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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

New York Times Says Game of Thrones is "Boy Fiction"


A Fantasy World of Strange Feuding Kingdoms



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With the amount of money apparently spent on “Game of Thrones,” the fantasy epic set in a quasi-medieval somewhereland beginning Sunday on HBO, a show like “Mad Men” might have the financing to continue into the second term of a Malia Obama presidency. “Game of Thrones” is a cast-of-at-least-many-hundreds production, with sweeping “Braveheart” shots of warrior hordes. Keeping track of the principals alone feels as though it requires the focused memory of someone who can play bridge at a Warren Buffett level of adeptness. 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.’ ”

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Shot largely on location in the fields and hills of Northern Ireland and Malta, “Game of Thrones” is green and ripe and good-looking. Here the term green carries double meaning as both visual descriptive and allegory. 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.
How did this come to pass? We are in the universe of dwarfs, armor, wenches, braids, loincloth. The strange temperatures clearly are not the fault of a reliance on inefficient HVAC systems. Given the bizarre climate of the landmass at the center of the bloody disputes — and the series rejects no opportunity to showcase a beheading or to offer a slashed throat close-up — you have to wonder what all the fuss is about. We are not talking about Palm Beach.
The bigger question, though, is: What is “Game of Thrones” doing on HBO? The series claims as one of its executive producers the screenwriter and best-selling author David Benioff, whose excellent script for Spike Lee’s post-9/11 meditation, “25th Hour,” did not suggest a writer with Middle Earth proclivities. Five years ago, however, Mr. Benioff began reading George R. R. Martin’s series of books, “A Song of Ice and Fire,” fell in love and sought to adapt “Game of Thrones,” one of the installments.
The show 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 who provide some of the more Playboy-TV-style plot points and who are forced to speak in subtitles. Like “The Tudors” and “The Borgias” on Showtime and the “Spartacus” series on Starz, “Game of Thrones,” is a costume-drama sexual hopscotch, even if it is more sophisticated than its predecessors. It says something about current American attitudes toward sex that with the exception of the lurid and awful“Californication,” nearly all eroticism on television is past tense. The imagined historical universe of “Game of Thrones” gives license for unhindered bed-jumping — here sibling intimacy is hardly confined to emotional exchange.
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.
Since the arrival of “The Sopranos” more than a decade ago, HBO has distinguished itself as a corporate auteur committed, when it is as its most intelligent and dazzling, to examining the way that institutions are made and how they are upheld or fall apart: the Mafia, municipal government (“The Wire”), the Roman empire (“Rome”), the American West (“Deadwood”), religious fundamentalism (“Big Love”).
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.
END ARTICLE

My Comments:
Though this writer is a little bit better than the one that Slate hired to bash Game of Thrones, she also seems to have the egotistical tendency to project her own tastes and preferences on the population at large. First off, the books were recommended to me by a female, and one who has never been so nerdy as to belong to any book club. After seeing the series once, my own mother got HBO, and only watches that channel when Game of Thrones is on. She normally only likes crime series, like CSI.

There wasn't as much sex in the books, so sex can't be the only reason why women like the stories; I have three female friends who have read all of them and none of them are nerdy, anachronistic, or even fantasy nuts. One is kind of new age, lots of tattoos and married to a biker...another is an advertising exec and a mother of three, and another is a college student on exchange from Germany. Lots of my female Facebook friends watch the show, mostly the 30 something ones with college educations and kids. Groups of mixed sex friends at the local college watch the show religiously, and even have drinking games made up for it.
The journalist's inability to understand plots and casts of characters more complex than "Sex and the City," which she alludes to in the opening paragraph, lets us know that we're not dealing with an aesthete here, however. If Game of Thrones seems complicated to her I'd hate to see her try and tackle Faulkner or Joyce, and I wonder how she became a journalist for such a huge mag with such sophomoric taste in the field of literature!
I'd like to tackle her next statements individually:
"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. "
Uhh...HBO has instincts? And you know what they are?
I remember when HBO just had movies and some really stupid kid's series that came on in the afternoon. During the daytime HBO was down in the early days- it was a blank screen until around 4PM. 
Much later it introduced REAL SEX and NOT NECESSARILY THE NEWS as original series. Basically soft porn thinly veiled as one of the first reality shows and a slapstick humor news parody show. They had some original movies, and most of them were pretty poor. 
So I'd like a further explanation from her on how going from porn, kid shows, and slapstick humor to the fantasy literature generally agreed upon by critics as being THE MOST IMPORTANT SINCE TOLKIEN is somehow "cheap."
And I'll add that "going away from their instincts" has paid HBO big dividends. True Blood and Game of Thrones have probably made them more money than anything else has in the last 15 years!! There are lots of people who only subscribe when the series is airing!!
“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."
Someone who has read the books knows that there are much greater ideas than these within the stories. Of course, there is no way Miss Ginnia could know this because she has only seen the series, not read the books themselves...and the series has only barely introduced the themes and ideas and intrigues of the larger story. We're only in season 2, which is roughly analogous to Book 2; there are five books so far and all of the plots and subplots will not be resolved until the final book, which hasn't even been written yet!
Furthermore, those of us who enjoy the story don't find it confusing; probably because we're a little smarter than Miss Ginnia- after all, she is actually entertained by "Sex and the City." That's not a very demanding intellect or imagination.

