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There are many problems with this series, but subtlety isn’t one of them.
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Tags: Monarchy television feminism
So if GRRM never finishes the books, or HBO cancels the show, we can never say anything in them is problematic in any way?
Laurie Penny, a journalist whose use of language is sledgehammer-like at best, calls Game of Thrones unsubtle! This is a narrative where there are few (if any) obvious good and bad characters, one in which we sympathise with characters who initially we found distasteful; and where actions have distant unintended and unpredictable consequences. Perhaps Penny's viewing (of the TV show rather than the books) is what leads her to see this as unsubtle. And if she can't find within Game of Thrones a commentary on patriarchy and gender then it's her loss.
I am a writer, an active feminist and a huge fan of George RR Martin. I love the books because Martin is totally unafraid to push/test/hurt his characters until they undergo the transformations they need to make them truly understand themselves, because to a great extent it is how we cope with suffering that defines us.
I suspect that another reason for the popularity for the books and the series is not only because that in this world we are having trouble finding worthy leaders, but also as individuals we are being put under unrelenting pressure from political forces we cannot control and we want to emerge stronger rather than as victims. Martin achieves these transformations exceptionally well with his female characters giving out a strong message to murder our inner princess (just as Woolf told women to ‘kill the angel in the house’) because she won’t be much use in Martin’s worlds or this one. Martin references a long tradition in the fantasy genre of wounded female characters who transform their victimhood into power, a transformation beautifully depicted by Ursula Le Guin’s character Tehanu. Penny: the sad thing is that bad things happen to women right now, not just in Medieval fantasy. At this moment real 13 year old girls are being groomed into prostitution and if an organisation like Barnados manages to rescue them, then they will need stories like Martin’s to know that their victimhood does not define them.
Perhaps, this message of empowerment to women passed Penny by, possibly because she failed to read the book or possibly because she thinks that readers are interested in the ill-informed posturing of her brand of pseudo feminism. But Penny, don’t use your ego and absence of research to beat the feminist drum in my name, even though the feminist drum has served you well to become the dilettante rent-a-tame-feminist-gob that you are.
TRUE feminists don't call each other "rent-a-gobs". As for "killing the inner princess" and "victims" - I presume you are somehow referring to Lady Sansa Stark?! I rather like her actually: she reminds me of some of the better-brought-up, non-bullying, non-petty-backbiting girls at my school/uni actually. Brings out my chivalrous side - and I'm a woman!
Why none of the knights in this ARE actually chivalrous, even a bit, beats me, actually. I think we'd get a lot better behaviour towards women from large sections of the current British Army! For example!
Can't believe no lord's fallen head-over-heels for Sansa - realizing she is a well-mannered non-slag and therefore a catch!
(Well some women are - feminism or no!)
&I used to like Arya - before I realised she never gets anywhere! I've read 4 books missing out one - & G R R Martin is a swizz! He is!
With regard to your first para: Yeah! THAT'S why he turns medieval Stepford wife Catelyn into some kind of zombie (that is somehow not the same as the ice zombies.) THAT's going to improve her character! Really Zen, that!
Ooops. Damned page froze and then loaded all three that it claimed had been refused. Where's the 'delete post' tab when you need it?
Game of Thrones isn't anti-woman, it's everyone for themselves.
I thought what was wrong with 'Game of Thrones' was that "sorcery, sexuality and socialism make for a nasty threesome". See http://christwire.org/2012/01/12-reasons-to-boycott-game-of-thrones-in-2... for full info.
Socialism in GRR Martin?! You must be joking!
Dear god, even Mehdi could craft a better analysis than this.
My wife - highly educated, more so even than the luminescent Laurie - praises Game of Thrones for the strength of its female characters. Time and again she will comment that Martin (the author) knows how to write women, and she will subsequently lament other modern depictions. Laurie seems to deem that ability and aspect of the series unworthy of note - presumably as it jars with her thesis (and it's flattery indeed to call it that).
It's difficult to determine whether Laurie has read the books or not. Those who have know that the 'baddies' (Laurie's choice of label, continuous with her lower-sixth politics) become peculiarly rehabilitated in our eyes. Laurie typically chooses to begin her study (don't smirk!) with such cringe-worthy and mocking labelling, then includes spoilers that she could only know about were she also aware of the forthcoming changes. How did this confusion arise? Perhaps, the evening before the deadline was due to expire, she just asked her friend's husband for some authoritative titbits over a glass of Chianti? So who ends up the object of the mockery after all?
I always try to read blogs with an open mind, as the truly insightful writer can always find a way to surprise us with an unexpected view. Unfortunately with Laurie one always knows what to expect - the politics of a seventeen-year-old wrapped up in the faux-authoritative manner of someone educated beyond their ability to absorb it.
Laurie dear - better luck at the Indy. But learn to sing a new song.
"The essential assumption of this story is a familiar one: sovereignty and leadership are inherently good things, common workers need decent kings or queens to make them happy and prosperous, and even if a catalogue of leaders are bad, mad or murderous, if you can just find the right king, the true, wise, noble king who deserves to be on the throne, then everything will be okay."
The books point out a number of times that the high-level political machinations that we find so interesting have no relevance whatsoever to the commoners, who don't actually give a damn who's on the various thrones one way or the other as long as they're left to their jobs more or less in peace, with decent security and reasonable taxes. It's only when everything goes to pot (wars, unacceptably insane rulers, undead, dragons, I'm hoping for undead dragons) that the plot we're following even becomes known to Benny Greengrocer, 4 Main Street, Highgarden. Rather like our modern democracy, it seems. Although admittedly we have been disappointingly light on undead and dragons so far this parliamentary term.
