Incest in popular culture
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Incest is a somewhat popular topic in English erotic fiction; there are entire collections and websites devoted solely to this genre, with an entire genre of pornographic pulp fiction known as "incest novels". This is probably because, as with many other fetishes, the taboo nature of the act adds to the titillation. With the advent of the Internet, there is even more of this type of fiction available.
Besides this, incest is sometimes mentioned or described in mainstream, non-erotic fiction. Connotations can be negative, very rarely positive, or neutral.
For example, in Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude there are several cases of sex between more or less close relatives, including that which occurs between a nephew and aunt. Other works of literature show consequences not so grave, such as the V.C. Andrews novel Flowers in the Attic and its subsequent sequels, in which brother and sister uphold a loving relationship; Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things, in which fraternal twins share a cathartic sexual experience; and several of Robert A. Heinlein's later stories.
Incest is a major element of the Sophocles play Oedipus the King, based on the story from Greek mythology, in which the title character unknowingly kills his father and marries his mother. This act came to great prominence in the 20th century with Freud's analysis of the Oedipus complex as lying beneath the psychology of all men. Its female counterpart is called the Electra complex.
Incest is a frequent theme in the work of V. C. Andrews; in addition to the Flowrs in the Attic series, another series, Dawn, features a character abducted at birth, who later discovers that her new boyfriend is really her brother. Her brother obsesses over her and at one point rapes her. Elsewhere in the series, it is revealed that Dawn's father is really her half-brother, and that the woman she had believed to be her grandmother was raped as a teenager by her own father, resulting in the birth of a child.
Vladimir Nabokov's novel Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle deals very heavily with the incestuous relationships in the intricate family tree of the main character Van Veen. There are explicit moments of sexual relations primarily between Van and his sister Ada, as well as between Ada and her younger sister Lucette. Nabokov does not necessarily deal with any complexities or consequences, social or otherwise, which may be inherent to incestuous relationships--outside of the strictly practical concerns of having to hide the taboo relationships from others. Incest in Ada seems mainly to be a sexual manifestation of the characters' intellectual incestuousness, and operates on a similar plane as do other instances of "sexual transgression" in Nabokov's novels of this period, such as pedophilia in Lolita and homosexuality in Pale Fire.
Incest plays an influential role in George R. R. Martin's bestselling fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire. In the series, incest is illegal and seen as abnormal; however, children born from incestuous parents (brother and sister, father and daughter) are healthy and no different from children born from non-incestuous parents, although one of them is extremely sadistic. Two of the main characters, a queen and her brother, practice incest in secret, which leads to a major war across the land when it is discovered that their illegitimate children (not the King's) have inherited the throne. Their public denials of the incest and their secret love for each other causes a great deal of tension and conflict in the series.
In J. R. R. Tolkien's The Children of Húrin (and the earlier Silmarillion), the characters Túrin and Nienor, who are brother and sister, unwittingly enter into an incestuous marriage when they meet for the first time while Nienor is suffering from amnesia.
In the comic series Planetary by Warren Ellis and John Cassaday, Doc Brass was a the result of a eugenics experiment that went all the way back to the french revolution. In issue #5 'the good doctor' it is revealed that his parents were siblings.
In two books of Philippa Gregory's Wideacre Trilogy, the central female characters Beatrice and Julia have intercourse with their brothers Harry and Richard, respectively.
Thomas Mann's The Holy Sinner explores the spiritual consequences of unintentional incest. His short story "The Blood of the Walsungs" also depicts brother-sister incest, drawing explicitly on Wagner's Siegmund and Sieglinde.
It also played a minor role in Stephanie Lauren's 12th Cynster novel "The Truth About Love", where the villains in the story were the Fritham siblings, Jordan and Eleanor, who often trysted in Hellabore Hall's Garden of Night. They murdered the heroine's mother Miribelle, purely because she heard and witnessed them in the Garden of Night (which was directly under the balcony of the Hall), and thus tried to prevent her daughter Jacqueline from ever consorting with the Fritham siblings again, creating a huge problem for Jordan, who had plotted to gain Hellabore Hall through a marriage with Jacqueline.
Doris Lessing's short story, Each Other, in the anthology, "A Man and Two Women" (Granada 1965) features the incestuous relationship between Fred and Freda, adult brother and sister and each in another relationship.
