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37 Comments • Apr 24, 2014 9489

Shut up about the Game of Thrones rape already

As an unambitious blob of hindered erudition, I really like television. A lot. Even the crap stuff. Mediocre drama fills in the hours that separate disappointment from death, and a good character arc can stand in well for my own tedious life’s progress. I was much more invested in Don and Betty Draper’s divorce than my own simultaneously unfolding separation, and I still feel real grief for all the pig brain stems claimed by zombie influenza in The Walking Dead.

I adore and watch far too much television drama; I even write about it for a living. I am culturally and professionally dependent on the form. Yet, somehow, I hold the opinion and retain the emotional view that television isn’t actually, you know, real.

And this pretty much isolates me from anyone writing about Game of Thrones this week.  Spoiler alert/trigger warning: I am about to disclose (a) a key incident of brutal sexual assault from season four, episode three; and (b) the judgement that many contemporary critics are a bunch of stupid stupids who have lost the fucking plot.

The internet is screaming about the morality of a crime committed in a fictional kingdom 
peopled
 by demons made of icepaederasts and dragons. Or, to be specific, the internet is screaming less about the depiction of a crime per se than about the director’s comments that followed its broadcast.

If you are unfamiliar with Game of Thrones, that’s probably the way it’s going to stay. Anyone who likes a bit of softcore sorcery has been long since alerted to this bloodthirsty incest via the World of Warcraft chat box; those of us with a taste for less feudal power-porn will continue to watch House of Cards. What you need to know if you have not seen GoT is that it is a very violent soap opera that was again very violent. The only problem with this moment of violence, it seems, is that the show’s director declared he didn’t intend a particular scene to be violent.

Before I describe the scene, it is unfortunately true that you need the bloody context of this tits-and-broadsword drama.

Murder abounds in a show that once appeased its worldwide fanbase with a game of musical heads. When screenwriters aren’t dreaming up fun new ways with mix’n’match decapitation, they are waterboarding noblemen with molten gold. Onscreen deaths now exceed 5000, and there have been moments of sexual abuse that include rape by the child-king Joffrey and rape of the child-bride Daenerys. That the narrative led the young queen to fall in love with her rapist following her abuse in season one, episode one seemed to pose no problem for the drama’s many avowedly feminist fans who did not utter broad disapproval until this week.

If GoT had not offered up three previous seasons of dismemberment and sexual torture, then the rape of a sister by her brother next to the corpse of the child begat by their unwholesome, albeit previously consensual, union might be something worth protesting. The act is as unprecedented, however, as Walter White lying to Skyler or Carrie Bradshaw buying a new pair of Louboutins. The chief problem viewers have with the violent rape scene is not that it is a violent rape scene but that the director of the episode thinks it is not a violent rape scene.

In an interview with entertainment site HitFoxAlex Graves said of the scene that “it becomes consensual by the end”. And it is this statement, not the act of rape itself, that has half of the internet mistaking an interview on a minor geek site for an ethical dilemma written by Peter Singer.

Let it be plainly said: rape is a horrid crime, and part of its horror inheres in the tragic truth that many fail to recognise it. But in this fantasy ultra-patriarchal universe, brutal and ambiguously rapey family sex seems to the chief reason for the show’s popularity. It’s not the thin plots and thick blood alone that has turned GoT into history’s most pirated series. It’s all the transgressive, violent sex.

I am not saying that the rape scene wasn’t rape. Like any sex scene I have ever been able to stomach on GoT, it looks exactly like a brutal crime. But, you know. You don’t get to ask a show that debuts with a rape, depicts an adolescent monarch torturing prostitutes to death and gives you regular interludes of hot incest for a sexual consent form. Especially if you’ve been masturbating to it non-stop for three years.

Nor do you get to transpose the mores of an alternate reality peopled by ice-dragons or whatever the fuck they are on our own time and place. It is bonkers to charge, as many have, Game of Thrones with “enabling the rape culture” simply because its director learned everything he knew about depicting fantasy sex-scenes from the depiction of fantasy sex-scenes. It is lunacy to expect any kind of resonance, save for the ghost of a boner, from an evanescent text that has all the durability of the gossamer bodices we see so routinely ripped within it.

