While most of the night was lighthearted and exuberant, the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden got a bit more sober when one brave fan asked about the discussion of non-consensual sex that appeared in the Season 4 premiere between Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Ian (John Bell), as well as the show’s history of representing sexual violence in the #MeToo era.
“How do you feel about what is happening in our country right now?” asked the fan, after summarizing the characters’ respective histories as survivors of sexual assault.
It’s a valid question—one that shouldn’t be seen as hostile or combative, but was, it seemed, by some in the 5,600-seat theater, who cheered when showrunner Ronald D. Moore said that Outlander is not inherently a political show.
“Ultimately, the show is about these characters and this story,” said Moore. “We don’t choose to look at it as a platform for political ideas. But at the same time, all of us live in the world, all of us live in the society, we can’t help but have what happens in the world inform what we do. We try to be cognizant of our audience…and try to talk with our show and not preach to the audience that this is our point of view. We look at the world that we live in just like you do and it can’t help but sort of influence our work.”
Every story we tell is political. I am suspicious of shows that call themselves apolitical because I think that is often a stand-in explanation for a story that is actively reinforcing the status quo, which is still a political act (though one that is more invisible to many in our mainstream culture).
There is no such thing as apolitical in storytelling. Storytelling is a political act. Mainstream, commerical storytelling, even moreso—if not in intent, then in influence. When it comes to historical dramas, these stories are never about the times in which they are set, but the times in which they are told. All stories are.
I don’t think Moore is an apolitical storyteller—after all, this is the man who created the reimagined Battlestar Galactica—and I don’t think he is trying to argue that he is. It is, however, disappointing to hear a fan bring up the subject of sexual assault and non-consensual sex—both of which have been represented more than once on this series, often in helpful ways—and to see it somewhat swept under the rug in a forum as large and influential as New York Comic Con. This is not what this space is explicitly for, but perhaps it should be. If we don’t start making more room for honest, open conversations about sexual assault and violence in our culture, then we can never hope to diminish its prevalence.
The subject of sexual assault is handled beautifully in the Outlander Season 4 premiere. I would have liked to see the broaching of the subject responded to as supportively and non-judgementally as Jamie did with Young Ian in the episode screened. Perhaps next New York Comic Con, we will get it right.