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What the “R” Stands for in “George R.R. Martin"
August 31, 2011 2:03 PM   Subscribe

Sady Doyle of Tiger Beatdown (warning: spoilers in all links) reviews the first four books of A Song of Ice and Fire and declares that "George R. R. Martin is creepy. He is creepy because he writes racist shit. He is creepy because he writes sexist shit." Alyssa Rosenberg of Think Progress responds, as does Delphine on GeekMom.
posted by never used baby shoes (435 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
Looking forward to the appearance of George R. R. Martin in this thread.
posted by gerryblog at 2:07 PM on August 31, 2011 [13 favorites]


I don't really understand why anyone cares that Sady Doyle doesn't like some book in a genre that she admits that she's not a fan of. It seems that mostly people are upset at her characterization of fandom:
But, nope! Today is a different day, my friends. Because here’s how it goes, when you criticize beloved nerd entertainments: You can try to be nuanced. You can try to be thoughtful. You can lay out your arguments in careful, extravagant, obsessive detail. And at the end of the day, here is what the people in the “fandom” are going to take away: You don’t like my toys? I hate you!
Which, as a self-admitted fan of geeky things, seems pretty spot-on. Or maybe I just hold a grudge from those days when I was called an idiot for preferring TNG to TOS.

Also, GeekMom's question doesn't even make sense:
How Can I Be a Feminist And Love George R.R. Martin’s Books?
It's impossible to write an unproblematic book, or TV show, or what-have you. TNG has both a Black Savage and a Magical Black character. I acknowledge that. I still love the show, but I recognize that, for a long time, Worf was a problematic representation of black maleness, just as Guinan was a problematic representation of black womanhood. I can both love a show and criticise it. In fact, I am more apt to criticise a show I love than a show I hate.
posted by muddgirl at 2:12 PM on August 31, 2011 [23 favorites]


Interesting--an author-friend of mine, Rachel Hartman, just blogged about why she finds the rapeyness of the first book "gross."
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:14 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Magical Black character.

I totally thought you were going LaForge there.
posted by asockpuppet at 2:15 PM on August 31, 2011 [15 favorites]


Well. Have they read Lord of the Rings yet?
posted by jabberjaw at 2:15 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


led by those black-hearted, dishonorable brigands known as the Knights of Rowling

Also, hehe, nice reference to the pretty ridic reaction of Harry Potter fandom to her "In Praise of Jo Rowling's Hermione Granger" article.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:17 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is some sort of Internet-wide pageview grab, isn't it? I mean, feminists, progressives, and nerd fandom is like a perfect storm of advert post-angst.
posted by Celsius1414 at 2:17 PM on August 31, 2011


Geordi was totally magical.
posted by BobbyDigital at 2:17 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Setting aside my abiding hatred of Sady Doyle: Maybe it's just that I study history for a living, but the daily presence of rape in Martin's books seems pretty realistic. And it seems very clear that the systematic exclusion of women from openly holding power is crippling Westeros.

This, from Rosenberg's piece, is very true:
A world where women are perfectly safe, perfectly competent, and society is perfectly engineered to produce those conditions strikes me as one where we can’t tell any very interesting stories about women’s struggles and women’s liberation.
posted by oinopaponton at 2:18 PM on August 31, 2011 [30 favorites]


Tiger Beatdown is that rock magazine for teen girls that used to be around and feature Manudo and shit, right?
posted by cjorgensen at 2:20 PM on August 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


but the daily presence of rape in Martin's books seems pretty realistic

Sady's conclusion is that 85% of the female main characters in the books are raped. Is that historically accurate? How would we arrive at such a figure?

This, from Rosenberg's piece, is very true:
A world where women are perfectly safe, perfectly competent, and society is perfectly engineered to produce those conditions strikes me as one where we can’t tell any very interesting stories about women’s struggles and women’s liberation.
...and I don't see anywhere where Sady was asking for this.
posted by muddgirl at 2:22 PM on August 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


Looking forward to the appearance of George R. R. Martin in this thread.

If GRRM ever started hanging out on Metafilter, ASoIaF would truly never ever get finished.

It's impossible to write an unproblematic book, or TV show, or what-have you. TNG has both a Black Savage and a Magical Black character. I acknowledge that. I still love the show, but I recognize that, for a long time, Worf was a problematic representation of black maleness, just as Guinan was a problematic representation of black womanhood. I can both love a show and criticise it. In fact, I am more apt to criticise a show I love than a show I hate.

This. OMG, this. I love Joss Whedon's works, but his shit is crazy problematic. Recognizing problems in something you love isn't a personal attack on you, folks.

Well. Have they read Lord of the Rings yet?

I hope you're not using LOTR as an example of unproblematic literature.
posted by kmz at 2:23 PM on August 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


85% of the female main characters in the books are raped. Is that historically accurate? How would we arrive at such a figure?

Using the modern definition of rape (meaning a wife has the right to refuse sex to her husband)? In wartime? At least that.
posted by oinopaponton at 2:24 PM on August 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


Alyssa Rosenberg is exactly right when she calls it "condescending and wilfully misleading".

Its a wonderful tactic to anticipate criticism in advance and attempt to shut it down by accusing anyone who disagree's with you of being hysterical and too attached to the subject matter to be able to rationally discuss it though. Wonder where she got that one from? (/snark)

Overthinking it had a lot of excellent critique of the novels and TV series relatively recently though, and anyone interested in looking at the series would do well to read their series as a sort of intellectual pick-me up afterwards.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 2:24 PM on August 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


85% of the female main characters in the books are raped.

I would be very surprised if this were true, but I'm willing to be proven wrong.
posted by absalom at 2:25 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is why I loathe these books.

Yes, it’s true; in Ye Olde Medieval Europe, female tweens were oft wed to the grown-ups. A Song of Ice and Fire is known for being “gritty” and “authentic,” so really, aren’t I just objecting to the realism? Reader, here are the things that George R. R. Martin changed about Ye Olde Medieval Europe, when he set out to write A Song of Ice and Fire: Religion. Geography. History. Politics. Zombies. Werewolves. Dragons. At one point, when asked why his characters were taller, healthier, and longer-lived than actual Medieval people, George R. R. Martin explained that human genetics and biology do not work the same way in Westeros as they do in the real world. So George R. R. Martin considered that he could change all of that while maintaining “authenticity.” Here’s what he left in, however: Institutionalized pedophilia.

Yeah, GRR Martin can imagine a world with dragons and zombies and weird ice elves or whatever those things behind the wall are, but he cannot imagine a world where women are constantly raped. That's a triumph of imaginative power or something.
posted by winna at 2:26 PM on August 31, 2011 [13 favorites]


I agree, my Dothraki friends were very offended by these books cuz racism.
posted by Hoopo at 2:26 PM on August 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


oinopaponton, you're overlooking the fact that the novels are set in a fictional world. They aren't historical fiction; it's fantasy. With, like, dragons and shit.

"Historical accuracy" probably isn't the best metric to use in this context.
posted by ErikaB at 2:27 PM on August 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Present day we're what, one in five women are raped? And we're way more "enlightened" and "civilized" than back in the day/in this particular fantasy world? It may not be accurate, but it seems defensible.

Like, horrific and indefensible, but you know what I mean.
posted by jsturgill at 2:27 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well. Have they read Lord of the Rings yet?

I hope you're not using LOTR as an example of unproblematic literature.
posted by kmz at 2:23 PM on August 31 [1 favorite +] [!]


Hey guys, reading the article helps ensure that we're all talking about the same thing, and not repeating ourselves or asking stupid questions.

"...and poor people and people of color were mostly invisible — or how racism and sexism have been built into the genre ever since Tolkien."
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:27 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


...ped at some point in their lifetime?
posted by jsturgill at 2:28 PM on August 31, 2011


that should be are *not* constantly raped, sorry.

Also, that 83% statistic was in fact Sady counting the main female characters and looking at which of them were assaulted, so that is an actual statistic of truth.
posted by winna at 2:28 PM on August 31, 2011


I would be very surprised if this were true, but I'm willing to be proven wrong.

I'm not a historian or a time traveller. But given that Martin was writing a fiction novel and not a history book, I think it's safe to assume that much of his brutality (perpetrated against both men and women) was invented in his own head, no? I mean, if Sady's thesis is that Martin was creepy, I don't see how GeekMom's list of brutalities committed against men and boys in the book disproves her thesis.

And we're way more "enlightened" and "civilized" than back in the day/in this particular fantasy world?

That's a pretty bold statement.
posted by muddgirl at 2:28 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


The books are a fantasy retelling of the War of the Roses. Both the War of the Roses and the civil wars in Westeros are caused by succession conflicts directly stemming from primogeniture, which is institutionalized patriarchy. Nasty sexism was at the root of a lot of historical problems. As a feminist, I really don't see what's so wrong with Martin playing with history in this way.
posted by oinopaponton at 2:30 PM on August 31, 2011 [37 favorites]


The question isn't "is it okay for bad things to happen in a fantasy world?" The question is, "why is the author choosing to focus on these things?"

If you're taking this editorial seriously, the key word in the following quote is "gratuitious."

"He is creepy, primarily, because of his TWENTY THOUSAND MILLION GRATUITOUS RAPE AND/OR MOLESTATION AND/OR DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SCENES?"

We're not concerned that he depicts rape, we're concerned that he does so gratuitously.

I'm not enormously impressed with the links here or the woman's writing in the editorial, but it is a fair point.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:30 PM on August 31, 2011 [7 favorites]


85%??

I am trying to think of female characters in my head, and I am struggling to think of the POV characters who were raped (I am sure I am missing some.

This is spoilery, but you probably shouldnt be reading this thread if you havent ready the books.

Catelyn (no)
Arya (no)
Sansa (no)
Brienne (I don't think so)
Dany (sort of iffy)
Cercei (no)

I can't think of any other women who have pov chapters, there are other women in the story, and some terrible things happen to them (Ellia of Dorne, sigh, Lyanna), but I never felt like I was reading some sort of mysogynistic treatise.
posted by BobbyDigital at 2:30 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hey Sady, Agenda Much??

Cheese-and-crackers what a foam-mouthed rant. Nuanced?? Thoughtful? Carefully laid out arguments?? If all this had happened I wouldn't be amazed at the cack-handedness of the thing.

Also, I was told twenty thousand million times not to exaggerate. Makes you look crazy, no matter how valid your argument could be.
posted by djrock3k at 2:30 PM on August 31, 2011


I read this early and feel that it's not a fair assesment of the books as a work of fiction, but do capture the feeling of creepiness. One way of looking at it is that GRRM is just trying to show what systematic injustice does to a society (tears it apart), and another is that GRRM is reveling in the rapey stuff, and so are his fans. I think both are true to some extent. With that being said... the last book had some really creepy moments for me, but it's something that I just sort of anticipate with GRRM. Can we spoil stuff here? To be on the safe side, hover over the blank link for spoiler content:

Hover over for spoilers.
posted by codacorolla at 2:31 PM on August 31, 2011


I am trying to think of female characters in my head, and I am struggling to think of the POV characters who were raped (I am sure I am missing some.

Did you read the first link? I haven't read the books but Sady Doyle has, and there's a pretty thorough inventory, followed by a summary and conclusions.
posted by muddgirl at 2:33 PM on August 31, 2011


What the “R” Stands for in “George R.R. Martin"

You said "R" twice.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 2:33 PM on August 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


And to follow-up - since I haven't read the books I can't comment on whether or not Sady's commentary is accurate.
posted by muddgirl at 2:34 PM on August 31, 2011


codacorolla that's a pretty reasonable and even handed perspective on it, you'll never get your own internet editorial soap box that way.

My problem with defending Martin's writing as a critique or commentary on injustice is that I honestly don't see much evidence for it. The books are at their heart escapist and gratuitous, and don't show any overt sign of being intended as some kind of political commentary on the plight of women. This isn't exactly The Handmaid's Tale.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:36 PM on August 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


I really tried to read this so-called review by this Sady person, but oh lord what a waste of time. First she starts out trying to deflect the inevitable flames by pretending to gleefully dive right into them and play up her fearlessness in the face of angry, brainless fans. Then, I happen upon this statement:
I could talk about how the impulse to revisit an airbrushed, dragon-infested Medieval Europe strikes me as fundamentally conservative — a yearning for a time when (white) men brandished swords for their King, (white) women stayed in the castle and made babies...
This sentence goes on for quite some time, but my real problem is the sentiment. This is someone who is so incredibly conscious of race and sex that she can't get through a single thought without casting her eyes about for bigotry like some Inquisitioner always on the lookout for heresy. She is almost incapable of enjoying fantasy because it depicts a time that is even more sexist and racist than the current day! Brings to mind the Christians who can't enjoy Harry Potter because it might lead to paganism.

And, "airbrushed"? I strain to think of a place I'd less want to live than Martin's Westeros, so I don't know how she can interpret this as wish-fulfillment of any kind. If I really wanted to nit pick, I'd point out that, while there are dragons in Martin's setting, it is far from infested. But that would just get in the way of big word snarking.

I feel sorry for this person. She's too obsessed with identity politics to truly live her life, always looking for racists and sexists in every corner and shadow.
posted by Edgewise at 2:36 PM on August 31, 2011 [39 favorites]


Oh boy, another hate-on accusing fantasy authors of thought crimes. If this author is "creepy" because he writes about a world where bad things happen then maybe folks bothered by that should stick to children's books.
posted by Winnemac at 2:36 PM on August 31, 2011 [7 favorites]


83% suffered "some form of abuse" is in an entirely different universe from 85% "were raped," as was the contention above.

In my humble opinion, 100% of everyone in those books suffers some form of abuse, regardless of sex.
posted by absalom at 2:36 PM on August 31, 2011 [7 favorites]


A lot of writers and books are creepy. But we read to be enthralled and entertained, and sometimes creepy people write creepy shit that is entertaining and interesting.
posted by cell divide at 2:37 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why does that make the stories "problematic"? The argument suggests that there is a "right" way and a "wrong" way to tell fictional stories. Fiction -- from Shakespeare to Hemingway to Morrison -- often relies on some characters who do reprehensible things, and other characters who endure and overcome (or not) hellish treatment. Why should G.R.R.M. be held to some different standard?
posted by pardonyou? at 2:37 PM on August 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


I estimated my 85% from this bit, actually:
If you are an unmarried woman, it is 100% certain that you will be raped or experience attempted rape (4/6: Arya, Sansa, Daenerys, Brienne). If you are married or engaged, there is a 75% chance that your husband or fiancee will beat or sexually assault you (3/4: Sansa, Cersei, Daenerys)
In my humble opinion, 100% of everyone in those books suffers some form of abuse, regardless of sex.

Which disproves the thesis "George R. R. Martin is creepy"... how?
posted by muddgirl at 2:39 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I guess I feel bad for Sady Doyle that she read several thousand pages of fiction that she clearly hated intensely. No one should feel obligated to read things just because they're popular and/or there's a popular TV show about them.
posted by Copronymus at 2:39 PM on August 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm going to quote something I said on G+ about this kerfluffle which sums up my feelings about it, which are mostly "quit using history to justify or excuse whatever people feel the need to justify or excuse about these books":

That GRRM may have used the Wars of the Roses as a rough model for his work doesn't make it medieval in any way, shape, or form. Not that I have seen him advance this idea; it's been his fans that have used the "it's medieval" excuse to justify whatever unpleasant thing that someone has complained about disliking in the books. As someone who studied medieval English history at the postgrad level and wrote an MA thesis on a legal issue directly pertaining to women, I don't find that a compelling argument (particularly not as it relates to rape or sexism).

I don't begrudge people enjoying the books--I enjoy Tolkien and his works are full of racist, sexist crap--but the idea that the medieval setting justifies anything in terms of brutality or sexism or whatever is wrong. Authorial decisions and choices remain on the author's shoulders and even if the setting did magically justify something, he could have picked another setting and another story. He wrote the story he wrote; enjoy it or not, but don't justify whatever biases or unpleasant messages it contains because it's authentically medieval somehow.
posted by immlass at 2:40 PM on August 31, 2011 [17 favorites]


Why does that make the stories "problematic"? The argument suggests that there is a "right" way and a "wrong" way to tell fictional stories. Fiction -- from Shakespeare to Hemingway to Morrison -- often relies on some characters who do reprehensible things, and other characters who endure and overcome (or not) hellish treatment. Why should G.R.R.M. be held to some different standard?

