Saturday 16 April 2011

Women don't read fantasy and serious critics can't be bothered to read what they write about if it involves "Middle Earth proclivities"

The true perversion, though, is the sense you get that all of this illicitness has been tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise. While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first. “Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half. 
NY Times: Game of Thrones, April 14, 2011
  • Just as a note at the beginning of this... angry rant, I suppose: I haven't had a chance to watch the show yet. It premieres in two days. I have, however, listened to A Game of Thrones, all estimated 36 hours of it, within the last week, and as far as I understand, the show mostly follows the novel. 
  • The review starts by mourning the fact that Mad Men faces budget cuts while Game of Thrones has a large enough budget to actually do the novel justice. Note that the two shows are not on the same network, so it isn't exactly a zero-sum game. Besides, Mad Men WAS actually renewed two more season, so hey, those of us who like both (we are a rare species, like "women who like science fiction" and "people who take comic books seriously") win! Twice!
  • Yes, there are a lot of characters and many different complex storylines. I vaguely remember that the same is true of The Wire, but I can't really see any critic bringing that up as a negative point in a review. Beware! Can't be watched while solving crossword puzzles. 
  • "a vague global-warming horror story". Considering that it is set in a clearly pre-industrial world in which bonfires and the occasional pillaged and burnt down village are the biggest polluters... no, it's really, really not. As you note in your very next paragraph, begging the question of why it was brought up in the first place. This is "fantasy". One of the awesome things fantasy allows writers to do is create worlds that differ from our own. One of the feature of this world is that the seasons follow different rules. 
  • Sex! Incest! Statement either lamenting the lack of "eroticism" in Breaking Bad or opposing the idea of any kind of eroticism in anything fictional ever; ambiguous
  • Saying that Game of Thrones takes place in the past is like assuming that there is still a possibility that archeologists might one day find the ruins of Rivendell. Ain't gonna happen. 
  • Curious and curiouser, I like Mad Men, Lord of the Rings, Martin's writing AND Lorrie Moore. Maybe I have a mental illness.
  • And ew, it's on HBO. Remove that hideous creature from my view at once. Also, how is Rome not gratuitous history porn (it's a lot of other things as well, and enjoyable, but it also fits very comfortably between The Borgias and The Tudors). I find the notion that the show can't be on HBO because the writer of the review isn't comfortable with fantasy as a genre, not one piece of narrative in particular, especially jarring. It's like declaring that henceforth, CBS should steer away from comedy because I feel personally more comfortable with its selection of dramatic shows. 
  • I see, you also don't like True Blood, which, apart from also being on HBO, has no connection to this show whatsoever. 
  • From this review and from another, equally terrible one (if more entertaining), the readers get the impression that there are flocks of dragons (flocks? Maybe schools. It's not my native language.) fluttering around the skies of Westeros, which, I am sorry to say, is a promise the actual show won't live up to, unless it really does deviate dramatically from the novel. On the other hand, if the terrible movie version of Dungeons and Dragons is your only reference point when it comes to fantasy, I see where the prejudices come from, it does however not exactly point towards a qualified opinion on a completely unrelated piece of fiction.
  • It would have been nice to have at least one sentence in there describing what the show is about, and who the characters are. Just a thought. 
I read Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem last month and looked up some reviews, and found a couple that pointed out how it would have been a splendid novel if Lethem had only left out the whole tedious superhero stuff. Apparently, serious literary critics can't be bothered to take fantasy (or science fiction, for that matter - and in my head, those are also the kind of people who positively reviewed Fun Home EVEN THOUGH IT WAS A GRAPHIC NOVEL /shocked) seriously - but why people who apparently hate the genre itself to such an extent that the story itself escapes them are tasked to write reviews about the very thing they seem to dislike so avidly remains a mystery to me. It would have been worth pointing out, for example, that A Game of Thrones doesn't focus on the point of view of those who have power, but more often than not follows marginalized characters (Jon Snow, Arya, Bran and Sansa Stark, even Tyrion to a certain extent, in the context of his family), and has a particular interest in portraying how women navigate a world that is hostile and deeply patriarchal (and ultimately get empowered, if in completely different ways). Maybe the show isn't as layered as the novel (it would have taken a 20-part series), but I really can't believe that all of this is lost in the adaptation, and if the show doesn't live up to the book, than it would have been nice to read a review from someone who has actually READ the novel and can compare the two.
Obviously, the most frustrating part of the review is where the author assumes that women must be tricked into watching the show. Women watch fantasy and science fiction. They write fantasy and science fiction. A Game of Thrones even features female characters who, amazingly (take note, The Social Network!), have agency. I enjoy reading reviews, even when they criticize things that I unabashedly love (hi, Skins season four)- but what I can't stand is when people in the privileged position of having access to episodes before they have aired, and shaping the public's opinion, and, you know, getting PAID FOR WRITING ABOUT TELEVISION, are so lazy, and rehash one of the most tired (and inaccurate) clichés about how "women" (alive!) are and what "they" like. 

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