Saturday, January 28, 2012

Olde Raypey Tymes

Somebody get this lizard out of my wig!

I'm coming to this debate five months late, but since I'm reading the books (just started No. 4) I wanted to say something about the controversy surrounding fantasy author, George R.R. Martin's books aka HBO series Game of Thrones.

Completely unfamiliar with this melodrama? Martin began publishing a series of fantasy novels in 1996. He's an obese, old nerd who once wrote for television, was a fan of Tolkien and decided he wanted his own Middle Earth. So Martin came up with Westeros, which is like medieval France with more dismemberment (and rape).

Except he didn't like the way Tolkien, Michael Moorcock, T.H. White and a dozen others wrote fantasy. There was too much swishing of magical swords and not enough actual hacking of limbs with "real" steel swords. Apparently, Martin is a man who knows his Society for Creative Anachronism's jousting rules -- heavy vs. light armor ... (Sorry, I nodded off for a sec). So Martin's world is envisioned with all the vérité of the Dark Ages or maybe the Inquisition. Beheadings and maimings galore!!! This is fantasy for the adults. Westeros is a place where The Lord of the Rings' Frodo-n-Sam would have been court jesters by day and S&M bottoms by night.

Except that wasn't vérité enough, he wanted Westeros to feel like effed up Europe in Olden Tymes and that meant lots of misogyny. The book's narrative voice gleefully details numerous rapes with dated cheesy verbiage.

Of all the prejudices and fears of those times, why'd he pick the monotonous rape and perpetual oppression of women???

The answer's simple. Martin's a former Catholic school boy. There are two kinds of women in the Catholic school boy universe: WHORES and virgins (yee faire maidens). The end. No multi-fauceted characters as deeply flawed as the male characters allowed. In Westeros, you're either a sexless 11-year-old girl or a WHORE. And George Martin loves that word. I counted WHORE eight times on one page in the first novel.

Never mind the fact that in re-imagining a mythic Olde Europe, Martin ineptly leaves out the primary impetus for misogyny -- women weren't allowed to own property or businesses, say 'no' to a marriage proposal, lead mass, etc. -- the Church. The religion that instigated the Inquisition, burned countless Jews, women and "witches", re-wrote the New Testament, demanded exorbitant taxes from lords to build their Liberace-style Vatican, required celibate males for their priesthood ... and the absolute subjugation of women by medieval society. So what's with all the WHORE calling, George, in a pagan society???

Well today, it's titillating for one. It's sexy if you're an overweight, pasty-white nerd to imagine helpless slave girls writhing at your feet. And this hypothetical nerd has envisioned himself as being like Conan the Barbarian, with pecs bloated from steroids, legs like oak trees and a swept back Fabio hairdo (Kal Drogo!).

But I can't blame parochial school for George's fixation on pre-teen virgins. And that's just ... creepy. In one interview he glumly explains how HBO wasn't thrilled that one of the key characters, Daenerys, is just 13 when she's "wed" to a 30-year-old barbarian. So they made her 18. And George was upset that they had to get an actual adult -- a 22-year-old actor -- to play the child bride. (Damn ye censors!).

And all his fans are crying foul because snarky blogger Sady Doyle, and other women writers, are outraged by the rabid misogyny in the books and now the TV show. The argument Alyssa Rosenberg and a dozen others ineptly make is that Things Really Were Like That Way Back When. Well, yeah maybe. And if they still were, Alyssa, you and I wouldn't be sitting at computers debating the merits of a fantasy novel. All us vagina owner would be washing some feudal lord's clothing by hand, dying during child birth or maybe standing on the slave block waiting to be auctioned off to our next owner/husband. I can't wait for the re-enactment at the next renaissance fair!

Is Martin responsible for upholding his imagined characters to some higher standard? Why should he when most other sci-fi/fantasy novelists can't be bothered and their armies of mostly white, mostly heterosexual, mostly male fans are happy to consume their writing while defending any overt sexism and racism as attempts to "keep it real." (Umm, it's pretend, okay?)

But don't make the female characters as flawed and multi-fauceted as any of the dudes and thus empower them to DO SOMETHING! Rather, George (and his ilk) incessantly objectifies them so that they just sit there like inflatable dolls waiting for something to be DONE TO THEM.