Who said that Shakespeare, Hemingway, or Morrison are not problematic?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:41 PM on August 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


Yeah, GRR Martin can imagine a world with dragons and zombies and weird ice elves or whatever those things behind the wall are, but he cannot imagine a world where women are constantly raped. That's a triumph of imaginative power or something.

When it comes to that kind of crap, I usually point to this phrase, which, has become the height of irony and broken clock being right-ness, from Tycho of Penny Arcade:

This is like having the ability to shape being from non-being at the subatomic level, and the first thing you decide to make is AIDS.

Realism only seems to matter when it comes to why something HAS to be racist/sexist, but not why the people seem to have all of their teeth, not be shitting tapeworms, and how the rampant rape only happens to women...
posted by yeloson at 2:41 PM on August 31, 2011 [10 favorites]


That is one godawful opening sentence.
posted by Bookhouse at 2:42 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Out of curiousity (because I haven't read the books): Were any boys or men raped in the series? I know that male rape is, now and historically, very common in war-time; among fellow-soldiers, perpetrated on civilians by soldiers, and perpetrated on civilians of one group by civilians of another group.
posted by muddgirl at 2:42 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I feel sorry for this person. She's too obsessed with identity politics to truly live her life, always looking for racists and sexists in every corner and shadow.

I wouldn't feel too bad. Like the OKCupid/Magic: the Gathering Gizmodo writer, Doyle's all about pushing specific buttons to garner the pageviews.
posted by oinopaponton at 2:44 PM on August 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


Out of curiousity (because I haven't read the books): Were any boys or men raped in the series? I know that male rape is, now and historically, very common in war-time; among fellow-soldiers, perpetrated on civilians by soldiers, and perpetrated on civilians of one group by civilians of another group.

I can't remember a specific scene, but there are definitely male sex slaves (many of whom are freed by one of the many strong female characters).
posted by oinopaponton at 2:46 PM on August 31, 2011


Who said that Shakespeare, Hemingway, or Morrison are not problematic?

Two reactions: First, you may be right, in which case I'm not much be interested in a world limited to non-problematic literature.

Second, if we judge fiction based on personal sensitivities (and even extrapolate those to drawing conclusions about the author him/herself, which is happening in this thread), then you're not much different than those who criticize books like Slaughterhouse-Five because of language, or Lolita because of sexual content.
posted by pardonyou? at 2:48 PM on August 31, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'm not much be interested in a world limited to non-problematic literature.

Is anyone?

I can't remember a specific scene, but there are definitely male sex slaves (many of whom are freed by one of the many strong female characters).

But some of the main characters are boys, who are tortured but not explicitely raped? That just doesn't seem historical to me (but I'm not a historian).
posted by muddgirl at 2:52 PM on August 31, 2011


Can someone clue me in on the Sady Doyle hate? I'm only familiar with her from that Hermione Granger thing, which I found incisive and spot-on. I can see why her tone here--it's a bit of a gleeful teardown--would rankle (though I'm not sure why people are assuming she's talking about readers when she criticizes the "urge to revisit"--from context, that seems clearly aimed at Martin), but, though I'm only familiar with the TV show, her criticisms seem apt to me. That doesn't mean I don't enjoy it, or anyone is a terrible person or not a feminist for enjoying it. Just that these criticisms seem grounded in the text and are interesting to think about and discuss.

Second, if we judge fiction based on personal sensitivities (and even extrapolate those to drawing conclusions about the author him/herself, which is happening in this thread), then you're not much different than those who criticize books like Slaughterhouse-Five because of language, or Lolita because of sexual content.

Doing a feminist critique of a work is fundamentally different than "jud[ging it] based on personal sensitivities."
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:53 PM on August 31, 2011 [13 favorites]


I do not recall any male rapes. Certainly not described to the detail that most of the female assaults are described.

I might have missed them in the general haze of sexual assault pervading the books, but I do not think there are any explicitly referenced. It has been since 2004 since I read them, though.
posted by winna at 2:53 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm already commenting in this post way too much (sorry! excited to be back on MeFi), but I think it's really interesting that the prevalence of slavery hasn't (to my knowledge) been leveled as a criticism against Martin, even though the fact that it is absolutely integral to the economy of the ASoIaF world is a) "problematic" and b) drawing on historical ugliness.
posted by oinopaponton at 2:54 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Interestingly one of GRRM's own regrets is that he made the chilesen too young because he originally planned for time to advance faster. And "gayng-raype" is a hilarious put-down.
posted by Authorized User at 2:54 PM on August 31, 2011


It seems like slavery was not as universal as rape and torture.
posted by muddgirl at 2:59 PM on August 31, 2011


I'm pretty sure these books were written to be creepy. That's entertainment to some people.
posted by LogicalDash at 3:00 PM on August 31, 2011


I can't rag on any rant about a book being creepily sexist/racist, because I've had the experience of abandoning a novel with great prejudice/hurling it across the room when the author's shitty attitudes about women (that they are helpless children/imbeciles and/or sex objects) were bleeding through clearly. Heinlein's stuff comes to mind.

That said, though, I don't see Martin's series as misogynistic in the slightest. A story where bad things sometimes happen to women who aren't saints is different from a story where bad things happen to women because the author is a douchewaffle.
posted by trunk muffins at 3:00 PM on August 31, 2011 [11 favorites]


Can someone clue me in on the Sady Doyle hate?

For me, it's her facile, knee-jerk arguments written in deliberately inflammatory language, her obvious glee in tearing apart whatever's popular at the moment, and constant bad-faith assumptions regarding anyone who isn't her.
posted by oinopaponton at 3:01 PM on August 31, 2011 [8 favorites]


Yeah, GRR Martin can imagine a world with dragons and zombies and weird ice elves or whatever those things behind the wall are, but he cannot imagine a world where women are constantly raped. That's a triumph of imaginative power or something.

These sorts of fantasy stories are set in some kind of pseudo-medieval pseudo-Europe, and incorporate a lot of the monsters from European mythology. I don't know why, but it seems to be common to draw on real or imagined European history and mythology. Dragons and elves and shit were a part of that mythology, like for realsies, and he didn't just randomly throw them in there. Is it a shortcut? Yes. It draws on certain ideas established previously in the fantasy genre as well as from European myths like Beowulf and Arthurian legend. It's a setting. I don't question his powers of imagination for choosing it, nor for making the decision to make it genuinely unpleasant and nasty.
posted by Hoopo at 3:01 PM on August 31, 2011


I feel like this thread could be equally about Sin City.
posted by shakespeherian at 3:01 PM on August 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


If this woman ever stumbles across any Henry de Montherlant she will shit bricks.
posted by tumid dahlia at 3:02 PM on August 31, 2011


There is no story if there's no danger, no conflict, no chance that something horrible will happen to the characters we care about. We follow these characters through terrible ordeals, hoping that somehow they'll pull through, watching as the events change them.

Assuming that the author is gleefully raining down awfulness on their characters is reprehensible. I can't count the number of times I've heard writers talk about how hard it is for them to kill off characters they've come to love. And yet, if the story is going to move forward, bad things have to happen. Otherwise, there's no risk; without risk, there's no payoff.

I'd be curious as to what works of fiction are actually acceptable by the standards Sady Doyle is applying to this saga.
posted by MrVisible at 3:03 PM on August 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yeah, GRR Martin can imagine a world with dragons and zombies and weird ice elves or whatever those things behind the wall are, but he cannot imagine a world where women are constantly raped.

This is a pretty mendacious way of putting it, don't you think?
posted by Sebmojo at 3:03 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I haven't read the books and have no intention of doing so since I cheated by watching the series on HBO whilst ogling Drogo and Ned Stark.

Having said that, I too am dismayed. I am dismayed that Sady Doyle did not come to me first for the best nickname for Drogo ever: Chief Big Dick. You can thank Mr. Leezie for that gem which will require you to always refer to Drogo as Chief Big Dick.

You're welcome.
posted by Leezie at 3:04 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sandy Doyle demonstrated that she must not understand what's going on when she called Theon "presumably dead." Seriously, did she not see through that one?

I think she's fundamentally misreading Catelyn, who's more complicated and powerful than she gives her credit for being. It's also worth noting that everyone in the books gets crazy and does stupid stuff when their family is involved, not just the mothers.

That goes doubly for Cersei, who Doyle consistently writes off as "evil" when she's much more nuanced than that. She's bad news for the realm, to be sure, but her motives are largely given as understandable. Cersei critique of sexism, by the way, is treated as if it's largely correct (to me at least), if Cersei could be queen in her own right, things would be a least a little better than they are under Joffrey, et al.

Finally, I don't think she really identifies sympathetic portrayals of rape or rapists, despite her best efforts to be misleadingly bad faithy about that. The rapes committed by the Dothraki are pretty clearly considered bad, and Tyrion's past involvement in the rape of Tysha is clearly much more complicated than she describes it to be, and obviously putting the Night's Watch on that list is just bullshit.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 3:05 PM on August 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


The Science of Nerd-Baiting
posted by empath at 3:06 PM on August 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


Yeah... I stopped 2/3rds of the way through the first book because it pissed me off that Catelyn Stark was made stupid anytime it was convenient. It was annoying and out of character. I can't say I'm sorry I stopped reading.
posted by Medieval Maven at 3:07 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Honestly we need a lot less of the 'Why is Sady Doyle upset that there are bad guys doing bad things in a work of fiction?!' bullshit. Read the linked article. Her complaints have a lot more to do with the way that women are depicted in the books than just complaining 'Oh noes a bad thing happened to a good person!'
posted by shakespeherian at 3:08 PM on August 31, 2011 [10 favorites]


Yeah, GRR Martin can imagine a world with dragons and zombies and weird ice elves or whatever those things behind the wall are, but he cannot imagine a world where women are not constantly raped.

This is a pretty mendacious way of putting it, don't you think?


How exactly is it mendacious? Is there not an extremely high volume of sexual assault against women? Are there not dragons and zombies and weird ice elves? What part of my statement was not true?
posted by winna at 3:09 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


It seems like slavery was not as universal as rape and torture.

The books don't take place entirely in Westeros. Slavery, its economic value, and the morals surrounding are very important parts of the plot.
posted by oinopaponton at 3:10 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Finally, I don't think she really identifies sympathetic portrayals of rape or rapists, despite her best efforts to be misleadingly bad faithy about that.

Also based on the TV show I'm not sure how sympathetic we're supposed to be to King Robert, the "wife beater" as she describes him. He's kind of a selfish, boorish ass. The book could be different I realize, and it's hinted at that he was once an alright guy, but we don't see much of it other than he's not openly hostile towards our protagonists.
posted by Hoopo at 3:10 PM on August 31, 2011


kmz: This. OMG, this. I love Joss Whedon's works, but his shit is crazy problematic. Recognizing problems in something you love isn't a personal attack on you, folks.

People seem to forget that criticism means, "hey this is interesting, let's talk about this" and not necessarily, "this is bad, and the people who produced it are bad people who should be spat upon." Good critics can walk and chew gum. They can also point out the flaws in a work and consider it worthwhile.

Doyle: ...and poor people and people of color were mostly invisible — or how racism and sexism have been built into the genre ever since Tolkien.

Interestingly enough the Locus Nominees for this year include three novels set in Africa.

Of course, high fantasy is underrepresented in that list, but I think high fantasy in general and Tolkien in specific have been highly overrated in the field of fantasy lit. Either way, I wouldn't consider Martin or Tolkien the go-to guys for feminist or pro-feminist fantasy.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:10 PM on August 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


For me, it's her facile, knee-jerk arguments written in deliberately inflammatory language, her obvious glee in tearing apart whatever's popular at the moment, and constant bad-faith assumptions regarding anyone who isn't her.

But . . . that doesn't mean she's wrong, right?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:10 PM on August 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


How exactly is it mendacious? Is there not an extremely high volume of sexual assault against women? Are there not dragons and zombies and weird ice elves? What part of my statement was not true?

The part where you said he couldn't imagine a world in which women are not raped.

He chose deliberately to portray a world in which women are raped. I'm sure he could have imagined it not happening, as can anybody over the age of four. He included sexual assault in his books for a reason. I guess its up to the reader to decide whether it added to the books or not.
posted by empath at 3:11 PM on August 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


It seems like slavery was not as universal as rape and torture.

In fact it seems slavery is mainly practiced by the savage exotic eastern tribes, who need Daenerys to tame them.
posted by kmz at 3:12 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Whatever you think of Doyle, it's a worthwhile thing to point out that literature everyone agrees is escapist is only really escapist if you imagine yourself as the white dude character(s).

Whereas imagining yourself as the female and/or nonwhite characters means you don't get to have as much fun; the material you have to work with is not as heroic, i.e., you never have a real triumph, you only end up in assistant roles, you are a character who fucks up all the time with no real redemption, you are a petty/vicious character. Etc.

Or, even worse, you are a badass, but you will still be raped because that's just what happens to women, and who are we to think we can escape it, even in a fucking fantasy novel?

It gets old. The only way to avoid it is to stop identifying w/ female characters at all, or to be alert for Signs of an Imminent Rape Scene and skip past it.
posted by emjaybee at 3:12 PM on August 31, 2011 [50 favorites]


But . . . that doesn't mean she's wrong, right?

No, being obnoxious and deliberately provocative doesn't necessarily mean you're wrong, but I really, really think that she is in this case.
posted by oinopaponton at 3:12 PM on August 31, 2011


In my humble opinion, 100% of everyone in those books suffers some form of abuse, regardless of sex.
posted by absalom at 5:36 PM on August 31


And that's why I stopped reading them - not because they weren't well-written, or because the characters and plot weren't compelling, but because they got more and more depressing.

back to the history bit: immlass, do you think the depiction of violence and patriarchy is unrealistic to a medieval setting, or were you saying that realism isn't a justification for depiction because the author still has a choice? Certainly, it doesn't seem unrealistic for war-time -- I can't help remembering what a friend of mine has written about violence against nuns during the 30 years war, and sexual violence has been a huge part of modern warfare.

Also, there is the consideration that writing about violence is itself part of fighting against it; no one would every claim that the violence (sexual or otherwise) in Butler's Kindred was gratuitous -- it's part of her seering indictment of chattel slavery.

But I've only read the first 2-3 GRR books, so maybe it is all totally gratuitous.
posted by jb at 3:13 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]



In fact it seems slavery is mainly practiced by the savage exotic eastern tribes, who need Daenerys to tame them.
posted by kmz at 3:12 PM on August 31 [+] [!]


When Martin is actually critiquing a social practice, he's really heavy handed about it.
posted by Stagger Lee at 3:14 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


How exactly is it mendacious? Is there not an extremely high volume of sexual assault against women? Are there not dragons and zombies and weird ice elves? What part of my statement was not true?
posted by winna at 3:09 PM on August 31 [+] [!]


Because it presumes that if he could imagine a world free of sexual assault, then it is somehow his moral duty to do so.

It's blatant question begging.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:14 PM on August 31, 2011 [14 favorites]


I wouldn't call Mr. Martin the least bit creepy. Yes, he describes and invents rather horrific circumstances for his characters but the tone of the narrator is relatively flat and journalistic in how things are described. You never once get the feel that Martin is getting his jollies from the abuse the men and women are suffering.

(He is, however, a troll and gets great joy from the many surprise deaths of key characters.)

More than most fantasy or sci-fi authors that I've read, he's trying to present the world as it is and characters who will act logically given the world they're in and the circumstances of their class, upbringing, relative power over others, etc.

In our world, even in the civilized west, an accurate, modern day story covering thousands of characters would involve many women and girls getting hurt, getting raped, getting abused by both strangers and the people they trust. In a situation where society is breaking down, war is everywhere, and a patriarchal system dominates most political realities, rape is going to be even more prevalent. To ignore it is to fail if you want realistic worldbuilding.

As others have said, the men don't escape in the book either. Even if they are relatively free of the risk of being raped, they still can suffer greatly if they find themselves on the wrong side of the war, if their station at birth is too low, and even the most powerful generally cannot marry who they want and cannot do what they want if their desires run contrary to the political and military needs of their situation. If you look at the opportunities for men in Westeros, you can find relative safety, respect, and stability in being a lord or a knight, a maester, or a priest. There isn't any other path which can provide security or the means to move up. The world of Westeros is incredibly claustrophobic for not just women but men as well.

