Friday, February 19, 2016

Fox's Lucifer and Sexually Predatory Behaviour

Lucifer Morningstar is the devil which means that we expect him to be evil. We expect him to cross every boundary that there is.  We expect him to be smarmy, dishonest and clearly untrustworthy.  Tom Ellis as the devil is absolutely incorrigible and embodies another in a long line of anti-heroes which the audience is encouraged to root for. Considering Lucifer’s ability to harm, we should be far more concerned about him than we actually are.  Sure, some of our laissez–faire attitude can be blamed on Lucifer’s rakish charm but a good deal of it is the fact that despite years of work by women, consent is still something we don’t take seriously.

Lucifer Morningstar on Fox's Lucifer is yet another in a long line of anti-heroes which the public has been offered. From Tony Soprano, to Walter White, to Dexter, to Francis Underwood, to Michael Corleone, audiences have rooted for these men despite their bad acts.  Though we have yet to see Lucifer do any real long lasting on screen violence like rape or murder akin to his fellow anti-hero counterparts, he is perhaps even more explicitly evil and or problematic given his identity.  When we see Lucifer using his magical powers to force people to confess their deepest desire, we are intrigued rather than repelled by the gross violation that this represents. These secrets he compels are private for a reason and yet Lucifer cavalierly forces people to openly confess, headless of the consequences his target may have to pay. There’s a reason we don’t share with the world everything that goes through our heads.  From the very beginning, and perfectly shown when he outs a gay security guard against his will and with no thought for the consequences, it’s clear Lucifer has no respect for anyone but himself. This is the foundation of his relationship with Chloe.

When Lucifer first meets Chloe Decker, he is amazed when he realises that his ability to appeal to directly to women’s unconscious desire for the so-called bad boy, or what Lucifer likes to call the “feral urge” doesn’t seem to work on her.  Lucifer even wonders if something is biologically wrong with Chloe, or if she hit her head as a child.  What he cannot accept is Chloe repeatedly explicitly saying no to his advances.  Chloe goes as far as tell Lucifer that she finds him repellant but for him, it only serves to fuel his ambition to have sex with Chloe.  

Chloe repeatedly sets boundaries and makes it clear that, at best (and reluctantly), she will consent to a  working relationship with Lucifer but none of this stops him from showing up in her home uninvited to make her breakfast.  Lucifer is more concerned about being thrown out of Chloe’s home than the fact that he violated her personal space.  Lucifer then escalates his behaviour and appears naked, like some kind of subway pervert when Chloe comes to meet him at his piano bar. Sure, Chloe might like the view but exposing your naked body to someone without their consent is not some form of harmless exhibitionism. It’s predatory and in this case, the exhibitionism isn’t about mutual consent but about Lucifer’s sexual gratification and desire to validate his sexual viability. There’s a reason why flashing is a crime.

No matter how you look at it, no matter how charming Lucifer is, he is a sexual predator. It’s a fact that is being hidden behind Ellis’s good looks and charm.  With each violation of Chloe’s boundaries, Lucifer (the show)  makes sure to include some hint of her obvious attraction to the devil.  There is a line, however, between finding someone physically attractive and wanting to sleep with them.  Attraction should not open a woman up to ongoing and escalating sexual attention. Lucifer’s behaviour is the kind that women take out restraining orders for.  It’s the kind of behaviour that makes women carry rape whistles, afraid to ride the subway late at night, or walk to their cars in a parking lot.  Men like Lucifer make the world unsafe for women.

Lucifer proudly brags that Chloe is the only woman who has ever turned him down, even as he delights with flirting with random women who serve to prop up his ego. Each nameless faceless woman is a like a fluffer for him. Lucifer has a sense of entitlement when it comes to women’s bodies.  This means that women aren’t actually people to him but minor conquests at best, notches to add to his belt which validate both his hypermasculinity and power. Chloe isn’t actually interesting as a person or valued for her intelligence but a curiosity because she has the audacity to say no firmly and repeatedly. Chloe’s “no” is an aberration because women are meant to be sexually available at all times and he feels entitled to her body,

Though Chloe is a take no prisoners cop, her backstory includes being naked in a movie.  Chloe’s choice to appear nude in a film is a decision she repeatedly says that she regrets and it is used to suggest that she should have no problem consenting to sex. This flies in the face of the very concept of affirmative consent which asserts that at anytime, a woman has the right to say no.  Consent to one act does not carry over to consent for all acts. From seeing her naked on film, Lucifer assumes that this gives him the right to comment on body openly. He even goes as far to compare her younger self to her present self when he accidentally sees her naked.  For Lucifer, his comments on Chloe’s body are complimentary but they actually do is remove Chloe’s personhood.  Despite the smile on Lucifer’s face, in this moment, Lucifer is actually sexually harassing Chloe and other than her repeated disgust he faces no censure. For the record, sexual harassment is “engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct that is known or ought to be known to be unwelcome.”

