Archive for April, 2011

A rant – I’m officially one of the masses.

(I should note, here, that this rant is somewhat fuelled by an on-going struggle I have with the “intelligent” reading and writing community’s constant aversion to fantasy. Be warned.)

I love George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Some of you know that, some of you don’t, but regardless, that’s the case. Last night, the first episode of Game of Thrones (HBO’s television adaptation of the series) premièred.  Three days earlier, Ginia Bellafante over at the New York Times decided to write a review about it, and like every geeked out girl on the internet, I’m freaking the fuck out over what she wrote. Why? In short, because her review is ludicrous. Ludicrously BAD.

I am not going to even attempt paraphrasing. Even with a mouthful of sarcasm I can’t capture the mind-blowingly irritating words from this review:

In a sense the series, which will span 10 episodes, ought to come with a warning like, “If you can’t count cards, please return to reruns of ‘Sex and the City.’

…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.

…When the network ventures away from its instincts for real-world sociology, as it has with the vampire saga “True Blood,” things start to feel cheap, and we feel as though we have been placed in the hands of cheaters. “Game of Thrones” serves up a lot of confusion in the name of no larger or really relevant idea beyond sketchily fleshed-out notions that war is ugly, families are insidious and power is hot. If you are not averse to the Dungeons & Dragons aesthetic, the series might be worth the effort. If you are nearly anyone else, you will hunger for HBO to get back to the business of languages for which we already have a dictionary.

Can you see? Can you see why I’m not even sure where to begin here? How about Bellafante’s complete ignorance regarding the female fantasy fan-base. I know I’m a creative writer, and that coming up with intelligent responses is the one thing I am supposed to be good for, but honestly, all I feel like responding with is: What the hell, Ginia?  Because I have tits, my reading selection is limited to Candace Bushnell novels and romance? I enjoy chick lit. I’m not about to lie about that. It’s great for when you just need something easy, something fun, to escape from the trials and annoyances and bill paying of the real world. I read those books for the escapism, not for the sex.

Bellafante’s assumption that GRRM’s books (and to follow, the television series) are too heavy to interest women, and that it is only some tossed in “illicitness” that would make any woman want to read them, is not only ridiculous, it’s insulting. Just because Game of Thrones requires a bit of thought to follow the characters and the intrigue doesn’t mean I’m going to get bored until I see some fucking on the screen. In fact, if we’re going with overtired clichés, I thought it was men that needed the sex factor?

Then we have the final quote.

This massive misconception (or preconception, really) that people like Bellafante have regarding fantasy drives me insane. Fantasy is not dumbed down. It is not useless and it is not unintelligent. It may not be your genre of choice, but that does not mean it is without the numerous qualities any well-written fiction has in supply. I have read few books that have the character development, the plot intricacy, and most importantly, the constant thrill of GRRM’s books. Westeros may not be a real place, but it confronts the reader with real, interesting problems – and honestly, I don’t care that they may not entirely be relevant to me (really, even in the realism world, how many realist books have you ever read that truly applied to you?). Suggesting that it is impossible for a fantasy world to tackle “real-world sociology” as Bellafante does is absurd. Metaphor, allegory, symbolism – there’s an entire range of literary techniques dedicated to the practice of saying something without actually coming out and saying it. Look at as broad an example as Shakespeare. I had an entire lecture in my second year on Shakespeare’s use of the historical genre to make valid points regarding the politics of the time without getting himself into any libellous trouble, and every word the man has written is now worshipped as a classic.

Okay, so I’ve digressed. I’m not trying to suggest that every fantasy novel ever written has a hidden metaphorical agenda, or that it should in order to be important. Equally, fantasy can be without all of the above. It can be pure escapism, and there is NOTHING wrong with that. And in that sense, that is the part of the review that really gets me. There are countless aspects of Bellafante’s review that irritate me, but what I take beef with the most is her suggestion that a book (and the television series) need have some goal, some ultimate lesson, in order for it to be valid or distinguished. This is the problem I have with cannonical literature in its entirety. This vague idea of importance is what so many intellectuals use to completely write fantasy off. I took a contemporary fiction class and in the first seminar, we were asked for our names and favorite authors. God forbid you utter Tolkein, GRRM, or Rowling – fantasy fed to masses is apparently a “guilty” pleasure in the literature world. Wanting to write it? Even worse. When I read Bellafante’s review, which clearly had this fantasty-is-sub-literature point of view, it rekindled every frustration I’ve had with reading and writing and my course over the past three years – hence the overblown, 1100 word reaction.

Anyway. This rant isn’t the most well-written (there are certainly better out there – just Google the review and you’ll find plenty), but I honestly could not stop myself from at least attempting a go after reading that NY Times review. I’ll end with this: give Game of Thrones a shot. It’s amazing. I love it, and I’m a woman. And while apparently according to Ginia Bellafante that makes me a pretty fucking rare individual, I think you’ll find most viewers agree with me.


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photo cred to myself and Maggie J. Moxie