And if you want a final proof of the anti-creepiness of Martin, take a look at the long passages in book four where he shows very clearly the effects of war on the peasants. I've not seen many other fantasy authors take the time to show what happens to the ordinary people when the good guys (the Starks) fight the bad guys (the Lannisters). Crops are stolen or burnt, towns robbed and destroyed, men are either slaughtered or forcibly drafted to fight for a lord and a cause they don't understand, and the women left behind are raped and/or killed. It's a message to the reader to stop and think for a minute when you're reading about the war and cheering on one side or the other, to realize these glorious fights don't happen in a vacuum with no consequences, not even in a world of dragons and wizards and ancient magics. There's a clear compassion shown for the suffering of all those ordinary people caught up in the game of thrones and echoes clearly in the real world, expressing the thoughts of a poor Vietnamese farmer who can't tell the difference between the Vietcong and the ARVN, or a suffering woman along the Congo who has no idea which army is here this week and why her village is being burned yet again.
posted by honestcoyote at 3:14 PM on August 31, 2011 [41 favorites]


"Assuming that the author is gleefully raining down awfulness on their characters is reprehensible. I can't count the number of times I've heard writers talk about how hard it is for them to kill off characters they've come to love. And yet, if the story is going to move forward, bad things have to happen. Otherwise, there's no risk; without risk, there's no payoff."

I saw George R.R. Martin speak recently in Redwood City, CA and he addressed this very issue. The gist of his response to a question about if he regretted killing off any of his characters was, "I spend a lot of time viewing the world of my stories through the eyes of my characters, and each character represents a part of me, a thought an emotion...so each time I kill one off, I am killing off a part of me in some ways..." <-uber paraphrasing/probably not entirely correct.
posted by Chuffy at 3:15 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


That said, though, I don't see Martin's series as misogynistic in the slightest. A story where bad things sometimes happen to women who aren't saints is different from a story where bad things happen to women because the author is a douchewaffle.

But it seems to me like this is a story where specific bad things happen only to women, contrary to what is historically accurate. Wouldn't that fit the definition of sexist?

Slavery, its economic value, and the morals surrounding are very important parts of the plot.

Yeah, that's my point. Were the morals surrouding rape and domestic violence an important part of the plot?

Also, there is the consideration that writing about violence is itself part of fighting against it

There's also the perspective that writing (or filming) graphic depictions of violence, even in a piece meant to be anti-violence, inherently glorifies violence.
posted by muddgirl at 3:16 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've read a lot of fantasy novels that weren't as brutal to women. Westeros is obviously a quite brutal place, but especially brutal to women. This is one of the reasons I didn't read the rest of the books. I wouldn't say I felt it was "creepy", but it did make me uncomfortable.
posted by demiurge at 3:17 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


He can write about whatever kind of world he wants to write about. However, we're perfectly free to criticize the way he writes the world he chose to imagine. We're also free to point out that the argument people generally throw up to refute criticism of that world (that it is 'authentic' or 'realistic') falls down when one considers the things that he chooses to include or omit.
posted by winna at 3:18 PM on August 31, 2011 [6 favorites]


She should totally read John Ringo's Paladin of Shadows series.
posted by MikeMc at 3:20 PM on August 31, 2011


I feel like this thread could be equally about Sin City.

Whaaaaaaaaat? How dare you besmirch the good reputation of Frank Miller, who writes subtle and nuanced female characters with the best of them? Why, next you'll be telling me Dave Sim is a creepy misogynist!
posted by kmz at 3:21 PM on August 31, 2011 [9 favorites]


We're also free to point out that the argument people generally throw up to refute criticism of that world (that it is 'authentic' or 'realistic') falls down when one considers the things that he chooses to include or omit.

What has he chosen to omit that makes it sexist for him to have written a fictional society rooted in medieval Europe that is unkind to women? Or is it still the inclusion of dragons?
posted by Hoopo at 3:21 PM on August 31, 2011


So, what violence is acceptable in fiction? List examples.
posted by MrVisible at 3:21 PM on August 31, 2011


Whatever you think of Doyle, it's a worthwhile thing to point out that literature everyone agrees is escapist is only really escapist if you imagine yourself as the white dude character(s).

But thing is, Song of Ice and Fire is not intended to be escapist. Mercedes Lackey is escapist (oddly enough, also uses rape in ways that some claim to be gratuitous); GRR is part of a trend to make fantasy not escapist. In a similar vein (and with brilliant writing), The Iron Dragon's Daughter depicts child slavery and abuse, pedophilia, prostitution, mob violence and violent death -- and no two characters can seem to have a friendly relationship without one of them dying. (Yeah, I stopped reading that one too, again too depressing. But very good, and very depressing).
posted by jb at 3:22 PM on August 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


So, what violence is acceptable in fiction? List examples.

Sorry, we've only approved the Cruciatus Curse for this quarter.
posted by muddgirl at 3:24 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


He can write about whatever kind of world he wants to write about. However, we're perfectly free to criticize the way he writes the world he chose to imagine. We're also free to point out that the argument people generally throw up to refute criticism of that world (that it is 'authentic' or 'realistic') falls down when one considers the things that he chooses to include or omit.
posted by winna at 3:18 PM on August 31 [+] [!]


How much rape is ok, then? Since that seems to be the invisible standard that is being applied?
posted by Sebmojo at 3:24 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's easy to imagine a world where no one hurts each other. It's hard to imagine writing a book about it.

Puppies and unicorns make good stickers, but they don't make great antagonists.
posted by empath at 3:25 PM on August 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


How much rape is ok, then?

For Sady? You'd have to ask her? For you? You'd have to ask yourself.

I direct my attention to my first comment: Why do we care that Ms. Doyle doesn't like this book and thinks it is creepy for having too much rape?
posted by muddgirl at 3:26 PM on August 31, 2011


You know, there's an excluded middle between hugs and puppies and sunshine all the time and rape rape rape murder rape all the time.
posted by kmz at 3:26 PM on August 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


Why do we care that Ms. Doyle doesn't like this book and thinks it is creepy for having too much rape?

Because some people here are fans of the book and/or TV show, and more pertinently ITS THE SUBJECT OF THIS FPP
posted by Hoopo at 3:27 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Doyle follows up this article by going to Twitter to accuse Rosenberg of being a fake feminist for profit, decides to change subjects by defending Gizmodo's "Magic players are creepy by default and deserve to be mocked publicly" article because the commenters were sexist, followed up by some false equivalency, and then when pressed on that claims the only real problem was that the Gizmodo writer used real names. What a dick.
posted by zombieflanders at 3:27 PM on August 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


So the Nerdiverse just got trolled twice in one week. I think we're slipping.
posted by Dark Messiah at 3:28 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


There's also the perspective that writing (or filming) graphic depictions of violence, even in a piece meant to be anti-violence, inherently glorifies violence.
posted by muddgirl at 6:16 PM on August 31 [+] [!]


Well, that's definitely not true for Kindred, nor for either the book or film of All Quiet on the Western Front (I would make the film mandatory viewing for any study of WWI - I had read about trench warfare, see recreations, but I never understood the true horrors until I saw this film, made by people who had been there). Nor is it true for the graphic stories told in Shoah. All of these works of art left me shivering inside from the horror - a pale reflection of the reality, of course, but like immunization, a small exposure can innoculate against any belief that violence is glorious.
posted by jb at 3:28 PM on August 31, 2011


and more pertinently ITS THE SUBJECT OF THIS FPP

I'm not trying to be snarky. I'm honestly wondering why this is a topic which deserves an internet firestorm. Is it surprising that Doyle, Professional Feminist doesn't like a book which seems to contain, on average, quite a bit of rape?
posted by muddgirl at 3:30 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, Martin's books are only escapist if your daydreams are about everyone you love being murdered and every security you've ever known being destroyed in the name of greed for power.
posted by oinopaponton at 3:30 PM on August 31, 2011 [30 favorites]


Well, that's definitely not true for Kindred

Yeah, Octavia Butler is awesome for that. The "date rape" (I use that term loosely) in the Lilith's Brood books is some of the least exploitative and skin-crawly writing on the topic.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:31 PM on August 31, 2011


If I was suddenly transported to Westeros, I expect I'd last all of five days before I was guts out, laying on the ground.

But I'd still pick it over Xanth.

*shiver*
posted by robocop is bleeding at 3:31 PM on August 31, 2011 [6 favorites]


But thing is, Song of Ice and Fire is not intended to be escapist.

I agree with you. And I don't think the 'historical' defense is exactly spot-on either. I think he's trying to come up with a fantasy world that's internally consistent and that's a really hard job. The logical consistent world where dragons and magic exist is pretty much one where humans don't. Or at least aren't allowed to progress to any level of civilization because they're too busy trying to survive being eaten by the giant lizards in the sky.

He turns to history as inspiration because that's where we get these ideas of people in armor riding horses and using swords. And it turns out, a world run by the sword, without mass literacy is a brutal and pretty vicious one.

I've always seen this as a criticism of bog-standard fantasy and not some kind of weird wish-fulfillment. There's a lot of rape. But there's a lot more stabbing and general murder. It's an ugly world because it's one that's run by the sword, and it's not pretty.

Mostly reading Martin makes me glad for running water, printing presses, medical technology and the idea of civil rights. I think that's a good thing.
posted by lumpenprole at 3:33 PM on August 31, 2011 [8 favorites]


Least exploitative and most skin-crawly, rather.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:33 PM on August 31, 2011



In fact it seems slavery is mainly practiced by the savage exotic eastern tribes, who need Daenerys to tame them.

You haven't read ADWD, have you? That is a major oversimplification, as her liberation of the slaves comes back to seriously bite her in the ass. It's in ADWD that she learns you can't just overturn centuries-old social and economic systems without serious blowback, and Martin actually does a pretty deft job of handling the repercussions of her antislavery bent and how in many ways she's an ignorant foreigner meddling in an ancient culture she refuses to understand.
posted by Ndwright at 3:33 PM on August 31, 2011 [11 favorites]


What, robocop, you don't obsess over girl children's panties?
posted by cereselle at 3:33 PM on August 31, 2011


I don't think you should fall into the trap of thinking that people are saying it's "unacceptable" when no one has used the word (iirc?). I'm pretty sure no one's talking about banning anything. People can say, "Yeah, this is problematic" without having people jump on them for attempted censorship.

I'm honestly wondering why this is a topic which deserves an internet firestorm.

People take discussions of "Hey, that thing you like is sexist" to mean, "Hey, you're a sexist." We've seen a lot of that here over the years. It's a tough defensive reaction to overcome.
posted by ODiV at 3:34 PM on August 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think it's fairly clear that the books are not endorsing the society they portray. This is not Gor, for Christ's sake. I do think Martin occasionally lays it on a bit thick; but it's not the gratuitous sex/gore of a guy writing J.R.R. Tolkien Presents the Legend of the Overfiend onehanded, but rather the impulse to throw in some shock bit of nastiness when inspiration fails. A person who came to these books to fap would find, I think, very little to fap over.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:35 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Good point, ODiV - I sort of expect that in some circles, but it's disappointing to see that reaction from progressives who would turn around and make similar arguments that Doyle is making, if we were talking about something like The Help.
posted by muddgirl at 3:37 PM on August 31, 2011


But I'd still pick it over Xanth.

Ha! Speaking of sexist fantasy...
posted by kmz at 3:37 PM on August 31, 2011


And sure, there's a flavor of fandom that will go into fits on the basis of, "you don't like my toys." There's also a flavor of fandom that beanplates everything they see. In fact, genre fiction still mostly lives inside it's own critical ghetto where most criticism comes from fans.

Doyle loses me, not because she's attacking one of my toys (albeit an indirect one), but because the opening paragraphs give me no promise that the rest will offer credible criticism.

empath: Puppies and unicorns make good stickers, but they don't make great antagonists.

Bronies would disagree.

kittens for breakfast: This is not Gor, for Christ's sake.

Or even H. P. Lovecraft, who seems to write alternating passages of blatant racism, tedium, and pure awesome.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:38 PM on August 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Doing a feminist critique of a work is fundamentally different than "jud[ging it] based on personal sensitivities."

Yeah, and I think calling an author creepy is pretty much the definition of "personal." Somebody seriously needs to start telling these people that critical examination isn't the same as just criticizing the shit out of something. The point of criticism is enabling discussion, not shutting it down or derailing it with ad hominems right off the bat.

Any serious reviewer or intellectual who opens with "Author X is creepy" deserves to have their argument summarily dismissed, and if it were my work in the line of fire, my entire rebuttal would be a picture of me holding a royalty check with "Fuck you" written under it.
posted by Amanojaku at 3:38 PM on August 31, 2011 [15 favorites]


m honestly wondering why this is a topic which deserves an internet firestorm

Sorry for misreading that. I think the answer lies in what people here have called "nerd-baiting" and "trolling the nerdiverse." Fantasy folks are passionate about their fantasy stuff. I don't know if you've noticed, but there's pictures on the internet of some of theses people going so far as to get together dressed in elaborate costumes and play-act magic battles. Doyle's screed was calculated to piss off those fantasy nerds, and she referred to them repeatedly throughout.
posted by Hoopo at 3:38 PM on August 31, 2011


do you think the depiction of violence and patriarchy is unrealistic to a medieval setting, or were you saying that realism isn't a justification for depiction because the author still has a choice?

I'm saying I don't think it's a feature set that separates out medieval European culture and history from other periods and places. "It's medieval" seems to be a defense that opposes Westeros as a setting full of violence, rapine, brutality, etc as opposed to something (modern American culture?) that is not. Opposing a fantasy version of the worst outrages in medieval wars to peacetime life in modern Europe or America isn't a fair comparison. Maybe if we were being asked to compare it to life in Europe during WWI or WWII it would be a fairer comparison on violence and brutality. The sexism is similar but more complicated both for me because I'm a woman and GRRM's a man and because enlightenment thought modes about hierarchy and individualism that make the comparison apples and oranges (especially wrt to marriage as an economic/political transaction between families vs a romantic love between people).

Also, there is the consideration that writing about violence is itself part of fighting against it

I was under the impression he was writing a doorstop fantasy series in the grimdark gritty vein. If people like grimdark gritty fantasy, that's great, but arguing that other people should find it less objectionable/un-fun to read because it's Telling Me Something Important doesn't sway me. GRRM is not where I would turn for that polemic.
posted by immlass at 3:39 PM on August 31, 2011


This is kind of weird to read. I don't think that these books are the most amazing literary fiction ever, but they are pretty good (I think) and I am much more bothered by those terrible books or movies or TV shows that take place in real or fantasy pre-modern times where all the women are wise, empowered herbalists who read and write and everyone takes a lot of baths and there has never been a rape anywhere.

I do not perceive the violence in the SOIAF books to be somehow anti-woman and pro-rape, just as consistent with his descriptions of a violent, might-makes-right world where it was shitty to be anyone powerless: female, a child, a slave.

I SPEAK FOR ALL FEMINISTS AND WOMEN EVERWHERE. LET THE RECORD SHOW THAT I HAVE RULED ON THIS TOPIC.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 3:39 PM on August 31, 2011 [30 favorites]


I think for the most part I agree. I wonder what she would think of something like Best Served Cold in which men are at best portayed as bumbling galoots and at worst truly horrible people, while women get slightly better treatment and are portrayed as master tacticians. I don't even remember any rapes in that.
posted by Ad hominem at 3:41 PM on August 31, 2011


I think he's trying to come up with a fantasy world that's internally consistent and that's a really hard job.

The books aren't high fantasy in the traditional sense. The series is a soap opera. Once you've decided on that structure, then the story becomes about who wants to kill who, who is fucking who, and who has power over who. Then you have all the turns, where good guys become bad guys and vice versa, when someone who was on top ends up on the bottom, and so on. And the intersection of power, sex and hate is rape. Whenever an author needs a turning point for a character, it's always going to be on the top of your deck of options.

I think that's why it's used so much in the book, frankly, nothing to do with creepiness or sexual politics and everything to do with the needs of storytelling.
posted by empath at 3:41 PM on August 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


Fantasy folks are passionate about their fantasy stuff. I don't know if you've noticed, but there's pictures on the internet of some of theses people going so far as to get together dressed in elaborate costumes and play-act magic battles. Doyle's screed was calculated to piss off those fantasy nerds, and she referred to them repeatedly throughout.

Hi, I actually used to be a fantasy nerd, so I do understand passion, and I am a current sci fi nerd with generally non-standard tastes (I prefer TNG to DS9 or TOS!!!) I've also experienced the absolute and frankly irrational hatred that can reign down on someone who expresses a criticism of a beloved piece of any genre, so I think it's understandable that Doyle starts from a defensive position.

If Doyle is trolling, then we all fell for it, and we should probably stop giving her attention pretty quickly.

just as consistent with his descriptions of a violent, might-makes-right world where it was shitty to be anyone powerless: female, a child, a slave.

