I am conflicted about HBO’s Game of Thrones. Really, really conflicted. And it hasn’t even been released yet! The premiere is all set for this Sunday, April 17th. It doesn’t stem from loads of feelings about George Martin’s series as a whole; A Song of Ice and Fire is chock full of problems and things that make me uncomfortable, but it’s also got a lot of really compelling characters and in spite of my qualms with the series, getting an actual release date for A Dance with Dragons was really exciting.
No, my current conflict is stemming from the reviews of the show thus far. I’m not even touching on the kind of “rivers of bodily fluids” fanboy/girl reviews you see from the likes of Ain’t It Cool News but mainstream media. They’ve run the gamut from positive to negative, and yet, all of the reviews are chock full of the kind of deeply-rooted sexist beliefs that we like to think only exists in a high fantasy setting like Westeros.
Let’s take a look at the positive review first from MSNBC, by Susan Young:
On the surface, HBO’s new mythical series “Game of Thrones,” based on George R.R. Martin’s phenomenally successful “A Song of Ice and Fire” best-selling novels, appears to be a total testosterone experience. But don’t try to convince young women raised on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” anxiously waiting for “Game of Thrones” that this is anything but a series geared toward geek girls.
I don’t want to quibble, because more or less, this statement isn’t wrong. There’s a lot of war mongering, and politics, and nubile young exiled princesses that tend to be marketed towards men as action film fodder. But at the same time, doesn’t the turn of phrase make it seem like the women who loved ASOIAF and were excited about it being greenlit for HBO are deluded? This phrase probably wouldn’t even stand out if it weren’t a theme repeated throughout the review.
Daenerys only becomes a strong contender for the throne “in her own right” as she matures through the show. But she’s also a strong contender for the throne from the start of the book due to her birth. By about the halfway point of the book, she is one of two claimants with the most legitimacy. The review makes unclear which strength Dany is playing on: her birth claim, or her personal fortitude. I’d like to say the latter, except…
Catelyn Stark is accused of “inadvertantly instigating” the destruction of her entire family, like a bumbling idiot, in spite of the fact that Cat Stark is probably one of the savviest and most intuitive characters. Cersei Lannister uses sex to get ahead in a man’s world. But within the context of this review, which glows about strong women characters and then only points out their crushing character flaws, she’s probably not counting that as a positive thing.
|Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) Not impressed with this bullshit.|
On the other hand, we get negative reviews like the one in the NYTimes, which essentially complains that GoT is just too hard for women to grok, in which case they should probably go back to watching Sex and the City (explicit) and reading Twilight (implied but we’ll get to that a little later.)
I think there’s probably a lot to criticize about GoT; after all, there’s a lot to criticize in the source material. Criticizing it as a global warming horror story? Implies you didn’t pay much attention to the material you’re being paid to review. That’s neither here nor there in light of the glaring sexism, though:
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.
Again, the source material is already full of this sexy illicitness. It’s not being thrown in there to appease women who might get their little brains confused when they tune in like the mindless drones they are to HBO’s latest and greatest. (Furthermore, if you’re going to postulate how different women and men are socially with some bullshit evo psych ideologies, let’s talk about how technically, women would be more into the BOOKS because they’re wordy while men love the show because their visual. Right? Right.) Women don’t like fantasy, so why are you creating this fantasy to pander to women? Stop drawing them into the boy’s club, it’s unnatural. And so on.
This whole reviews basically boils down to: “This is something women would like. And like True Blood and Twilight, things women like are universally bad. The end.” And this is written by a woman, so we can add some tasty internalized sexism to the pot.
|Taylor Swift, shockingly, did not write this review.|
What’s worse even than the shoddily slapped together MSM reviews, both positive and negative, is the way reviews are being received, particularly negative ones. I can’t say it better than this blog already does, so I’m going to leave it with you to mull over. But I do think it’s worth considering how deeply troubling and gendered all the reception has been around GoT. It’s okay to not like it, either the book or the show. What’s not okay is to gender why it’s not likeable. I don’t particularly like Twilight. It’s not stupid because a woman wrote it, though, or because women love the books and movies. I don’t like it because it’s shoddily written, both stylistically and plot-wise. I don’t like it because it carries incredibly unhappy and dangerous messages to young women and men. If we want our cultural cache to improve, we need to stop relying on lazy ploys when reviewing things that just continue to prop up the gender and sex status quo.
Edit: If you’re planning to watch this weekend, and haven’t read the books yet, check out this handy character cheat sheet.