By Thea Rodgers
Domestic violence, as defined by the victims’ service agency SafeHorizon, is “a pattern of behavior used to establish power and control over another person through fear and intimidation.” Such behavior is all too common in the United States, especially in our entertainment. The Wholehearted takes on the question of why we happily consume and condone this violence and tackles the complexities of what our depictions on stage and screen reflect about our culture.
“When we’re talking about how violence is portrayed in media, we’re often talking about sensationalized violence, and glamorized violence and sexualized violence,” says Deborah Stein, the director. “The piece does stage that, but it does that in a way that I hope asks people to question their expectation of what they think violence looks like; what is attractive, why we go to horror movies, why we go to slasher films. What do we expect to see? Why is that appealing? How does that differ from what it’s really like?”
Mainstream representations of domestic violence tend to lean in one of three directions. The first expresses the most common understanding of domestic violence: a man who uses physical violence against his wife or girlfriend. We see this in the Dixie Chicks’ 2000 hit “Goodbye Earl,” a country murder ballad in which Wanda, a small-town woman, teams up with her best friend to kill her violently abusive husband. While the song takes a very darkly comic look at domestic violence, showing a dead zombie Earl dancing with the rest of the cast at the end of the music video, the shots of Wanda’s bruised face are graphically realistic.
The second are stories (which have appeared more and more recently in the media) that attempt to represent more complex sides of the issue by looking at individual, interpersonal dynamics rather than generalizing the scope of domestic violence. This, however, raises the question of whether it is possible to stitch a story into our cultural landscape whose scope cannot encompass all such stories. Do artists have a responsibility to represent these very real, very violent relationships in a cliched, “moral” light or can stories be told about individuals that don’t pigeon-hole a whole genre?
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The Wholehearted will play at the Jackie Liebergott Black Box at the Emerson/Paramount Center from Apr 17-27. For more information and tickets, visit our website here.