“…While we often search for reasons to invalidate the opinion of critics based on their personal taste, in truth that is unnecessary and often risks treading into dangerous territory; all we really need to do is look to their arguments, and we’ll often discover that a reviewer has written two paragraphs in a grab bag review that seems to betray a less than rigorous viewing of the episodes available…” – Myles McNutt
For any seasoned visitor to Westeros, Myles McNutt’s claim becomes blindingly apparent in Ginia Bellafante’s psuedo-review of HBO fantasy epic Game of Thrones. It is clear that, at the time of the article’s publication, Bellafante is likely not to have watched past the pilot episode of the series adapted from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels. I can only speculate here because Bellafante’s review focuses little on the actual plot of the show, but the absence of the show’s inspirational heroines in her case for a gendered television programme signifies Bellafante’s lack of research. Moreover, in citing the fantasy genre as lacking “real-world sociology”, Bellafante’s judgment of GoT is clouded in that she fails to observe the programme’s subdued fantasy elements compared to those of more typical fantasy texts. In effect, McNutt suggests that Bellefante’s review is not to be considered a result of her (dis)taste for the fantasy genre but is instead a product of her laziness and that perhaps our personal preconceptions of genre lead us awry from the reality of the text’s content.
“How dare anyone say that Game of Thrones is “boy fiction.” What a crude and useless phrase. I am proof that it is not the case, and I am not alone.” – Amy Ratcliffe
The sheer response of many “geek girls” to Bellafante’s review is alone enough to suggest a link between gender and genre is tenuous. In speaking out against claims of “boy fiction”, Amy Ratcliffe states:
“I will say that the fact that there is sex in the series does contribute to one of the reasons the series stands apart – it’s gritty. It is not your average fantasy tale full of squeaky clean Legolas-like characters”
One major reason (but by no means the reason) for shared male and female viewership of Game of Thrones then is that the rules of the genre itself have become murky. Sword-and-sandal sagas have traditionally appealed to males with an affinity for David vs. Goliath scenarios and promises of intercontinental quests. Yet the ellipses of battles and heightened politics of GoT are what make less gendered the fantasy genre perceived to have been more frequently traversed by male audiences.
“The true perversion, though, is the sense you 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.” – Ginia Bellafante
Like most GoT fans responding to Bellafante’s review, I couldn’t quite comprehend the nature of the article for its blatant sexism. But additionally, I interpreted the above quote as presenting an altogether different but equally confusing argument: that sexual content in television is geared not at garnering the attention of men but of women. Wired writer ‘Delphine’ reaches the same conclusion:
“For a long time, everyone supposed that sexy material was used to attract male audience and teenage boys with, let’s say, hormonal needs. Are women perpetual hormonal-needing-teenagers?”
Does Bellafante’s statement represent the thoughts of the female majority or is it instead telling of how one woman’s personal tastes of narrative themes form sweeping generalisations that falsely portray the perception of the average female? The backlash from the online community outrightly suggests the latter.
One of the biggest factors that attracted me to Game of Thrones was something that others could relate to regardless of gender. Bellafante asks “What is Game of Thrones doing on HBO?” and in her subsequent allusion to GoT executive producer David Benioff’s fall from 25th Hour glory, displays her disapproval of the fantasy genre and a flagrant superficiality in trying to answer her own question. Bellafante complains of the difficulty in “(k)eeping track of the principals” but anyone familiar with HBO masterpieces such as The Wire knows that multiple plot lines and characters are staple conventions of the network’s programmes.
But the promise of sprawling narratives were only one aspect of my attraction to Game of Thrones. The narrative itself of HBO programmes are less predictable (and thus, for me, more entertaining) than those that feature on other networks in that the safety of any character is never assured (Oz‘s Augustus Hill and The Wire‘s D’Angelo Barksdale are two of the most significant that come to mind). Rather than diverge any further down a path explaining my own televisual tastes, I will emphasise two points that this HBO hallmark presents. Firstly, discussion of Game of Thrones as gendered is not only redundant for the show’s adoration from “geek girls” but by other key production values appreciated equally by men and women such as, in my own personal case, network signatures.
Secondly, consider the promotional material at left. The poster appeals to both A Song of Ice and Fire fans and subscribers of HBO content. The quote “anyone can be killed” evokes the deaths of aforementioned HBO principals and thus GoT stakes its claim to being truly “HBO”. Formulas for certain genres as appealing to certain demographics are no longer holding fast, and Game of Thrones is at the forefront of the battle for indiscriminate entertainment for men and women alike.
– Bellafante, G: ‘A Fantasy World of Strange Feuding Kingdoms’ in The New York Times, April 14, 2011. Viewed on August 31, 2012 at http://tv.nytimes.com/2011/04/15/arts/television/game-of-thrones-begins-sunday-on-hbo-review.html?_r=0
– Delphine: ‘A Live Woman Who’d Gladly Watch A Game of Thrones (Even Without the Sex Scenes)’ in Geekmom, April 15, 2011. Viewed on September 1, 2012 at http://www.wired.com/geekmom/2011/04/a-live-woman-whod-gladly-watch-a-game-of-thrones-even-without-the-sex-scenes/
– McNutt, M: ‘Questions of Taste: Dissecting the Dissection of Early Reviews of HBO’s Game of Thrones’ on Cultural Learnings, April 9, 2011. Viewed on September 1, 2012 at http://cultural-learnings.com/2011/04/09/questions-of-taste-dissecting-the-dissection-of-early-reviews-of-hbos-game-of-thrones/
– Ratcliffe, A: ‘Response to the NY Times Game of Thrones Review’ in Geeks with Curves, April 15, 2011. Viewed on September 1, 2012 at http://geekfemme.blogspot.com.au/2011/04/response-to-ny-times-game-of-thrones.html