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Revenge: Consequences and its relation to Justice.

Revenge: Consequences and its relation to Justice.

• What is revenge? What does it do to the avenger? To the villain? To the victim?
• What is the relationship between revenge and justice?
• In which ways does Hamlet fit, and/or stray from, the conventions of revenge tragedy?
• Is the play supportive or critical of revenge, or both?
• How does the act of or desire for revenge affect issues such as: gender, self identity or
mental state, family or romantic relationships, and national identity?

Research has shown how terrifying and curiosity outcome societies’ comprehension of criminal offense, physical violence, and victimization (Berrington & Honkatukia 2002 Picart & Greek 2007). Stereotypes and preconceptions underpin much of our social and cultural understanding of (il)legitimate victimhood (Holcomb et al., 2004; V. D. Young, 1986). Gendered stereotypes and horror iconography are prevalent in sensationalist portrayals of violence and victimization – an interplay that has been elucidated both with specific reference to women’s victimization and their own violence, and in cultural criminology more broadly (e.g. Grabe et al., 2006; Henry, 2014; Picart, 2006; Wiest, 2016; A Young, 2009). Such portrayals often exhibit Nils Christie’s ideal victim (Christie, 1986/2001; O’Brien, 2019), a classic theoretical device in victimology that shares key characteristics with a decidedly fictional figure: the damsel in distress (Chaplin 2011). As a stereotype dependent on normative ideas of age, ethnicity, class, and gender, the ideal victim tends to be a young, white, middle-class woman. She is often found in culture, from classics like The Little Red Riding Hood to contemporary Disney- and Hollywood productions. As a critical device, the ideal victim sheds light on how norms play into notions of respectability and (il)legitimate victim status (Holcomb et al., 2004; V. D. Young, 1986). While the ideal victim is a useful analytical tool in studies of normative depictions and constructions of victimhood (O’Brien, 2019; V. D. Young, 1986), the underlying ideologies that bind the ideal victim to the damsel in distress are brought to light less frequently.

The ideal sufferer is part of a semiotic establish. She depends on the simultaneous construction of equally ideal villains and saviours (Christie, 1986/2001; O’Brien, 2019). The ideal victim shares these defining traits with the damsel in distress. They are both built on the idea of submission to, and need of rescue by, patriarchal rules and powers (Wester, 2012). Both the damsel and the ideal victim have been defined as weak, fair (and fair-skinned) maidens attacked by threatening, overpowering, and often strange men, and as needing rescue by heroic patriarchs (Christie, 1986/2001; O’Brien, 2019; Wester, 2012). As such, they can be read as stereotypical portraits of heteronormative, Eurocentric femininity. Studies have investigated how resistance to this stereotype has played out in rape-revenge stories (e.g. Henry 2014; A Young, 2009). Such stories (re)imagine victimhood in modern, western cultures, both visually and narratively (Henry, 2014). This film genre emerged in the 1970s, and ‘the acts of rape displayed in a rape-revenge story are usually those consonant with stereotypes and myths about “real” rape’ (A Young, 2009, p. 44). In these stories, the damsel is often replaced by the avenging woman – a survivor, rather than a victim, and an enactor of ‘violent retribution’ (A Young, 2009, p. 44). This article discusses the ideal victim and her ties to damsels in distress and the women avengers of rape-revenge narratives, through a semiotic analysis of Lisbeth Salander as an intermedial, paratextual figure. As a victim, damsel, and avenger, Lisbeth enables an interrogation of underlying ideologies as well as their meaning for the cultural (re)production and understanding of victimhood. What stereotypes do Lisbeth, as a massively popular cultural figure, embody? What ideologies lurk in this embodiment, and how can unveiling them deepen our understanding of the broader discourse surrounding sexual violence, victimhood, and resistance?

