If you're been poking around the geeky blogosphere today, chances are you've run into some righteous outrage about a certain New York Times "review" of Game of Thrones that debuts on Sunday on HBO. It's a stunning example of marginalizing "geek" girls, and an even more stunning example of the non-review.
I'm not going to link to it because you can find it pretty easily. But I will link to the Jez and i09 reactions to it:
Naturally, I have a whole lot of issues with this "review". I'm using scare quotes because it's not really a review. It's a diatribe on the pointlessness of genre fiction, specifically fantasy, that lumps Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, D&D, and The Song of Ice and Fire into the same "ew, fantasy" slot. The tendency to shout "Lord of the Rings!" anytime something is even remotely fantasy-like drives me nuts. Because I'm a huge Tolkien geek and it shows a fundamental misunderstanding of both his work and the fantasy genre as a whole. Game of Thrones is no more like Tolkien than it's like Moorcock's Elric series. Yes, they are all fantasy fiction. And that's pretty much where the similarity ends. Comparing them to each other, even badly, would be like saying Neuromancer, I, Robot, and Blade Runner are all the same story because they're sci-fi. You can't fairly review something you clearly don't understand and even more clearly have made no attempt to.
One of the big things that indicates this lack of effort to me is that the writer makes the assertion that, because Tyrion is a dwarf, he is just like Gimli in Lord of the Rings. No. Dwarfs are a separate race in LOTR. Tyrion is a human being with a genetic condition. Just like in real life. That's pretty clear straight off. That may seem nitpicky, but it's a pretty good indication of the general viewing comprehension going on in the piece.
There's also a weird allusion to "Winter is coming" being about global warming. It's not only a stretch, it's a ridiculous attempt to force some kind of literary critique that wouldn't hold up under the lightest cross-examination. Not everything in fiction is a metaphor for something real world. Sometimes it's just because that's the way that world works.
As a general rule, I am not a fan of anti-genre fiction elitism. I'm not saying everyone needs to like fantasy and sci-fi and horror. But to dismiss them as automatically irrelevant is...stupid. It just is. It's making a personal preference a dubious "fact" and dismisses a great deal of important story telling. I love Mad Men and I've loved other reality based fiction, like United States of Tara or Shameless. I can, shockingly, enjoy many different types of stories so long as they are well told. I don't care if they focus on dragons or the 60's. I care about emotional resonance. And if you can't get something out of a well crafted story just because it takes place alongside magic, or monsters, or in the future...then the problem is really yours.
Which brings me to the part of the piece that's not just frustrating, but actually insulting and sexist. Because it asserts that no women in their right minds would ever watch this show, so they must have thrown in the sex to appeal to them. It claims the show is "patronizing" women with this, right after saying that there are too many characters to keep track of and that we should all watch old Sex and the City instead.
Wow. I mean, just, WOW.
First of all, needing to pay attention to what you're watching so you know who the characters are is kind of the point of narrative storytelling. Lost, True Blood, Battlestar Galactica, Buffy, Angel, Fringe...they all have/had casts of more than one. Which, by the way, is also true of "reality" or historically based shows like Mad Men, The Tudors, The Borgias, The Sorpranos, and even Sex and the City. Paying attention is sort of the idea and if you can't be bothered to do that then just watch some reality tv or a sitcom and leave the rest of us in peace. We -want- complex storytelling. And that includes the ladies in the audience. My vagina does not mean I lack an attention span of longer than five minutes.
Second, Game of Thrones is not porn or erotica. So no one is watching it solely for the sex, least of all the female viewers. It's a deeply complex political story, no amount of incest or sexy time diminishes that. But it is about people, and people have sex, and sex has a lot of different narrative uses. Therefore, a lot of the sex in GoT involves power plays, political complications, and more mundane things like love, lust, and procreation. It's not just in there for no reason.
Third, I'm really, really, really, really, really, REALLY tired of female fans of genre fiction being marginalized like this. This entire article neatly dismisses us as either aberrations or non-existent. I hate to break it to the writer, but women make up a HUGE portion of the genre fiction audience. Horror? Go take a look at Stephen King's numbers and fans and you'll find it's at least half women. And by the way, horror films are watched by more women than men. Which might explain a bit of True Blood's success on the same network doing Game of Thrones. If the writer has read Lord of the Rings or seen the films, it should be fairly obvious that those stories have a vast appeal for women. While they have lots of sword fights (which women can also love!) it also has compelling characters, powerful emotional moments, and lots of crying men. A typical testosterone-fest it is not. Hell, in the commentary to the rebooted Star Trek, J. J. Abrams specifically talks about how they considered casting the main characters because of the huge female fan following. We are not blips. We're a big part of what makes these franchises so successful.
Now, of course, Game of Thrones is a much more raw type of fantasy. It's rough, dirty, bloody, very violent. Which is not an automatic turn off for women because of our lady bits, by the way. But even if it were, the layering of the story is intricate and well done. And it has a compelling list of interesting, well rounded, distinct female characters. They're treated like characters, for a start. Which means women are equally as capable of goodness, badness, and sheer fuckedupedness as anyone else. Arya, Catelyn, Daenarys, Cersei, Brianne...and that's only a few. These are characters that matter and give you a pretty wide variety of personalities. I think that might have something to do with the appeal.
Articles like the NY Times piece just perpetuate a stereotype that has, so far as I can tell, never been accurate. Women and girls are nerds and geeks. Geek things are not inherently masculine. Are there issues of sexism in geeky/nerd culture? Fuck yes. But there are also lots of supportive people, lots of engaged women and girls, and lots of geeky passions to choose from.
I've had to prove my nerd/geek cred more often in my life than I'd like to admit. It sometimes comes with the territory. But none of that is as demoralizing as being treated like I just don't exist...or shouldn't exist. I'm not sorry Sex and the City bores me to death. Or that I'd rather watch a show with dragons than a show about shoes (and I like shoes!). That's just how I'm built. I wish other women wouldn't dismiss us because they don't get what we're into. We're not going away, and we will fight you if try to take our stories away from us.