.

    BUT 99% of the show actually occurs in real life. there are men with serious sex issues. there are women who sleeps around; married or not.

    and charlie is just doing it because he thought marcy liked it.

    so we dont know what girls think? do they like getting raped? or do they like a “surprise” sex from their partner?

    rating has hit sky high because people can relate to this show.

  8. If Californication knew what this girl liked, the show would be thought out better and the characters (especially the women and POCs) would actually be deeper.

  9. hhhahhahhahhha this article is ridiculous. Someone is bitter. This show is not racist for any of the things you said created. You inferred racial undertones because Charlie trys to pull a black man off his wife. Shouldn’t the first thing that come to your mind is a man, no not a white man, just a man thinks his wife is being raped, so he trys to help her.

  10. But, if he had walked in on his wife having sex with a white man, do you think he would have assumed rape or an affair?

  11. Well done with this article – I’ve been meaning to write one myself regarding the intersections of misogyny/sexism, racism, ableism, homophobia, and general support of mainstream stereotypes of women and men that are constantly portrayed in this show. At the best of times, the vocabulary is decent – better than on other shows – but at the worst of times, and even simply MOST of the time, this show takes every opportunity to present stereotypical and sexist images of women, LGBTQ, nonwhite races – and all of these are portrayed in inferior positions as compared to the white male. What’s worse is that often, the dialogue given to minority groups/oppressed groups further validates such stereotypes which just makes me absolutely sick with anger.

    Perhaps most startling for me – though in reality, I suppose the most insidious aspect – is that such stereotypes are instilled in mainstream thought – this is why the show has high ratings because no one actually sees the inherent problems associated with it – why? because it validates everything they think about society, and validates all the subtle and subliminal messages that mainstream media tells us anyway regarding the roles of women, men, and minority groups in the world.

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