Game of Thrones & the New York Times: Game Over.

The blogosphere, twitter, and various fantasy fan sites are abuzz with comments regarding today’s New York Times review of HBO’s latest epic series, based on George RR Martin’s A Game of Thrones.  And with good reason.  Not only does the reviewer, Ginia Bellafante, seem to have a bit of a problem with fantasy genre in general, she manages to insult her own sex in the process.

First of all, it’s clear she hasn’t actually read the book, as she writes, “embedded in the narrative is a vague global-warming horror story. Rival dynasties vie for control over the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros — a territory where summers are measured in years, not months, and where winters can extend for decades.” Uh, no. Winter happens. It’s just that the winter that is threatening is a perma-winter…one wrought by magic, not by some sort of climate change.  Nor is she clear on who these characters are, what their motivation is, or even why, it seems, anyone would be interested.  This is further evinced by the next point she makes, asking why anyone would care about ruling these lands, since “the bizarre climate of the landmass” isn’t worth fighting over, because, apparently, it ain’t Palm Beach.  Guess what? A lot of fantasy takes place in different climates, in worlds that are not our own. And the readers of fantasy, male AND female, like it that way.  According to her, only those “not averse to the Dungeons & Dragons aesthetic” will like this series. Oh wait, what are those sitting on my table? Are those my funky steampunk gaming dice?! I do believe they are!  But guess what? I only started gaming a couple of months ago…I read the first book years ago.  So much for that theory.

Then she goes on to ask what she considers a very important question:  “What is “Game of Thrones” doing on HBO?”  Well, I don’t know, Ginia.  Perhaps HBO is aware, which you seem not to be, that fantasy (and its subgenres) are big, big business.  Think Steig Larsson sells a lot of books (don’t get me wrong, Lisbet Salander kicks ass and takes names)?  Or that only ‘serious’ literature sells?  Then why is it that people of all ages were up at midnight to buy Harry Potter books?  Why is it that Patrick Rothfuss found himself on top of the sales charts for his latest, or why, when the release date for the next book in the Game of Thrones series (actually called A Song of Fire and Ice, but that’s not the point) was announced, it was the number 2 book on Amazon that day?  Is this because no one reads fantasy? No.  HBO knows how popular this series is, and thought, gosh, we could make some money on that.  That’s why it’s on HBO.  Rome was on HBO, The Tudors was on Showtime, Starz did the blood and guts and sex fest known as Spartacus: Blood and Sand, and then Showtime decided to get on the completely messed up historical figures bus again with The Borgias.  But Ginia doesn’t seem to understand that. Nor does she think women would watch it, save for the bodice-ripping.

But before we delve into the inherent sexism of this review, I have to get through two other egregiously ridiculous points she makes.  First, she states that A Game of Thrones “has been elaborately made to the point that producers turned to a professional at something called the Language Creation Society to design a vocabulary for the savage Dothraki nomads.”  Hello, Avatar anyone? James Cameron went so far as to publish a book on the language of the Na’vi, and the thing damned near won Best Picture (don’t get me started on how it was just a re-warmed Dances with Smurfs in Fern Gully…).  I applaud the creators for going this extra step.

Now, I suppose we should talk about the violence and sex she mentions in her review. Yep, HBO is known for going a bit over the top with the sex and violence in its mini-series. Rome was one big orgy, and I’m not so sure about the historical accuracy of some of the bedroom scenes in The Tudors.  But Martin’s series itself doesn’t shy away from the sex, or the gore. Like his fellow traveler Joe Abercrombie’s kingdoms of Styria and the Union, Martin’s Westeros isn’t (as noted before) Palm Beach. There are swords, poisons, and all manner of ways to kill, and I’m good with that. Give me gritty any day over ‘surgical strikes’ with drones.  The relationship between Cercei and Jamie Lannister which the reviewer alludes to is meant to tell the reader something: for all their shining beauty and seeming perfection, these Lannisters are downright twisted buggers. And guess what? I’m also okay with that (we’ll get to why that is in a moment).

And this is where we come to the part that makes every single geek girl I know seethe. I am quoting the entire paragraph here, so my readers can see just how inane this argument (which it isn’t…ask my students) really is:

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.