A depiction of an incestuous world in science fiction can be found in Theodore Sturgeon's story "If All Men Were Brothers Would You Let One Marry Your Sister?".
One young adult novel of note is Francesca Lia Block's Wasteland, which features the incestuous relationship of a teenage brother and sister. Another is Sonya Hartnett's Sleeping Dogs, in which a brother and sister's incest is only one symptom of the family's degradation.
In "A Little Demonstration of Affection", a sensitive YA novel by Elizabeth Winthrop, teenage siblings Jenny and Charley struggle with their growing attraction to each other.
In Ian McEwan's novel "The Cement Garden", the tension between the protagonist Jack and his older sister Julie culminates in incest. Also, Donna Tartt's The Secret History contains incest between the twins Charles and Camilla, which is not revealed until the final chapters of the book.
At the end of A.S. Byatt's novela Morpho Eugenia, a Victorian naturalist - recently married into an aristocratic family - discovers the ongoing affair between his languid, alluring wife and her brother.
The intersexed narrator of Jeffrey Eugenides' "Middlesex" traces his condition to a rare recessive gene which he inherited from his grandparents, a brother and sister who fled Greece for Detroit, Michigan when the Turkish army invaded in 1922.
Pauline Melville's The Ventriloquist's Tale explores the impact of European colonization on the Amerindians of Guyana through the affair of a pair of half-Scottish, half-Guyanese siblings at the time of a solar eclipse.
In the Elenium trilogy by David Eddings, Queen Ehlana's widowed father Aldreas carried on an incestuous affair with his sister, Princess Arissa. She had initially seduced him in their youth with the intent of getting him to marry her, as one of the advisors had found an obscure law which would permit it, but was thwarted by the hero's father. The affair resumed after the death of Ehlana's mother and continued until the King's death, at which time Arissa was confined to a convent.
Helen Dunmore's A Spell of Winter centers around the story of orphans Catherine and Rob Allen, who grow up in the bleak, desolate environment of their grandfather's country manor and whose relationship eventually becomes a sexual one.
Teresa, the troubled protagonist of Alice Hoffman's White Horses, idolizes her brother Silver, and only after several incestuous episodes and a lifetime of disappointment does she discover that all along she has only been in love with the man she thought he was.
Certain anime programs, such as Koi Kaze and Please Twins!, are serious, even sympathetic, studies of the characters as they struggle with their emotions and societal taboos. Also incest is the main theme of Boku wa Imōto ni Koi o Suru.
While Angel Sanctuary uses incest as a necessary plot device, others use incest mainly for shock value and titillation. For example, in Ouran High School Host Club, two of the main characters are identical twins, who often engage in romantic displays to titillate the female patrons of the Host Club; the two have a close bond, but there is no clear evidence that their romantic behavior is anything but an act.
A similar theme sometimes explored in both media is pseudo-incest, which is most often depicted as romantic/sexual relationships between step-siblings.
Adult/child incest in fiction
Cameron Miller is aged 14 in Counterfeit Son, written by Elaine Marie Alphin. He has been sexually abused all his life by his father, a serial killer of more than 20 young boys. In Jim Grimsley's Dream Boy, the adolescent Nathan is sexually abused by his drunken father and it is clear that his mother knows, but does nothing. In The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things by JT LeRoy, 5-year-old Jeremiah is physically and sexually abused by his prostitute mother.
Mya's grandfather in Small Pleasures: Mya's Story, by Darnishia Boldentakes, takes a special interest in her. By the age of ten, he is so tempted by her development that he builds her a cherished doll house, lures her to the basement, then rapes her. In My Bedroom, by Donna Hill describes a girl raped by her father.
Anne Rice's Mayfair trilogy deals with a family of witches who are heavily inbred. One character fathers children with his sister, daughter, and granddaughter.
In Charlotte Vale Allen's book Daddy's Girl, she narrates how the main character was viewed by her father as his lover not his daughter.
Adult/child incest in non-fiction
Strong at the Heart: How it feels to heal from sexual abuse, by Carolyn Lehman, includes a number of true stories including one about Tino who is only 5 when he is abused by his grandmother. Another tells of Tammy and her younger sister who are abused by their stepfather over a number of years. They tell each other what's been going on when they are aged 15 and 14. A third is the story of Akaya, who is abused by her father from age 2 to 7, then again from the age of 12. Casanova tries to seduce his own 10-year-old daughter in Casanova's Women: The Great Seducer and the Women He Loved by Judith Summers. Where There Is Evil by Sandra Brown tells the story of the disappearance of 12-year-old Moira Anderson in 1957 and the involvement of Alex Gartshore, the author's father and a convicted pedophile, as a member of a pedophile ring.
