Slate, New York Times to fantasy buffs: Grow up

Less than an hour to go before the premiere of Game of Thrones on HBO, and I just stumbled upon this.

This from

Reviews of HBO's adaptation of "Game of Thrones" paint fantasy fiction as silly trash aimed at boys only.

I try to stay away from reviewing other people's reviews; "There but for the grace of God" and all that. But two recent pieces on HBO's "Game of Thrones" -- by Troy Patterson of Slate and Ginia Bellafante of The New York Times -- demand a response because they're deeply condescending.

Patterson's Slate review, titled "Quasi-Medieval, Dragon-Ridden Fantasy Crap: Art Thou Prepared to Watch 'Game of Thrones'?" is less a review than a creative writing exercise, penned in the style of....well, it's hard to say what, exactly. It's not a parody of George R.R. Martin's prose, which tends to avoid the turgid, translated-from-the-ancient-Hobbitesese diction that marks inferior sword-and-sorcery novels. It seems more like a goof on what Patterson imagines fantasy fiction to be.

There are unscalable slabs of expositionistic dialogue clogging the forward movement of the story. Sonorous and/or schmaltzy talk substitutes for the revelation of character through action. There is the sense of intricacy having been confused with intrigue and of a story transferred all too faithfully from its source and thus not transformed to meet the demands of the screen. For long stretches of each episode, the reviewer hangs on to consciousness only by trancing out on the strings of digits of the anti-counterfeiting watermark at the top of the screen, hanging on to the serifs by the nails.

The sex and violence also add interest, the former being unhealthily kinky, the latter abusively deft, both conducted with adolescent passion. No matter how dull the body of each installment of 'Game of Thrones,' it pulls itself together for a meticulously choreographed finish that builds its own discrete tension. The episode endings create anticipation like small marvels of cliff-hanging that erase the torpor of foregoing knightly knonsense from memory and get you hankering for the next look at the opening title sequence (which is a little masterpiece of welcoming design). Many of these cliffhangers depend on the infliction of imaginative horrors on women, precocious children, and four-legged animals, often with quite a light touch.


At least Patterson cops to never liking fantasy fiction, and even admits (hilariously) to canceling a date in college once he found out that the young woman in question attended Renaissance festivals dressed as a "serving wench." (That detail would have increased my interest, but to each his own.) Better to concede your prejudices upfront than re-frame them as proof of intellectual superiority and smear a genre and its fans as stupid, childish and low-class -- which is what Ginia Bellafante does in her New York Times review of "Thrones." Like Patterson, Bellafante somehow gets through a whole review without mentioning a single character or scene in detail. The piece is mainly interested in blasting TV for sexing-up the costume drama while de-carnalizing scripted shows set in modern times.

That's an intriguing premise. Unfortunately, Bellafante's gripes don't compute. "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," Bellafante says, ignoring the likes of "Hung," "Rescue Me," "Skins," "Episodes," "Weeds," "Nurse Jackie," "Archer," "Sons of Anarchy," "Secret Diary of a Call Girl," and "True Blood," which the author herself cites as an example of HBO degrading its brand.


Then there's this doozy of a passage:

"...[Y]ou 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."

Say what? The implication that women are predisposed to enjoy explicit sex scenes and female nudity may or may not be true, but it flies in the face of conventional industry wisdom about what women want from film and television. Filmmakers and TV producers are more likely to try to appeal to women by avoiding or deleting graphic sex and nudity while leaving in the kissing, cuddling, and heart-to-heart talks -- a patronizing strategy descended from the Old Hollywood "women's picture" and the early days of TV soaps. Is that what Bellafante is alluding to? If so, she's confusing the issue by conflating relationship melodrama with softcore porn.

As for the detail about Martin's work being "boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population's other half," (a) I doubt Martin would have spent so much time on the book's trysts, affairs and marriages if he didn't find them personally interesting, and (b) Marion Zimmer Bradley, Ursula K. le Guin, Carol Berg, Holly Phillips, Juliet Marillier, Lynn Flewelling, Jacqueline Carey and Sharon Shinn would be surprised to learn that they've been writing "boy fiction" all this time.


These reviews are also disappointing because they're penned by critics I like. Patterson is one of the sharpest, funniest TV reviewers out there, and Bellafante is the only one of the New York Times' primary TV critics who doesn't write as if the medium were innately unworthy of her time. Something about the subject matter brought out their inner snobs. No other popular genre would be treated with such knee-jerk distaste by critics for major publications.

Follow this link to read the full piece by Matt Zoller Seitz.

Well, looks like Game of Thrones is leaving no one indifferent. We'll know in about 30 minutes just how good the series is.

4 commentaires:

Gregory said...

Hey there Pat,

I have been looking at these two dismissive reviews for the last couple days and I have to point you to Daniel Abrahams response on his blog. No matter these reviewers past efforts when it comes to their thoughts in Game of Thrones they dismissed it before seeing it. I have not seen it but with the few comments about the show contained in the comments I think the people at HBO got things right and the commenters are prejudiced prudes who needed a pay check.

Claudine said...

Wow. I'm a huge geek girl myself who positively adores boy fiction. She should stick with playing with her vintage Ken and Barbie collection maybe. She very obvioulsy has no idea what women want.

Snow Princess said...

Wait, this guy canceled a date because "word was going around" the girl was into Renaissance fairs? He stood her up for that...Wow, maybe some fantasy heroes could teach him about being a gentleman...or for that matter, a man.

What amazes me is people daring to attack a genre without reading or, at the least, examining the broadness of it - both its past and its changing face.

Unless one feels authors like Borges, Calvino, Kafka, and Dante were writing something other than fantasy?

Amy said...

"Unless one feels authors like Borges, Calvino, Kafka, and Dante were writing something other than fantasy?"

No no thats Magical-Realism, don't you know that! /sarcasm ;)