I can feel you pull me down…
(content warning: rape, sexual assault)
Honestly, I wish the song didn’t even use the word.
“Haunted” is probably my favorite song on Fallen. It’s a killer synthesis of everything great on the album with some touches that don’t show up as often as they should (well-done orchestral backing vocals! kickin’ guitar solo!).
I particularly love the opening, which kind of goes goth horror by way of NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, and doubles Amy Lee’s voice in a way that sounds like a cracked mirror, everything a little hazy (including the hi-hat-from-a-distant-room percussion), letting her break through just a bit before the chorus knocks the song into focus. The build gives it a spine-tingling quality, reintroducing something new (kind of like the thrill you might have gotten from unexpectedly seeing a trailer for the sequel to your favorite movie, back when that thrill hadn’t been driven down to the center of the earth).
This is still mid-tempo psuedo-metal Evanescence for the most part, but I think the rhythm really grooves here, and the drum rolls that accompany the second verse are such a great contrast to that initial ethereal quality and really hammer down the sad/mad goth vibe. (There’s a panicky heartbeat quality to the whole song, not-so-subtly reinforced by the vital-signs beep that pops up in the mix here and there.)
After the second chorus, the guitar solo gets to sit front and center in the mix and really shines, and then Amy Lee takes over with some really excellent howling before the song closes out. Three minutes of clean, efficient songwriting and nifty execution. I’ve loved this song from the moment I first heard it; despite it not being released as a single, I think it’s the best guitar hook on the whole album, and Amy Lee gets to do her whole thing loud and quiet across the course of the song. It’s like Fallen in microcosm, if you pretend there’s 0% rapping. This is the best banger on the record. Four and a half spooky background strings out of five.
Even when I first heard and loved it, though, one thing bugged me about “Haunted”, and it’s in the second chorus, which tweaks the words to, presumably, imbue them with more menace:
Watching me, wanting me
I can feel you pull me down
Saving me; raping me
Let’s set aside some context and history for a moment (we’ll get back there, I promise) and think about how weird the escalation should be when the word “rape” shows up here. Evanescence’s lyrics are usually fairly ambiguous, and “Haunted” is one of the hazier ones in that respect, mixing up speaker and listener by hurling pronouns in whichever direction it wants and never nailing down location, physicality, or linear action beyond the speaker’s emotional state.
“Rape” is not ambiguous. The word can be metaphorical, and seems (???) to be here, but it’s so much more specifically violent than anything else in the song. There’s intimations of force and resistance to force (“I won’t let you pull me down”) and of fear tangled with romance (“Fearing you; loving you”), but these states fit just as well along, say, the gaslighting in “Going Under” until the physical and sexual violence is made so explicit with that single word. It’s jarring; it was even jarring to me in 2004, when I didn’t have the words to explain what could be jarring.
You may notice I’m struggling a bit with those words even now. “Rape” is not usually a word that gets flagged in the brain like this, the way a racial or sexual slur might. And to bring that musical context I mentioned back into the picture, bands of this era (and other eras) threw that word and idea around basically all the time. KoЯn certainly did, though I’d almost give them more credit in that arena for writing songs that dealt with abuse without wrapping it in metaphor or the sort of ambiguity that let it be more crowd-pleasing.
At the same time, it’s not meant to be crowd-pleasing here, either; the escalation I mentioned is intentional, I think, connected to the way the music steadily builds on its aggression and menace to suggest the validity of the speaker’s horror. Because this is Evanescence circa 2004, that suggestion is in the form of pure melodrama, which is maybe a better signal of my concern; namely, rape isn’t operatic.
Or shouldn’t be, I suppose. The fact that it is, though, and that the word can simultaneously mean something gone “too far” while also feeling so normalized as to be tossed around in an otherwise curse-word-free, teenager-friendly goth album, are together the seemingly contradictory essence of rape culture.
Definitions first: Emilie Buchwald, writer of Transforming a Rape Culture, explains the term this way:
… a complex set of beliefs that encourage male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent… A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm.
Normalization is key. Another way to think about this is that rape culture transforms the concept of rape into something lurid and sensational, within the same spectrum of titillation and gratification as an action movie scene or a commercial for Victoria’s Secret. “Rape” is just another pop-cultural trigger, a method to increase consumer engagement.
