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Skam: how one Norwegian teen drama got the TV depiction of sexual assault right

“I can’t report something I know nothing about,” says a character with a sketchy memory. It's a more thoughtful depiction than anything in, say, Game of Thrones

You may not be aware of it, but it’s the best show on TV. Skam, which means shame, is a Norwegian teen drama in the vein of shows like Skins – but with an authenticity that gives it the edge over any of its predecessors. Centering around a group of teenagers at the prestigious Hartvig Nissen School in Oslo, the first season followed Eva’s guilt over a lost friendship, while the third and most recent season follows Isak, as he confronts his sexuality.

The second season follows Noora – her own personal shame seems to be her secret relationship with William, a boy at school that one of her closest friends has pined over for months. Until one scene, halfway through the series.

The context for the scene is that Noora has been fighting with her boyfriend William. She wants to make up, but he hasn’t been replying to her texts, then her phone dies. She goes to speak to him at his house, but he’s not there – instead his older brother, Nico, who is having a party, opens the door. He invites Noora in to charge her phone, then tells her that William is ignoring her because he’s off sleeping with other girls. Noora is heartbroken. She takes a glass of wine.

This is what we see next.


It’s a far cry from the shocking, gratuitous rape scenes in shows like Game of Thrones and Poldark. Nico’s hand on Noora’s leg is all we need to see to sense how predatory he is. There are no egregious scenes of violence, but we still feel deeply uncomfortable, especially when the next episode begins with Noora waking up the next day: confused, and naked, with Nico at her side.

We slowly see how the incident affects Noora in the following days. She sits at home in her bedroom for days at a time, isolating herself from her boyfriend and her friends. She snaps at her flatmates. She withdraws academically, failing to work on a journalistic opportunity she’d usually be thrilled about. She stops replying to messages on her friends’ group chat, and tries to wriggle out of their usual celebrations.

All the while, she tries to ascertain what actually happened that night, messaging Nico. At first, he reassures her that nothing happened, but then sends her a naked photo of her. “No way!” he writes. “Fucked up! Just found this picture on my phone, and then remembered EVERYTHING! You were so horny.” She asks him to meet with her, then changes her mind. Noora remains in the dark about what happened to her.

“I think it was just the uncertainty that made me completely crazy,” another Skam character, Vilde, says to Noora in an earlier episode about her own problems. For Noora, too, the fogginess over her own experience triggers a series of anxieties that cloud her brain. Was she raped? Was it just a party? Did she throw herself at her own boyfriend’s brother? Would that still be rape? Was she drugged? Or just drunk? Would that matter? Did she want it?

When she finally tells her friends about the incident, she tells them, “I think I was raped by William’s brother. I don’t know. It’s possible that I had sex with him willingly, but I don’t remember anything.” They urge her to report it to the police. “I can’t report something I know nothing about,” she says. “I don’t even know if I was raped.”

Noora’s experience has levels of complexity because, like many women, she is assaulted by someone she knows. Part of her horror stems from her fear that she might, under influence, voluntarily sleep with her own boyfriend’s brother – when a furious William demands, “Tell me you didn’t sleep with my brother,” she can only weakly whisper, “I don’t know.”

This kind of “ambiguous” assault is extremely common, and can bring with it a keener sense of guilt and shame. If I can’t remember what happened, how do I know I didn’t want it? If he thinks what we did was normal and fun, how can I think it was invasive and uncomfortable? Did I want it to happen?

It’s something that’s slowly starting to be investigated on television. As Lena Dunham said of the recent Girls episode “American Bitch”, “A lot of women walk around with a lot of shame about things that don’t look like rape in the traditional way.

“I have way less shame about my actual sexual assault than I do about some ambiguous encounters I had with some people in which I wasn’t able to properly express myself or create distance. […] When you allow boundaries to be blurred without even knowing that it’s happening, it’s a different kind of pain and shame that eats away at you for a long time.”

Noora’s story might seem a bit disappointing for some viewers when it reaches its end. After days and days of anxiety and confusion, Noora finally finds the courage to speak to another girl who was at the party. She insists that Nico and Noora never slept together, only slept soundly in the same bed as her. Noora is elated, and, giddy with relief, texts William to insist that she can promise him she never slept with his brother.

I felt an odd mix of genuine relief for a character I’ve come to love like a friend, and a strange sense of disappointment. So many women go through what Noora went through in Skam. Most of them don’t get offered the same escape route. Instead, they have to live with the shame and confusion of an “ambiguous” assault.

17-year-old Noora gets delicious revenge on her assaulter, too – as he sent her the photo he took, she is able to report him for producing child pornography, and storing it on his mobile phone, and she records him admitting to supplying alcohol to a minor. She makes up with her boyfriend. She returns to her happy, normal life.

But there are still many questions about Noora’s ordeal that we never find out. Was she drugged? “I don’t know,” she says. “I never drink alcohol, because I can’t take it. I either feel really bad or I black out.” And while the witness insists that nothing else happened, she was totally unaware of Nico’s photography – the possibility of other kinds of sexual assault never completely disappears.

And in a landscape where sexual assault is used to spice up women’s plotlines, where violence is used to titillate viewers, and where rape is framed as consensual – Noora’s story reminds us that, for many women, the daily reality of sexual assault isn’t a dramatic, cinematic plot twist. It’s doubt, confusion, guilt and, yes, shame, that lingers in the mind for a very long time.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.

Photo: Channel 4
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Who will win Great British Bake Off 2017 based on the contestants’ Twitters

An extremely serious and damning investigation. 

It was morning but the sky was as dark as the night – and the night was as dark as a quite dark rat. He walked in. A real smooth gent with legs for seconds. His pins were draped in the finest boot-cut jeans money could buy, and bad news was written all over his face. “I’m Paul,” he said. “I know”. My hooch ran dry that night – but the conversation never did. By nightfall, it was clear as a see-through rat.   