Which is to say, this work is as ultimately meaningless as it is obviously fabulist. Anyone who confuses GoT for an ethical handbook is already fucked, and the type of near-fictional lunatic who would actually be “inspired” to rape or even change their views about rape by it is every bit as rare as all those imaginary kiddies we worried would be impelled to kill by Grand Theft Auto, or all those impressionable colonial souls Alfred Deakin worried would be turned into fiends by the vice of French novels.

The argument that cultural goods reflect and do not reproduce violence aside: FFS. The internet is currently arguing about the “ethics” of a sexual act that took place in an imaginary sex-verse full of paedophile frost-demons. Ours is an age far less interested in actual brutal injustice than it is in the items it imagines to be their cause. The photographs of Bill Henson or the muttering of Alan Jones or the unpleasant tweets of nobodies are all seen not only as unambiguous evidence of violence but as its starting point. The new reflex to “call out” and “shout back” at anything we decide is unseemly is the most reprehensible stupidity.

Sexual violence has a genealogy far more complex and sinister than Game of Thrones, and blaming yet another wilfully ambiguous moment of fictional rape for its maintenance is like blaming racism on Andrew Bolt. Which is to say: it gives a lot of credit to something pretty innocuous and dumb.

Honestly, GoT is not as bad as Bolt, but nor is it actually good enough to test the monthly download limit of anyone who never seriously thrown a pair of Dungeons and Dragons dice.

No diss to my mediaeval homeslice, here. It’s just a fact that some of us failed to evolve the fantasy gene. But these days it seems that many of us have failed to maintain an understanding that television is not now, nor has it ever been, a useful way to educate or indoctrinate the masses. The most dangerous thing about television continues to be its power of mass delusion masquerading as mass enlightenment. And the most dangerous thing about GoT is that it is not even half as good as Sex and the City ever was.

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37 Responses to Shut up about the Game of Thrones rape already

  1. Heather says:

    Yeah, I think you’re missing the main problem people have wth the scene. It was directorial license that made it that rapey. In the book (apparently, I havent read it but have seen transcripts of that scene) it was a lot greyer. People are mainly pissed off that two major characters have been in the long run irreparably messed with, for the sake of short term titillation.

    • Peter says:

      In the book this is where they re-connect after his traumatic return from capture. The reunion shows they’re pleased to go for it. What is ‘shocking’ is the desecration of the body of Joffrey (in the book) by shagging in his presence. There is no rape scene. It was ‘director’s licence’. It upsets the narrative by making it ‘rapey,’ quite aside from the complaints.

    • Shayne O says:

      The thing is, imho the book is actually more disturbing, because of the whole “no no no yes!” thing. There seems to be an implication that the initial rape is redeemed by her change of minds, that in effect you can rape your way into consent.

    • Azrael the Cat says:

      This absolutely. I’m not sure whether Razer reads the comments, but I hope she noticed yours, as she’s largely missed the problem with the scene. By inserting a rape that wasn’t in the books, it’s completely screwed Jamie’s fascinating and nuanced redemption arc – I can’t blame people who haven’t read the books if they now have no interest in seeing Jamie redeemed. Similarly, it’s utterly bizarre in terms of Cersei’s character – this is a woman who has had many many men killed for far less – we’re supposed to suddenly believe that she wouldn’t afterwards instruct one of her spies to shove a dagger into her rapist’s back? That she’d just act like nothing untoward had happened? Some characters might plausibly do that, but Cersei?

      One of the great things with GoT is that it avoids clearcut ‘heroes’ and ‘villains’. Jamie has done a lot of awful things – in terms of ‘bad things’, attempted murder of a 10 yr old probably edges out rape (strangling his cousin to death might pip it too). But he’s not a ‘villain that wakes up in the morning and does villainy things all day’ – his motivations for trying to kill Bran were absolutely sensible in relation to his character (‘the things I do for love…’ – not to mention that he and Cersei would have lost their heads if Bran had told anyone).

      One thing that Jamie would never ever do is rape – not only is he consistently and violently disgusted by it (regarding Robert; also see his efforts to ensure Brienne wasn’t molested by the Boltons), but this is a guy who is so devoted to Cersei that she’s the only woman he’s ever slept with. Out of all the characters to shoehorn a rape into their arc, they pick the guy who is decidely anti-rape, and have him rape the woman who he deeply and authentically loves?

