Saturday, April 16, 2011

New York Times steps on geek culture landmine, triggers wrath of Geek Girls

Not long ago I made mention of the welcome change I think the influx of Geek Girls has had on comics (and I guess sci-fi, but that's less an area where I mentally hang out). 

It seems The New York Times published a review of the upcoming HBO series Game of Thrones, a fantasy/ sword & shield epic based upon a series of novels by favored fantasy writer George RR Martin.  Truthfully, I'm not much of a fantasy-novel guy, and thanks to a decade of bad SyFy movies, I don't even remember if I have an opinion on fantasy movies that doesn't come with snarky detachment.

Anyway, it seems the reviewer in the New York Times has really tweaked the Geek Girl audience with the following:
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. 
Well, here we go.  Ginia Bellafonte, you know not what you hath wrought.

Frankly, I'm a little shocked this is what passes for a review in the NYT, not because its clear Bellafante has mistaken her own tastes in genre fiction for critical criteria, but because the review reads a bit more like an undergrad who hasn't really thought through her arguments against something they didn't like, but they've had a glass or two of wine and they can't quite articulate what they're thinking.  Again, I am not a fan of Martin's work, nor am I particularly enthused about Game of Thrones, but, srsly, NYT?

Nerdybird of Has Boobs, Reads Comics (a popular comics blog) has gathered up some of the reactions online.  Through the red anger-haze, I'm not sure all of the columns actually read what Bellafante was saying accurately, but that one troublesome paragraph is hard to miss, and hard to read incorrectly.

Unconsciously, Bellafante just called out the hordes of female sci-fi, fantasy and comics fans and suggested that they weren't, you know, "real girls".

This, I am sure, will horrify her.  She's a NYT reviewer and no doubt prides herself on her feminist ideals.  But, instead, she decided to go snob high schooler, casting generalizations over both the entirety of the human species, and dismissed anyone who basically doesn't share the taste of she and her pals.  Kind of weird, that, in a NYT review.

In some ways, its a bitter reminder that despite the mainstream embracing of aspects of geek culture into popular, prime time worthy entertainment, most folks just shrug at sci-fi or fantasy and will consume it if it comes across their plate (sort of like, "I don't really love mushrooms on my pizza, but if that's what's left on the buffet, that's what I'm eatin'"), while others are still a little miffed that not only do people seem to just consume what's put in front of them, but can you believe this Star Wars Klingon crap?  Gawd.  It's clearly no Brothers and Sisters

The interesting bit is that while guy geeks of my generation and older took it for granted that somehow devoting oneself to watching professional sports and wearing the colors of a pro-sports franchise is seen as totally normal adult behavior, routinely watching Star Trek should mean you're justly denied the affections of a woman and deserve ridicule for reading this type of book versus that type of book.*   This, of course, made no damn sense to me as a kid, and it makes less sense to me now.   

Fortunately, the Geek Girl movement is anything but quiet within the geek-o-sphere, and this seems like an interesting salvo to move beyond even just the geek-o-sphere and not taking any of that crap, thank you.

Bellafante seems a bit puzzled that "oh, hey, sex" occurs in fantasy fiction and reacts with a sort of prudish disbelief. 

What's fascinating and telling is that, from her comments, Bellafante no doubt considers herself up on what constitutes mature and appropriately lurid television and movies, indicating there's a rubric that constitutes "adult depictions of sex" in modern fiction or polite society that she's pretty sure she can approve or disapprove.  And, of course, that quote above?  It actually starts off with the following sentence:
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.
Wow.  Just...  There's so many things wrong in that sentence and contradictory (oh, so now we're condemning perverted women for making the wrong kind of sex happen on TV...) that its just flat out amazing this thing saw print.  

On the plus side, you just rallied a whole lot of women who maybe weren't going to watch the show just to stick it to the NYT.

Anyway, I'm really looking forward to seeing how Ms. Bellafante's weekend goes. 

*that isn't to say all books are just as good, but the cheerful ridicule of genre by someone ignorant of what they are reading and perhaps why its a useful read within the genre is probably one of the most damn irritating things I can think of.


Gerry said...

"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."

To be fair, though, I don't put this type of thinking past the heads of TV networks.

The League said...

I hesitate to guess what execs are thinking these days. I associate the insistence that a "love interest" appear in any and all action movies in the 80's and 90's with typical producer notes. My prototypical action movie example is usually "Commando", to which I would point to Rae Dawn Chong, who is in the movie, but... why?

I suppose there's a certain possible truth to this, but from I've read the sex in the books is all there, and its key to the plot, so... I have no idea. Mostly I find it a curious inversion of the usual accusation of "sex = appealing to males 13-25" that one sees when one disapproves of a TV show or movie. It seems almost like a weird way to simply pre-emptively attack any women who might demonstrate interest in the show or argue with Bellafante. She has already called them out as enjoying perverse sex, so if they DO speak up, well... they don't understand classy TV sex the way SHE does, and, you know, maybe they're a little kinky.

Anonymous said...

The NY Times always had some really heinous snobby critics. I remember reading a few reviews and the disdain for anything science fiction or fantasy was palpable. In addition, they are perpetually clueless on certain most popular stories that get published or produced.

I find it very interesting that she cites Deadwood, Rome and The Wire as the best of examining "examining the way that institutions are made and how they are upheld or fall apart". Game of Thrones is rather insightful on the abuse of power and great suffering that results. And, Deadwood?? The most overrated Western ever. Lonesome Dove was a better Western show.

I think the main issue is that critics (see Owen Gleiberman's increasingly whiny columns on criticism) are really on the defensive nowadays with their jobs on the line as print and other media production increasingly gets cut. Her review isn't just a bad review; the abject poor writing and ad hominem attacks instead of real criticism of the show does little to provide support for critics. She did very little criticism and lacked any insight in her review. She provided no reason why she should keep her job.