Like Sansa. She just sits there, cries a lot and is the negative stereotype of the vapid, helpless, pretty teenager. Likewise Daenerys, the teen queen, who isn't allowed to have a sex life with Jora Mormount or anybody because ... because ... because ... in Martin's eyes she has to stay vaguely virginal or else she'll fall off the misogynistic precipice and into the stereotype of WHORE. And we all know what sexually active, adult women are!!! They're WHORES. They're manipulative, scheming, power-mad, hyper-emotional, duplicitous WHORES. Unless they're like Ygritte -- in which case they pay for their liberation with their lives, 'cos ya know womens is not to be trusted!


But apparently complaints about Martin's Whore Tourette's Syndrome got back to him, because by book four, he's toned the WHORE-calling down a bit. Now Little homicidal Arya is traveling to distant lands (rather than being kidnapped by every murder/raper in yon Westeros). And Brienne (the Ugliest Woman in Westeros, oh the shame!) is on a horse galloping off to save Sansa (because what the hell else can you do with a one-dimensional female character except tie her to the tracks and then save her over and over?).

Too pretty to raype? Me thinks not.

Meanwhile, even if you like Martin's bloated sentences (Yee Olde Tyme Talk Es Dyfficult, M'Lord) and his endless over-use of adjectives and adverbs (please save me from "waddles") you've got to wonder: why aren't all the boys getting raped or threatened with rape? If Jaime Lannister is that pretty, why haven't any of these barbarous villains bent him over and horse fucked him yet?

And sure there are token gay male characters but they get conveniently killed off before George has to bother fleshing out their characters ala Renley Baratheon (already dead!). Apparently lesbians don't exist in this pseudo early-Euro world.

And what's up with the overt classism? Did George tour the Tower of London and just not get it? Monarchies are bad and democracies are good, right? Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Surely George isn't dragging us through thousands of pages of fantasy just to drop that cliche at our feet? I thought sci-fi/fantasy readers were a tad more sophisticated than that.

Fear not ye not-so-gentle readers of ye tomes. I shall continue to dodge hack sentences and dead-horse adverbs all the way to the end. I want to get to the part where little Arya grows up, has normal sex (not rape!) and sticks her sword so far up one of the misogynistic villain's asses it comes out his mouth.

P.S. Dear HBO, Peter Dinklage is a lot of things: talented, dynamic, hella fun to watch act. But he is not ugly, not by a long shot. Shame on you for casting him as the Ugly Character Standing in for the Ogreish Author.


NolaB said...

Oh, snap. You already know my opinion of this dreck, right? But I have to say that the Catholic Church, while it was very good at the subjugation of women, did not invent the game.

Ms M said...

Yer right, Nola. The Catholics certainly didn't invent misogyny but it was early organized religion (I should include Judaism) that cemented it and made things like a woman owning real property an impossibility.

Under the Big Three (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) women exist ONLY to produce more adherents to the Faith. That's it.

Lindsay said...

Ok ok here goes.. First of all Tyrion Lannister
Is my favorite character ever.. My feelings are mixed here. There are several interesting and 'good' female characters. Arya, her mother. But even a total lack of acceptable female
Characters would not make for an uninteresting
Story. I think he is a misogynist, but I am not marrying him, I am reading his fiction. I have trouble imposing PC on fiction and art.

Ms M said...

Thanks Lindsay for commenting, I always appreciate your opinion.

You're right. But, I don't think it's wrong to point out prejudice in an author's writing. This isn't 1931 and Martin is no Henry James and this is no "Tropic of Cancer" -- and BTW, James was roundly criticized for his portrayal of women in "Tropic".

As you noted in your women's suffrage class, if no one calls out a bigot, the bigotry just goes on and on. This is 2012, the new millennium, not 1410 A.D. Women are no longer owned by their fathers or husbands in most of the world (yes, I'm aware of the backwards countries like Afghanistan or the DRC).

I'm simply reaffirming what Sady Doyle pointed out: that this author's plumber's crack is clearly visible. If he (or rather his rabid fans) are that afraid of criticism or analysis of the art, he shouldn't have published the books.