Some might say that going amateur detective to figure out which contestants win and lose in this year’s Great British Bake Off is spoiling the fun faster than a Baked Alaska left out of the freezer. To those people I’d say: yes. The following article is not fun. It is a serious and intense week-by-week breakdown of who will leave GBBO in 2017. How? Using the contestants’ Twitter and Instagram accounts, of course.

The clues are simple but manifold, like a rat with cousins. They include:

  • The date a contestant signed up for social media (was it during, or after, the competition?)
  • Whether a contestant follows any of the others (indicating they had a chance to bond)
  • A contestant’s personal blog and headshots (has the contestant already snaffled a PR?)
  • Pictures of the contestant's baking.
  • Whether a baker refers to themselves as a “baker” or “contestant” (I still haven’t figured this one out but FOR GOD’S SAKE WATSON, THERE’S SOMETHING IN IT)

Using these and other damning, damning, damning clues, I have broken down the contestants into early leavers, mid-season departures, and finalists. I apologise for what I have done.

Early leavers

Kate

Kate appears not to have a Twitter – or at least not one that the other contestants fancy following. This means she likely doesn’t have a book deal on the way, as she’d need to start building her social media presence now. Plus, look at how she’s holding that fork. That’s not how you hold a fork, Kate.

Estimated departure: Week 1

Julia

This year’s Bake Off began filming on 30 April and each series has ten episodes, meaning filming ran until at least 9 July. Julia first tweeted on 8 May – a Monday, presumably after a Sunday of filming. Her Instagram shows she baked throughout June and then – aha! – went on holiday. What does this mean? What does anything mean?

Estimated departure: Week 2

James

James has a swish blog that could indicate a PR pal (and a marketing agency recently followed him on Twitter). That said, after an April and May hiatus, James began tweeting regularly in June – DID HE PERHAPS HAVE A SUDDEN INFLUX OF FREE TIME? No one can say. Except me. I can and I am.

Estimated departure: Week 3

Tom

Token-hottie Tom is a real trickster, as a social media-savvy youngster. That said, he tweeted about being distracted at work today, indicating he is still in his old job as opposed to working on his latest range of wooden spoons. His Instagram is suspiciously private and his Twitter sparked into activity in June. What secrets lurk behind that mysteriously hot face? What is he trying to tell me, and only me, at this time?

Estimated departure: Week 4

Peter

Peter’s blog is EXCEPTIONALLY swish, but he does work in IT, meaning this isn’t a huge clue about any potential managers. Although Peter’s bakes look as beautiful as the moon itself, he joined Twitter in May and started blogging then too, suggesting he had a wee bit of spare time on his hands. What’s more, his blog says he likes to incorporate coconut as an ingredient in “everything” he bakes, and there is absolutely no bread-baking way Paul Hollywood will stand for that.

Estimated departure: Week 5

Mid-season departures

Stacey

Stacey’s buns ain’t got it going on. The mum of three only started tweeting today – and this was simply to retweet GBBO’s official announcements. That said, Stacey appears to have cooked a courgette cake on 9 June, indicating she stays in the competition until at least free-from week (or she’s just a massive sadist).

Estimated departure: Week 6

Chris

Chris is a tricky one, as he’s already verified on Twitter and was already solidly social media famous before GBBO. The one stinker of a clue he did leave, however, was tweeting about baking a cake without sugar on 5 June. As he was in London on 18 June (a Sunday, and therefore a GBBO filming day) and between the free-from week and this date he tweeted about bread and biscuits (which are traditionally filmed before free-from week in Bake Off history) I suspect he left just before, or slap bang on, Week 7. ARE YOU PROUD NOW, MOTHER?

Estimated departure: Week 7

Flo

Flo’s personal motto is “Flo leaves no clues”, or at least I assume it is because truly, the lady doesn’t. She’s the oldest Bake Off contestant ever, meaning we can forgive her for not logging onto the WWWs. I am certain she’ll join Twitter once she realises how many people love her, a bit like Val of seasons past. See you soon, Flo. See you soon.

Estimated departure: Week 8

Liam

Liam either left in Week 1 or Week 9 – with 0 percent chance it was any of the weeks in between. The boy is an enigma – a cupcake conundrum, a macaron mystery. His bagel-eyed Twitter profile picture could realistically either be a professional shot OR taken by an A-Level mate with his dad’s camera. He tweeted calling his other contestants “family”, but he also only follows ONE of them on the site. Oh, oh, oh, mysterious boy, I want to get close to you. Move your baking next to mine.

Estimated departure: Week 9

Finalists

Steven

Twitter bios are laden with hidden meanings and Steven Carter-Bailey’s doesn’t disappoint. His bio tells people to tune in “every” (every!) Tuesday and he has started his own hashtag, #StevenGBBO. As he only started tweeting 4 August (indicating he was a busy lil baker before this point) AND his cakes look exceptionally lovely, this boy stinks of finalist.  

(That said, he has never tweeted about bread, meaning he potentially got chucked out on week three, Paul Hollywood’s reckoning.)

Sophie

Sophie’s Twitter trail is the most revealing of the lot, as the bike-loving baker recently followed a talent agency on the site. This agency represents one of last year’s GBBO bakers who left just before the finale. It’s clear Sophie’s rising faster than some saffron-infused sourdough left overnight in Mary’s proving drawer. Either that or she's bolder than Candice's lipstick. 

Chuen-Yan

Since joining Twitter in April 2017, Yan has been remarkably silent. Does this indicate an early departure? Yes, probably. Despite this, I’m going to put her as a finalist. She looks really nice. 

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.