Sunday, October 30, 2011

MTV's Comeuppance: The Ruins

(Image Credit: Michael Bezjian/
 Two months back, I wrote a post for BlogHer about the not-so-cleverly disguised rape clause in their contracts for Real World cast members. The clause (Stipulation 7) states that
“Interacting with other cast members carries the risk of "non-consensual physical contact" and should you contract AIDS, etc. during such an interaction, MTV is not responsible."
While I believe that each individual is responsible for their own actions, it is no secret that MTV creates powder keg environments to provoke dangerous and vulnerable situations to bolster ratings. They antagonize through a steady supply of alcohol and hide behind the lens of a camera as in the case of The Real World San Diego where there was a rape allegation that happened in the MTV home. Unfortunately, MTV was said to be so uncooperative that the house was raided by police and evidence (including video footage) came up inconclusive since the incident supposedly happened in one of the bathrooms (the only place cameras are not allowed). The cast member who accused a friend of another cast member of the rape, died three years later of cystic fibrosis. It is unclear how thorough MTV's own investigation was and unfortunately there was not enough evidence; charges were never filed.

Now, Real World alum, Tonya Cooley, is suing MTV for sexual assault and being raped by two cast members using a toothbrush  while filming Real World/Road Rule Challenge: The Ruins in Phuket, Thailand in 2009.  Horrific as the claims are, it takes a fearless woman to make this case public and go up against the Goliath, MTV. MTV calls the accusations “baseless” despite there being apparent footage of the incident.

But Cooley's claims also challenge the limited definitions for what defines “rape,” a term currently up for discussion (in terms of broadening the meaning) by the FBI. Did you know that the current legal definition of rape is “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will”? The current term excludes oral and anal penetration as well as cases when women were under the influence as well as excluding male victims. This issue has been one of those hot “under the radar” issues all year long especially when the GOP tried to push past a provision in their “No Taxpayer for Abortion Funding Act” when they used the term forcible rape. They eventually removed the controversial clause, but that is exactly what is wrong with the way “rape” is understood in society. There is some skewed idea that rape is something that happens to women in a back alley while being held at gunpoint. So many sexual crimes and rapes go unreported or seem to go unreported because they do not fit in this very narrow definition which in turn grossly misrepresents statistics which means there isn’t enough funding for police force to prevent such crimes or funding to handle the aftermath of such a traumatic event.

Let’s be real here, public funding goes where the numbers are.Shows like The Real World absolutely should be held accountable for their hand in provoking and creating such dangerous situations for cast members, and instead they have succeeded in burying these incidents by premptively having cast members sign onerous contracts. But Tonya Cooley is taking this fight to MTV’s door and suing her accused assailants as well as MTV for the trauma she claims suffered during shooting. Again, MTV claims the accusations are false, but regardless if there is enough evidence to prove Cooley’s case, it is somewhat uplifting despite the gruesome terms, that more victims of MTV’s inhumane and misogynistic practices are speaking up and shedding light on one of the darker aspects of our overexposed modern society.

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