I largely agree with the sentiment of the article, but this is an entirely incorrect launch-point for it. You can't get there from here, as M. Stipe would have it.
Yeah. But it's the commoners who suffer when the Long Winter comes in..
The program isn't racist in the slightest. The barbarians are Graeco-Romano manifestations, with a bit of Rousseau thrown in. They are neither better or worse than anyone else, just different. Also, the horny dwarf is the best character in the series by a mile, and he's one of your blondies.
Never heard of Game of Thrones...whatever
But I'm curious. Does the following quote indicate a break with your previous writings-characterised by a po-faced, oh-so-earnest, spartist-undergraduate take on literally the whole friggin political and cultural universe...or have you finally grow-up? And if so can we expect a speedy renunciation of the childish stuff.
"A story doesn’t need to be comfortable, realistic or generous towards the downtrodden in order to be gripping; and a piece of art doesn't have to be perfectly politically correct to be fun, or important."
And how does this stand with your visit to the Thatcher film? Is it still OK to be struck dumb and left spiritually bereft- the way you and your urban-warrior, anarchist mates were- at a piece of schlocky revisionism...or do we just shrug it off and get on with our lives? Maybe you are growing up. You could even start looking for a career- something you're good at.
Agreed with the above comment on spoilers, especially regarding the shape changing assassin bit which is in the not yet aired finale. In addition, you may want to check the spelling of character names before publishing - it's always good to aim for accuracy! The HBO showrunners have also aged up all the younger characters in the TV series, so Daenerys is actually 16 instead of 13. Still problematic, naturally, but again it's always nice to get your research right. This article smacks a bit of a last-minute rant that hasn't been checked over, and the points have been made and discussed ad infinitum across the internet for years now.
Have to disagree with ALVO11 - I dont think Laurie has read any of the books, nor does she seem to be acquainted with mediavelesque fantasy, with all its tropes and shared furniture. Fact of the matter is, Game of Thrones (or to be accurate, A Song Of Ice And Fire, which is the title of the entire series/story arc) is set in a medieval culture which, for those not in the know, was brutal, bloody and usually short for anyone not part of the nobility. GRR Martin did not pull any punches is his descriptions of life in such a milieu, including the sexism, the racism and the naked lust for power. Clearly such a truthful depiction of such a culture is more than Laurie can take - perhaps some Disneyfied version (complete with wives and daughters who are not treated as chattel) would suit her.
Bit of a shame as I usually like what she writes. But this time I'm afraid she's just way off target.
Wait a minute, woah: I'm going to have to stop you right there: you & everybody else who's blethered this! "Racism was a fact of life in the Middle Ages", who told you that?! Don't you know that many old empires, eg the Roman, were multi-cultural?! (I read somehere they even had a black/North African Emperor once!)
Don't you know the paramount factor in Medieval Europe/Arabia was RELIGION, not race?!
(&incidentally, it was religion, with a bit of Roman patriarchy grafted on, that caused most of the sexism?)
Funnily enough, they don't have monotheism in this - so they really shouldn't have so much sexism!
&if you don't know that racism in the sense we understand it came into being with colonization, the industrial revolution, and some pseudo-scientific ideas that came out of the Enlightenment to explain the "greatness" of Western civilization - and justify the slavetrade - then you don't know much!
No, Laurie covered this - trying to defend it on the grounds that "it's realistic" is just stupid when you're talking about books with dragons, magic, zombies and so on. I love Game of Thrones, but there's no denying it has hugely problematic aspects, and that GRRM *chose* to write books that are full of forced prostitutes and rape and so on.
Dragons aren't realistic so the author could just as easily write in equal marriage rights? This is an argument so ludicrious it practically satirizes itself!
There's a substantial distinction between "realistic" and "true to the genre" that both you and Laurie have failed pathetically to grasp here. Game of Thrones takes place in a standard medieval fantasy setting, of which "dragons, magic and zombies" have long been an established element. If you can't see how their inclusion differs from radically rewriting the entire medieval fictional society just to appear more tasteful to modern sensibilities, then I despair for your ability to critique literature in any meaningful fashion other than drum-beating feminism.
Oh, and here I thought GRRM was all about deconstructing genre cliches, which is pretty much the opposite of "being true to the genre".
I do like how in your mind, including equal marriage would involve a much deeper rewriting of medieval society than including magic, though. Well, I say "like", I mean "worry about". (Also? Equal marriage: not really a feminist issue.)
Good points, Mr/Ms Pickwick! :)
@Gerry - Laurie may not have read the books (the spellings of character names suggests she hasn't ;)) but there are at least two major plot points mentioned in the article that haven't come up in the series yet.
good grief, is that it? all those months off and the best you can do is whinge about fantasy being objectionably un-realistic, and that you don't like the Queen's frocks...a game changer this article aint Laurie.
None of the Starks have any discernible character defects?! I must have different books than you do!
And yeah, you've mashed up the TV show and books quite badly here, and GoT fandom is (understandably) obsessed with spoiler warnings.
She hasn't read any of the books; just watched the show.
Dany freeing slaves? That hasn't happened yet, it's from A Storm of Swords.
A spoiler warning might have been nice. I'm guessing you've read all the books? I've read four of them and there are plot points given away here that I haven't got to yet.
I'd suggest either amending the article to remove reference to anything that hasn't been shown on tv or include a spoiler alert for the tv series and all 5 books.
Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman.