Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Lessons from the Lifetime Movie Network

*Caution-- Sexual Assault Trigger Warning*

Photo courtesy of Flickr user .reid under Creative Commons 3.0

I'm super sick this week, which means I've been watching a lot of TV.

A lot of really bad TV.

Intrigued by some Tori Spelling abomination about cheating husbands and untrustworthy frenemies, I googled the synopsis of what I was watching and found an old blog dedicated to watching Lifetime movies.

For the record, I'm not a fan of the LMN. But this blog was brilliant, combining wit, guilty pleasures and 90's super stars into an irresistable force. It hadn't been updated in years, but it sent me diving into another dimension where both D.J. Tanner and Kelly Kapowski were victims of unthinkable crimes.

She Cried No also goes by Freshman Fall. "She" is Candace Cameron Bure, better known as Donna Jo Tanner, Michelle's oldest sister on Full House. Shocked? Don't be. DJ starred in another terrible Lifetime favorite No One Would Tell, where she was in an abusive relationship with boyfriend Fred Savage.

But if it's unbearable to think of Kevin from The Wonder Years hitting DJ, hold on-- I'm about to blow your mind.

In She Cried No, DJ goes to college. About a week in, she attends a frat party while rebounding from a break-up with her high school boyfriend. But this isn't just any frat-- it's her older brother's frat.

Lost in the excitement of the house, she is fed alcohol and sexuality assaulted by none other than Mark Paul Gosselaar, who you probably know as Zack Morris.

Falling victim to her own victim-blaming, DJ keeps the rape a secret. However, once clarifying she did not give consent and learning she has rights, she decides to take legal action. It's too late to press criminal charges, but the college holds a disciplinary hearing-- and she loses.

However, DJ is able to cook up her own justice, exposing rape culture on campus and convincing everyone (including herself) that rape is never the victim's fault.

At the end of this movie, we learn 1 in 4 college women will be sexually assaulted and most encounter sexual violence during their freshman year of school.

Not much has changed. Similar statistics just encouraged Vice President Biden to launch a nationwide initiative addressing the still prevalent sexual assault epidemic.

She Fought Alone takes place in Illinois, but the country setting could pass for anywhere in the midwest. And this time, "she" is Tiffani Amber Thiessen of Saved by the Bell.

You know, Kelly-- Zack Morris's girlfriend.

Kelly, the oldest daughter of a single mom in a small town, has just been inducted into "the crew," sky-rocketting her popularity. And sex appeal. She makes it official by engaging in consentual sex with Brian Austin Green-- the hunk who played 90210 heartthrob David.

Defined as property of "the crew," other member's feel they should have access to Kelly as well. This mentality drives one particularly pushy football player to rape her in her own home. Kelly stands up for herself and calls the assailant a rapist to his face. This unleashes a shit storm of retaliation from the rest of "the crew," including her beloved, David.

After enduring the worst sexual harrassment ever portrayed on television, including a sabatoge haircut set up by her best friend, Kelly and her mother take their case to the federal government.

Pursuing legal action under Title IX, they sue the high school for not protecting female students from slurs, theats, and violence. "Boys will be boys" does not suffice and all the tormentors lose their athletic scholarships, sealing their fate as has-beens.

Everyone gets what's coming to them. Kelly's ex-best friend ends up knocked up and Kelly leaves all her troubles behind her as she hits the road and heads for college.

At the end of this movie, we learn the story was based on real events, but the names were changed to protect people's identities-- so high schools and students, be warned.

These "made for television" movies were totally 90's-licious. And the directors sure knew how to pick their teen stars. Who better than Zack, Kelly, David and DJ to teach us all lessons about sexual violence and the law?

The clothes, music and scripts are awesomely bad. Much of the action seems unplausible. The stories were predictable and the obvious foreshadowing seemed to spoil the endings. But these sometimes laughable, sometimes disturbing public service announcements served a greater purpose.

Almost twenty years ago, millions of young women (and men) were actually educated by these teen dramas. They might belong in a time capsule now, but these movies were the cutting edge of infotainment back in the day. And they featured all our favorite actors and actresses.

Imagine if we tried to teach the kids that "no means no" with Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus. They would definitely watch that afterschool special. And that's the point.

In fact, now would be a perfect time to address the importance of consent and the unconstitutional nature of victim-blaming. Even with Biden's efforts, there are plenty of rape apologists in congress trying to change the rules and people's opinon's concerning sexual assault. Maybe it's time to re-broadcast the classics.

Or maybe we really are due for some Justin and Miley re-makes.

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