2. From damsels to avengers Christie describes the perfect patient like a particular person or even a classification of people that acquire whole and genuine standing upright as impacted individuals when they are exposed to legal offense (Christie, 1986/2001). He goes on to exemplify the ideal victim as a virginal woman on her way home from visiting sick relatives, who is accosted by a strange man whom she tries to fight off until she is eventually overpowered and subsequently raped (Christie, 1986/2001). In short, the ideal victim is blameless, and therefore worthy of sympathy and support. Importantly, the ideal victim has little to do with actual victims of crime, and more to do with stereotypical, often detrimental, collective ideas about victimhood and victimization, as well as stereotypical ideas about offenders as monstrous Others. For example, studies show that the whiteness of the ideal victim has negative effects on Black victims of violence (Holcomb et al., 2004; V. D. Young, 1986). As a stereotype based on heteronormative femininity, the ideal victim embodies the values of colonial, patriarchal ideology (see Chandler, 2017).

The perfect victim, such as the damsel, is surely an abstract concept that presupposes her equally abstract opposites: characters and villains (O’Brien, 2019). For the ideal victim to function as a critical device, she needs to be different from her opposites, the villain and the hero, since difference is what renders ideal types analytically useful (Chandler, 2002; Christie, 1986/2001). As such, the ideal victim has to be the polar opposite of the ideal offender (Christie, 1986/2001; O’Brien, 2019); they both presuppose and recreate one another. This leaves no room for the ambiguities of other figures, such as the avenging woman (Henry, 2014). Unlike the ideal victim qua damsel in distress, the avenger relies on her own strength – often refusing the help and protection of a (patriarchal) hero.

Considering that the suitable affected person embodies stereotypical, patriarchal visuals of femininity as indirect and demanding security, the ideal individual can be a typical damsel in distress. The further a woman strays from this cultural image of the damsel, the less of an ideal victim she becomes. By extension, the offender becomes less of a villain the less ideal his victim becomes (Christie, 1986/2001). As Christie puts it, society considers it its interest to protect (respectable) women from ‘monsters lurking in the streets’ (Christie, 1986/2001:49, my translation), hinting at a horror-iconographic imagination at play in the social construction of ideal victims. The avenging woman also relies on horror-iconographic cultural expressions, but does so in ways that complicate the separation and opposition of the victim, hero, and offender (cf. Henry, 2014).

2.1. Patients and vengeance In well-known customs, the perfect patient often surfaces since the damsel in tension – however, moreover, it work surface areas much more implicitly: by means of its absence, also in possible to manage this kind of portrayals of victims. Kramer stresses that popular culture is rife with imagery that depicts men’s violence towards women, and that this should be considered as the ultimate consequence of patriarchal heteronormativity rather than a deviation from it (Kramer, 1997, pp. 28–9). In response (and resistance) to this, rape-revenge narratives and their women avengers were born from the feminist movement of the 1970’s (Clover, 1992:16; A Young, 2009, p. 44).

Such as the damsel in distress, women avengers are largely in your own home within scary iconography. While rape-revenge is often regarded as a subgenre within horror, it has been claimed that it is more complex than that, and can be regarded as its own genre as well as a narrative theme within other genres (Henry, 2014). Whether genre, subgenre, or theme, rape-revenge subverts the notion of women as passive victims of violence. Instead, these narratives present women as overcoming, surviving, and avenging (Åström et al., 2013; Henry, 2014). These stories have ‘a very clear structure’ (A Young, 2009, p. 44), and the avenging woman is generally subjected to graphic, sexual violence perpetrated by one or several men early on in the narrative. This is followed by the story of how she overcomes her victimization and reclaims her sense of self through – often bloody – revenge (Åström et al., 2013; Henry, 2014; A Young, 2009). For the avenging woman, patriarchal powers are the source of suffering rather than salvation. Unlike the damsel in distress, the avenging woman attains retribution against, rather than being aided by, patriarchal powers. Importantly, the women themselves (occasionally with the help of other women), and not heroic men, drive the narrative towards redemption (Clover, 1992, p. 16). Moreover, it is not uncommon for these narratives to incorporate critique of the heteronormativity associated with the damsel through queer or lesbian themes (e.g. in Monster). In these cases, queer characters and loving relationships among women can serve as stark contrasts to stories’ otherwise cold, hypermasculine, and violent settings (cf. Franco, 2003:4; Henry, 2014, p. 144).