chapter  6
16 Pages

Gender, violence and security in Oz

In this chapter, I use the analytical vehicle of HBO’s six-season televised series Oz (1997-2003) to explore the thematic concerns of gender and violence that inform this book. Oz documents the lives of inmates and officers at Oswald State Penitentiary (nicknamed ‘Oz’ and renamed a ‘correctional facility’ in season three) somewhere in the USA (the exact location is never disclosed). The show is interesting in many respects, and I will discuss the series in more detail below. Crucial to this book, however, are the explicit and implicit representations of gender and violence – specifically acts of rape – as disciplinary mechanisms within the narrative. In short, the show questions the regulation of human behaviour in more subtle ways than simply representing life in prison as a prison drama, and through my analysis I argue that rape is explicitly located beyond the boundaries of acceptable or appropriate violence, even in Oz, which graphically depicts violence as a pervasive, even constitutive, aspect of the human condition. In this chapter I argue that what we might read as gendered violence in Oz is represented as gendering rather than as gendered a priori and make two related claims: first, that this links to the most recent treatments of rape by international political institutions such as the United Nations; and, second, that Oz was in some respects ground-breaking television in that it refused to normalise rape despite its setting in a spatial zone outside of ‘normal’ society. This has interesting implications for the ways in which audiences are invited to conceptualise rape and its ramifications, and I link through from the micro-domestic (prison life) to macrointernational (war-fighting) extra-social zones to argue that much hinges on how rape is conceptualised and the extent to which its performative function is normalised in the context in question. In the first section of this chapter, I map out a typology of feminist approaches to

rape, attempting to negotiate a productive path between those that emphasise primarily the sexual and those that emphasise primarily the violent in instances of rape as sexual violence. The section begins by drawing parallels between rape in prison and

rape in war, arguing that many logics that organise academic engagement with and policy management of the two issues are broadly similar, before discussing feminist theories of rape in order to give context to my own intervention. In the second section of this chapter I introduceOz, explaining the circumstances of its production and its reception by scholars and fans alike. In the third substantive section I provide a detailed analysis of a single scene in Oz, from an episode titled ‘Wheel of Fortune’ (5.05). It is here that I draw out the tensions in the representations of prison rape in Oz to argue not only that the sometimes complex academic arguments put forward concerning the reproduction of appropriate subjectivity through violent means are represented as common sense to the characters in the series, but also that this common sense has profound implications for the ways in which the audience – and by extension, Anglophone society including the institutional matrices of power located in the ‘international sphere’ – is invited to think about gender, violence and security.