Daddy, written and directed by Niki de Saint Phalle tells how Saint Phalle was sexually abused by her father. Don't Tell Mummy: A True Story of the Ultimate Betrayal tells the story of Toni Maguire who was abused by her father from the age of 6 to 14, when he makes her pregnant. Please, Daddy, No: A Boy Betrayed by Stuart Howarth describes his abuse at the hands of his father and the despair that drove him to kill him years later. In A Girl Called Karen: A True Story of Sex Abuse and Resilience by Karen McConnell, Eileen Brand, the girl is abused by both her father and stepfather.
In Daddy: An Erotic Memoir, author Raul Schmidt (pseudonym) chronicles his consensual sexual relationships with both of his adult daughters.
In The Kiss, by Kathryn Harrison, the author gives her account of the consensual sexual relationship she had with her father as a young adult.
In some fictional stories (usually fan fiction), another term called self-cest is used, when, through either cloning (John Varley's The Phantom of Kansas), time travel (such as in the novel "The Man Who Folded Himself" by David Gerrold and the short story "—All You Zombies—" by Robert A. Heinlein), or some other odd means, a character has sexual intercourse with him or her self, making them incestuous.
In the Metabarons epic, Aghora, the androgynous Metabaron is actually a woman with her male twin brother's brain transplanted. When adult, zie extracted cells from the male brain, fertilized them in her, and thus gave birth to the Nameless Metabaron.
In the novel The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, the protagonist, Henry DeTamble, experiments sexually with a self from several months in the future at the age of fifteen. DeTamble says that he believes all people would do the same, given the option.
Murmur of the Heart (French: Le souffle au cœur) (1971) by Louis Malle that tells a coming of age story about a 15-year-old boy who is growing up in bourgeois surroundings in Dijon, France. The various adventures of the boy lead to an incestuous relationship with his mother.
In the musical The Rocky Horror Show and the 1975 film The Rocky Horror Picture Show the characters of Riff Raff (a butler) and Magenta (a maid) are revealed to be brother and sister and there are hints that these siblings have a sexual relationship, but this is never made clear. In the unproduced sequel Revenge of the Old Queen, it is implied that Frank-N-Furter had been incestuously involved with his own mother, the "Old Queen" of the planet Transexual (in the galaxy of Transylvania); she later dies in the throes of seducing Frank's son, her own grandson.
In the Star Wars films (1977-1983), Luke Skywalker is attracted to his sister Leia Organa, and she seems to reciprocate, as the two kiss romantically in one episode, before learning they are siblings in a later film. They then realize that their initial strong feelings towards each other were not sexual but rather reflective of their strong (intensified by the force) brother-sister bond. Writer/creator George Lucas has indicated that this is intended as an example of Genetic Sexual Attraction.
In Bernardo Bertolucci's film La Luna (aka Luna) (1979), Jill Clayburgh plays an opera singer on tour in Italy whose desperate attempts to wean the youth off the drug result in an incestuous relationship.
Incest is also a main plot device in the movie Caligula (1979)
In Cat People, Paul Gallier (Malcolm McDowell) wants to sleep with his sister Irena (Nastassja Kinski) in order not to transform into a panther which he would have to due to his family's werecat heritage.
In The Hotel New Hampshire (1984), John (Rob Lowe) feels intense sexual desire for his sister, Franny (Jodie Foster). Franny succumbs and, after spending an entire day in bed together, they move on as strictly brother and sister.
In Back to the Future (1985), Marty's mother Lorraine falls in love with him instead of Marty's father.
The 1991 Channel 4 film called Close My Eyes, was about a brother and sister, played by Clive Owen and Saskia Reeves, who embark on a passionate but incestuous love affair. In this film there are few sexual scenes between the siblings.
The Australian Film Bad Boy Bubby (1993) depicts an incestuous relationship between a mother and her adult son.
In Not in My Family, 1993, also known as Shattering the Silence, and directed by Linda Otto a mother recalls the sexual abuse from her father.
