Last year, shows like I May Destroy You by Micheala Coel pushed the envelope when it came to conversations on consent. As shows take on difficult topics, these discussions become more representative of the complexities surrounding sexual assault and rape culture.
Similarly, in the Netflix original show Grand Army, written by Katie Cappiello and somewhat based on her play Slut: The Play, consent is approached in a unique way. It’s easy to write off Grand Army as another Degrassi-like teen melodrama, and sometimes it definitely is that. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing for fans of the late Canadian show.
However, it does do something that many shows fail to do: make audiences critically think about consent through the character Joey Del Marco, portrayed by Odessa A’Zion.
How De-Escalation Can Be Part of Consent
For those who have seen the show, the link between consent and Marco’s story seems straightforward. However, when it comes to judgment, the show gives viewers reasons not to be on Marco’s side. From her sexually provocative behavior to her impulsiveness, some can agree that the actions she took around her three male friends were inappropriate.
However, the show begs the question of when it’s time to de-escalate a situation and what it truly means to be a friend.
During the third episode entitled “Relationship Goals,” Marco and her close friends George Wright (Anthony Ippolito), Luke Friedman (Brian Altemus), and Tim Delaney (Thelonius Serrell-Freed) go to the movies together. They all drink heavily throughout the night. Marco not only flirts with all of the boys, she sits on Wright’s and Friedman’s laps while kissing them. When they enter the cab, this continues. Wright and Friedman assumed that Marco wasn’t a virgin because of her body positivity and feminism.
They label her as “wild” and speak about her as if she’s inherently promiscuous. Delaney is angry, not because things were escalating too far with the other boys, but because he wanted Marco to be “only his.” In some way or another, each boy decided to label and claim her. The reality is, plenty of people want the ability to explore their sexuality in a positive and consensual way.
Marco’s friends had all had sex before, and she seemed comfortable expressing herself sexually with people she trusted. She believed that they were her friends. However, within true friendship, there is a line of communication and de-escalation.
Rape culture often thrives on the belief that if a girl or woman is “too sexual,” then they are “leading someone on” and “asking for it.” The show carefully puts these markers into place. It gives viewers a million reasons to uphold that belief, as Marco’s rape is framed by her rapists as an “orgy” that she shouldn’t be “embarrassed about.” Delaney was silent and passive as he allowed Marco to be raped by their friends and did nothing. His perceived ownership of her and anger over not monopolizing her body fueled his revenge.
Revenge is used here because his unwillingness to act and even try to help her, and then joining his friends in gaslighting her, is a deliberate response drawn from his possessiveness. Delaney believed that in being the “nice guy,” he had the authority to punish Marco for being the “slut.” He asked her not to flirt with the other boys, and when she ignored him, his passivity to her rape echoed his belief that it’s what she deserved.
The show decided to delve into the complexity of this experience further by expressing that Marco still loved her “friends” after their deplorable actions. However, real friends know the difference between consent and force, and don’t overlook it or shift the blame on someone else.
Grand Army illustrates the trauma that’s evoked when those we trust not only take advantage of that trust but also belittle and diminish it.
Performative Feminism and Toxic Masculinity
Another part of this series gives viewers a glance at performative allyship and activism.
The show takes many opportunities to point out Marco’s clear white privilege and how the sexism she faces is not through an intersectional lens. However, what people may not be analyzing enough is the fake allyship of her male friends.
Leading up to Marco’s rape, her guy friends seem like they’re on board with her autonomy. However, the red flag is that they’re selectively supportive of only her because they’re attracted to her. Meanwhile, Wright mocks the breasts of Leila Kwan Zimmer (Amalia Yoo) for having brown areolas that seem to be “too Chinese” for him while also wanting to use her for his sexual pleasure. He later laughs at her inability to arouse him properly, but also identifies himself as a feminist and later on, a gay ally.
Those who practice performative allyship unfortunately follow common threads — they are in it for superficial and often self-reverential reasons.
Performative feminism takes a unique toll, as people will wear shirts to promote feminism, use hashtags, and even, in Delaney’s case, talk about admiring women in power, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. While this may be a cliche topic for some people, it’s ultimately a reminder that people like this exist within just about every movement space, and even within some “friendships.”
To say the least, they are fake friends; to say the most, they are dangerous. Marco regarded her friends as people who would protect her, and they turned around and tried to destroy her. The show highlights how people will chant activism and then blame the oppressed for their own demise. Those who want to make a change are constantly gaslighted by enemies in disguise.
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Danielle Broadway is an English Literature MA student at California State University, Long Beach. She has been published in Black Girl Nerds, LA Weekly and Medium, is a writer for CSULB’s the Daily49er, is a managing editor for Watermark, her school’s academic literary journal and is an assistant editor at Angels Flight • literary west. She’s an activist and educator that is inspired by her family to make social change both in the classroom and beyond.