Better Rescue Her
By James Alan Fox
Monday,  July 3, 2006

 I am not ashamed to admit that I watch a lot of television, more than most of my academic colleagues. While I'm not exactly a couch potato, the term ``loveseat spud'' might apply: My wife and I share a passion for the boob tube (boob plasma doesn't have the same ring to it). In fact, my wife is so fervent about her shows that my nickname has become "25": by her priorities I always seem to come after "24," her absolute favorite program.

While disdaining the growing genre of reality TV (besides, what's so realistic about swallowing bugs?), I find far more realism in certain fictional dramas, especially FX network series, which constantly push the envelope with stimulating and surprising plot lines. Yet in a recent episode, FX's "Rescue Me," which stars local bad boy/comedian Denis Leary, pushed the envelope way over the edge.

Leary plays Tommy Gavin, a trash-talking, recovering alcoholic New York City firefighter who lost his best friend/cousin and to some extent his grip on sanity during the 9/11 World Trade Center rescue effort. Tommy is surrounded by a firehouse of boyish pals, several old flames (not just the fire kind) and estranged wife Janet, skillfully played by Andrea Roth.

The sometimes-on, sometimes-off, but always tumultuous relationship with his wife reached a boiling point when Tommy learned that he had been replaced in her bed by his own brother Johnny, who also happens to be a member of the arch-rival NYPD. It was bad enough when Tommy exploded, beating his brother to a pulp. What transpired next was outrageous and well beyond any standard of good taste.

Seething with anger and hurt pride during a stressful meeting over the division of marital assets, Tommy shoved Janet onto the couch, ripped open her blouse and raped her. Her efforts to fight him off, including a blow to his nose that drew blood, were hardly enough to repel him.

The real shocker was what came next. After a few moments of protest, Janet's resistance melted into sexual ecstasy.

Hardly prudish about entertainment, I enjoy scenes that are racy and steamy. What was so objectionable about this marital rape scene is that the victim enjoyed it as much, if not more, than her attacker. All this does is to perpetuate an ugly, offensive and dangerous myth that women fantasize about being swept away by some brute and find the thought of being ravished arousing.

Youngsters have long been known to model bad behavior displayed on TV and film, especially those activities that are rewarded. Studies have suggested, in particular, that subjects who watch images of women deriving pleasure from sexual assault are more likely to embrace a variety of myths about rape. Of course, ``Rescue Me'' is labeled with a mature rating (TV-MA) and LSV (Language/Sexual-Situations/Violence, for those who pay heed to the advisory alphabet) to keep the kiddies away; but all this really does is to attract young viewers who would like to consider themselves mature.

I am not promoting censorship. Nor do I suggest that advertisers be allowed to impose their own morality through boycotting programs; some really exceptional shows have been cancelled because of pressure from the religious and conservative groups.

Instead, it is up to FX and the other networks to draw the line of decency and good taste, and stick to it. At a minimum, they need to avoid confusing reality with myth - especially when such confusion can lead to dangerous consequences.

James Alan Fox is the Lipman Family Professor of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University. Talk back at