The uproar about the negative reviews of the TV adaption of A Game of Thrones at the New York Times and Slate is still going on (you can read my take here).
At Tor.com, Amy Ratcliffe takes on the gender assumptions in the New York Times review and states that yes, many women do like A Game of Thrones, both the show and the book.
Amy Ratcliffe also points out this article at the MSNBC site which interviews various female fans in order to say that women do enjoy speculative television shows and have for a long time. Though many producers still have not grasped that many of their viewers are women and are still chasing after the young male demographic. In fact, one of those shows mentioned in the MSNBC article was ruined – at least as far as I am concerned – by producers changing the show to appeal to an male demographic which had trashed it during the first season and in the process destroying what I and it seems other female viewers liked about the program.
By now, however, the discussion seems to have shifted to whether the online SFF community was right to take the reviewers to task for their negative reviews at all.
The delightfully named Pornokitsch blog uses the Game of Thrones review controversy as a jump-off point to discuss the wisdom of crowds in general and the online SFF community in particular.
Daniel Abraham also responds to the issue at the Orbit blog and asks why we care about what the New York Times and Slate think anyway.
I don’t really agree that we shouldn’t pick on reviewers Ginia Bellafante and Troy Patterson, because they are just two writers trying to pay their bills and make their deadlines. For I don’t think that anybody is picking on Bellafante and Patterson for not liking A Game of Thrones. After all, Heather Havrilesky, also writing for the New York Times didn’t like it either and no one is picking on her. However, Heather Havrilesky managed to argue her point better, she was not as condescending and she actually seems to have watched the show and tried to take it on its own merits. Meanwhile, Troy Patterson and Ginia Bellafante simply wrote badly argued reviews of a show they were predisposed to dislike anyway. Not that there’s anything wrong with being predisposed to dislike something – after all I dislike plenty of shows, films and books as well. But if a high-profile outlet were asking me to review a work in a genre I dislike, I would probably decline or ask for another assignment, since I would not be able to give a fair review. Besides, it’s not as if the New York Times or Slate have only a single reviewer on staff.
Finally, if Ginia Bellafante and Troy Patterson were bothered by what the SFF community thinks of them (which I doubt they are), then maybe reviewer isn’t the best of occupations for them. Because a reviewer’s fate is always to be hated by someone. It’s part of the job description.
As if we haven’t read enough negative reviews of Game of Thrones from high-profile media outlets, here is another by Nancy DeWolf Smith from the Wall Street Journal. This is a bundle review of four new (to the US) TV shows with a vaguely historical theme, two with fantasy elements and two not, namely the new Upstairs, Downstairs, The Borgias, Camelot and Game of Thrones.
Ms. DeWolf Smith doesn’t like any of those shows and her issues with much of what passes for historical TV drama these days pretty much mirror mine, namely that historical drama broadcast on US pay-TV channels like Showtime, Starz (the only US cable channel with a name even worse than SyFy) and HBO is usually high on violence, blood and bizarre sex and low on historical accuracy. Meanwhile, the new Upstairs, Downstairs manages to avoid those pitfalls, but it is not as good as the original, which pretty much echoes what British reviewers said when the show debuted in the UK.
I cannot really argue with any of that, because sexed up historical drama a la Rome and The Tudors doesn’t work for me and the strange HBO-style sex has annoyed me for years now. Where Nancy DeWolf Smith goes wrong is that she views Game of Thrones through the historical drama lens, though it and Camelot for that matter are fantasy. And unless I’m really misremembering the book, the Dothraki are human mongol analogues and not centaurs, so apparently she did not pay attention there. However, she also has some nice words for the production design and quality of A Game of Thrones, she just doesn’t like the current style of historical and epic fantasy TV drama per se.
But then we’re back to the familiar favorites of the infantile:, e.g., spurting blood and gore, bastard sons, evil vixens, blond nymphets, quasilesbian action, crude talk among men about their private parts, incest, rough couplings and more random bare breasts than any other contender in the adolescent-boy-action-show contest this month.
And now we’re back to the “epic fantasy is for adolescent boys” cliché, plus the reviewer also gets in a dig at roleplayers earlier. Which is of course wrong, because epic fantasy is not for adolescent boys, as plenty of women read and watch and write it. However, the “blood and tits and sex and violence” drama regularly dished up by US pay-TV cable channels does have a certain adolescent appeal.
In my classes, I sometimes discuss Guy Fawkes, the Tudors and other bloody periods of British history. And there’s always at least one student who wants the bloody details and preferably a video recording taken by a time traveler. And most of the time, that overly curious student is a boy. Put those boys in front of The Tudors or Rome or Game of Thrones or The Borgias and I bet you, they would enjoy it. Not that I would show it to them in class. Too much sex and violence and not enough history to justify it.
Meanwhile, here is a Game of Thrones review from the genre side of the fence by Theresa DeLucci and Ellen B. Wright at Tor.com. As might be expected, this review is much more positive than the reviews from the non-genre press. However, both reviewers have some issues with the first episode and interestingly their issues – namely the fact that an eventually consensual wedding night scene is turned into a rape, another consensual and loving sex scene is downplayed, while the violent and incestous sex and the orgies are played up – mirror the issues expressed by some of the mainstream reviewers.
Whatever purpose the HBO style sex may once have served – and I suspect it’s a mixture of TV producers so happy to be freed from the restrictions of network television that they go overboard and pay-TV channels using sex to lure subscribers (though certainly a porn channel would be more satisfying than HBO in that case) – it seems that more and more people, both men and women, genre and mainstream reviewers, are finding it gratuitous.
So maybe it’s time to lure viewers with excellent programming (and I freely admit that I don’t like much of what the US pay-TV cable channels offer. I certainly wouldn’t pay for it) rather than with sex and gore and bad words.