Once “rape” is recontextualized this way, rape itself (I’ll swap in/out the quotes moving forward to distinguish the pop-cultural commodification from the actual crime) becomes minimized and warped in the public image. Several things result from this:
- Rape becomes narratively contingent, i.e. associated with the same cause and effect as any event in a TV show or movie, so that it becomes easy to dissemble and pontificate about degrees of fault and complicity without much attention to the pure violence and horror of the act
- “Rape” becomes the only context in which people believe that rape can happen, i.e. the “mundane” behavior of sexual predators in contexts like college or bars or among presumed friends become easy to dismiss as “not really rape” when they lack of the lurid flavor of the pop-cultural presentation
- Conversations about rape don’t happen because the only version that is discussed is “rape”
This is a weird mix of acknowledgement, minimization, and distortion that permeates the underbelly of a culture and draws false lines around acceptable and unacceptable behavior.
Because we live in a cultural moment where all poisons are now boiling at the surface, I will pull from last week’s Brett Kavanaugh hearings, which were generally a horrifying display of such callous and demeaning trash that bringing them to mind coils bile through my throat.
During the examination of Kavanaugh, the GOP spent each of its turns basically reinforcing the worst ramifications of rape culture. On the one hand, they feigned sympathy for Dr. Ford’s version of events; on the other, they talked through multiple sides of their mouths to claim that Kavanaugh didn’t do it, that it was all high school anyway, that who really knows what happened, and so on.
Most telling perhaps was this little gem from animated-pile-of-dogshit Lindsay Graham:
Are you a gang rapist? … Your high school yearbook — you have interacted with professional women all your life, not one accusation. … You’re supposed to be Bill Cosby when you’re a junior and senior in high school. And all of a sudden, you got over it. It’s been my understanding that if you drug women and rape them for two years in high school, you probably don’t stop.
Several things going on here, but the one I want to highlight is that Graham suggests that our definition of a man who has committed sexual assault must be at the level of Bill Cosby, i.e. a rampant and unrepentant serial abuser convicted of the crime. It allows for no gradation. It suggests that being nice to women in your professional career means that you can’t have committed so heinous, so mutant, a crime as “rape.”
Rape culture isn’t the idea that “all boys are rapists”; it is the idea that “boys will be boys” is a defense.
- One out of every six women reports having been raped or being the victim of attempted rape.
- College-aged women (18-24) are 3 times more likely to experience sexual violence.
- Only 28 percent of rapes are committed by strangers. The majority are committed by acquaintances or family members.
- The majority or plurality of rapists are older (50%) white (57%) men.
- Only 37% of rapists have a prior felony conviction.
- Only 11% of rapes involve use of a deadly weapon (e.g. gun or knife).
Rape in America is not universally a crime committed by the ugly underbelly of society as some reinforcement of racist, classist attitudes about minorities or poor people. It is not a crime committed only in the same way as someone attempts an armed robbery, i.e. by a masked stranger wielding unusual and deadly force with the aim of getting what they want. The gang rape — mixing both the gang, and the collective unstoppable force — is, again, a lurid fantasy more often than not.
Rape is much more mundane, and therefore so much more horrible, than this. Most of the time, it is a crime of convenience, perpetrated by someone who simply lacks empathy with their victim; often it is someone who can silence their victim with nothing deadlier than peer pressure — don’t tell your mother, don’t tell the teacher, I’ll tell them you’re a slut; often it is someone in a position society protects via privilege, an older man or a white college student with “so much to lose”.
And “rape culture” lets them get away with it by recontextualizing their behavior as something other than “rape” — as something OK, forgivable, human. In doing so it erases the victim, demeans and ignores suffering, and considers trauma of lesser gravity than the maintenance of status quo.
Let’s end back on “Haunted” for a moment. What bums me out about the song’s use of the word is that it’s in this context of a push-pull relationship, romance by way of Edgar Allan Poe; rape is just a facilitator for the aesthetic, but the emotional state of the speaker doesn’t ever rise to the level of that trauma beyond the same vague anguish expressed everywhere else on the album.
Note that I still love the song and don’t imagine that Amy Lee had “supporting the patriarchy and rape culture” on her mind while writing it, nor do I think the song is especially or notably egregious in that regard. That’s sort of the point: normalization is inculcation, for all of us, whether victim or perpetrator or bystander. Your framework shifts to the accepted bounds, and “rape” becomes window dressing.
Next time: “Torniquet” is a song about tearing off a dude’s head and using it to staunch the bleeding in your fingernails that happened when you ripped into his neck. Or maybe that’s just my mood right now.