Putting aside the fact that the reviewer doesn’t understand proper citation (The Hobbit and Game of Thrones require italics, but whatever), the sex in Martin’s books isn’t “a little something for the ladies” who wouldn’t otherwise watch.  How incredibly arrogant to say such a thing.  First of all, I didn’t read all three books for the sex, I read ’em for the story. Which is pretty damned good, and tough (as any writer can tell you) to maintain over a series. Second, she blatantly shows her ignorance by saying that somewhere, there must be women in the world who read such books. Guess what, Ginia? I bet you know some. I know more than some…I know a lot of them. In fact, most of the women I know read fantasy (and no, I don’t mean that tripe known as romance novels).  I know people who are writing their dissertations on fantasy literature.  And again, I ask you, how could Martin’s pre-sale orders push him to #2 if there weren’t female readers? How incredibly insulting.  For the record, I had to go look up who Lorrie Moore was.  I have never heard of her, nor do any of her titles look familiar.  If the plot of A Gate at the Stairs is any indiction, I wouldn’t want to be in that book club (seriously…it makes some of Oprah’s Book Club selections look happy).  Oh, and just one final thing…my last book club did read The Hobbit.

But what really bothers me here, besides the poorly constructed argument, is the inherent sexism Ginia displays towards her own sex. Am I supposed to only read stories about girls who want to be nannies? Am I supposed to feel vindicated that she called out the sex and violence, as if that’s something that having breasts inherently cannot comprehend or accept? Is there some sort of vagina-detection device in the sci-fi/fantasy section of Barnes and Noble that is supposed to steer me to ‘acceptable for girls’ section?  When did literature, of whatever sort, become sex-segregated?  Pat Mills, this is Ginia. Ginia, this is Pat Mills.  Now, both of you apologize.  At least Pat Mills has an excuse…he isn’t a woman.  But for a woman to paint all women with such a very broad brush (word for the day: essentialism) is really, in my book, inexcusable. The NY Times should be ashamed of itself for allowing this review to be published.  This review is insulting to fantasy as a genre, the authors who write it (many of whom are…surprise! women), and the readers, but to the quality of the New York Times.

Published in: on April 15, 2011 at 10:32 am  Comments (20)  

if I ever get married again…

My friends Will & Sharlot got married today in her mom’s backyard. In their vows, they included references to Monty Python and Princess Bride. A friend brewed beer for the event, and dinner was gourmet pizza and salad. Insanely good music. And oh, yeah, a piñata just for the adults filled with Lindt truffles and airplane bottles of gin, Black Velvet, brandy, and two kinds of tequila.  All of these things were good, good things.

Perhaps the best, though, was the realization that these two people were, indeed, a perfect couple. How do I know this? Well, let’s just say that there were 4 people who had never met before yesterday (at the bridal shower), 2 friends of Sharlot’s and 2 of Will’s, who hit it off so well that by the end of tonight, we were already finishing each others’ sentences. If I ever get married again, that is what I want to see happen…my friends and my love’s friends meeting each other and feeling like old friends. Because that, more than anything else, says something about compatibility.

This wedding was made of win, and I am glad I know these two people, because they prove to me that love really is out there; you just have to open yourself to the possibilities.

Published in: on April 3, 2011 at 12:25 am  Comments (2)  

Historians, step up!

Union busting. Maine’s proposal to bring back child labor. People so desperate to get a foot in their door they’ll work for free.  State after state cutting healthcare for the poor and education to balance their budgets.  Cuts to the FDA, NOAA, the Geological Survey, and other agencies designed to keep us safe.  Thousands of people thrown out of their homes.  Meanwhile, not one Wall Street figure has gone to jail, despite clear evidence that they were involved up to their eyeballs in shady money deals.  The Copper Barons are dead, long live the Banking Barons.

The people of Wisconsin are regretting Scott Walker, and the people of Ohio are rethinking John Kasisch.  In Arizona, there’s a petition to recall Jan Brewer (although not, surprisingly enough, one to recall Senator Pearce, he of the ‘anchor babies’ bill, SB1070, and other anti-brown people bills).  Universities in Wisconsin that never thought much of unions before are unionizing.

Where are the historians?  Where are labor historians pointing out that we are reverting to early 20th century labor model? Where are the historians of public health decrying a return to disease and death? Where are the union historians making the case to the American people, union members or not, that unions gave them the 8 hour work day and those weekends they love so much?  Where are the experts in Jefferson and the Constitution who are making the case that no, the Founding Fathers didn’t have all the answers, and were well aware of it?  The AHA has decried the Wisconsin GOP’s attempt to sift through William Cronon’s emails looking for damning evidence (or, more likely, an offhanded remark that makes him look bad out of context), but why not take the next step? Why not start speaking on street corners, in classes, on legislative floors, in rallies in front of capitals?  Why not find a space for a public talk about union history, and its relevance today, and invite community members?

hell, I’m a medievalist, and I’m trying to do the last.

Published in: on April 1, 2011 at 10:53 am  Leave a Comment