How does this explain the fact that, as far as I can tell, no male main characters were raped, but nearly all female main characters were?
posted by muddgirl at 3:43 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, and I think calling an author creepy is pretty much the definition of "personal." Somebody seriously needs to start telling these people that critical examination isn't the same as just criticizing the shit out of something. The point of criticism is enabling discussion, not shutting it down or derailing it with ad hominems right off the bat.

I . . . . what? I didn't say that Sady Doyle's argument wasn't personal in nature. I said that her feminist critique wasn't necessarily based on personal sensitivities.

This thread, man.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:44 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


People can say, "Yeah, this is problematic" without having people jump on them for attempted censorship.

Well, since many beans have already been poured on the plate on the subject: "problematic" tells us there's a problem. Problems are meant to be fixed. One can probably make a good guess how one who considers this kind of thing "problematic" would like that situation resolved. Hint: it's not them just not reading the books.

People take discussions of "Hey, that thing you like is sexist" to mean, "Hey, you're a sexist." We've seen a lot of that here over the years. It's a tough defensive reaction to overcome.

It's not a defensive reaction: she literally calls Martin creepy in the first line.
posted by Amanojaku at 3:44 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I am trying to think of female characters in my head, and I am struggling to think of the POV characters who were raped (I am sure I am missing some.

Wow do I ever have a different reading than you, unless you mean rapes that occur on paper in the actual books themselves. I'm pretty sure almost all of those characters were raped.
posted by ODiV at 3:45 PM on August 31, 2011


It's not a defensive reaction: she literally calls Martin creepy in the first line.

I don't see Martin here on the defense - he rightly has better things to do.
posted by muddgirl at 3:46 PM on August 31, 2011


One can probably make a good guess how one who considers this kind of thing "problematic" would like that situation resolved. Hint: it's not them just not reading the books.

As a Joss Whedon fan who still finds his works problematic, yep, clearly I would love for all of his work to be destroyed.
posted by kmz at 3:47 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


"problematic" tells us there's a problem. Problems are meant to be fixed

Ironically enough, doesn't Sady Doyle hate the term "problematic"?
posted by muddgirl at 3:48 PM on August 31, 2011


Yeah, and I think calling an author creepy is pretty much the definition of "personal." Somebody seriously needs to start telling these people that critical examination isn't the same as just criticizing the shit out of something. The point of criticism is enabling discussion, not shutting it down or derailing it with ad hominems right off the bat.

First off, just insulting somebody isn't an ad hominem. If the article had boiled down to 'George R.R. Martin is a creepy man, therefore everything he writes is also creepy', then it might have been an ad hominem. Instead it was the other way around - he's creepy because he writes creepy stuff (in that person's opinion). The former is a logical fallacy, the latter isn't.

Secondly, what you're engaging in here is known as a 'tone argument', which is basically when somebody uses an article's tone as an excuse to completely dismiss its contents. You might not have liked how this person phrased their argument, but that's not really an excuse to dismiss the entire argument out of hand. 'But why couldn't you be nicer about it?' isn't a valid comeback, it's a sidestep.
posted by anaximander at 3:48 PM on August 31, 2011 [11 favorites]


I'm not trying to be snarky. I'm honestly wondering why this is a topic which deserves an internet firestorm. Is it surprising that Doyle, Professional Feminist doesn't like a book which seems to contain, on average, quite a bit of rape?

The issue isn't whether the book or the author is creepy... the issue is whether *you* are creepy for enjoying rape fantasies.

This thread could be replaced by a graph of the response amplitudes if everyone attached electrodes to their genitals and read a compilation of all the rape/molestation scenes in these books.
posted by ennui.bz at 3:48 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, since many beans have already been poured on the plate on the subject: "problematic" tells us there's a problem. Problems are meant to be fixed. One can probably make a good guess how one who considers this kind of thing "problematic" would like that situation resolved. Hint: it's not them just not reading the books.

"Problematic" is used in a pretty specific way in these types of feminist criticisms. It's meant to call attention to aspects of the plot that, say, revel in rape culture, reveal unsavory truths about society's position on women, or hidden biases on the part of the writer.

It's not in any way meant to be a call for censorship, and your implication that it is is really icky.

It's not a defensive reaction: she literally calls Martin creepy in the first line.

Right, but she doesn't call the fans creepy, and it's the fans here that are reacting as if they've been personally affronted.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:49 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I prefer TNG to DS9

OK, I can dig it

or TOS!!!

NOW WE GOT PROBLEMS
posted by Hoopo at 3:49 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow do I ever have a different reading than you, unless you mean rapes that occur on paper in the actual books themselves. I'm pretty sure almost all of those characters were raped.

When do you think Catelyn, Arya, or Sansa were raped? Brienne is so constantly threatened with rape that I feel like it must have happened, but I don't think it ever does on paper.

Of the POV characters, I see only Dany and Cersei as victims of rape (with slightly different degrees of horribleness).
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 3:50 PM on August 31, 2011


It's a bit rich for Sady Doyle to attack another female writer for self-promotion. She's clearly pretty good at it!

Which is fine, actually. Writers should be good at self-promotion. And I liked her Hermione Granger piece, it was just the right kind of critical. As in, it gave the reader a different way of looking at a complex & interesting work that pointed out some (big) problems in a way that was pretty respectful of the work & the relevant fandom. I'm sure it pissed a lot of people off, but I found it constructive.

This article? Troll-ey. She knew it was troll-ey when she posted it, which is why the "fans will hate this" stuff in the beginning. Generally speaking, if you have to write a lead-in like that, you should figure out a better way to make your point.

The thing is? Martin should totally be criticized here. He has made some deliberate choices & they're pretty rough ones. I'm still giving him the benefit of the doubt (as in, I think the long arc of the series will show more of what he's trying for as we (one hopes & prays) get to some resolutions) but he's pushing it. For sure.

But she totally misreads stuff! As others have pointed out, as she lays out her specific examples, the things she uses don't prove what she wants them to. The worst is Tyrion, who is clearly an abuse victim in the context of being made to rape his lover. (Not that Tyrion is a spotless character, of course, but using that example?)

Basically, there's room for someone to do the Definitive Criticism of ASOIAF's treatment of women. Someone should do it. This ain't it.
posted by feckless at 3:51 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


it's the fans here that are reacting as if they've been personally affronted.

"..So, get it out of your system now, because, guess what, George R.R. Martin fans? I don’t like your toys. Deal with that. Meditate for a while. Envision a blazing bonfire in a temple, and breathe in its warmth and serenity. Then, imagine me dumping all your comic books and action figures and first-edition hardback Song of Ice and Fire novels INTO the bonfire, and cackling wildly."
posted by Hoopo at 3:51 PM on August 31, 2011 [6 favorites]


the issue is whether *you* are creepy for enjoying rape fantasies.

TMI time - I am known to read some non-consensual fiction from time to time, but I like to know what I'm getting into first.

Anyway, I thought the point was that Martin isn't engaging in rape fantasies. If we can all agree that he is, then this whole conversation would be much neater.
posted by muddgirl at 3:51 PM on August 31, 2011


"..So, get it out of your system now, because, guess what, George R.R. Martin fans? I don’t like your toys. Deal with that. Meditate for a while. Envision a blazing bonfire in a temple, and breathe in its warmth and serenity. Then, imagine me dumping all your comic books and action figures and first-edition hardback Song of Ice and Fire novels INTO the bonfire, and cackling wildly."

I dunno. She's still saying she doesn't like Martin's output and not saying anything about the beliefs/character/etc. of the fans.

I also think she's being deliberately trolly (and she is, but it still doesn't invalidate what she's saying) in that bit because she really did do some nuanced criticism in her Potter piece and was flamed by Harry Potter fandom for it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:55 PM on August 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Hoopo, I have a strange feeling that section you quoted was written in a spirit of facetiousness. As in 'People get mad when I lay out perfectly valid reasons for not liking their toys, so now imagine I'm throwing them on a bonfire'.

I'm pretty certain it's not meant to be a genuine insult.
posted by anaximander at 3:56 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


jesus christ the internet, thanks for reminding me why i hunker down with ursula le guin and like, marge piercy and shit.

i want frowner to comment on this whole mess. FROWNER, COMMENT ON THIS WHOLE MESS
posted by beefetish at 3:58 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Anyway, I thought the point was that Martin isn't engaging in rape fantasies. If we can all agree that he is, then this whole conversation would be much neater.

I think it's funny that people are trying to pretend that this "sword and sorcery" epic isn't chock full of 'sploitation but is instead a sensitive nuanced delving into gender relations and social patterns of the medieval period, modeled after the historical "War of the Roses"... with dragons and zombies.
posted by ennui.bz at 3:58 PM on August 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Well... there is an awful lot of rape in the ASOIAF series. So I'm kind of with her there. And yeah, the sheer amount of it does read as gratuitous, not in that it's presented as a good thing all stories should include more of, but rather in that it's a bad thing that's going to get described at awful gruesome length again and again to illustrate that Bad Things Happen! - so here's some more graphic descriptions of rape, and here's some more casual violence for background scenery just to emphasize what an awful place this is, and just in case you're jaded with all that now, here's Ramsay Bolton, kids! I love the books, but I could do with somewhat less of this.

But. I've been thinking about this article for a couple of days now, and I think where I fundamentally disagree with her is the idea that telling stories set in an unjust/sexist/racist world typically leads to unjust, sexist and racist stories, and is therefore something best avoided when possible (such as in a fantasy society the author invented). Which I don't think is true, at all, and it's got nothing to do with fantasy fans or defensive geeks.

To take a totally non-fantasy example, something like HBO's Big Love portrays an absolutely sexist and patriarchal society - fundamentalist LDS polygamists - replete with abuse, oppression, child marriage, and general patriarchal approaches to things which are harmful even when not directly abusive. And the women support it. They go along with male leaders because that's what they're supposed to do, and while they're often portrayed as pretty tough characters, the power they get is through manipulation and seduction - which supports the whole system. There aren't many, if any, female characters who directly challenge that system and get away with it; there are a lot of frustrating moments when such-and-such a character seems to be digging her own psychological grave by refusing to even consider it.

You could go two ways with that - "why are even the intelligent tough female characters portrayed as resorting to manipulation and bitchiness constantly? This sucks!" on one hand, and "what does it say about a society when the only way for intelligent tough women to get power is manipulation and bitchiness? This is an insightful critique of patriarchy!" on the other. I'd go for option B, but I suspect it's s much opposed to option A there's very little common ground between them for explaining.
posted by Catseye at 3:59 PM on August 31, 2011 [14 favorites]


Anyway, I thought the point was that Martin isn't engaging in rape fantasies.

He's engaging in writing a fantasy series that includes rape, but it also includes maiming and murder and people possessing animals that are then set on fire when the person's soul trapped inside and can I just say "flay," and I don't think he's saying yay to those things, either. And for all the lengthy descriptions of people getting horribly mauled in various ways, I am at a loss to think of a single rape scene that...well, a single rape scene, full stop. We are told that rapes are happening and we are told that people are being threatened with rape, but I am having a hard time remembering a passage in any of these books that provides the mechanics of the act. And again, Martin hardly is shy about delving into the gruesome details otherwise.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:59 PM on August 31, 2011 [6 favorites]


Creepier than Orson Scott Card? Or the chick who made Twilight?

Martin better get in line.
posted by clvrmnky at 3:59 PM on August 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


Right, but she doesn't call the fans creepy, and it's the fans here that are reacting as if they've been personally affronted.

Maybe not creepy, but most of her entire first paragraph is nerd-baiting, her entire second paragraph generalizes that no nerds anywhere will listen to nuanced argument, her third paragraph is more nerd-baiting, and her fourth paragraph merely expands on the second. This is all before she's even laid out an outline of her argument.
posted by zombieflanders at 4:00 PM on August 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


(also, just because the novelist doesn't employ the literary equivalent of porno disco during his rape scenes doesn't mean a significant % of his readership doesn't experience a pleasant twinge in their loins during reading of said scenes... and doesn't mean that the author doesn't know he is catering to those people... I mean you have read fanfic haven't you?)
posted by ennui.bz at 4:01 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Anyway, I thought the point was that Martin isn't engaging in rape fantasies. If we can all agree that he is, then this whole conversation would be much neater.

Is that what your reading of ASOIAF was? I'm curious. You seem to have strong opinions about this series. What was your experience reading it?
posted by eyeballkid at 4:01 PM on August 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


I've said this several times: I haven't read it. My comment about rape fantasies was in response to someone who claimed that some people feel like Doyle criticized them for enjoying a rape fantasy.
posted by muddgirl at 4:03 PM on August 31, 2011


My big question regarding the series: how did Fantasy end up meaning Medieval? What about the fantastic moon kingdom with elegant magic glass? Or the fantasy inside out earth where civilization adapts to mine towards space?

Why is fantasy just Ye Olde Tyme Albion?

And why is Ye Olde Tyme Albion so focused on sex as opposed to subsistence farming?
posted by Slackermagee at 4:03 PM on August 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


I've said this several times: I haven't read it. My comment about rape fantasies was in response to someone who claimed that some people feel like Doyle criticized them for enjoying a rape fantasy.

Sorry, fast-moving thread.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:04 PM on August 31, 2011


..and I responded facetiously, because, as far as I know, no one has described it as a "rape fantasy," even Doyle. If we COULD call it a rape fantasy, then it's as simple as "Rape fantasies bad! No, rape fantasies Good!"
posted by muddgirl at 4:04 PM on August 31, 2011


Amanojaku: Well, since many beans have already been poured on the plate on the subject: "problematic" tells us there's a problem. Problems are meant to be fixed. One can probably make a good guess how one who considers this kind of thing "problematic" would like that situation resolved. Hint: it's not them just not reading the books.

No, because just about everything is problematic in some way. One of the whole points of political criticism of literary works is that they carry with them many of the prejudices and biases of the time they were written. Shakespeare was Elizabethan and Jane Austen was English Regency, and both have certain biases.

"Fixing" the problem can happen in many ways, none of which involve book burning:

Awareness: "Hey, let's talk about this aspect of the work!"

Revisioning: "Let's stage Othello with Patrick Stewart in the title role and an all-black supporting cast!"

Parody: "Let's write a parody of Gone with the Wind from the perspective of the black characters!"

Creative works: "Let's write NEW fiction in a similar setting from a different perspective."

Recommendation: "Hey, I think this work sucks. You probably won't enjoy reading it."
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:05 PM on August 31, 2011 [13 favorites]


I read a lot of comments about GRRM's alleged message.

His only message in writing this (IMO) garbage is 'I want to get paid.'

I find these books and their cousin, the Wheel of Time (whose fans i refer to as TWOTs) to be unreadable trash.

And gritty? So what. There is lots of gritty dark fantasy that is done much better. Just because GRRM was the first guy to sell through a few hundred thousand units in a month doesn't mean he did it first or best. Stop giving this guy credit for being awesome or groundbreaking; Michael Moorcock did it better three decades before Martin and he finished individual books with discrete stories.

For pete's sake Martin can't even finish a *single* story.
posted by Fuka at 4:05 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've said this several times: I haven't read it.

And yet you're dominating this thread with your opinions about said book.
posted by eyeballkid at 4:06 PM on August 31, 2011 [7 favorites]


Well, since many beans have already been poured on the plate on the subject: "problematic" tells us there's a problem. Problems are meant to be fixed. One can probably make a good guess how one who considers this kind of thing "problematic" would like that situation resolved.

Maybe I'm an optimist, but I'd hope they'd prefer stronger sales for feminist writers and not mass book bannings.

It's not a defensive reaction: she literally calls Martin creepy in the first line.

Yeah, that and saying that the R in George RR Martin stands for rape is a jerk thing to say and is probably a good reason this article is being spread far and wide. I still think there would be defensive reactions to "This book series is unnecessarily rapey." And I don't think that's a horrible thing either; it happens.

To reiterate, I do think she's being intentionally provocative. I'm not going to be surprised at a hostile reaction to it and the defensive reaction to perceived accusations of misogyny on the part of the readers just adds fuel to the fire.

I'd be interested to see numbers on rapes, assaults, murders, deaths, torture, in the series just to see where everything is. Not that it would prove anything, mind you. Does CAPAlert still do reviews? They always seemed really interested in quantifying everything.

SPOILERS below.

When do you think Catelyn, Arya, or Sansa were raped? Brienne is so constantly threatened with rape that I feel like it must have happened, but I don't think it ever does on paper.