  2. Simon says:

    Helen, you had me until the last sentence. Give me GoT anytime over Carrie, Samatha et al. . S

  3. Simon says:

    Terrific article Helen. An unambiguous & straight as an arrow perspective.

  4. DaveZee says:

    I also think you’ve missed the main problem people have with it. It’s not that the violence is any more abhorrent than the rest of the series’ murders, rapes and baby killings, it’s that the director believes that the act was consensual, despite Cersei’s pleas for Jamie to stop.

    As a director, it’s an odd thing to say, and possibly a skewed vision of consensual sex. If he hadn’t of said what he said I think it would have been just another interesting, albeit brutal, plot point that makes sense in the setting of Westeros and the political machinations that come with it. What his words have done is a) make people reassess the scene and what actually happened, and b) implore people to question what this director (who is now being lambasted as the representation of the male ideology) thinks is consensual sex.

    • EarlDanger says:

      Wouldn’t the director have more of an idea of what’s going on in the mind of a fictional character he’s directing than the watcher?

      Perhaps the director’s mistake was not making the moment of rape to consensual sex more poignant and prominent.

      I don’t want the show, and I haven’t read the books. But I do know that when creating something, the creator/director doesn’t always put in their beliefs or themselves. That not every character is representative of the creator/director’s views. The director may never dream of being in that situation, but the director is not the character, the character is not the spokesperson for the director.

  5. Helen Razer says:

    No. I am not missing the point. I have read the greater part of critique on this week’s GoT and have answered it.
    However, in a short-form piece describing to Crikey readers the crux of the issue online I elected not to detail the objections held by some (not all) critics because I honestly don’t think the extra three hundred words it would take me to describe the “it was a bit different in the book” school of crankiness was something a broad readership needed.
    I am aware that the problem for some seems to be that the television program did not reproduce the dialogue of the book in the case of the sex-refigured-as-rape. In a similarly aficionado vein, there is critique of the show per as structurally compromised by an act of rape that doesn’t fit well with a character arc. I.e. Jaime wouldn’t have done this because he was largely redeemed in season three.
    Honestly, these are critiques for within the fandom. Not to sound like a snob, but we’re not talking Bronte, here. It’s not like the film adaptation of Wuthering Heights which had Heathcliff coming back at the end. It is a workmanlike text turned into a visually rich but conceptually poor television show. So, again, in a broad context, I don’t think the conversation about “it wasn’t like the book” is worth having. Which is why I addressed the primary critique which is in itself quite a confusing one. I.e. “It’s just too rapey”.
    BTW, the re-interpreted sex everyone is defending on the page isn’t real nice. Cersei initially says “No” and “No not here the septons” before eventually asking her brother to lay it on her. The “sex scene” begins as a rape and presumably the might of Jaime’s magnificent kingly penis changes her silly mind. Cersei eventually gives spoken consent in the book. You know, after she’s been raped for a bit. She does not give spoken consent in the television show after being raped for a bit. Presumably, the director thinks he has offered a visual indication of consent. This being a visual medium.
    The difference seems to be (purity of the book which itself endorses rape aside) that uttered consent is an issue. And while I understand that the power of “no” is of critical importance, I also understand that this is an ultra-patriarchal fantasy kingdom. There is no time when women are ever really free to “express their sexuality” because every moment of this show is scored over with traces of extreme sexual bondage. In the book AND in the television show, that scene began as rape. The problem seems to be for many that Cersei didn’t sign a consent form as she did on the page. So, in other words, it is okay for an author to depict a woman being “seduced” into sex by a rapist but it is not okay if she doesn’t offer an unambiguous declaration of consent EVEN AFTER BEING RAPED.
    See. That’s taken me several hundred words even of informal writing! And I don’t think it was necessary because it doesn’t change my point that GoT is just a bit of grubby fun that you can either enjoy in all its PLAINLY rapey-fantasy nonsense or turn off. It is not complex. It is not a text. It is, in my view, expensive porn that some viewers are desperately trying to inflate as “art”. It is not art. It is a work of little merit that will not withstand any serious analysis of gender or anything else for that matter.
    People have used a range of rationales for the intellectual defence of this intellectually indefensible show. The latest is “it’s not pure like the book”. Come on! The book is awful. The scene of rape the director doesn’t think is rape is, in the book, also a scene of rape the author doesn’t think is rape. What can one expect from an alternate reality which is explicitly patriarchal and Licensed to Rape.
    Enjoy GoT by all means. Please don’t try to spare it from its own grubbiness, however.

