Sex and Gender in ‘Game of Thrones’
Game of Thrones has seemingly divided opinions as to whether a fantasy show can indeed be ‘high drama’ to contend with the likes of HBO’s programming. One of the more contentious issues is that of the targeted gender audience and the use of sex in the show itself. Ginia Bellafante’s article in the New York Times A Fantasy World of Strange Feuding Kingdoms in April 2011 inspired anger in many fans of the show who read it.
Bellafante makes it clear that fantasy isn’t her personal taste and urges HBO to return to its regular dramatic programming. It appears that perhaps she hasn’t done her research on the show, as the series A Song of Ice and Fire is hugely popular, as is the show that follows, putting her in the relative minority in her plea. Her disrespect for genre fiction is apparent and somewhat surprising for a reviewer. As fantasy isn’t Bellafante’s personal taste she reduces it to cheapness. Genres are important, and have always been loved by the masses and the critic alike. Where would we be without the Mary Shelley’s and Agatha Christie’s of this world?
Regardless, her biggest problem is her attitude towards sex. She writes that “[I]t says something about current American attitudes toward sex … nearly all eroticism on television is past tense.” This seems to be for a fairly apparent reason. Writers look at the Christian values imbedded in our society, which though becoming outdated still linger (no bed before marriage, the horror of having more than a few sexual partners and more generally just the uptight, censorship happy attitude towards sex). It makes sense for us to reject these stifling values, and perhaps daydream about a time when sex wasn’t considered something to be so guilty about. Subsequently we look back to the pre-Christ Roman empire in Rome or to a far away fantasy alternate universe, free from the notion of restricting a hedonistic pleasure because of divine judgment. Game of Thrones embraces this, and what I feel Bellafante fails to understand is that men and women alike do appreciate this freer attitude to sex and don’t consider it merely a “sexual hopscotch”.
However she brazenly continues, “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. While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to ”The Hobbit” first. I struggle with this statement on many levels; first and foremost being that frankly I find the idea of injecting violent sex into a show to make it appeal to women is a strange concept – in fact I would probably suggest it does the complete opposite. Furthermore as David Barnett puts it in his article in the Guardian, Game of Thrones: Girls Want to Play too: “She seemed to be referring to what she imagined was the shoehorning of a bit of nookie into the screenplay (although in fact the source material has plenty of bonking)”. Indeed, it’s quite obvious that she hasn’t read the books, nor should she have had to review the show, however it does contribute to the impression that for her “ to stick so blinkeredly to such a generalisation, especially in a review for the New York Times, smacks of a lack of research.”
Bellafante continues by stating, ”Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.” This statement was objected strongly to by many female fans of the show online: most aggressively by girls who refer to themselves as the cringe term “geek girls.” Though “Geek Girl Diva’s” response in her blog was pretty offensive, her point was completely justified. – “geek” culture, including the fantasy genre is just as strong amongst women as well as men. Personally I feel that you don’t even have to be a “geek” to enjoy the occasional fantasy romp – especially one as dramatic and carefully crafted as Game of Thrones. In fact I’ve found that many if not all of my intelligent female friends would much rather watch an episode of Game of Thrones than go anywhere near “reruns of ‘Sex and the City.’” Perhaps, dare I say it; Bellafante is past the stage in her life where she is open to new or different styles of entertainment.
Clearly fantasy is not her area of expertise or fandom, nor should it have to be. But neither must she write a review for a show which would apparently fall short of the mark just for reasons of genre or the reviewer’s ill-conceived notions of sex. Though it could be argued that as a reviewer she should review all types of shows with her subjective opinion – what’s the use in her reviewing a show within a genre that she clearly has biased disdain for?