Sweet/Vicious and Post Traumatic Culture

After six episodes of MTV’s hit new show Sweet/Vicious, we know that Jules has been raped and we can see the ripple effect that the rape has caused. It’s affecting her entire world, from friendships to personality. This is something called Post Traumatic Culture. (PTC)

You may be asking yourself, “Liz, how do you know this??” and honestly, I didn’t even know this was a thing until I took a class that literally spent half of the semester covering the topic.

Now, obviously, I’m no expert, but anyone can pick out certain parts of the story that are clear examples of PTC. So, let’s get into it.

In order to understand post traumatic culture, we gotta realize what post-traumatic stress disorder is. A simple Google search can give you a pretty basic definition. Basically, it can be caused when an individual experiences a traumatic event. Going into more detail, the event must involve actual, serious injury which causes the person to feel intense fear, horror or helplessness.

I think we can all agree that Jules has been involved in a traumatic event–her rape. Plus rape can cause serious injuries. (Not to get into the nitty gritty, but these injuries come from forced penetration and can include ripped vaginal walls and anal bleeding.)

Okay, so we’re aware of the basic definition of PTSD, so let’s discuss post-traumatic culture and what that actually is. (Shoutout to myself for keeping all of my notes)

Post-traumatic culture are works that are developed as a result of exposure to a traumatic event. But, even though Sweet/Vicious deals with rape, this does not mean that the creator, writer or director has suffered from PTSD caused by rape. The work can be developed because of something that’s happening in the current world–and honestly, rape on college campuses/everywhere is happening (even though we like to shove it in a box and put it waaayyy up high in the closet and never talk about it ever)

There are three aspects of post-traumatic culture (besides the event) that happen in Sweet/Vicious: Repetition Compulsion, Desire to Avoid vs Desire to Tell and Memory Fragmentation.

Repetition Compulsion

What is repetition compulsion? Good question. Repetition compulsion is made up of intrusive thoughts, reoccurring dreams or flashbacks, as well as the victim putting themselves in harms way. They may try to repeat sensations related to the event: smells, tastes, sights and sounds for example, or they may constantly talk, albeit incoherently, about the event or about sensations related to the event.

A part of repetition compulsion that relates to Jules specifically is putting herself in harms way. A prime example of this is, well, basically the whole show—Jules going after rapists and beating them up and sometimes being the underdog.

We see repetition compulsion during the scene with Jules and Carter, when Carter’s choking her; the audience gets a brief flashback to Jules’ rape, where the pretty much the exact same thing was happening to her—only Nate was doing it. (The dick.) Jules may not have been doing it on purpose, but she was repeating the sensation she felt the night of her rape. 

Still with me? Good.

Desire to Avoid vs. Desire to Tell.

I touched on this very briefly during one of my recaps and I’ll try to go a bit more in depth about it here.

Okay, so, there is a desire to avoid anything associated with the event coupled with the desire to understand and tell the event. In Jules’ case, the desire to avoid is overpowering the desire tell. She doesn’t want anything to do with Nate and you can clearly see how uncomfortable she gets whenever Nate is in the same vicinity as her.

Anything associated with Nate makes Jules uncomfortable, like the Omega house, which we see during pledge week. This also means she doesn’t want to tell Kennedy at all about it, since Kennedy is associated with Nate—it makes her uncomfortable and kinda scares her.

Throughout the season, we see Jules telling small bits to Ophelia but never really diving into the whole story. During the most recent episode, Jules finally gives into this desire to tell. She tells Nate her version of the story (which is what happened) and then goes to tell Kennedy as well. 




A BRIEF INTERMISSION: False Memory & History Creation

Real quick sidetrack before I dive into the world of Memory Fragmentation.

A subset of Memory Fragmentation is False Memory/History Creation. Usually this is applied to the victim; if the individual suffers trauma, and someone tries to explain the trauma—can actually create fake memories/history.

Sound kind of familiar? It should. Because it happened in the most recent episode with the whole Jules/Kennedy/Nate situation.

Basically, Nate’s memory tells him that what happened the night of the rape was cheating. He created his false memory and is projecting it onto the girls, trying to make them believe it wasn’t anything more than cheating. (The dick)

First, he mentions the “cheating” to Jules, who is obviously confused about how he remembers it, but that plants a seed in what she remembers. Then he tells Kennedy that he and Jules cheated, which creates a fake history.

Even though Jules believes she knows what happened, she has two different people telling her otherwise which can lead to false memory creation.

Like, okay so, right now it’s going a little something like this:

Jules: I was raped by Nate.

Nate: No, it was cheating, we cheated.

Kennedy: Nate said you cheated, so you cheated.

Jules: ….maybe…it was cheating….maybe I remember it all wrong. 

WE DON’T KNOW WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED. ALL WE KNOW IS WHAT JULES’S MEMORY IS TELLING HER PAIRED WITH WHAT NATE IS TELLING KENNEDY AND WHAT HE BELIEVES.

The only way we can be completely, 100% sure that Nate’s version is false is if we go back to that night–which we will.

But I digress.

Memory Fragmentation.

Fragmentation is another important element of post-traumatic culture and definitely important in Sweet/Vicious. Basically, when the memories of the event begin to unfold they are often confused, fragmented, and distorted.

We haven’t seen much that deals with what happened on the night that Jules was raped, except for the flashback in the first episode and the part during the pledge week episode. But even the flashback from the first episode happened within another scene, detached from itself.

In the most recent episode, Jules and Tyler are…you know, making out and one thing leads to another and soon clothes are coming off. Tyler is on top of Jules and things are headed towards the sexy times, only Jules sees Nate on top of her instead of Tyler. A memory. It’s confusing because, hey wasn’t she just with Tyler?? And to get out of the memory, Jules quickly shoves him off of her and stops anything from happening.

And in the scene in a later episode where we see Past Jules walking out of the Omega house? Present Jules is remembering what happened the last time she was at the Omega house. The memory isn’t attached to anything, but we can start to put some of the puzzle together like “oooohhh maybe this is where the rape happened?” we don’t know, but we know it’s of some significance.

Rewind back to episode one. The scene with Carter and Jules that flashbacks to Nate and Jules is distorted and grainy and kinda muffled. 

Yet, this does not mean that Jules has forgotten what happened to her. Even though the rape moves into the chronological past, it continues to be the focus of control. This story is about Jules and her rape and how she deals with it.

Post-traumatic culture explores from within. It does not try to pave over all of it, but it does not tell you everything. It’s frustrating, I know. Like you just want to know all the answers right up front but you have to put the pieces together, right along side Jules. You will figure out what actually happened, just as Jules starts to actually deal with the rape.

All of these symptoms of post-traumatic culture bear witness to the traumatic event and demand that we, the audience, share the creation and burden of the trauma.

So, we’re with you Jules. No matter what. 

Liz Harkins

Well versed in all things concerning pop culture and social media. I write recaps not tragedies. #GIRLBOSS

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