“You Don’t Even Watch;” Criticizing “Game of Thrones” from Outside the Fandom
Posted May 6, 2014on:
Okay, I’ll start off by saying I don’t watch “Game of Thrones.”
I tried to read the books, but ran out of resolve somewhere in the first one, and never came back.
And for most things, I’d just leave it there. I don’t watch, I don’t read, that’s my choice. Fine.
But GoT is one of those things that’s really hard to ignore, if you’re a fan of fantasy. It’s pretty much the biggest thing going right now. Loads of people watch the show and talk about it. I largely tune those conversations out, much as I tune out conversations about basketball or Eurovision. Not my fandom. Most of my experience with the show is making fun of people melting down on Twitter about the Red Wedding.
(This is actually how I determine Twitter meltdowns now: how many Red Weddings is it? So far only the finale of Breaking Bad has even come close.)
So that’s my interaction with GoT, and I’m usually happy to leave it there. But every once in a while something will pop up that gives me the twitch. Like, for instance, this from George R. R. Martin:
But Martin told the New York Times that although his books are epic fantasy, they are based on history (the series is loosely inspired by the Wars of the Roses). And “rape and sexual violence have been a part of every war ever fought, from the ancient Sumerians to our present day”.
“To omit them from a narrative centered on war and power would have been fundamentally false and dishonest, and would have undermined one of the themes of the books: that the true horrors of human history derive not from orcs and Dark Lords, but from ourselves.
I’m not going to spend a lot of time deconstructing this. Others are doing a better job of that elsewhere. The only thing I’ll say is that obviously using “history” as an excuse for perpetrating sexual violence on women is pretty crap; the Middle Ages were no more full of wanton rape and sexual assault as our own day. And in a series where summer mysteriously lingers for decades and there are literal dragons, “history” only applies to women having horrible sexual things happen to them? I see, I see.
Someone asked me today what possible stake I could have in pointing this out, though. After all, I don’t watch. I don’t care. All the Lannisters and Starks (HOW DO I KNOW SO MUCH ABOUT THESE PEOPLE????) can fall into a very large pit and I’ll be fine. So why criticize?
After all, isn’t this a conversation that fans should be having? Where’s my place in it?
I don’t know. I’m not just trying to defend my own right to complain about things, though I do like doing that. For sure! But I think what GoT is doing is doubling down on some very toxic trends I see a lot of in fantasy, like the trope of “history” being used as a cover for graphic and gratuitous sexual violence against women and women mostly existing to provoke the men of the story into feeling or doing something, and that’s the sort of thing I think needs to be pushed back against whenever possible.
When a piece of pop culture gets so big that I can just rattle off “Winter is Coming” riffs without even thinking about it, without having watched a single episode or gotten to the end of a single
tome book, and I can point to a fairly vast compendium of online reviews, criticism, and conversation that I’ve been reading and following for years, and I can’t walk into the SFF half-aisle in Barnes & Noble without seeing George R. R. Martin’s name everywhere, then maybe I have a tiny little toehold of a stake in this. Maybe as a member of SFF fandom in general I have a somewhat bigger stake, especially because I want to see us get away such a strong focus on sprawling faux-medieval melodramas where white men whack each other with swords.
So maybe the suggestion that not fully engaging with a piece of culture means there’s no right to criticize it isn’t entirely accurate. And maybe there’s some value in criticisms coming from many places, including from those who for all kinds of good reasons don’t want to watch/read.