This violation of agency is a cornerstone of the show - and not just in relation to sex. Lucifer insists on being a part of Chloe’s life: personal, sexual and professional, and absolutely refuses on any level to accept her autonomy. This has to be mentioned and seen as part of rape culture - because it stems from the same utter disrespect of autonomy and the same sense of entitlement. While on a different scale, Lucifer constantly showing up at her work place is a similar (but lesser) violation as showing up at her house - it all presumes access to her regardless of her wish.

There’s also the matter of Lucifer’s woo-woo. Lucifer proudly proclaims that he usually doesn’t have to ask women for sex which heavily implies that he doesn’t seek active consent from his partners. Because the show has not explicitly made it clear that Lucifer’s powers don’t work to influence, it creates a blurred line. Blurred lines should never exist when it comes to sexual interactions, contrary to what Robin Thicke thinks. No matter the situation, Lucifer finds professional women throwing themselves at him.  Lucifer is certainly not the only attractive man that these professional women have ever seen and yet they forget where they are and do things like proclaiming their flexibility. It’s actions like this that have me questioning exactly what the limitations of Lucifer’s powers are. One does not suddenly become sexually aggressive or openly available in the most inappropriate of situations because one is near to a sexually attractive person. Stripping these women of their professional mien and reducing them to lusting vamps on the hunt does not validate women’s right to freely engage in sex or their personhood but instead reduces them wanton whores who are always and forever available for the asking.

Lucifer (The show) clearly does actually recognise that a person has a right to set boundaries. Lucifer, unlike Chloe demands that his agency and bodily integrity be respected. When Chloe reaches out to touch the scars on his back from when he had Mazikeen cut off his wings, Lucifer grabs her hand and forcefully says, “please don’t”.  Chloe is obviously compelled to find out what caused these scars, particularly because Lucifer lets slip that his father (read: God) is at least partially responsible; however, Chloe doesn’t persist -- she doesn’t even question -- she simply withdraws her hand, accepting Lucifer’s right to say no. Why is it that Lucifer has the right to say no and expect it to be accepted no questions asked and Chloe does not? The simple answer to this question is rape culture.

Behind all of Lucifer’s (the show) charm lies the darkness of rape culture. Chloe can say no until the end of time and she will never ever be taken seriously. Her no actually means try harder because she really means yes. Chloe’s sexuality and previous decisions are used as a weapon against her to suggest that unwanted attention should not only continue but escalate. In fact, I think it’s fair to take it one step further and say that they are used to suggest that despite her repeated protests, Chloe actually enjoys Lucifer’s attentions. Chloe is not actually a person with feelings and autonomy to Lucifer, she’s simply a woman who (bizarrely to him) thinks she has the right to say no. Lucifer, no matter how handsome he is, exists with the patriarchal belief that he has the right, in fact absolute authority, to have access to the body of any woman he chooses. On top of this, we, the audience are expected to agree with him. The audience isn’t meant to see a woman resisting a sexual predator; but a woman playing hard-to-get before we finally see the inevitable. We’re even meant to root for the relationship, making us complicit in his predatory behavior.

The other unspoken issue is the obvious power differential between Chloe and Lucifer. No matter how charming Lucifer is, he exists with immense power, a power that Chloe cannot ever hope to match. Lucifer’s ongoing refusal to respect Chloe’s clear boundaries makes this more than clear.  Lucifer (the show), has set up the Devil and Chloe as partners but how can they ever truly be equals? While we are spared from having the customary set up of an immortal being with a teenage girl which has become far too popular in urban fantasy, Lucifer’s ability to manipulate, combined with his near omnipotent powers and longevity ensure that Chloe will forever be at a disadvantage; it ensures that Chloe will be the prey. Any consent that Chloe could possibly offer in this situation would be problematic because of the power differential. Lucifer literally has the power of life and death over Chloe and whether or not he chooses to use this power does not erase its existence. There could be ways this show could seek to balance that power or present that power in a non-coercive manner: but Lucifer’s constant aggressive pressure makes that impossible. We cannot accept his guarantee he won’t use his power against her because he already has no respect for her autonomy.

I love Lucifer (the show), and in fact look forward to every single episode but this doesn’t mean that I can casually ignore the dangerous message that it sends each week.  Not only does Lucifer (the show) promote a dangerous form of hypermasculinity, it disembodies women continually; we aren’t people, just beings who exist for male pleasure. Hollywood has made it far too  easy to root for the anti-hero by making them protagonists but in doing so, we are not only internalizing some very harmful ideas, we actively promote them.  The anti-hero is not someone to be celebrated but someone to be wary of, particularly in a setting where it’s suggested that a man should have the right to pursue a woman against her wishes in a predatory fashion. Contrary to the message that Lucifer (the show) is sending, no, will never mean try harder.