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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
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 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.
I’ve not seen any of GoT, so I’ve got two choices. Keep schtum or spout off from a position of ignorance.
This article reminds me of that time in the 80’s when certain people had to check if a form of entertainment met the correct political criteria before they would admit to liking it. It’s a very insecure, teenagerish, way to behave. It also led to some of the most god awful stage performances in the history of thespianism. I remember one particularly grim season at a Brighton arts festival where every performance seemed to end with clunky “…why was I born a man” or “..and only when we are freed from our chains of oppression can women…” . Nowadays feminist protesters often deck themselves out in pink, I can’t remember what they did in the 80’s, but it should have been grey.
Like the article though. There's something about Ms Penny’s writing that allows it to flow through ones brain. This sentence for example…“14th century Europe wasn’t a lot of fun if you were a woman” I like the idea that men have been lolling around in silk dressing gowns, smoking cigarettes in long holders, for over 700 years. How far back do we need to go before we find a time when men weren't having it easy? Some ape species have males who do a suspicious amount of lounging, do we need to predate humanity?
The first five words of this piece are quite important “I love Game Of Thrones”. What a wonderful thing to write. Forget the political posturing, hyperbole and conflations, our Ms. Penny is a real person, just like us. Probably worth remembering.
A better criticism: Game Of Thrones takes the Hobbesian right-wing ethic of everyone for themselves and makes it sexy and aspirational.
That's immensely dangerous narrative engineering.
But it's also not unusual on TV at the moment. Far from being transgressive and edgy and limit-pushing, the show ploughs the usual furrows. Sex, abuse and violence on TV are the new vanilla mainstream now.
The real taboos are kindness, caring and humanity - not just incidentally, but as central themes.
Yeah - I agree with your "Hobbesian" criticism as well - as the assertion that "sex, violence and abuse" are the "new vanilla" - in/on TV, movies, graphic novels and pretty much everywhere else!
"The real taboos are kindness, caring and humanity" and is anyone surprised, in decadent American end-of-Empire culture?!
wow, what a depressingly PC article - thank christ we have GoT to escape this kind of drivel !
I read Laurie's articles because they are illuminating, and also to check out the vitriol barometer. Laurie's serial critics don't hate her because she is a bourgeois feminist but because she is a clever woman.
We wondered how long it would be before the pathetic "Anyone who criticises Laurie can only be doing it because they're a misogynist troll, because she's the best writer ever - FACT" defence of her writing came out.
Laurie's critics don't hate her because she's a woman, or even a clever woman (best education money can buy, y'know). It's because she writes banal drivel. And because her whole Weltanschauung consists solely of half-baked "right on" nonsense peddled by the soft left in the 1980s which she has taken on, wholesale and undigested, and misconstrues it as unquestionable truth.
Laurie's writers don't hate her because she's a woman, or even a clever woman (best education money can buy, y'know). It's because she writes banal drivel. And because her whole Weltanschauung consists solely of half-baked "right on" nonsense peddled by the soft left in the 1980s which she has taken on, wholesale and undigested, and misconstrues it as unquestionable truth.
Cut the white knight act and destroy the straw-men you've created.
People hate her because they disagree with her and see her doing more harm than good. She's a deluded polemicist who cannot seem to get a grip on the idea of "evidence" rather than just ideology.
Grow up and stop trying to sleep with her.
HOW unchivalrous!! :s
Excellent read, I just passed this onto a colleague who was doing a little research on that. And he just bought me lunch as I found it for him smile So let me rephrase that: Thank you for lunch! "We steal if we touch tomorrow. It is God's."
Is this actually supposed to be serious? This is possibly the most narrow sighted and poorly conceived article I've read in years. Your contention is complete rubbish, rendering all your content totally invalid. Maybe if you didn't look at life with such a "men are out to get me" attitude, you'd be happier and write better articles.
Hear, Hear! I loved this article, very tongue and cheek, if you will. You're taking the author too seriously if you're upset by it, she's making good critique of pop-culture and politics.
I'd sure like to believe that! ;-)
I want to take a moment or so to apologise to Laurie Penny for having called her a “wet blanket” this morning. That my post appeared twice in succession was accidental and not meant to underscore an opinion. As a Canadian reader I happened upon her assessment of GoT very much by accident and was not familiar with her writing for NS. I have since had a chance to read several of her articles and now see that my insult, tame as it might have been, was unthinking and unwarranted. I now see that Penny has contributed some brave and admirable work to this newspaper.