The 1994 film Spanking the Monkey depicts a situation in which mother-son incest takes place, leading to the suicide attempt of the latter.
At the end of the 1996 film Lone Star, Sheriff Sam Deeds (Chris Cooper) and his high school sweetheart and current lover Pilar Cruz (Elizabeth Pena) both learn they have the same father, Pilar's mother having been the Sheriff's father's mistress.
Wicked (1998), starring Julia Stiles, features a father-daughter relationship.
The American film The Cider House Rules (1999) depicts a father-daughter incestuous relationship that results in the daughter's pregnancy.
Harry and Max (2003), features an incestuous relationship between two brothers.
The 2004 motion picture Eurotrip has an explicit scene in which inebriated siblings Jamie and Jenny French kiss. This is then used as a plot device to reveal the (now sober) siblings' revulsion at their behavior.
The French film, La Petite Lili (2005), shows a fictional case of incipient consensual mother-son incest between independent adults.
The film The Quiet (2005) features a sexual relationship between a father and a daughter.
The episode "Committed" (5.21) of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, shows a mother-son incest.
In the 2006 film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan features Borat Sagdiyev as an incestuous journalist, also featuring his whole village in Kazakhstan living under an incestuous way of life.
In the 2006 remake of Black Christmas, Billy's mother, desperate to have a child, goes up into Billy's attic and has sex with him, resulting in her giving birth to her daughter and Billy's daughter/half-sister, Agnes.
The FOX television drama The X-Files featured an episode, Home, in which a family in the real Pennsylvania town had been inbreeding for several generations and had developed genetic deformities as a result. The episode received a TV-MA rating and was banned from replaying for years.
The FOX television drama House featured two young patients, a husband and wife, who share the same symptoms. Later it is revealed that they are agnate half-siblings and they suffer from a genetic disease inherited from their father. (Episode 3x05, Fools for Love)
In the PBS Mystery! production of Heat of the Sun (1999), former Scotland Yard detective Albert Tyburn investigates a murder that involves what seems to be father-daughter incest in colonial Nairobi, Kenya.
The television series Lost contains a semi-incestuous scene in which step-siblings Shannon and Boone sleep together.
The hit television series Prison Break (2005) shows the character Theodore "T-Bag" Bagwell as a spawn of his father and Down syndrome-afflicted aunt; he was also molested by his father. Siblings President Caroline Reynolds and Terrence Steadman are also incestuous lovers.
In the finale episode of the third season of FX Network's television drama Nip/Tuck, the characters of Quentin Costa and Kit McGraw are exposed as incestuous lovers, of likewise incestuous parents. This discovery comes soon after Quentin is unmasked as the serial killer The Carver, the main antagonist of the third season, along with his accomplice, Kit.
In the Futurama episode "Roswell that Ends Well", the crew is sent back in time to the 1940s while watching a supernova occur. With the loss of all guidance systems, their ship crash lands at Roswell, where Fry meets his grandfather, Enis. Fry is then warned by the Professor not to interfere with anything lest he disrupt his own timeline. But in an attempt to prevent his grandfather's death, he locks him in a cabin out in the middle of nowhere - which unknown to him is a nuclear test zone (resulting in his grandfather's death). Soon afterwards he quickly becomes entangled in his young grandmother's emotional despair and ends up sleeping with her. The Professor, after discovering the two, then informs Fry that he is his own grandfather. This is a reference to the famous Grandfather Paradox of time travel.
The Fox sitcom Arrested Development constantly plays with the idea of incest. The most ongoing is George-Michael's (Micheal Cera) crush on his cousin Maeby (Alia Shawkat), who in turn has a crush on Steve Holt (Justin Grant Wade), another cousin. In another scene, Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) sings the song Afternoon Delight with his niece Maeby at the company Christmas party, not realizing the sexual innuendo of the song. Lindsay Bluth (Portia de Rossi) reveals to her brother Michael, that she has always had a small attraction towards him once it is stipulated that she was adopted. Lindsay also attempts to steal her daughter Maeby's love interest, Steve Holt, by pretending to be Maeby's sister, although she is unsuccessful. Lucille Bluth (Jessica Walter) and her son, Buster (Tony Hale), live together, even though Buster is in his mid-30s and they have a comedic codependent relationship, although it is not sexual. Lucille also has a long affair with her husband's brother, Oscar.
