Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Atlantic proves that the New York Times doesn't have a monopoly on fantasy bashing

Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) bares all on Game of Thrones. (That "all" is not included here, as a
consideration for anyone reading this at work or in front of small children.)

Apparently Ginia Bellafante and Neil Genzlinger at the New York Times aren't the only writers who let their anti-fantasy bias inform their opinions of Game of Thrones. Ta-Nehesi Coates at The Atlantic took on the issue of gratuitous nudity on the series, which in and of itself can be a very productive discussion. But instead of actually looking at the problem critically and coming up with a reasonably explanation, he fell back on the frustratingly prevalent explanation that fantasy is only liked by nerdy male virgins, and nerdy male virgins like to look at naked chicks:
If there's one thing I've enjoyed about exploring French film it's that the film-makers don't always come off as bunch of nerds compensating for something that did--or rather didn't--happen in high school. There's a strain of thought here (and maybe abroad) which holds that violating manners is--in and of itself--an aesthetic good, that art which makes your grandmother uncomfortable has, for only that reason, advanced society. (You see the same strain of thought in "ironic racism.") I'd rather art that considers manners largely irrelevant.
First of all, comparing Game of Thrones to the French New Wave is somewhat facetious, as they are entirely different works that are working towards divergent ends (and I say this as a fan of both French film and Game of Thrones). And saying that Francois Truffaut wasn't "compensating for something that did - or rather didn't - happen in high school"? Has Coates ever actually watched Jules et Jim? Because - and I say this again as a fan of Truffaut - the character of Katherine, like so many of the director's women, is clearly his attempt to deal with romantic rejection by resigning himself to the fact that women are, like, complicated and confusing, man.

But really, Coates' major problem is his assumption that the team behind Game of Thrones are sexless "nerds" who, presumably, are too busy playing D&D in their parents' basements to have ever actually seen a naked woman. This assumption is yet another example of the anti-fantasy (and, on a larger scale, anti-genre) snobbery that permeates the work of so many "respectable" critics. One would assume that these people weren't making a stink when Tony Soprano held meetings in the Bada Bing, in front of a backdrop of strippers; I certainly don't recall anyone taking David Chase to task for "compensating" for his own sexual frustrations by showing naked women onscreen, but apparently a completely different standard applies to purveyors of fantasy.

And as for Coates' accusation that Game of Thrones' nudity exists merely for the purpose of "violating manners"? Well, I'll let the fantastic Alyssa Rosenberg - who wrote a truly excellent piece on Game of Thrones and nudity for ThinkProgress that you should really go read immediately - rebut that one:
This season, there have been a couple stand-alone examples that have felt particularly important to me. When Theon has sex with the daughter of the ship captain who’s bringing him back to his childhood home on Pyke, the show spends a lot of time lingering on her face and body, neither of which are particularly conventionally attractive. But Theon ends up complicit in our judgement of her. He tells her to shut her mouth so he won’t have to look at her teeth. He ignores her requests to go with him when he leaves the ship, and ignores her when she says her father will punish her for sleeping with him. He’s using her, and assumes that because she’s an ugly girl, she ought to be sexually available to him and grateful for the attention. The whole scene, including her nakedness, is about explaining Theon’s sexual entitlement, his voraciousness, the inflated sense of self that will later lead to his spectacular humiliation. 
I felt the same way about Margaery Tyrell’s scene with her husband, Renly Baratheon. The scene starts with him acknowledging how beautiful she is. But he’s profoundly uncomfortable with her naked body, repulsed by the sexual attraction he knows he’s supposed to be feeling. The contrast between her beautiful body and his reaction, which I thought was a really beautiful piece of acting, is part of what makes the scene. The other part of what makes the scene great is her utter comfort in her body, in her nakedness. Margaery may be a woman, and she may be in a situation where most of us might feel sexually vulnerable. But she’s better equipped than her husband to talk about the fact that they need to get pregnant, and quickly, and she’s more at home in her body, what her body craves, and what other people want her body to be used for than Renly is.
 Rosenberg goes on to make yet another great point, about the artistic purpose of the most recent episode's most skin-crawlingly disturbing scene. (Like I said, you should be reading her article. Now.) Coates, Bellafante and Genzlinger, this is how you write about fantasy; by treating it like any other genre, and according it the same level of respect.

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