Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Game changer

It has taken me a full day to process my feelings about “Game of Thrones.” I know we live in a knee-jerk, instacritic culture where 140-characters counts as thoughtful dialogue (and, believe me, no one loves those 140 characters more than this unapologetic Twitteraholic), but I needed more time to truly think about this series. I haven’t read the books, which puts me at a disadvantage. So right now all I have to go on is the pilot. And, right now, I’m just not sure.

Granted, the production is gorgeous. You can always see money on the screen, and this thing looks the exact opposite of cheap. The writing is tight, the acting is solid, the story is complex. It feels epic, it is epic. But, and I means this with all seriousness, what’s in it for the ladies?

I’ve read a lot this past week about the gender politics of this much-hyped show. It’s for boys. It’s pandering to girls. It’s feminist. It’s misogynistic. It’s oddly fixated on doggy-style sex. (That last one isn’t a question, just a fact.)

New York Times reviewer Ginia Bellafante called it “boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.” She also strongly implies that women don’t read fantasy fiction. So, let’s get this out of the way right away. That’s just some crazypants nonsense right there. One, of course women read fantasy novels and to suggest otherwise signifies a profound arrogance about an entire gender. And two, her argument that the sex is thrown into the story to appease women viewers makes me think she actually didn’t watch the premiere. Because the “sex” she spoke of was (SPOILER ALERT) incest, rape and paid servicing from prostitutes. You know, just like “Sex and the City.”

So, clearly the argument that “Game of Thrones” is fantasy therefore women won’t like it and therefore it’s pandering to women and therefore it’s bad is not the argument I’m making here.

But I was disturbed by what I saw happening with the women in the premiere. (MORE MAJOR SPOILERS) We see a wife to a powerful lord, who seems loyal but has little power. We see the queen to a king, who appears to be evil and power hungry and – oh yeah – is totally fucking her twin brother. We see two daughters of the lord, who are made to go to crocheting class while the boys learn archery – one is kind of boy crazy and one is a tomboy. And we see the sister to a power-hungry brother who sells her off to the head of a warrior tribe who then consummates their relationship against her will. Fun times for the lady folk, let me tell you.

Still just because these are dark times for women, does not mean better days aren’t ahead. What I understand from reading about this series is that us feminist fans will need to be patient. This is clearly not a woman’s world – right now they are largely just for pawns or playthings for men. But the question is will the series allow them to overcome their relegated positions in this society? Will we see independence, influence, intellect? I really hope so.

To me feminist stories do not require that all the women are portrayed in a positive light or necessarily even treated well. But it does require that female characters are allowed to be complex and layered and ultimately in control of their own destinies. Are women integral to the story outside of their relationships to men? Do they wield any power? Do they show strength and smarts and other abilities and not just sex appeal? Do they get to be human, just like the men? That is what makes a story feminist. That is what makes a story worth investing in for me.

If “Games of Thrones” starts to make its ladies more than just pieces in powerful men’s games, then I’m in. If it doesn’t, well, then game over.

EDIT: Just wanted to add that I thought it was very interesting and more than a little troubling that, as one of you commented, Dany gave her consent in the book, but not the show. That means the entire foundation of their future relationship in the series will be different from the original book. Like I said, troubling.


Anonymous said...

"Are women integral to the story outside of their relationships to men? Do they wield any power? Do they show strength and smarts and other abilities and not just sex appeal? Do they get to be human, just like the men?"

If the series keeps sticking to the book's plot, as it does in the pilot, then overall, the answer to these questions is "yes." Some of the women work their influences between the noble houses, and become competent players of the so-called game of thrones. Younger characters, such as Arya and Daenerys, grow up to be independent, strong, and intelligent-otherwise they could never survive in that cruel world. In this novel, most women are as complicated multi-layered, and well-elaborated as male characters. So I'm quite optimistic about the series, even though I do think some sex and nudity scenes are not that necessary in the pilot...

Kristan said...

Ditto what shannice said. I mean, I probably have no right to talk here, since I've neither watched the show nor read the books... but one of my good friends (also a writer) read the books and loved them, and she wouldn't love a series that didn't have complex, relevant female characters. So I'm kind of taking it on her word/judgment, and hoping that the show's creators don't want to piss off their (semi-rabid) fan base.

barbara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Melissa said...

I am a feminist and a big fan of the books. As long as the t.v. series sticks to the books, there will absolutely be compelling women characters who attain great power and influence even as they struggle with the fact that they live in a patriarchal world that blatantly privileges the strong, masculine, warrior man. Several of them are traumatized by having been given in marriage to men they barely knew or liked, but they are also incredibly strong and effective women who, as Shannice said, are definitely players in the game of thrones. Both Arya, the tomboy, and Daenaryis, the blonde rape victim, grow up to be incredibly strong, independent women. And some of characters manage to escape marriage all together (widows, sorceresses, women warriors). There are even same-sex attachments and sex for both men and women. (Although the 2 woman-on-woman sex relationships are much more about sex and giving comfort and political manipulation, in one case, than any ongoing emotional attachment; the gay man storylines feature long-term romance and love, and the participants seem exclusively interested in men.) Honestly, the women characters, and there are many in this epic, are largely more compelling to me and to many readers than the men.

That said, in the books, Daenarys, the pale blonde girl married to the horse warrior, is not allowed to say no and is forced into the marriage, but enjoys her first time and gives a consent that is complicated by the fact that she is forced into the marriage. I wonder why they didn't show her enjoying sex; she ends up becoming a woman who enjoys her sex life, and I would be suspicious if they ended up changing that in the show. But I don't think they will based on some preview clips I saw.