  6. O says:

    The ambient morality of the GoT world has nowt to do with it. The criticism is not that the director shot a rape scene; it is that he shot a rape and then described it as involving a “turn-on” and “consensual by the end”. This, to state the bleedingly obvious, calls upon a detestable notions to the effect that the victim secretly wanted it and so on.

    This article is just a piece of click-bait, I suppose, and commenting is in that sense counter productive. But really, author and publisher need to do a lot better if readers are to return.

  7. I agree that adults should be able to distinguish reality from fantasy as well as understand nuanced meanings, including the bounadaries between acts that are consensual and those that are not. There is, however, an element of American culture (and I include Australia in that soup in as much as we seem to be hurtling headlong down the same road to ruin these days) in which every effort is made, principally by educational institutions, to maintain a child-like state in its citizens for as long as possible — even well into young adulthood. One aspect of childish thinking is the inability to distinguish reality from fantasy, evidenced by numerous children leaping off of “tall buildings” after having watched the latest “Superman” reboot.

    When a show such as GoT comes along, it depicts a world in which such things as wanton, gruesom killing, and rape, are the norm, thereby making them a part of life and thus “OK”. An adult can watch this and distinguish between that world and the one in which we live, where wanton murder and rape are very much NOT OK, NOT acceptable. A child — chronological or otherwise — may not make that distinction. They are still in a “formative” mode, still being “programmed”. When the depiction of such lurid, horrid fantasy informs their worldview, we risk an outcome that probably won’t be “OK”.

    Clearly, it’s a bad idea for actual childrein — minors — to watch such programs. I have to wonder if there isn’t a growing number of chronological adults who look at such stuff as this and think … KEWL!

    • Helen Razer says:

      There is no evidence that television influences violent behaviour. In fact, at a time where there is more on-screen violence viewed in Australia, homicide and assault rates are at an all-time low.
      There is, however, historical evidence than banning and censoring works of entertainment of art tends to end badly.

      • Nick Seidenman says:

        I wasn’t arguing in favor of censorship. Rather, I think that those objecting to this particular scene are making the point that it sends a message to “children” of all ages that rape is somehow OK if the rapist manages to “win” his victim over, or even seduce her (or him) in the process — that it is somehow possible to go from rape to not-a-rape. Women have spent DECADES (if not centuries) trying to make men understand that when a woman says “No.”, she means “No.”; not “no … no .. nnn…oooohhh it feels so good … ooooohh I guess it’s ok.”

        As for there being “no evidence” that violence on TV is linked to aggressive behaviour, beg to differ. Violence, be it a “fanciful” depiction, or the real thing, begets violence. The studies are out there.

      • Luke Faulkner says:

        Although, people *have* been masturbating to GoT for three years, so there is some influence, obviously. A conundrum no?
        On the whole I agree with you though.

  8. Margaret Brennan says:

    Entertaining and plausible defence of GoT and simultaneously, a graphic illustration of why many of us are giving it a miss.

  9. Steve says:

    While I agree the scene was harsh, there was a lead in to the event in how Jaime was treated as a cripple. I suspect this is just a beginning for a downward spiral for Cierce.
    Interestingly I saw the scene as a rape. My wife saw it as rough but consensual.

    But Helen has the right of it. This is an absurdly violent and byzantine fantasy. To try and make it the stuff of social analysis is giving far too much weight to its gory melodrama.

  10. brian gerathy says:

    definitely better than bolt!!!!!!

  11. William Eev says:

    If you can’t rape your own sister next to the corpse of your murdered incest-born, sadistic son-king, then let’s face it, the terrorists have won!

  12. Pepe says:

    Brilliant take & cutting as always. Thank you Helen!

  13. Helen, that was a great article, well written. You don’t often make me laugh. Like Simon you had me right up to the last sentence but we can agree to disagree about Sex in the city. And for once I actually agree with your premise and with all (almost) the statements you made about it. I like Steve’s comment. GoT is not and never will be social analysis/comment. To try to make it so is meaningless

  14. Will says:

    Razer is literally the worst.

