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‘Broadchurch’ Tackles Rape & Pornography with Purpose

In a culture that harbors the Harvey Weinsteins and Kevin Spaceys of the world, sexual assault has gained an increased awareness as of late.  Too few stories, however, have highlighted not just the evil of rape, but the social values that contribute to its prevalence.  Broadchurch is the exception.

As dark and somber as cop dramas come, Broadchurch has sometimes struggled to maintain an appropriate balance between/ meaningful exposure of evil and indulging in despair.  The first season’s theme of child molestation communicated many necessary truths, yet failed to offer real redemption for the victim’s family, despite the presence of a sympathetic vicar.  Season two increase these woes, at times feeling more telenovela than gritty cop drama.  Season three, however, finds that balance, stopping just short of despair and offering a path to healing, even if it also has its fair share of bumps in the road.

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The core of the third season focuses on two elements.  The first is appropriately the story of the victim, Trish.  She’s the first person we see, and the basis for the supporting character arcs.  The mission that surrounds her character is primarily one of awareness – through her, we learn a lot about sexual assault victims, particularly why they may not come forward immediately after the crime.  To say this is a valuable exploration is painfully obvious, especially in a world where Harvey Weinstein was allowed to continue in his alleged crimes for decades.

Secondarily, the show explores the theme of manhood.  Second only to sympathy for the victims, this is the most important place that the show can go.  Hardy (David Tennant) delivers one of the most powerful lines of the show when he says, “You know what’s bothering me about this case?  It makes me ashamed to be a man.”

The faceless rapist isn’t the only man under scrutiny.  Failed men abound in this season, from the backdrop of Joe Miller to Mark Latimer failing to support his family to Trish’s ex-husband failing to own up to his mistakes.  At times, even well-meaning men end up damaging their families, such as in Mark Latimer’s case.  Here lies a possible bone of contention with our more conservative readers.  I hear complaints quite often that men in film and television are bumbling morons or are otherwise incompetent, and that this engenders a general culture of disrespect toward men.  And yet, these same people rightfully say we have a crisis of manhood, with men who are more interested in sex and fun than in maturity and responsibility.

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I daresay Chibnall and company agree.  The social criticism they engage in includes a close eye on peer pressure, pornography, and related attitudes toward women, which largely lines up with Judeo-Christian values, even if the source isn’t explicitly recognized.  To be fair, this isn’t always done with a redeeming purpose in mind – Mark’s character arc end up fizzling out to an unsatisfying end, but it is accurate with the problems that we see in the broader culture with regards to men.  To round out this approach, we’re reminded that the prevalence of something does not change its moral character – an extremely important point in a culture of “everybody does it” or, as is said in the show, “everybody looks at this stuff.”  At one point, a man with no self-control in his sex life tells Hardy indignantly, “I’m a bloke, I like sex.  You’d have done the same thing.”  Hardy, still recovering from a failed marriage, firmly says, “No, I wouldn’t.”

Broadchurch‘s approach to pornography in particular is a hopeful step in the right direction for our cultural conversation.  It is unmasked as a step of sexual deviance that can lead to greater and more serious problems, rather than a cheeky joke about browser history (pornography is never shown on screen, although there are brief suggestive sounds that make it clear what the characters are watching).  The core problem with pornography is illustrated rather well in a heated exchange between a local reporter and her regional editor.  The former is angry with the latter for placing the story about Trish’s rape next to a sidebar about the “hottest bikini babes” and says “How can you call yourself a feminist?!”  The meaning behind this, though not explicitly stated, is pretty clear: You are endorsing the use of women as things, not people.  This, more than anything else, is the takeaway from the show’s third season, particularly in the heartbreaking season finale.

Of course, it should be noted that this particular story stops short of a complete Christian view of sex, one that embraces monogamy and commitment as centerpieces of a redeemed sexuality.  But it also goes further than most, driving at the selfishness of human’s (and especially men’s) fallen sexuality.  Even in the midst of the show’s other issues – how it justifies divorce in passing, and sometimes employs harsh language, the way it tackles sexual assault and pornography is a very valuable endeavor that is all too rare in recent years.

Rating: 9/10

Logan Judy
Logan Judy is a Christian blogger and science fiction author with a Batman complex. At Cross Culture, Logan writes about film, comics, cultural analysis, and whatever else strikes his fancy. In addition to his work at Cross Culture, Logan also blogs and podcasts at A Clear Lens. You can find him tweeting about Batman, apologetics, and why llamas will one day rule the world, @loganrjudy.
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