Pop Culture's Influence on Domestic Violence
There is a serious disconnect with how pop culture portrays domestic violence. Usually when domestic violence is illustrated on TV or in books it will fall on one end of the spectrum. Either domestic violence is depicted in such a way that it makes it culturally acceptable, glorifying the abuse or even sad attempts at making it humorous. Or it will land on the opposite end where it will be portrayed as extremely violent, with victims only being identified by the bruises covering their bodies. In this article I am going to show how our pop culture represents domestic violence and why I think that should change.
The most common place that we see domestic violence played out for us is on TV. Shows like Law & Order: SVU and Cold Case have both dealt with the issue of domestic abuse. While they are trying to make progress & raise awareness, far too often, they err on the side of extremely violent abuse even to the point of death. Yes, domestic violence does typically escalate over time but far too often real victims of domestic violence can't relate to these types of shows because they can't see their relationship ever getting to that point. Or maybe a victim can't identify with these characters because they aren't being physically or sexually abused. Just because it doesn't hurt physically, doesn't mean it isn't abuse.
On the opposite end of the spectrum there was that awful 2011 episode of Family Guy where they tried to make domestic violence funny. "Screams of Silence: Brenda Q's Story" was basically a depressing half hour of television where they made fun of the victim, tried to satire domestic violence and in the end "resolved" the issue with a revenge killing. I have never been a fan of Family Guy but when I watched this episode I seriously wished I could get back the 30 minutes of my time that I had wasted.
The only show that I have watched that I absolutely love how they handled the issue of domestic violence is an old 90's show called 7th Heaven. In the episode "What Will People Say" they showed how the victim will often make excuses for the abuse and how they struggle with the prospect of leaving their significant other. It showed the victim as a normal person, not someone covered in cuts & bruises, which I felt was a more realistic portrayal of abuse. Oftentimes, if the abuse has escalated to leaving visible marks, the victim will cover them up with clothing or avoid the public eye until they have healed. Furthermore, it showed how the abuser can be quite charming while blaming the victim for any problems they may have. In the end the abuser is arrested even though his wife never pressed charges.
Unfortunately, it is so rare for the victim to make the abuse public or to report the abuse to authorities. Even if the victim doesn't press charges, law usually requires for the state to press charges in cases like these. If only more victims were as brave as Abby we could bring more abusers to justice and get the victims the help they need.
The most interesting case of glorifying abuse is the popular Twilight series. The fact that a vast majority of teenaged girls adore this book and wish they had a relationship like Bella & Edward, is downright scary. One in three adolescents in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner. Girls and young women between the ages of 16 and 24 experience the highest rate of intimate partner violence, almost triple the national average.
Here are just three excerpts from the books that prove that Edward is abusive:
"Bella, it’s not my fault if you are exceptionally unobservant." This is just one instance of verbal abuse, where Edward is criticising Bella, and not in a way that is helpful. He repeatedly mocks her throughout the series.
"I thought I’d explained it clearly before. Bella, I can’t live in a world where you don’t exist." Oh, how endearing, isn't that sweet that he can't live without her? That's where this is wrong. Threats to commit suicide is an intimidation tactic abusers use to control their victims.
"Gah!" I gasped in shock when I saw that I was not alone in the cab. Edward sat very still, a faint bright spot in the darkness, only his hands moving as he turned a mysterious black object around and around. He stared at the object as he spoke. "Alice called." he murmured. Alice! Damn. I’d forgotten to account for her in my plans. He must have her watching me. This is a scene where Edward has tampered with Bella's truck so that she can't leave. That's warning flag number one, controlling where she can or cannot go. Warning flag number two is that he is having his sister follow her. It is supposedly to "keep her safe", but that is an excuse abusers use to justify stalking.
There are many more instances of abuse in the Twilight series, it isn't limited to these three examples. One might say that Edward's possessiveness of Bella is romantic and caring. He is a vampire, so that excuses his mood swings because it is just part of his predatory nature. Abuse is abuse and there is NO excuse.
It isn't news that fashion exalts domestic violence, it has been a theme used for decades. I googled "fashion and domestic violence" and was greeted by 9,070,000 results. Most of which showed the victimization of women as attractive or even as something to aspire to. I don't know what is more disturbing, the fact that the fashion industry capitalizes on domestic violence or that consumers continue to purchase their products. I love Jimmy Choo shoes, they are adorable. But after seeing an ad where Quincy Jones is obviously about to bury a dead girl's body in the middle of the desert, well Jimmy Choo won't be getting any of my hard earned dollars. I encourage you to also boycott any companies that use domestic violence as a marketing ploy.
The Missing Pieces
You will probably notice that I left movies, video games and music out of this discussion. To be honest, it got to a point where I was emotionally drained looking at all the ways that pop culture literally idolizes domestic violence. I found zero video games that do anything positive in the way of ending domestic violence, but I suppose that is the nature of the beast. Violence, whether domestic or not, has always been and probably will always be glorified in video games. Music can go both ways, as there is a plethora of songs that both laud and condemn domestic abuse. A vast majority of the songs that paint it in a negative light often end the song with some revenge killing, instead of resolving it in a way that would be healthy and beneficial. Movies was the hardest for me to tackle, as I made it only one-fourth of the way through a film before I had to push pause. In every instance that I've observed through this process domestic abuse was portrayed with either physical or sexual violence.
Music Video Promoting Relationship Violence
Regardless, the overall theme is clear. Our culture loves to use shock-value as a way to push their products without realizing that they are contributing to the problem. We are told that if it isn't covered in bruises, then it isn't abuse. Our culture is telling us that it is okay to make excuses, to apologize with money or gifts, but there is nothing we can do to affect real change. It tells young girls that it is acceptable to be treated like a possession instead of a person. It even goes so far as to laugh in the face of victims. In the end, it tells us the only solution to this problem is to take the law into our own hands.
This needs to change. Do we really want our children to grow up in a culture that celebrates domestic abuse? Educating our youth about what healthy and unhealthy relationships look like is a giant step in the right direction. Refusing to support businesses that use domestic violence as a marketing strategy will send a good message that we are tired of them capitalizing on the victimization of women. Overall, the best solution is to get loud and bring awareness to this issue. Don't stand by passively, thinking someone else will do it. Take a brief moment and share this article with your friends and family. I promise it will be painless. Who knows? It could change the very fabric of society.