I could have sworn Sansa was raped, possibly even on paper, when she was married. Am I completely misremembering? It's been a long time, so it's likely. I don't believe Arya was raped and I have the same reading as you on Brienne. Catelyn and Eddard's marriage was arranged, so I think we can almost certainly conclude she was raped, though by our society's standards, not theirs.
posted by ODiV at 4:07 PM on August 31, 2011


Jesus.

So... how about that Penny Arcade, huh?
posted by Sebmojo at 4:08 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can't speak for muddgirl, but i'm going to guess that she's participating in part because this is also a larger conversation about geek culture. That's my stake in it, personally.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:08 PM on August 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Jesus

... didn't have any female apostles. Also the feet washing thing was a bit weird.
posted by ODiV at 4:09 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've said this several times: I haven't read it. My comment about rape fantasies was in response to someone who claimed that some people feel like Doyle criticized them for enjoying a rape fantasy.

The difference is relatively slight. We aren't just critisizing quality here, we're talking about personal moral judgements. Practically speaking, saying "that thing you like is perverted immoral filth" IS a personal insult is most circumstances. In a hypothetical conversation on the train, if someone says "Oh, I see you're reading some awful terrible filth there", they are unlikely to follow up with "not that I'm judging you personally or anything".
posted by Winnemac at 4:10 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I could have sworn Sansa was raped, possibly even on paper, when she was married. Am I completely misremembering?

Sansa wasn't raped. She and Tyrion never consummated the marriage.
posted by oinopaponton at 4:10 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I haven't read the books, but it grates me to see people so grotesquely mischaracterize an argument in the name of defending something they like.
posted by shakespeherian at 4:11 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


how did Fantasy end up meaning Medieval?

I don't think it does. But then again, I'm much more a fan of urban and weird these days than Medieval "high" fantasy.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:11 PM on August 31, 2011


Actually this is a pretty calm discussion, so my snark is unwarranted.

I do think there's an undertone of implicit censorship in this kind of debate (Why does he have to have story element x? Why not have story element not-x?), which sparks anger in the nerds on the other side, which sparks outrage of the 'why are you so angry, we're allowed our opinion' variety.

Und se weiter.

Seems a little bad faith to me. Particularly when the first three paras of the relevant article are literally a declaration of intent to troll.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:11 PM on August 31, 2011


man you know what is a great old book is sabriel and ain't any major rapes in it, no major rapes at all
posted by beefetish at 4:11 PM on August 31, 2011


And yet you're dominating this thread with your opinions about said book.

I've tried not to express any opinions about said book, actually. If I've failed, then I apologize to Martin and to his fans.

I've certainly expressed opinions about Doyle, the article, and criticisims of the article. I've expressed opinions about how it feels sometimes to be a thoughful fan in a medium which often discourages thoughtful discourse. I've also straight-up called Doyle a troll, so there's that.

Anyway, I'm going home, perhaps to check this book out of the library.
posted by muddgirl at 4:13 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


anaxaminder, I get that, but then to proceed with the same tone for the rest of the piece gives me the strange feeling that what you see as facetious is also intentionally provocative of fans. She chose to fan the flames by being dismissive and mocking throughout. I don't know what you consider insulting, but I wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of that.

I like what I've seen of the TV show and haven't read the books so I don't think I have as much invested in this fight as some. But "LOLcomix and action figures amirite?" is not really arguing in good faith. Nor is it really good for us to add a "y u mad tho?"
posted by Hoopo at 4:16 PM on August 31, 2011


man you know what is a great old book is sabriel and ain't any major rapes in it, no major rapes at all

What's a minor rape?
posted by Slackermagee at 4:16 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


The difference is relatively slight. We aren't just critisizing quality here, we're talking about personal moral judgements. Practically speaking, saying "that thing you like is perverted immoral filth" IS a personal insult is most circumstances. In a hypothetical conversation on the train, if someone says "Oh, I see you're reading some awful terrible filth there", they are unlikely to follow up with "not that I'm judging you personally or anything".

Is it?

My favorite ever book series as a young person was Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern. I even have a big Pernese blue tattooed on my leg. There are absolutely abhorrent sexual politics in those books--only about half of which I was aware of as a teen. "Perverted filth" is close to what I think about all of the no-means-yes stuff in them.

I don't think I'm a terrible person for having enjoyed them. Books are part of a larger, often even more problematic culture; they can also have worthwhile components even when they have terrible ones. I wouldn't assume that Martin fans are, at heart, rapists for their enjoyment in the books--but I do think it's valuable to talk about both what societal values an author's attitudes reflect, as well as how our enjoyment of work that includes abhorrent sexual politics impacts us as readers in shaping our own values.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:16 PM on August 31, 2011 [6 favorites]


Oh wait, Rape of the Lock. Or Loch, or however it was spelled.
posted by Slackermagee at 4:17 PM on August 31, 2011


I haven't read the books, but it grates me to see people so grotesquely mischaracterize an argument in the name of defending something they like.

The argument in the linked article is that George R.R. Martin is creepy because a series of books that he is writing inspired by a medieval patriarchal system includes rape. Is that the one? I'm honestly asking.
posted by eyeballkid at 4:19 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Meet Arya! She’s 9. Arya is not girly. She likes her Dad and swords and wolves and rough-housing. For these reasons, she does not suck as much as Sansa, because girly things suck and we hate them, right? Nothing sexist there, for sure!

Like, for me, this is the most interesting critique in Doyle's piece, in part because I'm just not sure what the answer is. I imagine that Martin actually thought himself as progressive in characterizing Arya this way--strong, independent, but fundamentally "not girly." And, hell, I love these kinds of characters, and was a tomboy myself. Is Arya problematic because of this? What place is there for boyish girls, and is their presence as good guys fundamentally antifeminist, or is it Sansa's characterization that makes this antifeminist, or what? The idea that a girl has to reject traditionally female values to be "good" is definitely problematic, but what would be the impact of the inverse? Or do we actually want something more nuanced in our fantasy?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:21 PM on August 31, 2011 [9 favorites]


This is probably the thread to mention Stross' excellent essay on heroic fantasy. His site doesn't have a search, though.

Still. Recommended.
posted by clvrmnky at 4:21 PM on August 31, 2011


i think it's more like "damn, way to emphasize rape as gritty window-dressing to show that your gritty medieval soap opera is hella gritty"
posted by beefetish at 4:21 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


oinopaponton: Yeah, I obviously completely misremembered then. Sorry everyone.
posted by ODiV at 4:24 PM on August 31, 2011


Sansa's actually grown to be one of my favorite characters, and if Sady's only able to see her as some sort of Princess Peach/Regina George hybrid, then she's obviously not reading very carefully. The personal flaw that undoes Sansa isn't being girly, it's believing in the inherent goodness of the patriarchal world she lives in. By the last time we've seen her, she's pretty well disabused of that notion.
posted by oinopaponton at 4:25 PM on August 31, 2011 [15 favorites]


There's two problems that turned me off from the start:

1) The books are creepy, therefore, Martin is a creep. The author is dead, yadda, yadda, yadda. And it's rather silly to say that Stephen King secretly wants a zombie family, or to massacre entire villages because he writes about that.

2) Fantasy is exemplified by Martin and Tolkien, and that just doesn't give me any confidence that Doyle understands what fantasy novels do.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:26 PM on August 31, 2011


My favorite ever book series as a young person was Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern. I even have a big Pernese blue tattooed on my leg. There are absolutely abhorrent sexual politics in those books--only about half of which I was aware of as a teen. "Perverted filth" is close to what I think about all of the no-means-yes stuff in them.

Funny story - this one time I accidentally 'lost' my copy of the The White Dragon (which has the hero getting significantly sexy-times with the serving girl in the fields) because my friend wanted to borrow it and the thought he might find out I'd been reading naughty stuff.

Actually, in retrospect, that was pretty rapey too. That McCaffrey, eh?

Back to the topic - I actually kind of like Sady's article, troll though it be. I think it's based on a shallow and gleefully bad faith reading of the text, mind, but she makes it work.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:27 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Like, for me, this is the most interesting critique in Doyle's piece, in part because I'm just not sure what the answer is.

Perhaps I'm just reading too far into it, but I thought it was more a criticism of characters who believe in an idealized world than a pragmatic one. Sansa, for instance, gets a lot more tolerable once she's out of the "court life is teh AWESOME" mindset. Ned Stark SPOILER never really learns that lesson SPOILER.

On preview, oinopaponton beat me to it.
posted by zombieflanders at 4:27 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


**naughty stuff // made me all embarassed.**
posted by Sebmojo at 4:28 PM on August 31, 2011


I may regret commenting here because I, being a privileged white male, usually get my ass handed to me on topics like this...oh well here goes:

I've only read the first two books so far. There is a lot of violence of all kinds in the books, and a lot of sexual violence, exploitation, sexism, racism, prejudice, and just horribleness in general. I also don't remember any rapes being described in explicit detail*, so I'm not sure if that qualifies as "rape fantasy."

Like muddgirl said, that's the central question. If GRRM is really writing rape fantasies, then yeah that's a problem. My read on it is based on a possibly naive assumption that our world has been for the majority of history pretty much hellbent on owning and using women in the most totally callous of ways and it's just totally normal and no one cares. This certainly seems to have been true in much of our world history (I am not a historian but I get that impression from what I've experienced in history courses/reading) and I just assumed Martin was drawing from that aspect of our own world history to create a world that, despite having dragons and magic and shit, also was bogged with the same nastiness as any other world would be.

Since all narration is character POV, he doesn't really have a chance to voice his opinion that all this brutality is wrong (or right, or whatever)...in fact I think he kind of lets the reader decide that but maybe I'm giving him too much credit here.

I will say that the thing that appeals to me about the series isn't "grittiness" but rather the characters and the relationships and all of that complexity. One of my favorite aspects of the second book is how all the characters witness the same event and we get to experience their POV and their interpretation of that event and it's that kind of stuff that I think really makes the books interesting. I don't like reading about the sexual violence and I never got the impression that Martin got a kick out of writing them because he's writing in character.

Which is why I think this:
Meet Arya! She’s 9. Arya is not girly. She likes her Dad and swords and wolves and rough-housing. For these reasons, she does not suck as much as Sansa, because girly things suck and we hate them, right? Nothing sexist there, for sure!

Is a bit of a strawman. Martin never says Sansa sucks. Maybe a lot of people think Sansa sucks. I thought she was annoying and naive, but then, lo and behold her character grew and I came to understand her, to want her to be happy and win and not be persecuted any more. I never thought she "sucked" or that Arya was better than her. I didn't get the impression that Martin thought this either, since both characters are given lots of time to flesh out and in some ways I think Sansa is a more fleshed out character, so there's that.

*The exception being Daenaerys (sic), which definitely experiences rape and it is described in some detail (and I thought it was fucking traumatic), but I also understood that it's integral to her development as a character in how she handles that trauma...so...I don't know it seemed justifiable and not gratuitous.
posted by Doleful Creature at 4:30 PM on August 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


Is a bit of a strawman. Martin never says Sansa sucks.

Interesting. I've only seen the series, but I felt that the results of Sansa's actions were clearly painting her as an unsympathetic character through most of the first season. Many of these results are explicitly tied to her belief that being a queen will be wonderfulsauce and that her noble prince will protect her.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:35 PM on August 31, 2011


In the first book, Sansa is a child with a child's understanding of the world. The reader starts to figure out what a sham Westeros is way before Sansa does, so it's frustrating to see her time and time again give the Lannisters the benefit of the doubt. Over time (especially after her idealistic trust in Cersei and Joffrey gets her father killed), she starts to wise up and becomes someone you root for.
posted by oinopaponton at 4:41 PM on August 31, 2011 [7 favorites]


This was shared on Google+, and I wrote a long comment, which I'm going to share below. First off, though, I do want to say to muddgirl, winna and anyone else who has not read the books and is only going on Sadie Doyle's criticism for the "facts", she really cherry-picks the books and deliberately leaves out details that do not fit with her argument.

Just one example of that would be her "85% of the women in the books get raped." Actually, I ran the numbers of all the women in the books that either have POV story-telling or are main characters (we come to know them by name). The actual percentage raped? 41%.*

Are men raped?

Men are sent to the Wall and lowborn men on the wall are raped, yes. I would also argue that it is quite possible that Theon (Reek) has been raped and maybe even castrated. In fact, I defy anyone to read the books and say that any woman in them has suffered more than Reek has.

Okay, my comment:

As a woman, the first several chapters of ASOFAI were very disturbing to me; the lack of a strong female character and the violence against women made me nearly put the books down.

I'm glad I didn't, and I'll explain why, but first, on Tyrion's story (Sady argues that he is not a victim):

When Tyrion married Tysha, he was 13 years old. He believed she was a prostitute who never loved him because his father, the authority figure over him, and his brother Jaime, whom he trusted, told him so. And so his father tells Tyrion to watch while she she has sex with all the soldiers for money, and then demands Tyrion rape her as well, and give her a gold coin because Lannisters are considered to be worth more than soldiers.

I used the words "has sex" because although of course it is rape, at that point Tyrion believes the girl is a prostitute who has no problem with having sex with all the soldiers for money, as each one is paying her. He doesn't realize that she is just as much a victim as he is, at this point.

If a girl is coerced into sex by an authority figure in control of her, that's rape. The young women in this story, who are 13, 14, etc., are considered by the society in which they live to be "of age" at this time, but we obviously agree that is not okay today (I feel that Martin is making that point, actually, to show us how barbaric that kind of thinking was.)

I'm sure you agree that when a 13 year old child is coerced into sex by an authority figure, it doesn't matter whether the child is a boy or girl--it's rape either way. So I feel that we should give the same respect to Tyrion and accept that he is also a victim here.

Now, why I kept reading: many of the women in the series show strength, resourcefulness and really grow as characters, especially Danaerys. I disagree, also, that she has to release the slaves because she is a white woman and they are not, and therefore she knows better. Dani was made a slave herself, and sold, and that's why she empathizes with them. She doesn't feel superior to them. Dani has actually learned much from listening and respecting other cultures and races, something her brother did not do (which is why she is a survivor and he is not) and she is "the blood of the dragon," not her brother. She is a complex character trying to do the right thing in a world that George R. R. Martin has deliberately made the opposite of good vs evil. In that world, pragmatists and strategists live while the naive and trusting die.

And this is where I talk about that world of the series, because it is really significant to note that, while a fantasy world, it is modeled on Europe during the War of the Roses and the families fighting for the throne at the time. The patriarchal society, arranged marriages, plotting and treason exist because the historical background upon which the fictional work is based included all those elements and they are necessary for the factions to make sense. So arguing that Martin could have had the women in charge, etc., doesn't work in that setting. Yet he still has women play pivotal roles, and in the other countries in the book there are strong women.

The women of the wildlings are not mentioned in Sady's critique, I notice, nor is Asha Greyjoy, all strong women who control their own destinies.

I disagree that Cersei is punished for her sexuality, also. Everyone suffers in this book, and I don't see a lot of moral posturing here that indicates Martin himself has a problem with sexually assertive women--he makes that point through Cersei, who tries to use her sister-in-law's sexuality to punish her, and instead ends up a victim of her own machinations. Cersei is undone because she does not think far enough ahead strategically; this is a weakness that the character has always had through the entire series of books. She solves immediate problems while creating long-range ones because she does not see the big picture. Cersei's pattern has always been to manipulate Jaime, who loves her, into solving those problems she creates, but he stops going along with her when he realizes she has been using him all along.

Tyrion does well because, as in chess, he sees the whole board and thinks several moves ahead. He learned, very young, the most important lesson of survival: naivete and innocence lead to suffering in this harsh world.


*Catelyn no
Arianne Martell no
Arya no
Sansa no
Brienne no
Dany (sort of iffy)--I might say yes on this one by the HBO show, but by the book? No.
Cersei no
Asha Greyjoy no
Yvette, Dalla, Osha, Val (wildling women) no
Margery no
Melisandre no
Sansa's friend, Jeyne yes
Rob's wife, Jeyne no
Catelyn's sister, Lisa iffy, as she wanted to marry Theo and was forced into marriage. yes
Lady Selyse and her daughter, no
Meera, no
Tysha, yes
Pia yes
Lolly yes
Gilly yes
Elia yes
[Lyanna=not included because although her family thinks she was raped, clues left for the readers appear to show she and Rheagor might have been a love match]

7 yes, 17 no: 41%.