That said, my problems with her GoT piece remain. Personal philosophies take years to develop; if Penny chooses to call herself a feminist, I can only admit that my take on the subject diverged from what seems to be hers a very long time ago.
As to the article, Penny may not be a wet blanket but her article does rather leave some of us feeling rained-on. Interestingly, tellingly, the one glimmer of humour in her article is her cheeky re-interpolations of the word “prostitutes” in the first paragraph. And I’ll get back to that.
Penny is not alone in her liberal reservations about GoT. In the US, normally liberal-left publications like Slate, Salon and The Atlantic have allowed their writers to express discomfort with what is being described as “excessive” and “gratuitous” nudity, sex and violence. There is no definitive acid-test for either excess or gratuitousness. As grownups (I speak as someone who turned sixty this spring) we do get better (hopefully!) at spotting shoddy exploitation and perhaps become less easily shocked by a bit of skin or blood. It worries me that some of these censorious sentiments are welling up from a time, decades past when “gay lib” and “women’s lib”, formerly allies, woke up and realized that they had diametrically opposed takes on pornography (guess who took which side.)
If anyone wants to know what gratuitous sex and violence look like, they really should check out the American TV series “Spartacus” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spartacus_(2010_TV_series)
which has aired to negligible complaint. Let’s remember that it was Britain that set the groundwork for this sort of show with the BBC’s brilliant “I, Claudius” back in the 1970s. And of course people got their underwear in a knot over the work of Kubrick and Peckinpah back in the day…
As to the prostitutes, I think what people are skirting is the scene a few weeks back between Joffrey and two young ladies “given” to him as a birthday present. You all know the scene I’m talking about. I’m not ashamed to admit that I changed the channel. I couldn’t watch. I didn’t need to; the scene served it purpose… to make us all feel, at the most visceral, pre-rational level and in the dirtiest most hurtful and unforgettable way, exactly what sort hideous little monster Joffrey really is. That’s not gratuitous violence; it’s effective television.
Other commenters have already remarked on the many strong female characters in GoT; I need not list them, only say that GoT is my idea of feminism.
I have watched Game of Thrones and I must say it wasn't what I expected. The first episodes are promising but after that all goes down and it's not very interesting. I am dissapointed.
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It seems that the nature of "feminist criticism" nowadays is pointing at something, anything really, and calling it sexist. This sort of mindless stone throwing could find sexism in everything from cheese adverts to popular dramas that take place in imaginary times.
Feminists have no answer for dramatic conflict. There are some feminists who believe that the whole of western drama from the Greeks on was sexist.
What do feminists want drama to be exactly? Solemn tales of smart girls who reach their potentials and strive to rid the world of hatred by hailing long chats? I have no idea, nor does anyone else.
It's fine to point out the obvious, but I oppose the moralistic tone that pervades this type of "criticism." there is no insight or truth to be gained to merely gesture, and not to understand.
Laurie you usually cool, but this is just cheap, facile criticism-like writing.
And, yes, very unecessary.
I love this serie. Too sad some of the main characters and specially the most charismatic ones were killed.
Fairy Tail VOSTFR
The oldest trick in journalism.
1) identify highly popular contemporary entertainment
2) publish merit-less attack, counter to broad opinion and preferably drafted on napkin or fag packet
3) sit back and watch the readers pile in.
The days we call it 'trolling' but it was originally used to flog newspapers.
(if she's not trolling, she's one joyless bint)
Laurie Penny is living proof that a liberal arts degree is totally worthless.
This article reads like you haven't read the books, and if you have then you haven't read them very well.
I really don't understand your point about the series being somehow "anti-feminist", because while there is a fair amount of prostitution there is also a lot of strong, female lead characters who forge their story-lines completely separate from any of the male characters.
And secondly I really don't understand how you can think that the characters can be clearly be characterised as either good or evil. In my opinion, the blurring of moral boundaries is one of the most important parts of the story. Each of the main characters especially have different motivations and never fall into stereotypes of good and evil. Jaime, Tyrion, The Hound and Arya are good examples of characters that go through changes and whose morality is a fluid concept.
I usually think you write very good articles, but this reads like ill informed rubbish.
So unless I'm a boy, old man, dwarf or mentally disabled, all I'm interested in is blood, sex and alcohol?
And why not mention the strong female characters? Arya, Lady Stark, Cersei, Brienne of Tarth or Asha Greyjoy. How many positive male characters are in this show? Far fewer than females.
If you're going to point out the sexism, at least mention both instances.
mu me le behen ki laudi
I like game of thrones because of the strong female characters! Their strengths are shown by their struggles against the patriarchy!