The British comedy Green Wing features a mother and son, Joanna and Guy, sleeping together, albeit unknowingly as Guy was abandoned by Joanna as a baby.
The British soap Eastenders featured a storyline between adopted brother and sister Sharon Watts and Dennis Rickman in an incestuous relationship.
The British Soap Emmerdale has depicted a Storyline of incest Between Step Siblings Scott and Kelly Winsor and has Documented the Dingles to Have many Insestuous Relations within the family,especially kissing cousins Cain and Charity Dingle Which result in them having and inbred Daughter Debbie.
The British soap Family Affairs featured a storyline involving Gavin and Polly Arnold a brother and sister in a consensual incestuous relationship
The popular sitcom The O.C features a sexual relationship between Ryan and Lindsay, who find out later that they are legally step-relatives. Lindsay's mother had sex with Ryan's Grandfather (though Ryan is adopted).
Incest in popular music
Perhaps the first incest line in pop music was "The End" by Los Angeles psychedelic rock band The Doors, in which singer Jim Morrison sings: "Father/Yes son?/I want to kill you/Mother, I want to... fuck you". Though this is apparently an Oedipal reference rather than a true reference to incest.
Steely Dan's "Cousin Dupree" from their 2000 album, Two Against Nature is about a travelling singer who lusts after his cousin. For example, "When I see my little cousin Janine walk in / All I could say was ow-ow-ouch / ... How about a kiss for your cousin Dupree."
Adult/child incest in songs
A thirteen-year-old boy is molested by his mother because he looks like his deceased father in the song Alive by Pearl Jam, from the album Ten. In Janie's Got a Gun by Aerosmith, from the album Pump, a sexually abused little girl gets her revenge on her sexually abusive father and kills him. Similarly, Prizefighter Inferno released a song entitiled "Our Darling Daughter You Are, Little Cecillia Marie" on the album "My Brother's Blood Machine" detailing a case of habitual father/daughter incest/rape, resulting in her attempted murder of her father. In Bad Cliché by Cosy Sheridan, from the album Grand Design, a girl is sexually abused by her uncle from the age of nine to twelve.
Breaking Silence by Janis Ian, from Breaking Silence is about fathers sexually abusing their daughters. In Cherokee Louise by Joni Mitchell, from the album Night Ride Home, a young girl hides from her sexually abusive stepfather. In Crack in the Mirror by Betty Elders, from the album Peaceful Existence; also covered by Joan Baez on Gone From Danger, a girl is sexually abused from the time she is a baby. In Daddy's Girl by Scorpions, from the album Face The Heat, a mother denies that her daughter is being molested by her father. In Daddy's Song by Toni Childs, from the album House of Hope, a survivor sings of sexual abuse by her father. In Fiddle About by the Who from the Rock Opera Tommy, Tommy is molested in bed by his uncle.
Icy Barrel of a Loaded Gun by Darcie Deaville, from the album Tornado In Slo Mo describes her experience of being molested by her grandfather. In Nightmare by Gaye Adegbalola, from Bitter Sweet Blues, a girl molested by her father forgives, but does not forget. Sleep by Stabbing Westward, from Wither Blister Burn & Peel tells of the despair felt by a child who is a victim of incest, and her withdrawal from reality. Wednesday's Child by Leslie Smith, from the album These Things Wrapped is a portrait of an abused daughter. Who Will Hold Me? by Amy Fix, from the album Spoon tells of a mother who molests her child. Island by Heather Nova, off of her album Oyster, deals with a daughter being sexually abused by her father with nowhere to escape.
The song Amy In The White Coat by indie artist Bright Eyes tells the story of a girl (and her sisters) being molested by her father.
Incest as a metaphor
Sometimes the word "incestuous" is also used metaphorically to describe other inappropriately close relationships, for example between an authority figure and a subordinate, between co-workers, or between people in the same profession or creative field. The term "incest group" is also common in high school, and denotes a group of friends that only date others within their group. Institutions such as churches, colleges, and sometimes whole nations can be described as incestuous when inappropriately close relationships, corrupt conflicts of interest and secret collusions occur inside the institution and especially within the institution's top echelons such as in cases John Boyd exposed in the Pentagon.
- Pedophilia and child sexual abuse in fiction
- Pedophilia and child sexual abuse in films
- Pedophilia and child sexual abuse in the theatre