How is rape handled? Jaime has the men who rape Pia executed, keeps Brienne from being raped and does not rape women; he takes his vows as a King's Protector seriously despite his reputation. Dany prevents the Dothraki from raping the women of the other tribes they have vanquished. Cranster, a man who rapes his own daughters, marries them and then kills any sons they have while raising the daughters to continue the cycle, is barely tolerated because he is the only one in the North to supply the men of the Walll, but is eventually killed. Men like Eddard Stark and his sons, considered honorable, do not rape women.

posted by misha at 4:42 PM on August 31, 2011 [22 favorites]


I follow a lot of intelligent and accomplished women on Twitter and a good amount were clearly typing one-handed during the first run of the HBO series. They're obviously tools of the patriarchy.
posted by FeralHat at 4:46 PM on August 31, 2011


I read Goodkind before I read Martin.

As a result, I found Martin a lot less creepy given Goodkind as a baseline.

Though I do tend to agree - there's some creep going on there.
posted by hank_14 at 4:46 PM on August 31, 2011


In the first book, Sansa is a child with a child's understanding of the world. The reader starts to figure out what a sham Westeros is way before Sansa does, so it's frustrating to see her time and time again give the Lannisters the benefit of the doubt. Over time (especially after her idealistic trust in Cersei and Joffrey gets her father killed), she starts to wise up and becomes someone you root for.

Isn't it still potentially problematic if her "boyish" sister--also a child with a child's understanding of the world--is portrayed more sympathetically from the outset? Particularly if her taste in, say, swords and fighting doesn't result in the same narrative punishments as her sister's interest in marriage and dresses and stuff?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:49 PM on August 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


I've only seen the series, but I felt that the results of Sansa's actions were clearly painting her as an unsympathetic character through most of the first season. Many of these results are explicitly tied to her belief that being a queen will be wonderfulsauce and that her noble prince will protect her.

This is correct. Sansa's sin is naivete. She is difficult to like in the first book in the series, but once she understands how the game works, she's a lot more interesting and, as a reader, a lot more sympathetic.

Arya is the flip side of this. She better understands the world she lives in. You can argue that Martin went the lazy, stereotypical tomboy route, but I see her more as a realist. It makes sense that she rejects her sister's delusions about the royal court and all of the associated trappings.
posted by eyeballkid at 4:52 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Particularly if her taste in, say, swords and fighting doesn't result in the same narrative punishments as her sister's interest in marriage and dresses and stuff?

Arya gets plenty punished, especially in the second and third books (though, interestingly, not raped).

In general, I can see why people only familiar with the first book could buy Sady's argument, but it really falls apart in the context of the rest of the series. It really seems like she researched this piece by watching the HBO series and then reading the Wikipedia articles for the rest of the books. I feel like I'm veering into annoying territory with my constant defense, but I really do think that most of these criticisms are totally undeserved.
posted by oinopaponton at 4:54 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


really, too many "really"s there
posted by oinopaponton at 4:58 PM on August 31, 2011


The argument in the linked article is that George R.R. Martin is creepy because a series of books that he is writing inspired by a medieval patriarchal system includes rape. Is that the one? I'm honestly asking.

The article I read made a lot of criticisms, which is why I find it curious that defenders of the books are only focusing on the rape/violence. The article specifically mentions a lot of less-than-nuanced depictions of women who frequently seem to behave in stereotypical ways. There was a lot, a lot, a lot more in Doyle's critique than 'a medieval patriarchal system [that] includes rape.'
posted by shakespeherian at 4:58 PM on August 31, 2011


Well, to be fair, I picked that quote from her description of the first book. And honestly, given the first series of the show, it really does seem that Martin ties Sansa's failures with her embrace of feminine values and Arya's success with her rejection of them. You can say that Sansa is actually embracing "courtly life"--but Arya's interest in, say, swordplay isn't exactly a rejection of that either.

There might be more complexity later. I haven't read it. But I'm not sure (as in, genuinely not sure, not as in "I don't think") that later growing complexity excuses the presence of these things in the first book.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:59 PM on August 31, 2011


Having read all of the books, but not watched any of the tv show, my biggest issue with the series isn't necessarily the abundance of rape/ sexual violence throughout the society but the abject lack of any other kind of relationship. Where is the love? Where is the passion? Where is the romance? For crying out loud, the characters barely even like each other most of the time - so why should we like them at all? (Minor spoilers ahead, not that it really matters this late in the thread.)

With 9 trillion characters and umpteen weddings, you would have thought there would be at least one or two opportunites to portray a decent loving relationship. Sure there was Ned and Catelyn but that lasted for all of half of the first book before they separated, and besides wasn't Ned in love with another woman when he was betrothed to Catelyn? How about Jaime and Cersei? Even ignoring the creepy brother-sister thing, I'm not sure how much they truly like or respect each other. Ah but Robb Stark gives up everything for little Jeyne Westerling, that certainly must have been a romance for the ages! Yet Martin only spares a single page to to recount Robb's falling in love, courting and marrying his new wife, after spending chapter upon chapter dwelling on minor house sigils and who's allied with who today.

Martin simply seems incapable of or maybe just uninterested in portraying warm human emotions and connections, which leaves nothing to balance out all the cold calculating manipulations and machinations that drive his plotlines forward. I'm not looking for sappy love stories or sweeping romances, but if you're going to spend so much time on violence, hatred, bitterness and revenge, you need something to compare it to or it all just runs together and loses its impact. I'd like to see a little more fire and a little less ice please.
posted by platinum at 5:00 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


(Similarly, I think Tamora Pierce does similar things in her Alanna books. Later books expand in complexity and Alanna's rejection of men and relationships is tempered. But that doesn't mean that I don't get slightly frowny when I think of these things in the first book.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:01 PM on August 31, 2011


Why is fantasy just Ye Olde Tyme Albion?

Victorians, and their backlash against the Classical-butt-kissing of the Englightenment -- and the tradition of romance (not love) literature.

Also Tolkien, and hell of a lot of other people.

And why is Ye Olde Tyme Albion so focused on sex as opposed to subsistence farming?
posted by Slackermagee at 7:03 PM on August 31 [+] [!]


Because I'm too lazy to write a novel. Also, a lot of medieval farming wasn't just subsistence -- at least, as we're getting into the late medieval/early modern (what I know).
posted by jb at 5:01 PM on August 31, 2011


Sifting through the nerd-baiting and evidence cherry-picking, the ascription of motive to both writer and readers, and the overall heavy handed tone, you have a smart, three paragraph article that raises some excellent, thoughtful points about ASOIAF in specific and fantasy in general. With the nerd-baiting et al, you have thousands and thousands of extra hits to your article, increased name recognition and people talking about your ideas all over the internet.

Moral: if you have an idea you want people to discuss, be it a good one or a bad one, do as Ann Coulter does and troll, troll, troll.

That said, Alyssa Rosenberg's response more closely matches my feelings about the book.
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:02 PM on August 31, 2011 [6 favorites]


The article I read made a lot of criticisms, which is why I find it curious that defenders of the books are only focusing on the rape/violence. The article specifically mentions a lot of less-than-nuanced depictions of women who frequently seem to behave in stereotypical ways.

Many of which have been challenged already by people in this thread as being at best uncharitable and at worst incorrect descriptions of what occurred in the series. So I'll pose the same question I posed to mudgirl previously to you, when you read the series, did you feel the same about it as Sady Doyle?
posted by eyeballkid at 5:04 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


So arguing that Martin could have had the women in charge, etc., doesn't work in that setting. Yet he still has women play pivotal roles

Women did play pivotal roles in the Wars of the Roses: Margaret of Anjou, Cecily Neville, and Elizabeth Woodville to name three off the top of my head. There's no credit for being more feminist than the times by putting women in positions of power if women actually held positions of power in the historical conflict the story is supposedly modeled on.
posted by immlass at 5:05 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I haven't read the series, as I said. I am pushing back against all the comments in this thread that disingenuously say things like 'Oh so books shouldn't have violence in them?!'
posted by shakespeherian at 5:06 PM on August 31, 2011


Interesting. I've only seen the series, but I felt that the results of Sansa's actions were clearly painting her as an unsympathetic character through most of the first season.

We should be careful not to conflate the tv show with the novels. TV adaptations notoriously cut out the subtle and twist depictions.
posted by jb at 5:07 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Arya's interest in, say, swordplay isn't exactly a rejection of that either.

I totally agree here, but I disagree that Arya is "successful" in any way (really, she goes through and does some brutal stuff in the later books). Arya's "sin" is that she thinks that, at nine years old, she can take care of herself. She can't. This isn't a huge deal when she's still with her family, but once she's on her own, it's a different story.
posted by oinopaponton at 5:07 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Particularly if her taste in, say, swords and fighting doesn't result in the same narrative punishments as her sister's interest in marriage and dresses and stuff?

This is interesting, because I didn't find it was an interest in marriage and dresses that led to her "narrative punishments" as much as being too naive and hopeful. In the show at least, Joffrey has already shown himself to be quite a little douchebag before she gets "punished" at all for wanting to get married, and has had to deal with a bit of crap from his mother too.

Where is the love?

It appears to have taken a back seat to the pursuit of power and prestige, which appear to be major themes of the TV show. Marriages are arranged to manipulate and manoeuvre politically to benefit the House of So-and-So more than out of love. Which I think was not actually uncommon in royal circles.
posted by Hoopo at 5:11 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Jeez, if you really want to talk about a sexist, misogynist set of fantasy books, talk about Jordan's "Wheel of Time" series.

Not a single woman in that series that isn't depicted as shrewish, dysfunctional in some way, manipulative, downright evil or at least petulant.
posted by darkstar at 5:12 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I haven't read the series, as I said. I am pushing back against all the comments in this thread that disingenuously say things like 'Oh so books shouldn't have violence in them?!'

Yeah. I get that you've been trying to characterize responses to this thread like that. The majority of the conversation here, however, isn't going that way.
posted by eyeballkid at 5:13 PM on August 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm not trying to characterize all or even most responses to this thread like that. I'm talking about those responses that are like that. Then I explained why I think it's legitimate to comment in this thread without reading the books.
posted by shakespeherian at 5:19 PM on August 31, 2011


Also, I don't have any opinion on whether these books are as Doyle characterizes them or not. I have no clue.
posted by shakespeherian at 5:20 PM on August 31, 2011


And honestly, given the first series of the show, it really does seem that Martin ties Sansa's failures with her embrace of feminine values and Arya's success with her rejection of them.

I'm at a loss as to where Arya "succeeds" in the show. Certainly in Martin's books, just like every other character, she is put through the wringer.
posted by eyeballkid at 5:21 PM on August 31, 2011


PhoBWanKenobi wrote: is it?

I wasn't writing that this kind of criticism doesn't exist, just that it usually doesn't, so it isn't surprising when fans take offense.
posted by Winnemac at 5:24 PM on August 31, 2011


Just to clear this up, I have read every book except the last one and I stand by my characterization of my experience of reading them.
posted by winna at 5:27 PM on August 31, 2011


I didn't say that Sady Doyle's argument wasn't personal in nature. I said that her feminist critique wasn't necessarily based on personal sensitivities.

Well, I guess we should clarify terms: necessarily? What would indicate that her critique was based on personal sensitivities if not what she wrote? Because that whole article is full of subjective value judgments like "gross" and "creepy." I realize I'm conflating "argument/critique" here, but only because I think they're very much intertwined in this case.

I don't see Martin here on the defense - he rightly has better things to do.

I'm pretty sure we typically accept that people can become offended by proxy -- Metafilter would be a blank, blue page if not, and Doyle herself -- not actually a fictional character who's been raped innumerable times -- wouldn't have much of an argument.

Ironically enough, doesn't Sady Doyle hate the term "problematic"?

I should hope so. I wouldn't be inclined to use it in this case myself.

First off, just insulting somebody isn't an ad hominem. ... Secondly, what you're engaging in here is known as a 'tone argument'

Did I just get simultaneously chastised for improper usage of the name of a logical fallacy and "the tone argument" by the same person? Is that close enough to irony that I can use it without being corrected about that, too?

But yes, you're actually right: I am completely making the tone argument. I don't see that as an issue. Her argument may be completely valid, based on her own aesthetics though it may be. Her tone sucks. Her tone is the thing that makes any discussion following it shittier, and that's not the purpose of criticism.

It's not in any way meant to be a call for censorship, and your implication that it is is really icky.

Okay, this is clearly a failure on my part. I don't actually believe that it's a call for censorship; I just didn't emphasize the part about "bean-plating" well enough. I was trying to demonstrate that when one begins the bean-plating, any uncharitable interpretation is possible; any conclusion can be read in the tea leaves. It was really a spin-off of something that's bothered me for a while about the way these kinds of discussions go, but it wasn't entirely salient here, and I retract it.
posted by Amanojaku at 5:29 PM on August 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


platinum said: Martin simply seems incapable of or maybe just uninterested in portraying warm human emotions and connections

I suppose one could argue that Dany and Khal Drogo fell in love and had a viable romantic relationship for a while. I think a "decent loving relationship" might be too much to expect, as hardly anyone in the series is decent. Or stays in one place long enough.
posted by Squeak Attack at 5:33 PM on August 31, 2011


W/r/t Arya and Sansa, this seems like a can't-win proposition -- if Arya generally kicks ass, then it's a rejection of the feminine, but if Sansa generally kicks ass, then it's a reinforcement of typical gender norms. I went to college! I can play, too!
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:33 PM on August 31, 2011 [21 favorites]


The smug tone of this piece's introduction, which frames any reader who doesn't agree with her reading of Martin as a reactionary, or a sufferer of "nerd rage", was really alienating to me. This makes it hard to take the whole polemic seriously, but I read some of it and tried.

It seems like kind of a mess...is it literary criticism, or is it a long justification of why the books repelled her? Does she ever even try connect her ethical objections of Martin to the larger conversation about rape in literature? Surely there must be a big body of feminist criticism about this, and there's probably a bunch of it that discusses fantasy and SF.

It seems like she's making the case primarily in terms of claiming that Martin personally is a creep, due to his depictions of sexual violence, and due to an alleged tone of approval for archaic social ideas about women. That could be a really interesting discussion, but this screed is not it.
posted by thelonius at 5:35 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


There's so much wrong with this article that it's hard to respond with any focus. It's so inaccurate and slanted that it draws attention away from its core argument. For example, Sansa beaten while half-naked counts in the rape and abuse tally (that 85% figure), whereas the numerous men whose genitalia are forcibly amputated are curiously unmentioned. (This is glossed as "castration" but sounds a good deal more traumatic.) There is a character who leads an army of 8,000 eunuchs. But, like I said, these factual distortions are not really to point.

The core argument of the piece is that the books are bad (and the author "creepy") because they depict bad things happening, and sometimes inhabit the viewpoints of characters who do not share modern enlightened sensibilities on race and gender. Sometimes it allows us to feel sympathy for someone who's done something wrong. That's it. That's all these thousands of words add up to.

Why this amounts to a fault of the book is never explained. So Daenerys falls in love with Drogo, despite his arguably raping her -- this is the subject of much complaint in Sadie's piece. But why is that a problem with the book? Is it because it's unbelievable? On the contrary, it seems all too believable. No, it's simply icky. Oh.

I think the (completely unstated and unsupported) sting of the argument is that the books are like pornography, i.e. that the rape and "pedophilia" are presented for evil titillation, and serve no higher purpose. That's why Sadie repeatedly calls important acts from the books "gratuitous." Here I could spend a few thousand words myself trying to explain what I think the world of Westeros is for, why it is the way it is. Like any good fiction, the pieces fit together. But that would be a waste of time and wouldn't work anyway. If you don't want to understand a book, you're never going to understand it. If you insist on seeing the suffering in it as completely meaningless, that is how you will see it. But it is your problem.

Why Sadie should want to stand before the world and declare that she basically can't read is beyond me.
posted by grobstein at 5:36 PM on August 31, 2011 [26 favorites]


Well, I guess we should clarify terms: necessarily? What would indicate that her critique was based on personal sensitivities if not what she wrote? Because that whole article is full of subjective value judgments like "gross" and "creepy." I realize I'm conflating "argument/critique" here, but only because I think they're very much intertwined in this case.

I really think you should ctrl+f for "personal sensitivities." The first use essentially suggests that Doyle's argument is no different than those who complain about Lolita because it includes sexual content or Slaughterhouse Five because it includes naughty words. I don't think Doyle is objecting to these books because she's prudish--I think she's objecting to them because she finds them exemplary of anti-feminist values (yes, she also finds them "gross.")