There are old strong women and young strong women. There are even some weak women as contrasts.
odd. the GoT i've been watching has been dominated by strong, admirable female characters of courage and integrity (and that includes at least one prostitute!)
perhaps Britain has been getting a different edit than the one we've been seeing here in North America?
also, Ms. Penny should reacquaint herself with the meaning of the word "gratuitous." i see a new generation of prudes emerging.
Some readers might find this a provocative piece. I can see it happening if you're a certain type of fan of such things. Ms. Penny has sown some biting truths into her remarks regarding the HBO series and the shambolic demonstration of national pride that we've been treated to this week watching the Queen's Jubilee.
But as such, it pales by comparison to the offense given so freely in the comments.
Yes, I know, comments sections open to the grazing public rarely represent us wrestling with the angles of our better natures. We are more likely to be found covering the walls of a public forum with our excrement. The easy availability of pseudo-anonymity as it's not our names on the byline after all, is like dysentery to the dung-heaping.
However, ignoring the hack and thrust of Ms. Penny's legitimate complaints with the series - which is ghastly, and indeed full of enough prostitutes to stack their bodies like cordwood to the moon - what do we see instead? Commenters shrilling attacking Ms. Penny's age, her education, her brand of "faux-feminism" and so by extension, her gender and her right to speak about its intersectionality with popular culture. Bravo, well done. What a lot of decent, clever, human beings you all are.
But perhaps most clueless of all in a post talking about the problematic elements of GRRM's type of grimdark epic fantasy, a banner bearer for some very problematic elements of genre literature which are not new but not exorcised either - is braying about "Spoilers!"
Spoilers. When the mention oft the eastern slaves being freed by their white saviour dragon queen is vital to Ms. Penny's argument on the show's poor handling of race, they're hardly spoilers - they're part of a grownup discussion of a rather juvenile show.
If you're a fan who simply can't find any enjoyment in the story if you know what's going to happen next week, why bother reading a review at all? I would guess that a very large segment of the show's audience already knows what is going to happen - beyond even the scope of the current series - because they've read the books already. If you haven't, then you'd have to be as empty headed at the books themselves, not to see this coming.
On that note, it's not exactly high concept writing. GRRM's best claim to fame is that he tends to kill off everyone, eventually. But there's not a lot other than its convoluted plot going on behind the writing and its buckets of gore. After a few main POVs are cut short along with their necks, you tend to get the picture. Life is grim, people are shits, and they're all willing to kill each other for ownership of a particularly uncomfortable looking chair.
And that's it for the most part. It's not deeply subversive fare, nor are his "strong female characters" without some serious problems, often equating strength through sexuality and sexuality often with unalloyed evil - see Cersei Lannister for a prime example - and it wasn't even subversive ten years ago. Just the forerunner in a fantasy gold rush, to up the violence, and rape, and plentitude of prostitutes, and general grim dark violence, which has continued unabated in the plump shadows cast by the successful publishing of the series.
You could have talked about any of this, argued a corner, etc.. But spoilers? Really? Grow up. You're never going to sit on the Iron Throne if you keep whinnying on about spoilers.
Are you actually serious?
I am gonna write this as I read your article: Objection number one:
1) Starks have no character flaws. Yeah they do. Ned, honourable to a fault. Bit foolish to be honest. Rob, overly trusting, romantic, bit immature. Catelyn, before she died she was a dumb woman. After she died she became an overly vengeful bitch. Arya, too violent, too much of a tomboy. Sansa, so stupid it hurts me to think about her
2) Lannisters are villains. No, no they're not. Cersei is an irredeemable bitch, but she is the product of a sexist society. Jaime, is the hero Westeros needed. He saved them all from the mad king's dangerous plot. Tyrion, is constantly being a hero. He gave enough of a damn to go to the wall, he helped out Bran when he lost the use of his legs. He treated Sansa kindly, he saved king's landing from Stannis. And just so he is not too heroic he is also a whoring drunkard guilty of patricide
I actually ended up not making it through this whole article. If you actually read this, miss penny, you're a bad writer and should feel bad
Penny misreads GOT quite spectacularly. The nearest thing to a good ruler is decapitated by the end of season 1. We are introduced to varyingly effective rulers - e.g. Tyrion, Varys and Littlefinger - but none of them is good.
"The nearest thing to a good ruler is decapitated by the end of season 1."
This is a recurring theme. Scheming swines prosper and the good die young. I believe they call it "realism".
I had a reply to this article, but every point it raised just brings two counter-arguments.