It's worth it to stick with the show at least for 3 more episodes.

Anonymous said...

Woman you are "All Over The Map" with you quasi feminist critiques.

It's perfectly fine to praise a movie like: "The Kids Are All Right," where a lesbian no less is only integral to the story based on her relationship that was affected by a man. (Pandering to males, reinforcing stereotypes of how lesbian secretly crave penis).

It's Okay to praise "The Killing" which opened it's freshman season with one of the most realistic portrayals of violence against women, and which through the 4 episodes that have already aired, continues to give us horrific glimpses of a naked and deceased dead woman.

Oh that's okay because it panders to men right? To their innate hatred of women? To their violent nature?

Woman you are all over the map.

soapbox said...

This is a slow boil story, with so many different things going on so I feel like any judgement at this point is a bit too hasty. The character development is very strong and extremely complex especially of the female characters... wait till you meet Brienne of Tarth.

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, I would not worry. I've read all the books and, well . . . just keep watching . . . :D

Poor Dany. I had to tell my mum the general arc of her story before she would agree to keep watching, lol. The actress captures the mixture of despair and hatred she feels at this point; only time will tell if she can also managed the strength, cunning and determination that later scenes will require of her.

And Arya . . . oh man, you're gonna love Arya. XD

Anonymous said...

Why make this show a poster child of all that is wrong with a male dominated society? How is this show any different than most of TV or movies? The same complaints can be made with almost all of them. It is rare when any entertainment entity doesn't insult, degrade, abuse, belittle, dehumanize, or marginalize somebody.

If you think Game Of Thrones is bad, try watching the news. And if that doesn't outrage you, then you're not paying attention!!!

You want to make a difference? Do it in the real world were it counts. Not by screaming injustice at a piece of fiction.

(a woman & this is my Opinion)

Anonymous said...

I've read the books and I love them almost irrationally. That said, my biggest concern in the first book was about how the author was treating the women characters. Those concerns vanished by the time I got to the (spectacular) end of the book.

Trust. The author heaps abuse and misery on the strongest characters. I'd even say that the series as a whole is written *for* the misfits and outsiders who are typically left out of mainstream fantasy (dwarves, bastards and, yep, women).

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with the majority here. I've read all of the books, and the series is full of independent, strong women with their own storylines, motives, faults, etc. Stick with it and you will definitely be rewarded! Dany's marriage ends up to be the complete opposite of how it starts and just wait until you see her full transformation. Catelyn Stark has her own plotline and arc that will start really shortly and should be awesome, as long as they stick to the plot of the books!

Itty Bitty said...

I had to force myself to watch not so much because of the subject matter and fantasy angle (I love fantasy) but more because I didn't want to get sucked into another show. That said, I'm still undecided, but will stick with it. For now. And yes, the ending waaaaaaas a bit of a shocker.

And by-the-by, am I the only one who thought the Daenarys actress looked a lot like Piper Perabo at times? Especially in the pouty lips?

Barbara said...

These were almost my exact thoughts after watching the premiere. I mostly liked it, but it was just a bit too 'rapey' for my tastes.

First of all, in no way was any of the sex the usual 'bodice-ripping,' romance novel sex that the NY Times reviewer implied. Quite the opposite really. I have no idea why anyone think the sex in Game of Thrones was just thrown in to pander to a female audience.

Second, I agree that a story can be set in a misogynistic society without being misogynistic itself. From what I've seen of the show however, it does not appear that it has any interest in combating the misogynistic views of its characters.

That being said, it WAS well-written, well-acted, and well-paced. Plus: wolf puppies! And the youngest Stark daughter (Arya?) seemed pretty awesome. Ah well, I guess I'll give it a few more chance to do right by the women . . .

Anonymous said...

I've read the books and keep watching! I didn't expect it but there is definitely a feel of "YEAH Girl Power!" throughout the series despite the horrible things that happen to them (though horrible things happen to all the characters, not just the women, it's just a fact of the series.)

I really loved the premiere, but in the book *spoilers maybe* Drogo doesn't just rip her clothes off and force her to the ground. In the book he's gentle. "No" is the only word he knows in her language, but before he does anything he looks at her and asks "No?" and Dany realizes he is asking her permission, and she then replies "Yes." I just felt like that was a really important moment for Dany's character, and they left it out :/

TheWeyrd1 said...

I just realized that Firefly has not recorded on my DVR...dang it. I think I have too many items and it got bumped. Or perhaps all my technical issues erased it from the queue...sigh That said, I need to go practice juggling now.

Anonymous said...

Is that Ellen Page and Keira Knightley? That's sux. :(

Anonymous said...

Dorothy I'm glad you mentioned the weird amount of doggy-style sex. Seriously, WTF? In spite of the over use of this particular sexual position, and the other unnecessary changes made to the storyline, I will stick with the show because I know the books are fabulous and Mr. R.R. Martin wouldn't let them fuck it up too much.

TKTC said...

I am so glad you added the disclaimer about Daenerys's original storyline. I'm really disappointed in the way HBO played that because they took what was one of the few positive, if surprising, sexual relationships in the book and turned it on its head. Not sure why- there isn't a shortage of painful dysfunction. That said, I know Marten was involved and based on the series, I trust him. The books are very much worth your time.

Jackson said...

As someone who has read the books...yes, this is a man's world. It is brutal, and brutally accurate to its pseudo-Medieval setting, when women really were, for the most part, considered pawns in the game of marriages, alliances, and- yes- thrones. That being said, I can promise you that these women will overcome their pawn status, and most of them will rise to become knights, bishops, and even queens.