Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Please Shut Up About a Show You Haven't Watched: A Response to a Recent Vice Article

As someone who greatly enjoys many aspects of what is considered 'nerd culture',  I'll admit that we have a bit of an image problem on the whole.  We tend to be elitist about the things we like, which causes disinterest among other people who show an interest in Dungeons and Dragons, video games or comic books.  I can't speak for everyone who owns a twenty-sided die, but I personally have done my best to try and stop this stereotype.  Which is why I held back with my knee-jerk reaction to Clive Martin's recent article about why he will not be enjoying the popular HBO television series Game of Thrones.  After all, not everyone enjoys every single popular thing (I personally have no interest in watching The Walking Dead) and if Clive Martin had a good reason to ignore the show, I would do my best to read his article with an unbiased opinion.

Then I actually read the article, and discovered that the article was less a critique of Game of Thrones and more of an ignorant dismissal on all aspects of the fantasy genre.

Martin states in his article that his dismissal of the genre is due to a belief that it's stories "come from a very conservative, dated world view."  While this is hard to argue (a majority of fantasy novels do take place in medieval-esque world), I also fail to see how this is a reason to dismiss the entire genre.  I agree that it's important to have a progressive world view in the real world.  And while a fictional story can influence your view on the world (George Orwell and Issac Asimov come to mind), it's primary objective is to tell a compelling story.  Part of that compelling story

One could make the same argument against historical fiction.  Books written about a certain time period also have a dated world view, since at the time they literally were the current world view.  But that fact doesn't keep films like Braveheart or Kingdom of Heaven from being fantastic, because ultimately the important thing is a compelling story and characters.  Whether the character is someone who can actually exist in this world shouldn't matter.

This is why I feel that Game of Thrones is so successful outside of the "fantasy nerd" audience:  Because it focuses heavily on the characters rather than Tolkien-esque world building.  Rather than having the viewer (or reader) learn more about the fantasy world by exploring it as they do in LoTR, George RR Martin focuses on the strife of his characters with laser like precision.  And while there are fantastic elements seen with the Dragons and the White Walkers, they take a back seat to Tyrion's complex affair with Shae, Arya Stark's transformation from an innocent girl into a merciless killer obsessed with revenge or the internal power struggle going on behind the walls of King's Landing.  Westeros is a relatively grounded in reality universe, and any "fantasy elements" that would be strange to the reader are equally peculiar to everyone in the story.

Which is a shame, Clive Martin.  Because had you watched (or read) Game of Thrones, I think you might have liked it.  Your complaints about the genre (as ridiculous as they are) are things that are remedied in George RR Martin's writing.

Too bad you'll never know, since you're compelled to hate something which you haven't even made an attempt to experience.

PS: I'd also like to take a moment to talk about the whole "Why are there no (insert ethnicity here) in LoTR?" argument. Not because racial representation in fantasy  The reason is because they are books based on Slavic myth written by an Oxford professor in the thirties.  Asking why LoTR only has white people is like asking why a story about the American Revolution has no Asians.

But again, had Clive Martin experienced Game of Thrones for himself, he would have discovered that the show is filled with diversity.  One of the more important characters of Season 2 and one of the most powerful men in Essos was an African American.  Khal Drogo was played by a Native Hawaiian.  Hell, the show is one of the first times (in my knowledge) where an interesting, compelling and important character was played by a midget!

Again, all important things to consider before writing an article about a show you haven't even attempted to watch.