on “boy fiction” and ignorance

I’ve never read Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin, and I’m not particularly interested in the upcoming series on HBO. Which, apparently, isn’t surprising because… I’m a girl. And girls don’t like fantasy.

No really, I read it on the internet. In the New York Times, to be precise, in a review by Ginia Bellafante. The review is kind of full of itself and overly flowery, even for the New York Times, but let’s cut right to the chase. Here’s the paragraph that’s causing all the trouble:

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. “Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.

The first thing I think of is the famous alleged Pauline Kael quote about not understanding why Nixon had won as she didn’t know anyone who had voted for him. Just because you don’t know any women who would rather read The Hobbit than… whoever Lorrie Moore is, doesn’t mean they aren’t there. In large numbers. It also makes me suspect that you aren’t necessarily the best person to be reviewing this show. Surely there’s someone at the New York Times who is even slightly interested in fantasy?

I do think I understand part of what Bellafante is trying to say. There are a lot of movies that are straight up actiony and explodey and then wtf here is a love story that seems to be thrown in just so guys can convince their girlfriends to go see it with them. This strikes me as more of a problem with the perception filmmakers have of their audience than with the audience itself. (I personally go to see actiony explodey movies in spite of the awkwardly patched-in love story, not because of it.) But to follow that observation up with the assumption that women aren’t interested in fantasy except for the beefcakes in loinclothes or the tragic romance verges on ignorant. I hesitate to use that word for someone writing for the New York Times, but it really shows a lack of knowledge about the genre or the people who consume it.

Mostly I just think the review is a poor one. Whether or not the show is any good, I simply don’t trust a review by someone who is obviously the completely wrong audience for the story. I’m also slightly offended by the ending:

If you are not averse to the Dungeons & Dragons aesthetic, the series might be worth the effort. If you are nearly anyone else, you will hunger for HBO to get back to the business of languages for which we already have a dictionary.

So Bellafante is equating the show with ALL of the fantasy genre. No. A show or story is good or bad irrelevant of its genre. Not everyone who is into a particular genre likes every aspect of that genre. Not everyone who reads fantasy plays D&D. (Hi!) This black-and-white assumption just drives home that Bellafante might know television, but she doesn’t know fantasy. It’s possible to review a genre you don’t normally enjoy, but you shouldn’t make grand sweeping statements about the genre. And since Bellafante never showed any indication that I should trust what she says about “Game of Thrones,” I still don’t know if I want to watch it.

So basically, I think we should all just feel free to ignore this. The review and the offending paragraph are making the rounds of the internet, and I obviously cared enough to write about it, but really—what’s the use in arguing with someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about?

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8 thoughts on “on “boy fiction” and ignorance

  1. Ishana

    This reminds me of the people who make huge sweeping claims about NaNoWriMo and those who participate in it. Amazes me how people can stereotype an entire population of people based off a small sample. A biased sample, even. I almost want to watch and love the series just to prove Bellafante wrong…

  2. Wow. That is one of the dumbest things that I’ve ever heard. And who the hell is Lorrie Moore? (Not that I’m slagging off Moore, though- far be it from me to slag off anyone who’s managed to get published, whether I know who they are or not). The reason I don’t join book clubs is specifically because they almost always pick complete crap. My fiction reading material is almost exclusively fantasy (I do enjoy chick lit- but only if it’s really funny and not about drinking, drugs, getting laid, and screwing your friends *cough*Devil Wears Prada*cough*).

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the NYT writer only has friends of the super girly, fashion slave type. The only turn off to Game of Thrones that I see is her claim of illicitness, which I usually dislike. But then, I loved The Tudors, so who knows?

  3. brandon

    Okay, I get why you question the review, and it does seem to come from a strange source. But, I have got to say, I can’t wait for this to premier on Sunday! I have been a fan of the series for the last decade and everything I have seen leads me to believe that the series will be true to the books and generally awesome.

    I don’t like the comparison to D&D or the hobbit, GRRM’s books are very light on the actual Magic and heavy fantasy (although there is some), but more about intrigue, politics, and characters. I have always admired his ability to create a character that I hate, and then slowly make me come to like him/her. There are no shortage of surprises, twists and turns, and GRRM is definitely afraid of killing off a major character (or two, or three, etc). I’m not sure where the suggestion of a heavy romance theme comes from, but I don’t feel like that is a common theme in the books, nor do I expect that will be the case in the series.

    Anyway, I don’t do well thought and balanced reviews like you Grace… this is my rambling stream of consciousness attempt to lure you into watching the series. Knowing how the books begins, I don’t know if one episode will be enough to really hook you, but heck it was worth a try!

    Signing off – (fanboy) Brandon

  4. brandon

    Will I never learn to proofread before posting… I intended to say that GRRM is NOT afraid of killing off a major charactor (or two, or three, etc).

    Looking forward to your post on Monday about how awesome the premier of GoT was!

  5. Tell us what you really think, brandon. :) My problem has nothing to do with the show itself, it’s how it (and fantasy in general) were represented by the reviewer. I’m totally willing to give it a shot (though I’m not sure I get HBO…). Hope it’s as good as you hope!

    Cat: IKR?

    Vixen: yeah there wasn’t enough in her review that I actually trusted to know if I’m turned off to the show or not. I think if I get HBO I might try it, like Ishy, just to give it a shot to prove her wrong.

    Ishy: I can’t even figure out what her sample size is that she’s using to stereotype. Herself? She apparently doesn’t know any fantasy/sci-fi fans…

    …also I almost just accidentally reported my own blog as mature. OOPS. *tries again with the clicking and the scrolling*

  6. brandon

    I get you were talking more about the review than the actual series – I just wanted to take the opportunity to shamelessly plug a project by one of my favorite authors. I enjoyed the premier, and think the second episode will do a better job of hooking viewers.

    See how good a fan I’ll be when I get to plug your projects Grace!!!

  7. A bunch of people whose opinion on fantasy I actually respect have told me how awesome the first episode was, so now I’m actually kind of eager to see it. (Don’t worry, I have the magic of DVR, I hope to get to it sometime this week.) (And yes, you were one of them.)

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