" 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."
This is advise from a fool. For instance, my father is an accountant and hates Dungeons and Dragons. The only fantasy book he's ever read is Tolkien. He can't stand true Blood, abhors Sex in the City. But he thinks Game of Thrones is the best show on television and watches it with my mom every week. My father has a 145 IQ and can ALWAYS tell you the plot spin of a movie half-way through- not so with Game of Thrones. The plot ingenuity is that far above any other plot presented on the screen today, on TV or in theaters. 
There are fantasy fans on the forums who can't stand Tolkien and bemoan the prominence of the fantasy genre's Dungeons and Dragons aesthetic. But they love game of Thrones because it's so fresh and original. There are scores of college kids who have always made fun of fantasy and the nerds who love it, but who can't get enough of Game of Thrones. Sorry, Ginnia, but people a lot of people are sick of cutesy plotless indulgences like Sex and the City who are looking for something with actual merit, and Game of Thrones is going to last for a lot more seasons than Sex in the City did.


Also, "getting back to the business of languages for which we already have a dictionary" at the exclusion of anything else is a pretty close-minded thing to do. That means that not only can't you watch or read any well-made speculative fiction, but you can't enjoy anything that's set in a culture for which we don't have written records, either. That's a very narrow time frame and territory in human history for which you will allow the stories you read and view to be set in- most languages that men have created have been lost to time, though evidence of their cultures still exist. 
Certainly everyone who doesn't like Dungeons and Dragons is not so closed-minded and lacking in imagination!!
It's ludicrous for her to say that only Dungeons and Dragons fans are capable of reading anything that is set outside of the time frame of recorded history, or outside of cultures that are literate! 
But we do appreciate the compliment, Miss Ginnia...


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3 comments:

J. Lyon Layden said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J. Lyon Layden said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J. Lyon Layden said...

A few points that I thought to add:

"While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s,"

There ARE no books like Martin: Just Martin.

"Since the arrival of “The Sopranos” more than a decade ago, HBO has distinguished itself as a corporate auteur committed, when it is as its most intelligent and dazzling, to examining the way that institutions are made and how they are upheld or fall apart: the Mafia, municipal government (“The Wire”), the Roman empire (“Rome”), the American West (“Deadwood”), religious fundamentalism (“Big Love”).
When the network ventures away from its instincts for real-world sociology,"

Even if you want to bind HBO to this definition, it hasn't ventured that far away. Game of Thrones is a more accurate depiction of how institutions are built and are upheld or deconstructed than any of those shows.
If this woman read the books or watched more than one or two episodes, she would see how there is very little in the way of fantasy in compared to most series in the genre. In fact, she might even be able to reconcile her hatred of anything imaginative if she just supposed that "The Others" were another race of hominid who know how to use blowfish poison to make people seem zombie-like, or who often got the strange kuro disease like people get in Papua New Guinea from practicing cannibalism; it makes people seem a lot like zombies when they are afflicted with it.
Anyway, so far "The Others" have only been in 2 episodes.
As far as the dragons go, I know that during the time of man there have been land lizards to compete with that were over 27 feet long, and in the past there have been flying reptiles. What is so hard to reconsile about flying reptiles being evolving on a seperate planet alongside the man-like product of evolution? There is still even a small chance that we may find flying reptiles in the fossil record alongside man: only a fraction of species from any given era have been identified, and dragons are a universal archetype for some reason or other. The eggs are only SAID to be 300 years old, we don't have first hand knowledge of that in the books. As far as any raising of the dead in the books goes, we haven't come to that yet in the series, and it can always be explained by near-death. The only real magic I have seen so far is in the form of the fire during the siege of King's Landing. It is based on Roman Fire, and Roman Fire was a real weapon that most historians think was something like napalm but which we have lost the ability to make over the centuries.
There are of course the giants, but we haven't come to that yet in the series. And our ancestors in real life competed with heidelberg man, some populations of which were 7 feet tall on average.

I know some of these explanations are on the fringe, and Song of Ice and Fire IS a fantasy novel, but my point is that the fanatsy elements are far in the background, don't even appear in most of the episodes, and the character interaction and plot make the series more realistic than "Rome" or "Spartacus" and maybe even "The Sopranos."