Poor reading of the series, considering the writer is being paid for this article. You'd expected better from the New Statesman.
Laurie Penny, the wettest of blankets.
Why do you enjoy this rubbish so much, so as to character-assassinate a writer who does not - so much? (Applies to all you fan thralls.)
In the first season it was like evry epesode there was naked people in now second season its allot lesser.
I dont mind it else just dont watch :)
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I like Laurie, not because I necessarily agree with her absolutism, but because I believe there ought to be a place in the mainstream media for writers who beat people over the heads with sledge hammers - sometimes the clank of a metal mallet is necessary to knock people out of their vegetative states - boo to her begrudgers!
In relation to her article perhaps Laurie might explain how the most consistently left wing countries in Western Europe are constitutional monarchies, while your nearest republican neighbour Ireland, is among the most consistently right wing? Even our two greatest socialist leaders Larkin and Connelly were imported from the United Kingdom.
wow. a whole lot of butt hurt fans in the comments.
Laurie Penny meets with GRRM to discuss story rewrites:
"What if, instead of abusing Daenerys, Khal Drogo sits up with her all night discussing feminist ecology?"
"How about, instead of a cat house, Tyrion wakes up in an anarcho-syndicalist commune?"
Penny dreadfuls are back in vogue.
A penny dreadful containing an anarcho-syndicalist commune sounds like worth the penny! :)
(& of course there were ancient examples of primitive socialism, you twatface. If Martin were not such a US "libertarian" fascist - or whatever - looks like an older version of Frank Miller to me - then he could have made his Tyrion wake up somewhere spirited away amongst a tribe who practice just that! &who have the free love practices of some Pacific islanders before the Christians got to them! That might heal his shattered borderline-psychopathic soul!)
This is the most perfectly ludicrous article I have read in months
Sweet lord, can you imagine entertainment arriving at our door pre-approved by Ms Penny? Shoot me now.
This piece is a lovely artefact. Thank you for the experience.
Not sure she quite understands the fantasy canon. Dragons, magic and such are not just a random choice an author throws in. It works because that is what legends and myths of that time were made up of. I mean, when they did Beowulf should they have made Grendal a lesbian human rifts activist? Because they could?
That line about equal marriage is a classic. It will be used to parody this sort of nonsense for some time. Although folks won't believe it was real.
Ms. Penny, write your own Pseudo-Medieval Fantasy Epic. You assume that you know much more than the author could. So hwo would it be a problem for you? You could deal with both women striving to run their own lives in a patriarchal society and with some alternitives to Western patriarchal patrilineal social norms (Matriarchy, which is just patriarchy with the players changed, always comes across as just as sexist, if not moreso, in Sci fi and Fantasy, so skip that.)
Deal with the struggle to run society in a just and honnorable way. Write a Marxist Fantasy Epic. Or drop the literary criticism.
If you want to do Literay criticism. describe and define, don't just blast away.
I can't tell you how annoyed i am that you didnt give a spoiler alert for that bit about the slave-freeing. That is entirely unnacceptable at the best of times, but failing to do so in a review of the show is just mental. I love your articles usually Laurie, but you've lost me here.
Were you aware at all that the majority of GoT fans see it as progressive? A gay story line that at no point is mentioned explicitly cos, you know, it's normal to be gay; likewise with the Tinklage charachter, which i tihnk does wonders at fighting discrimination against dwarves. I can only assume not otherwise your article would surely have made more of an attempt to convince people with arguments and evidence rather than trying to ram it down our throat that this show is offensive.
Oh and do you perhaps have an issue with north/south stereotypes and prejudice in the real-world UK. That the only reason i cant think you would have come to the conclusion you did about the Stark's lack of charachter flaws which is so astonioshingly different from the impression i and all my friends have had.
Game of Throne is the best tv show then The Jubilee, I hope game of throne will go up to five season.
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What most of the people commenting here seem to forget is that Laurie Penny is writing abut the tv-series, not the books. Tv-series is something completly different than the books, and lots of people that will never read the books will watch the tv-series, so it's worth analyzing as a seperate matter.
What Laurie Penny seems to forget is that it's a tv-series, and - if the creators indeed intend to adapt the whole "Song of Ice and Fire" - a very long tv-series at that. Judging it by the first season or two is like judging a book by a first chapter or two. Those who read the books or at least know the number of pages in them know that what we are watching in the show right now is merely setting a scene and maybe some small prelude to the actual story. Judging just that as rascist, anti-feminist or anything, really, is absurd.
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 is a contributing editor to the New Statesman.