Laurie Penny’s rantings against the awful unpleasantnesses in Game of Thrones massively miss the point.
I like Game of Thrones. I like it rather a lot. I was sceptical when it first arrived, thinking it would be another Lord of the Rings rip-off (I hadn’t read the books, A Song of Ice and Fire, on which it is based). But over the course of its 10-episode first season run, it seduced me with its gritty intrigue, excellent acting, and casual disregard for the wellbeing of characters to whom I had become attached- so much so that I rushed out and bought the DVD box set when it was released.
Laurie Penny, however, doesn’t seem quite as enthusiastic about it, if her latest New Statesman column is anything to go by.
Ms Penny’s writing frequently inflames, agitates and sometimes inspires many across the political spectrum, but I confess I’m usually pretty indifferent to her. I’m a NS subscriber, and I read her columns along with the rest of it, but they don’t seem to ever incite much emotion in me. But I see now it was just a matter of time.
In her article “Game of Thrones and the Good Ruler complex”, she manages to labour a spurious point and misconstrue the entire nature of fiction and storytelling, in an effort to criticise the monarchy by comparing it to Game of Thrones, which she calls “racist rape-culture Disneyland with Dragons“. Which is perhaps a truth, but certainly not a whole truth.
Here, I think, is my favourite part of her article:
“If the creator of a fantasy series can dream up an army of self-resurrecting zombie immortals he can damn well dream up equal marriage rights, and if he chooses not to do so then that choice is meaningful, as is our assumption that the default setting for any generically legendary epic must involve really rather a lot of rape.“
How many of you responded to that with some variation on “Erm…wow…“. It’s hard to know where to start in taking that particular gem to pieces, but how about here: if every piece of fiction was set in a lovely, perfect utopia, then it would get very boring, very fast.
I say this as a writer and a reader, you cannot have meaningful stories without conflict and friction. It’s what makes Game of Thrones so interesting, and keeps it from just being Ned Stark having tea with Robert and Cersei, whilst discussing the fact that it’s getting a little nippy.
You also can’t take everything so damn literally. Writers use metaphors of different types, and very often the entire story is an extended metaphor. I write horror and science-fiction, so very often I’m writing about nasty and unpleasant things. I’m not doing so because I want to say that those things are right- very often its the opposite. Similarly, just because George R. R. Martin has rape, racism, murder, and other unpleasantness in his stories does not mean that he agrees with them.
In terms of Game of Thrones itself, I’m not completely convinced that the amount of sex is Martin’s fault. HBO isn’t known to shy away from sex (True Blood, anyone?), and the sad truth is that we’re a bit sex-obsessed as a society. In a more primal society such as Martin’s Westeros, that’s going to be emphasised.
I could also highlight how much better a job Game of Thrones does in portrayal of women than, say, Lord of the Rings. Tolkein’s masterwork has a grand total of two female main characters, one of whom spends most of the time sobbing, and the other who spends most of it trying to stab things with swords. Game of Thrones boasts characters such as Queen Cersei, Brienne of Tarth, Catelyn, Sansa and Arya Stark, Shae, and so on. Not all good people, but a full range of characters. Like the real world.
I don’t doubt there are legitimate concerns about the potrayal of social issues in Game of Thrones. But Laurie Penny’s objections are nothing short of infantile.