    Literally every column she writes is “shouting” and “calling out” some manner of real or imagined sin by liberals and feminists or some other twitter foe. So it really takes an incredible lack of self-awareness for her to rage against venting grievances like this.
    Secondly, she literally can’t keep her story straight in the space of a single article. On one hand she berates people who confuse fantasy television with reality because *herp-a-derp* epic fantasy is just dumb and cannot possibly offer mental configuration space to explore normative dilemmas. Then on the other hand she distinguishes epic fantasy from Bronte and other works of literary fiction with an aesthetic hand wave about quality prose, revealing the glib snobbish behind her pithy assertion. Then she goes on to judge that it is the morally deviate and ugly nature of the sexual morality in both the books and show, rather than their aesthetics or its genre category, which prevents it from offering any kind compelling moral purchase. But wait a second – this conflates the descriptive ‘is’ with the prescriptive ‘ought’ – a violation that she originally holds up to scold the internet.

    Finally, the fact that she can write something so long about GoT rape without addressing the obvious counter-point to this discussion — the show’s treatment of Dany’s wedding versus the book — just shows she really has no idea about GoT and what it might or might not say about sexual morality.

  15. Pietro says:

    Is Joffrey dead? Cool. I hope he suffered. I bet he whined.

  16. Dogs Breakfast says:

    You were going so well up until this point.

    “And the most dangerous thing about GoT is that it is not even half as good as Sex and the City ever was.”

    GoT has the advantage of remaining a blood and guts, knights and dragons fantasy.

    SatC had something to say for about 8 episodes and then became a parody of itself, and a poor one at that. :-)

  17. AR says:

    I dunno helen, plenty of “feudal power-porn … (in)… House of Cards“, just that coz the yoiks are wearing chinos & shades, doesn’t mean that they aren’t vassals & villiens of oligarchic power.
    BTW, do you write these screeds on paper in a long roll, just tear off when the word limit is reached, irrespective of having reached a/any point?
    It think that it was the BBC’s lord Reith who said, when pondering television as a useful way to educate or indoctrinate the masses “we must be grateful that it does not, as you underline..”The most dangerous thing about television continues to be its power of mass delusion masquerading as mass enlightenment.

  18. David Hand says:

    It is so simplistic and snobbish to write off GOT’s popularity to the graphical sex and violence. OK it’s not the cup of tea for fans of Bronte and Austen. Well stick to Bronte then and don’t judge the taste of the rest of us. George R R Martin has created a world of violent barbarity where women are property and chattels to be used and discarded at the whim of their male counterparts, where rape and torture are commonplace. The rape scene, though one might quibble about how it was done, fits the world it is set in. The book version is ambiguous. Though it’s a couple of years since I read it, Cercei was at best a reluctant participant, mostly because the sex took place beside Joffrey’s body.

    Then into this world he has weaved stories of redemption of strong women in the form of Aria Stark and Denaeris Targarian and a dwarf who is hated by his father, blamed for every misfortune that befalls the family and is now in a dungeon after being set up over Joffrey’s death. Sansa Stark grows up from an immature adolescent to a survivor that I won’t detail as the TV show has yet to show it.

    The dark, violent barbaric world becomes a backdrop for these heroic stories.

    It’s not Shakespeare, but it is popular because it is superior. Martin is a writer of real quality.

    Fantasy has always been shat upon by the snobs in the literary and critical world and Martin should take Razer’s dismissal of it as a badge of honour.

  19. Cyndi says:

    Helen says violent media has no influence on attitudes or behaviour, citing “all time low” levels of homicide and assault. Meanwhile, incidents of violence against women in Aust/NZ are more than double the global average.

    Maybe we’re just reporting it more. Maybe it has nothing to do with the high numbers of women prepared to be raped or vigorously ‘loved up’ for the sake of entertainment. Whether it’s GoT or House of Cards (HoC?), the porn fix is now as annoyingly predictable as the ads.

    Does it change how we see women if what we see is that they’re always up for it? I say yes. Prove me wrong.

