The first minute of Senua’s Sacrifice is an odd mixture of sincerity, preciousness and confusion. It’s Grimdark 2.0, the well-meaning grimdark with a diversity and inclusion initiative.
But it left me holding a bag full of questions. I couldn’t tell if I was being pandered to, postured at or just being used. I didn’t know who this game was for. Perhaps I should have listened to the warning and begged Sony for a refund, citing “I’m severely mentally ill, and the game says I probably shouldn’t play.” I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that cynicism crept through me like Senua’s black rot. Despite it all, I have never wanted to be proved wrong by a game more than I have with Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice.
Reviewers described the novel as “unflinching,” “cathartic,” “not exploitative,” and a “masterpiece.” Of course, having a mother who’s a famous Stanford professor and writer probably greased the skids for the reception of Gabriel Tallent’s debut novel. Books like these somehow manage to achieve a critical mass that critics dare not disagree with. Stephen King says it is good, ergo it must be good, and if you have a differing opinion, you clearly don’t understand the author’s work (though Roxane Gay wrote a sharp indictment.)
Using scenes of escalating brutality and grotesquerie may be a popular literary device, but it serves, in a warped and tormented way, to glorify this violence. Books like this become “must reads,” even for people who find them extremely traumatic, while the amazing women exploring themes of child sexual assault, molestation, incest, and sexual violence are pushed to the sidelines.
These two articles are pretty good at describing the same phenomenon–that of presenting fiction with a marginalized character, nominally protagonists, but who exist actually to titillate a privileged gaze: a sexual assault victim being repeatedly brutalized, a mentally ill woman warrior being traumatized over and over. Not so much stories about them as stories about their suffering, shown as tragedy porn: Grimdark 2.0 indeed.
It also reminds me of this concerning the Lara Croft reboot.
“The ability to see her as a human is even more enticing to me than the more sexualized version of yesteryear,” he said. “She literally goes from zero to hero… we’re sort of building her up and just when she gets confident, we break her down again.”
In the new Tomb Raider, Lara Croft will suffer. Her best friend will be kidnapped. She’ll get taken prisoner by island scavengers. And then, Rosenberg says, those scavengers will try to rape her.
“She is literally turned into a cornered animal,” Rosenberg said. “It’s a huge step in her evolution: she’s forced to either fight back or die.”
Being called out used to trigger my deepest fears of abandonment and oh boy, did I cry. Crying also shielded me from the truth because it relieved the cognitive dissonance I lived with day in and day out. My growing consciousness detected the pervasiveness of abuse culture, it wanted to break free of it. But in order to escape I had to admit that I had warped and abused myself, that I had been abused by those I loved and whom I thought loved me, as well as admitting that I was perpetuating the same abuse onto others. I would have to admit that I myself had abused! Those truths were too awful and painful to accept. My struggle to deny the truth whilst coping with my own wounds created unbearable levels of stress in my brain and in my body, so I cried.
I’m a white woman. I know us, understand us and love us. I have perfected the fawning survival mechanism to the detriment of any other. At first I did it unconsciously in order to survive–especially because good little white girls didn’t fight if they want to be loved, and I couldn’t run away. It didn’t even occur to me that I was growing up within an abusive structure, it was my ‘normal’. I was one of the lucky ones and for that I was told to be grateful.
A few weeks later, the poster of this callout messaged me with a plot to cause physical harm to my assailant, and condemned me when I told them I was not at all OK with this. They told me that I was being unfair to them by burdening them with my refusal to allow violence to be done. It was through my refusal to condone violence against my assailant that I came to feel like a pariah in my own town. I was given cold stares when I was seen in public and made to feel unwelcome at local events.
The pushback I received — all for being a “bad survivor” — was ultimately one of the major factors that contributed to me deciding to move away. In the end, I came to be much more traumatized by the way the so-called radical queer community — with all their rhetoric about supporting survivors — treated me for how I chose to be a survivor than I ever was from my actual assault.
We all know that one person who you and your friends no longer ask about, a persona non grata within social justice.
For the purposes of this article, let’s refer to her as G. She’s just one of the many people who have been excommunicated from social justice activism by way of social media call outs.
For G, whose name has been withheld, the call outs never end. G said in an interview: “The intent of my call out is very explicitly to compel to kill myself. I didn’t make a mistake, I don’t need training, I don’t need mediation, I am a monster.”