This weekend I finished reading Marge Piercy’s “Woman on the Edge of Time,” a speculative novel about a poor Chicana, Consuelo, in the 1970s who is involuntarily committed to a psychiatric institution when she beats up her niece’s pimp — labelled crazy because she doesn’t accept the way things are, struggles against her lot in life, isn’t playing the role of happy woman. She is contacted by a woman from the future, and, over the course of the book, is able to see and experience two possible futures: one in which the people have taken power back from white supremacy and corporations, work cooperatively and live communally, share resources, and use technology for the betterment of all; and one in which society has been even further fragmented into layers of have and have-not than our is now — Consuelo meets a woman in this latter reality who is kept in an apartment for sexual companionship, her body so modified to exaggerate her breasts and ass that she can barely walk. This woman tells Consuelo about the television programs now available (for the cost of organs, apparently harvested from the very poor), available in what we would call high-definition virtual reality: full-stim, they say — the viewer is able to experience every action. She gives Consuelo a program guide, and we see that the programs are intensely violent, with rape and gore emphasized as enticements for the viewers.
Of course, I read this with dismay, understanding that it’s a not-altogether-unlikely dystopian future for our power-and-violence obsessed culture. But a future, surely – who is tuning in for “full-stim” experience of another person’s violation?
Then I turned on the radio. Teenage boys rape a young woman and live-stream it on facebook. Forty people tune in to watch, and none of them contact authorities. Forty people. Forty.
That’s the part that keeps ringing in my head. Forty people tuned in to watch.
Is there such a thing as dystopian fiction anymore? Don’t we just call it realism now?
(Because I don’t want to just link to a news story about the crime, I just tried to look up a site with info about how to help this young woman, and discovered that you have to be specific about WHICH woman whose rape was live-streamed on fb you want to learn about. And so now I’d like to know what the hell FB is doing to help with investigations and shut this shit down.)
Be easy with yourselves and your beloveds today. Remind your sons not to rape anyone as they go out into the world. Remind everyone to please call the fucking police if they find that a friend of theirs is being raped on a live-stream somewhere.