I'm pretty sure we typically accept that people can become offended by proxy -- Metafilter would be a blank, blue page if not, and Doyle herself -- not actually a fictional character who's been raped innumerable times -- wouldn't have much of an argument.

I don't know what you're getting at there at all.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:38 PM on August 31, 2011


Should I say that I just finished book 4 this morning and don't think the series is great?
posted by grobstein at 5:39 PM on August 31, 2011


W/r/t Arya and Sansa, this seems like a can't-win proposition -- if Arya generally kicks ass, then it's a rejection of the feminine, but if Sansa generally kicks ass, then it's a reinforcement of typical gender norms. I went to college! I can play, too!

I actually agree, and I genuinely wonder what the solution for authors might be.

Probably fewer characters that exemplify either a total rejection of traditional female values or a total embrace of them. It would be more realistic, anyway. I don't know any women who are as starkly (heh) characterized in terms of gendered interest as they are in fantasy novels.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:41 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


There is definitely significant sexual violence committed against women in this series. But I have to wonder... why is sexual violence so noteworthy, but brutal murder and torture is not?

The torture of Theon is what has bothered me most of any of Martin's grisly scenes. Killing children and sticking their heads on pikes disturbed me as well, as did the unconsensual abortion of Dany's baby in an attempt to save the life of her husband.

But, if for some reason sexual violence is so much worse than all of the other inhumanity, how about Martin's use of forced castration? It's a pretty big plot device, and there are no too few mentions of boys being castrated (and a fairly graphic description of what happened to Varys). Weighing being rape against castrated... I can't say I wouldn't come out on the side of rape.

So... where are all the critics calling on Martin to depict female circumcision to balance out all the castration? Or at least bemoaning the sexual abuse of boys and men.

In any case, I don't think Martin is in any way creepy in the contemporary use of the word (as in, "He's a creeper."). If anything, Martin is one of the few fantasy authors who does not glorify violence, war, and battle. He rightly depicts it as nasty, gut-wrenching, disturbing stuff that any semi-reasonable person would avoid unless absolutely necessary. More than any other author I can think of, Martin has made me appreciate civilization and an institutionalized legal system.
posted by GnomeChompsky at 5:41 PM on August 31, 2011 [21 favorites]


I don't think Doyle is objecting to these books because she's prudish--I think she's objecting to them because she finds them exemplary of anti-feminist values (yes, she also finds them "gross.")

But what the piece actually argues is that the books simply depict occurrences that are not consistent with feminist values. It just doesn't follow that they are "exemplary of anti-feminist values." It's a missing link in the piece and I think an absolutely telling one.
posted by grobstein at 5:42 PM on August 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


Unlike most of the people in this thread (and, apparently, in the world), I don't think there's a right or wrong way to relate to a story. You read it; you have a reaction. If you're honestly reporting your reaction, then that's fine. If you're reporting the reaction you think you're supposed to have or you want people to think you have, that's pretty childish. If your reaction is filtered through your politics or upbringing or whatever -- stuff external to the book itself -- then you're human. We can't shut off all non-story associations when we read, and why would we want to? Part of the joy of reading is getting associative chains triggered in our brains.

But my experiences aren't the same as your experiences. A story will be filtered by my brain in a different way than it will be filtered by yours. If I have a profound feeling that a book is creepy, it IS a profound feeling. But what it really means is that the book is creepy TO ME. I'm not belittling that feeling. MY relationship with a book is the most important relationship ... TO ME. And it should be deeply important to me, or what's the pont?

But it doesn't indicate a cosmic truth about the book. As hard as this is for some people to grasp, a so-called creepy book is both creepy and not creepy, depending on who the reader is. Yes, I am arguing for subjectivism, but I'm not saying "it's JUST what it means to you." It IS what it means to you, but there's no JUST about it.

What it means to you is all important ... to you. It's SO profound to you, that it's going to feel like a profoundly UNIVERSAL truth. That's the magic of art -- of fiction: you read and make a discovery. It's really only a discovery to you, but it FEELS like a global, for-everyone, cosmic discovery.

If you LOVE "Star Wars," it seems like the movie IS great. If you hate it, it seems like it IS terrible. You can make all the arguments you want, but, in the end, people watch "Star Wars" and have a reaction. If I hate it and you somehow convince me that it's great, I may categorize it as great, but I still hate it. I still have the reaction of hate when I'm watching it.

Because people so want to flee subjectivity, we get all kinds of odd, tortuous constructions, mostly learned in school (where we're taught to relate to art in unnatural ways), like "I recognize that it's a great work, but I don't personally like it." Why do that? Why relate to FICTION -- a form that should be all about personal, visceral response -- in such a complicated way? What not just have a bold, honest, direct reaction to it? "I hate it."

It doesn't matter if it's "King Lear" or "The Great Gatsby." If you don't like it, it's not a great work. If you don't like it, it sucks FOR YOU. And if you get immense pleasure from watching "Gilligan's Island," then that show is -- for you -- a great work of art.

I'm not saying there are no grounds for ranking art besides one's gut and giggles. But I'm saying that if you DO judge art simply and directly, based on how it makes you feel, you'll have a much richer life. TRY not worrying whether you're SUPPOSED to like a book or not. Just react. You're not a bad person if you quit reading a "classic" after the first chapter because it bores you. You're a bored person doing what's natural for a bored person. You're not a secret, horrible rapist if you enjoy reading a book with lots of rape in it.

When it comes to food, most of us would LOVE to dump the broccoli in the trash and have five helpings of ice cream. We can't, because that's unhealthy. But books and movies and art are the perfect foods. YOU DON'T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT WHETHER OR NOT THEY'RE HEALTHY! You can eat as much fictional ice cream as you want and forgo eating any fictional broccoli. You don't have to pretend you like the broccoli if you don't. You don't have to say, "I recognize that it's good, but..." You can just not like it. And if you see someone else reading 100 books that are brocoli to you, you don't have to tell him "that's gross." If all he reads is ice cream, you don't have to lecture him that he's going to get fat. You can't get fat from reading.

I love Martin's books. I personally don't find them creepy, and I don't care if he's personally creepy or not. He's not my friend. Yes, a lot of women in his books get raped. I don't really care if it's 10% of the characters or 100%. There are a lot of rapes, and Martin makes them seem real and visceral enough that when I read about them, I have reactions. I enjoy those reactions. I don't mean "enjoy" in the simplistic sense. I mean I enjoy how the rape scenes make me feel uncomfortable and shocked and scared and angry and in pain.

Some people don't like books that make them uncomfortable. THAT'S FINE. That's not wrong. You like chocolate; I like vanilla. One is not better than the other, but we both like what we like.

SOME of the rape scenes even give me the sort of pleasure that, I'm sure, would make lots of people call me a creep. I've never been turned on by one, but I've felt -- a few times -- with a few characters, like "Good! She deserved that!" I felt the same way when some of the male characters got maimed or tortured or whatever. I enjoy that wicked feeling and I am 100% unapologetic about it. In fact, I think it's healthy. IN FACT, if I ever read a rape scene and got turned on, I would be even slightly bothered. Creepy or not, I'd think it was cool. It's cool whenever a book turnes me on for any reason. It WOULD be creepy (or worse!) if I got turned on in real life, while watching a rape. But that's a totally different thing.

Here's the point: I am 100% sure that I will never, in real life, rape a woman. I am 100% sure that I would never take pleasure in hearing about a woman -- even a woman I hate -- getting raped. I don't have to use my imagination. I'm 45 years old. It's HAPPENED that women I hate have been raped, and it gave me no pleasure. I thought it was shocking and horrible, and I would have worked hard to prevent those rapes if I'd been able to. You can believe that or not. I don't care.

The point is that I can read about all kinds of horrible things without worrying that they'll somehow taint my soul. The very idea is absurd. I like reading stories about serial killers murdering people in gruesome ways, while in real life, I flinch when someone kills a bug. I like revenge stories in which the bad guy gets brutally killed, and yet in real life I'm profoundly disgusted by capital punishment. Go figure.

Maybe it's not about me. Maybe not everyone can separate fact and fiction the way I can. Maybe I should find Martin creepy because he's adding more images of rape to the world. Maybe I should find him creepy because some adolescent boy could read the books and get some nasty ideas from them.

But I don't care about any of that stuff because (a) I can't imagine a more boring way of reading -- being constantly politicized and worrying about the effect of the book on OTHER people. I read, hedonistically, for me. I am not a selfish person in most parts of life, but since fiction-reading is a deeply personal pleasure, I am a total selfish hedonist when I read.

(b) How condescending! The book might warp minds more impressionable than mine? Maybe. In general, I'm going to assume other readers are able to tell fact and fiction apart as well as I can.

(c) When it comes to things like rape, even if Martin's books in some small way make the world a worse place, we have MUCH bigger fish to fry. Complaining about his books is like accusing an Enron executive of wasting too much money on office supplies. Sure, maybe it's a problem, but we have a lot of other stuff to worry about before we worry about that. We live in a horrible world full of REAL LIFE predators. REAL GROWN MEN ARE RAPING REAL LITTLE GRILS! We live in a world in which, in many countries, women are LEGALLY bound to men. Let's fix all that stuff before we worry about the effects of a fantasy series.

But -- still -- given all that... that's just ME. If you find the books creepy, then, since they're creepy to you, you probably shouldn't read them. Unless you enjoy getting the creeps.
posted by grumblebee at 5:43 PM on August 31, 2011 [10 favorites]


But what the piece actually argues is that the books simply depict occurrences that are not consistent with feminist values. It just doesn't follow that they are "exemplary of anti-feminist values." It's a missing link in the piece and I think an absolutely telling one.

I think that's a fair critique of Doyle's argument. Essentially, she presents a list of occurrences without any overriding thesis.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:45 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


(Similarly, I think Tamora Pierce does similar things in her Alanna books. Later books expand in complexity and Alanna's rejection of men and relationships is tempered. But that doesn't mean that I don't get slightly frowny when I think of these things in the first book.)

I think Pierce realizes this and in a lot of ways Protector of the Small deals with it; Kel occasionally surprises her classmates (IIRC, it's been a while) by being into being a girl as well as being a knight. She likes wearing dresses to remind them that she's not a boy.

But on the Doyle piece-- I am a fan of Doyle's work but I kinda think she combined two things in this piece. She combined her criticism for SOIAF, which I think is interesting and probably valid, with all the nerd rage she experienced after the Hermione Granger piece (and probably after a few other Tiger Beatdown pieces that I assume also picked up nerd rage, like the one about Doctor Who). The whole "you don't like my toys!!11" thing is really a problem (and it's one that's coupled with "how dare you like toys I don't like!!11", in which fandoms rip into each other in some sort of twisted game in which they try to make themselves feel better about being total nerds by insulting nerds on the next rung down on the social ladder); it's often really hard to criticize anything with a fandom and get a reasoned discussion AT ALL. I say this as both a feminist and a longtime member of fandom who headdesks a lot.

So I guess what I'm saying is that while I'm a fan of Doyle's, I didn't think this one was so great. In fact, perhaps it is... rhetorically problematic?

So... where are all the critics calling on Martin to depict female circumcision to balance out all the castration? Or at least bemoaning the sexual abuse of boys and men.

I'm not even sure how to respond to this, except with a O_O face, and perhaps a suggestion that you read some Feminism 101 articles to get what's going on here.
posted by NoraReed at 5:46 PM on August 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


GnomeChompsky, I wanted to make exactly that point, but you beat me to it, and did it better than I would have anyway, so I will concede it to you.

HEY EVERYONE, CAN WE PIVOT? Lets all read The Stars, My Destination and then argue about its artistic merit given the rape it portrays! Its so much better than GRRM workmanlike writing and long long long long meanderings through every single fucking detail of his world.

Then I would like everyone to make fun of GRRM's neck beard, his hat constantly covering his bald head, his entire second house full of painted miniatures. Whether or not he is a creep, he is certainly a geek.

Ok?
posted by Chekhovian at 5:47 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't know what you're getting at there at all.

That was in response to muddgirl.
posted by Amanojaku at 5:47 PM on August 31, 2011


W/r/t Arya and Sansa, this seems like a can't-win proposition -- if Arya generally kicks ass, then it's a rejection of the feminine, but if Sansa generally kicks ass, then it's a reinforcement of typical gender norms. I went to college! I can play, too!

I actually agree, and I genuinely wonder what the solution for authors might be.

The solution -- for authors that I want to read -- is to not care. I want them to spew whatever is in their mind and gut onto the page, without caring if it's morally correct or whether it sets a good example for today's youth or whatever. Books should be edited for clarity and pace, but never for virtue. I want books to come from the id, not the ego.

Personally, if I was a fiction writer, I would LOVE finding myself in a can't-win corner. I'd think, "Wow! There's no way I can write my way out of this one and keep all my readers from thinking I'm creepy. Well, I guess I'll just have to write what's in my head and let the chips fall where they may. How exciting!"
posted by grumblebee at 5:49 PM on August 31, 2011 [11 favorites]


I actually agree, and I genuinely wonder what the solution for authors might be.

The solution to avoiding academic criticism (or indeed any criticism) for your writing is easy. Don't write.
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:51 PM on August 31, 2011


I actually agree, and I genuinely wonder what the solution for authors might be.

The solution -- for authors that I want to read -- is to not care. I want them to spew whatever is in their mind and gut onto the page, without caring if it's morally correct or whether it sets a good example for today's youth or whatever. Books should be edited for clarity and pace, but never for virtue. I want books to come from the id, not the ego.


As a writer of books for teenagers, I disagree. I realize that Martin is not writing for teenage girls, of course, but as someone whose writing has the potential to impact the lives of young people, I think to dismiss the role of these things in the lives of readers is irresponsible and possibly dangerous.

And I'm not even particularly into moralizing books. More just, not mindlessly aping* unhealthy societal values without some awareness of the impact and the potential problematic results, a la Stephenie Meyer.

(possibly relevant: my own very confused reaction to my first--non-consensual--sexual experience; without a doubt the many books I read as a teenage celebrating rape culture, Anne McCaffrey's among them, did not help there.)

*I initially wrote "mindlessly raping," which is kinda funny, I think.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:56 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


And I'm not even particularly into moralizing books. More just, not mindlessly aping* unhealthy societal values without some awareness of the impact and the potential problematic results, a la Stephenie Meyer.

That IS moralizing books.
posted by grumblebee at 5:57 PM on August 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


Jeez, if you really want to talk about a sexist, misogynist set of fantasy books, talk about Jordan's "Wheel of Time" series.

Not a single woman in that series that isn't depicted as shrewish, dysfunctional in some way, manipulative, downright evil or at least petulant.


I'm folding my arms under my breasts and pulling on my braid to show you how much I disapprove of your statement! There may also be the stamping of the feet.*


* o waily, waily...**
** hang on, mixing up my witches

posted by curious nu at 5:58 PM on August 31, 2011 [9 favorites]


One of the most apt criticisms in Doyle's piece is aimed at one of my favorite characters, Daenerys. And I love it, I love good criticism. I got a thrill out of reading the article (I found it funny and on-point), and I still get a thrill out of reading ASOIAF.

Sady: The Easterners’ religion is mystical and magical and barbaric, the way religions from “the East” tend to be when white people make them up, and at their weddings, they engage in “savage dances” and public gang rapes. When they win a battle? ALSO public gang rapes, surprisingly. The savage mystical barbarous brown Eastern people: Always gang-raping! And Dany, as The White Lady In These Scenes, has to educate them that rape is wrong.

Here we have the White Savior who comes in and tries to civilize the savages and save helpless brown people. Because no one realized that gang-rape and slavery were wrong until "The Blondest Girl In The World" (hee!) came along. Of course she is also more beautiful and more kind and more wise than any of them. This is a very old trope. And that's what it is: a racist trope and it is NOT AT ALL REALISTIC.

I can't stress that enough, because I'm tired of the response that GRRM is just writing "realistic" fantasy. There is nothing realistic or historically accurate about an entire continent of ambiguously brown people (not TOO brown of course) engaged for untold hundreds or thousands of years in gang-raping and chattel slavery until a young white girl comes along to free the slaves. Is that what people think was going in Asia and Africa during the Middle Ages? Savage and mystical is how many WHITE people saw and continue to see us. I find the depiction of the Dothraki and many of the other Essenes to be a reflection of the latent racist views of modern Westerners, NOT a realistic portrayal.

