Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Rape in Body Surfing

To say that there’s a lot of sex in Dale Peck's Body Surfing is a vast understatement. I’ll be honest — I found myself struggling to read about the graphic violent sex from the very first page, but I continued reading, accusing myself of being too narrow-minded, pushing (forcing) my mind to open… but no matter how much I read, I couldn’t stop thinking about rape.

I think it’s safe to say that sex is very rarely consensual when it involves Mogran possession. It's possible that a Mogran could inhabit a body for long enough to seduce someone without hypnotizing them, and it's also possible that the body that they are possessing could have enough free will to truly desire the person that the Mogran is seducing. Although I can see the potential of a consensual sex act occurring while someone is possessed by a Mogran, this possibility is absent from the actual narrative. Legal and philosophical definitions of what constitutes sexual assault vary. People who define rape as “forced” sex would not consider the nonviolent acts where Mogran hypnotize their sexual targets to be rape (How does this sexual hypnosis work? “It’s all in the eyes” —Leo teaches Jasper to rapidly expand and contract his pupils (214)). I, however, consider sex via hypnosis to be sexual assault. It seems, then, that most of the sex we read about in the novel is sexual assault — the most graphic example is Illeana's gang rape at the command of an officer who Leo possessed, but Jasper also rapes multiple times. At first, Leo promises him that if he has sex, he can move onto heaven. So he seduces a woman in Jarhead’s body who he knows is not interested in Jarhead: “She didn’t have any desire for this body at all,” Jasper acknowledges, but “He was dead, after all. He was hardly accountable for his actions” (80-81). Soon, Jasper realizes that his sexual urges seem uncontrollable. So he finds himself sexually assaulting Jarhead’s roommate’s girlfriend: “Jasper stood their swaying, stunned by the primacy of his feelings. His need. The way it linked up with Jarhead’s feelings about Sandra,running around his trailer with her ass hanging out. She was practically asking for it. Really, he’d just be giving her what she wanted. What she deserved” (154). So, Sandra was asking to be assaulted — hello, standard rapist mindset! Eventually, Leo teaches him to hypnotize women to make it easier to sleep with them (and less violent for whoever he’s “seducing”).

I think we’re supposed to feel sorry for Jasper, to identify with him, to sympathize with him. He’s a sex-crazed teenaged virgin who just wanted to have sex with his girlfriend who he was madly in love with (whenever she was ready, of course), but instead he’s become a helpless victim of a Mogran-generating plot. He still acts “human,” which Leo finds repulsive. But even though he initially feels guilty about his sexual compulsions, I found it nearly impossible to empathize with him. Especially after he didn’t seem to question whether it was alright to hypnotize Shawna — “It’s not like she was going to jump on this particular body…. He was going to have to work a little harder to make this happen…. He opened his eyes wide, tried to imagine his pupils expanding, contracting” (214). The guilt that accompanied knowing she wouldn’t want to have sex with Jarhead’s body isn’t there anymore — he just thinks she’s hot. Alright, so Jasper’s Mogran, and he’s not bound to the same ideas of “right” and “wrong” as humans are supposed to be. But if he’s supposed to be a sympathetic character, how do I reconcile that aim with his “sexual compulsions”? I couldn’t. (And I wonder if anyone else did?)

Also, in the rewriting of history as largely motivated by Mogran, it seems that famous children’s lit authors are “excused” as pedophiles because they were possessed by the same female demon who motivated their fear of “normal” sex with adults. This speculative historical turn frightened me — what if every person I labelled as a rapist was really just possessed by some demon? Where does that leave questions of “consent” and punishment for sexual assaults if the Mogran could be behind everything? Sadly, sexual assaults have often been rationalized by ridiculous claims that men have uncontrollable sexual impulses - which seems to be exactly what Mogran-induced sex causes. The scariest part of the novel (for me) occurred when Thomas presented an excellent argument for the need to discover technological advancements for containing the Mogran — “We would no longer have to force our hosts to do things they don’t want to do, things they spend the rest of their lives puzzling over…. Perhaps we can become a pure electronic intelligence, a true living computer, or be able to go back and forth between flesh and machine” (387). This was intriguing until the following page, where Thomas asserts that “It is time to forge a new relationship between mortals and Mogran, one based on cooperation and a recognition of our mutual interests.With the Mogran assuming their rightful place at the head of the species, we can create an era of peace and prosperity and universal harmony” (388). At that moment, when I should have been thinking about the implications of this sort of “Utopia,” all I could think about was the fact that the ruling class would be the world’s most prolific rapists, and I realized that any reaction I could have had for the novel as a whole was tainted by my gut revulsion from the overwhelming presence of sexual assault themes. At some point, I gave up on broadening my mind to the new sexual possibilities it opens, and the novel morphed into a gigantic trigger warning. Obviously, my reaction to this lesser theme in the novel is verrrry strong, but I think it’s impossible to read this book without asking what readers are supposed to glean from the recurring scenes of sexual assault and nonconsensual sex. I also can’t figure out what I’m supposed to be “thinking” about it — I just felt an inescapable repulsion that impacted all of my other thoughts on the novel.


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