    Helen may be right in her assertion that violent media has no influence on attitudes or behaviour. I

  20. glenn says:

    so, presumable if people think this scene “normalises” rape then they think everything else in the show is “normalised” by virtue of the fact it exists? is it a problem, in western society, where scenes of beheading, dismemberment, mass execution and war are scene as simply by-the-by human acts? why do people suddenly mistake a rape fantasy for reality but are able to recognise obscene violence as not real? the alternative is they do think it’s real (er….) but are perfectly accepting of it.

  21. Joffrey's Cat says:

    Three cheers Helen, I completely agree. I consider myself a feminist but the speed at which the ‘social media rad fems’ have leapt upon this, shrieking incoherently and parroting each other about ‘rape culture’ is half worrying, half amusing. I am half expecting someone to formally accuse the director of being a misogynist rapist himself now, and sue him for psychological distress or something. Stuff the real-life atrocities being perpetrated on both men and women in Syria or the Congo, for example, let’s get our knickers in a knot about a fantasy story on tv that’s in no way real *makes that Xena trill noise*.

  22. Morbid Tales says:

    Look your all missing the point if you “have read the book” . There was no reason for the rape at all its not in the book..Jamie has been more redeemed as the book goes along and that definitely didn’t start with a rape and the scene depicted was a rape at no time was consent given just forced..Where does the show go with Jamie’s character now ? Instead of making a hero they made a reason to say well maybe she wanted it ! I love the titillation of the show but there are many other scenarios than a rape scene to fall back on. Hope the producers don’t persist on this train of thought and ruin the true story line for cheap thrills..

  23. Rabbitwithfangs says:

    So, Helen, do you either a) not believe we are living in a rape culture, or that b) culture is only made up of highbrow, intellectual art?
    Because pop culture is surely what more people are watching, listening to, reading. And it’s certainly where a repulsive descriptor like ‘rapey’ is used. It doesn’t matter if it’s only your self-defined ‘bogans’ that are slurping this up; it’s still out there, moving in the masses: ‘rape is entertainment, sexual violence isn’t real violence’, ad nauseam. Your dismissal of it only trivializes it further.

  24. Lee Tinson says:

    The thing I got out of the article was the couple of really nice hits on Andrew Bolt. He deserves it, and a lot more of it, and if it was only for that, this article was absolutely worth the effort of writing it.

  25. mark petrolo says:

    I almost cried with joy when i read this.
    When did spotting rape become such a blood sport? The only authority on whether or not rape is happening is the victim (as opposed to writers watching a few seconds of a fictitious TV show). Why even ask the director to interpret the scene anyway? As far as i can tell the only reason Cersei didn’t want to have sex with her brother is because of his missing hand. Should i also be outraged that Cersei thinks she is too good to have sex with her recently disfigured sibling?
    The director’s interpretation is spot on anyway (shocker). Cersei wants Jaime to kill Tyrian more than she doesn’t want to have sex with Jaime. It’s that simple!
    Thank you for writing this instead of some unintelligent reactionary self-serving garbage like so many other writers felt the need to do after last weeks GoT. I must however respectfully rebuke your spectacularly flippant references to things like “frost demons” (It makes it sound as though you’ve only seen snippets of the show browsing the home entertainment section of an adults on Harvey Norman).

  26. Kate says:

    Erg. So just having signed up for Crikey.com this is the first article I came across. Not terribly impressive. Despite obviously having a wide arsenal in their vocabulary this writer totally underwhelms with such statements as “Anyone who confuses GoT for an ethical handbook is already fucked”. Excuse me? I thought Crikey was supposed to be about intelligent coverage.

  27. Frank says:

    On a show that features real crimes, real rapes, I guess people just couldn’t handle having their decadent reimagining of the world thrown back in their faces. That scene wasn’t a violent rape. It wasn’t even a non-violent rape. Immoral leftists are more worried about ways to not blame themselves for the actions they take, or the open sexuality they spread around, to the point they must make absurd rules to try and deflect all blame. To compare an act of sex by some women who has had a lifetime of sex with her own brother to rape, simply because she weakly said no at first, to compare that with an actual rape can only be done by someone with a child’s mind, who is used to theorizing about life, but has never had to dirty their hands by actually living in it. It’s quite sad to see all these “bloggers” throw down their moral judgments. Bloggers and moral judgments? It used to be when you didn’t know anything or have any wisdom to stand on, you knew to shut up.

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