Sady is right about what REALLY happened in history:

Daenerys, you see, has discovered that the mystical, barbaric cities of the Orient have one particularly barbaric custom of which she disapproves heartily. That custom? Is slavery. And so, Daenerys must save these other cultures from themselves, by going city to city and systematically destroying them, imposing her own standards upon them all. Here’s a problem, though:We, the European and/or American readers, also know slavery to be a bad thing. And here is how we know this: White people enslaved people of color. For generations. We brutalized people of color, we institutionalized the rape of people of color, we committed genocide against people of color, we devastated the cultures of people of color. And here is how we white people rationalized that: We told ourselves that these people of color were barbaric, that they were savages, that European standards should be universal, and that we were saving these people from themselves. So, for those keeping track: The rationale behind Daenerys’s campaign to abolish slavery? IS THE RATIONALE THAT CREATED SLAVERY.

(SPOILERS)
I know that in ADWD things go poorly for Dany's attempts at redeeming the Essenes. But it's not because we are given a more nuanced portrayal of the Essenes or slavery. Rather, we learn through Tyrion that slavery is really not so bad for the slaves after all and is really a choice when you think about it and probably better than what the poor (white) people in Westeros have to live with.

Also, the Summer Islanders. This is what we get for black people. Again, this isn't realism or some kind of historic fantasy, this is just straight-up stereotyping. Positive racism isn't better. From the comments:

MJ: How can a discussion of racism in SoIaF leave out the Summer Islanders? Am I the only one who remembers the exotic, sexually liberated black people who show up to uptight white people how to embrace their sexuality and crash parties in costumes made of feathers?

Sady: Right. And the occasional Hulk Speak that accompanies them. “Xho knows where this ship is. Xho will take you to ship. You owe Xho new feather cloak. Xho is troubled by connotations of syntax of Xho.” Plus, the Summer Islander ladies are all hypersexual and super cool with being hookers, because It’s Their Way. It gets really, really gross.
posted by Danila at 5:59 PM on August 31, 2011 [12 favorites]


Creepier than Orson Scott Card? Or the chick who made Twilight?

Martin better get in line.


Being less creepy that two giant creeps isn't exactly a ringing endorsement.

The solution -- for authors that I want to read -- is to not care. I want them to spew whatever is in their mind and gut onto the page, without caring if it's morally correct or whether it sets a good example for today's youth or whatever. Books should be edited for clarity and pace, but never for virtue. I want books to come from the id, not the ego.

So, big John Ringo or John Norman fan?
posted by kmz at 6:00 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


That IS moralizing books.

I disagree that awareness of how your own instincts in writing can be problematic or reflective of problematic values automatically means you write in a moralizing way.

However, I suspect I pretty much explicitly disagree with the primacy you're giving the whims of an author in general, not just on this topic, so what can you do?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:00 PM on August 31, 2011


So, big John Ringo or John Norman fan?

Missed the part about him wanting books to be edited, eh?
posted by Amanojaku at 6:02 PM on August 31, 2011


Rather, we learn through Tyrion that slavery is really not so bad for the slaves after all and is really a choice when you think about it and probably better than what the poor (white) people in Westeros have to live with.

I'm sorry, and I realize this is like a 1200-page book or something, so finding the passage you're talking about might be sort of a pain, but can you show your work here? It's been a whole month since I read this book, but I seem to recall Tyrion finding slavery and slavers quite objectionable.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:09 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Missed the part about him wanting books to be edited, eh?

I don't think editing is the biggest problem with John Norman books.

And oh, Danila's excellent comment reminded me of this gem from earlier this thread:

I agree, my Dothraki friends were very offended by these books cuz racism.

This is an incredibly lazy and disingenuous argument. You don't get to claim the books are immune from criticism because they're based on historical reality and then claim they can't be racist because their caricatures are of a fantasy race.
posted by kmz at 6:10 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I disagree that awareness of how your own instincts in writing can be problematic or reflective of problematic values automatically means you write in a moralizing way.

I don't know what you mean by "awareness."

Are you saying that you're fine with an author saying, "I'm AWARE my book will harm teenagers, but I'm going to publisher it as-is, anyway?" If you are saying that, then I guess I have no objection. You're not suggesting anyone take any action. All you want is for people to have certain thoughts.

On the other hand, if you're saying that you'd like authors to sometimes choose to NOT write certain passages that could cause harm, then you're specifically asking them to take action for moral reasons. You're saying "Don't do X, because X is a morally bad action." Which means you're saying that authors should make aesthetic choices for moral reasons.

I have no problem with you believing that, even though it's counter to my beliefs. What I'm confused by is how you can believe that -- if you do believe it -- and, at the same time, say "I'm not particularly into moralizing books." If authors are making specific narrative choices for moral reasons, isn't that, by definition, moralizing books?
posted by grumblebee at 6:11 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


This:

I think the (completely unstated and unsupported) sting of the argument is that the books are like pornography, i.e. that the rape and "pedophilia" are presented for evil titillation, and serve no higher purpose. That's why Sadie repeatedly calls important acts from the books "gratuitous."

and this:

I realize that Martin is not writing for teenage girls, of course, but as someone whose writing has the potential to impact the lives of young people, I think to dismiss the role of these things in the lives of readers is irresponsible and possibly dangerous.


Are the nub of the thread, for me.
posted by Sebmojo at 6:12 PM on August 31, 2011


Blood pressure rising.

Sansa is unsympathetic because she likes dresses and court? Because she's naive? Martin ensures you note, because other characters take note, that Sansa does not worry after her missing sister, is relentlessly self-centred, disowns any responsibility for her role in her father's death. To reduce this to "feminine" as opposed to Arya's "masculine" is incredibly obtuse.

As for the sexual violence, of course all the heads on pikes is, as usual, a-ok. Martin wrote dragons! He couldn't write a non-violent mediaeval fantasy?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 6:18 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I know that in ADWD things go poorly for Dany's attempts at redeeming the Essenes. But it's not because we are given a more nuanced portrayal of the Essenes or slavery. Rather, we learn through Tyrion that slavery is really not so bad for the slaves after all and is really a choice when you think about it and probably better than what the poor (white) people in Westeros have to live with.

I think this is a superficial reading of what's actually going on. Tyrion isn't exactly a paragon of virtue himself, and his judgments about the morality of human institutions should be taken with a grain of salt. Dany didn't fail because slavery isn't so bad, Dany failed because her plan was stupid from the get-go. Even if she's right about slavery (and she is) burning down Slaver's Bay and declaring that she owns it was never going to solve the problem. The scene in Astapor is a rollicking great read, but everything that comes after it is pretty much inevitable once you think about how Dany's mindset works in the real world. Martin is propounding a pretty brutal argument against colonialism under the cover of having one of his most sympathetic characters engaging in it.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 6:22 PM on August 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


On the other hand, if you're saying that you'd like authors to sometimes choose to NOT write certain passages that could cause harm, then you're specifically asking them to take action for moral reasons. You're saying "Don't do X, because X is a morally bad action." Which means you're saying that authors should make aesthetic choices for moral reasons.

There are plenty of ways writers can deal with awareness of these flaws without resulting in moralizing. First up is to consider the character's actions and decide if you're making those choices because they're the right ones or because they're titillating to you (hi, John C. Wright--independent female characters love to dress as maids and get spanked, AMIRITE?), or because they're the common choice for a character in that position in these types of stories in our society (hi, Stephenie Meyer--it's so sexy when a boy wants to watch you sleep because it means he likes you a lot). You can decide if there's anything else you do that is equally true to your story and your character but that doesn't play into horrible, shitty societal bullhonky. You can also illuminate the complexity of a given situation, which many of these defaults into rape culture don't do (the reactions of sexually assaulted women tend to be very flat--they lack the guilt, the thorniness). You can have characters directly address these complexities either in the narrative or in their internal thoughts, and you can do so in a way that doesn't sound like a lecture or grandstanding. Just acknowledging gray areas or introducing realistic diversity of experience goes a long way.

"Moralizing" doesn't, by definition, mean "making aesthetic concessions for moral reasons," (which, again, I don't think is a crime or even results in a book that's not as good), but you're using it as if it does, so I dunno.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:22 PM on August 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


The Sansa/Arya comparisons happening in this thread are really surprising to me. Sansa doesn't suffer for her femininity (here, meaning, loving pretty dresses and wanting to be a pretty princess)... she suffers because of her absolute trust in and devotion to patriarchy. She believes that as long as she's a good girl who is pleasing to others in behavior and appearance she will be safe and happy. This, though, turns out to be an incredibly childish and naive view. I read that as a feminist story.
posted by moxiedoll at 6:28 PM on August 31, 2011 [18 favorites]


Maybe it's just me, but I think all the rape violence is very anti rape violence. He sure never makes it out to be fun for anyone involved. He doesn't make any rapists sympathetic.

As for sympathetic female characters, one of the reasons I like these books are that my sympathies change so much over time. No character is all good, or all bad. I think hate (or at least don't like) them all at some point. Even favorites have failings.
posted by cccorlew at 6:30 PM on August 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


And, as far as plans go, it's worth noting that Cersi comes up with a pretty great one only to have her idiot son completely fuck it up. Sending Ned to the wall gets her the dynasty Tywin wanted with a minimum of muss or fuss. It's worth noting that the tragic flaw that undoes her plan is as stereotypically feminine as Ned's is masculine: her maternal feeling towards her children. If they could both just be a little more ruthless either of them could probably have ruled the Seven Kingdoms.

Martin's working with well-established tropes here, and that's why his work is so resonant. ASOIAF is the fiction equivalent of very well-honed rock and roll.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 6:30 PM on August 31, 2011 [6 favorites]


Regarding the Historical Accuracy debate, we all understand that Martin is using some aspects of historical (Middle Ages) Europe and combing those aspects with other, made up stuff. He is attempting to do that artfully, so that everything feels as if it COULD have happened in some sort of Middle Ages.

This is a subjective process, but there are some things probably most of us would agree on. For instance, most readers would be irked if Tyrian suddenly pulled out an iPhone. That's SO out of keeping with the general aesthetic, it would be pretty absurd to argue "Why not an iPhone? There were no dragons in the Middle Ages, so anything goes! iPhones are just as logical as dragons!"

Does it violate the feeling of the world Martin is trying to set up to have people in a sort-of Middle Ages live lover and grow taller than people in the real Middle Ages did? That's more of a grey area. It's going to bother some readers, not bother others, and give some readers the feeling that, somehow, Martin has created a Middle Ages that's MORE true-to-life than the actual Middle Ages: "Maybe people back then weren't seven feet tall, but they SHOULD have been!"

Unless Martin is going to write a 100% accurate historical novel (if that's even possible), that's a risk he takes every time he verges from history. His confections are necessarily going to be jarring to some readers and not to others. But he's trying -- whether he's succeeding or not -- to make a coherent world.

When he verges from historical accuracy, he's generally doing it to make the world cooler. "Cooler" is a crude world, but, in a sense, I think it's his main metric. He's trying to make a Middle Ages that is sexier, scarier, more magical or more fast-paced than the real Middle Ages, while still maintaining a FEELING of the Middle Ages. And he's trying to walk on a tightrope that involves surprising the reader -- which would be impossible if he was 100% historically accurate -- while not offending the reader's sense of what could actually happen in a Middle-Ages-like world.

As far as I can tell, when he verges from history, he does it to surprise and create a cool alternate reality. He NEVER does it for moral reasons. He never says, "Well, if I kept this aspect true to history, that would cause harm to teenage readers, so as long as I'm already adding dragons and seven-feet-tall people, why not change that aspect, too?" THAT is (or should be) the crux of this debate.

It's way too simplistic to just claim either...

-- He CAN'T remove all the rapes, because they HAPPENED in the REAL Middle Ages,

or

-- There's NO REASON why he can't tone down the rapes, even if the real Middle Ages was rife with that sort of stuff. After all, he's already verged from reality in all sorts of ways.

Martin's aesthetic is NEITHER 100% true to reality nor is it "I've changed one thing so ANYTHING GOES!" He's creating -- or trying to create -- something very fragile. Too much verging or the wrong kind could do aesthetic damage and there's no way he can NOT cause damage for some readers. The crux of the debate should be whether or not authors should obey ethical rules DESPITE what following those rules might do to their narratives. The arguments about historical accuracy, pro or con, are too simplistic.
posted by grumblebee at 6:32 PM on August 31, 2011 [10 favorites]


Plus, the Summer Islander ladies are all hypersexual and super cool with being hookers, because It’s Their Way. It gets really, really gross.

I am bothered by the way the reader is projecting her own values onto this. I see this as her issue, not the author's, in that she is making a moral judgment where none exists in the book.

Historically, we have seen cultures where women are free to be sexually assertive. I know that European explorers were often just floored by island women they encountered, who wore very little clothing and did not at all have the same concept of fidelity and monogamy. But the reader says the Martin is indulging in a stereotype by having the Summer Islander women act in this way, and then says that is "really, really gross."

Yet just a little while ago critics in this thread were bemoaning women not having agency, or being punished for their sexuality.

I guess the point I am making here is that Martin is not trying to get the reader to accept that any race or culture in the book is better than any other. The common theme throughout the book is that you had better not be naive, that you think one step ahead of the people you deal with, and that you be able to defend yourself in whatever way works best for you, or you will not survive.

Some characters are good fighters, while others keep secrets and blackmail others to do their bidding. Still others play on loyalty and familial obligations. Leaders surround themselves with faithful retainers, or pay the worst brigands the highest going rate. You'll see families arrange advantageous marriages to form alliances with strategic ports, build strongholds that cut off access to their enemies, or engage in physical and emotional torture to keep their subjects loyal through fear. There are characters who consider themselves honorable or moral, but that doesn't grant them immunity in any way. This is not a morality play.

Whether the character is good or bad, someone you grow to love or just love to hate, winning strategy is what propels one on while others fall.
posted by misha at 6:36 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Sansa/Arya comparisons happening in this thread are really surprising to me. Sansa doesn't suffer for her femininity (here, meaning, loving pretty dresses and wanting to be a pretty princess)... she suffers because of her absolute trust in and devotion to patriarchy. She believes that as long as she's a good girl who is pleasing to others in behavior and appearance she will be safe and happy. This, though, turns out to be an incredibly childish and naive view. I read that as a feminist story.

My feeling is that the pairing of traits like those that Durn Bronzefist mentions in one character with traditional female values--and then doling out narrative punishment (and I hate to use that term, because I've bristled against it before in online arguments, but I it's a useful shorthand) based on those other traits--is a bit eye roll worthy and cliche. Still, this isn't a real person; Martin has a choice. When I asked what authors could do in situations like these--when either making Arya or Sansa sympathetic could result in criticisms of being anti-feminist--I didn't mean "the author is going to be criticized by stupid feminist critics no matter what, so what can you do?" but rather, "this Catch-22 probably reflects something flawed in the way he's building his characters in the first place, and how can he address that?"

Again, I'm making this judgment based on the first season of the TV show, and I recognize that my viewpoint is limited and likely flawed.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:37 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


PhoBWanKenobi, I think I misunderstood you. When you wrote "moralizing books," you meant (I think) books that moralize, e.g. didactic books.

I thought you were using "moralizing" as a verb, saying "moralizing books" in the way I might say "tenderizing beef." Given that definition, an author is moralizing his book when he makes sure it's not immoral.

From what I now understand, you DO think that authors should moralize their books -- meaning that they should make aesthetic decisions based at least partly on ethical concerns -- but you don't think that doing so need necessarily product preachy books. I agree with that latter point.
posted by grumblebee at 6:37 PM on August 31, 2011


Gotcha. That's what I meant.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:39 PM on August 31, 2011


Sorry for the misunderstanding.
posted by grumblebee at 6:42 PM on August 31, 2011


No problem. I realize my comments are kinda getting more rambling/incoherent. I really do struggle with the question of, "How do you write this stuff in a way that doesn't make teenagers who read it think, yay, rape means love?" or whatever, so, yeah.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:44 PM on August 31, 2011


Make aesthetic decisions based on ethical concerns? Now why do I think of Albert Speer when I hear that?
posted by midnightscout at 6:46 PM on August 31, 2011


I find both of the girls, in the novels, sympathetic. Because of their high birth and the nature of the society they live in, it's a given that they will enter into an arranged marriage brokered for the purpose of consolidating power. Because Sansa is the older sister, she is told that she'll marry that good looking kid and be queen someday, and Arya is told, uhhhh, you'll marry somebody else, we'll figure it out. It stands to reason that Sansa would be much more invested in and eager to adapt to life at King's Landing. I don't think that's a flaw, and I strongly disagree that "marriage" in the context of this world (or indeed, in our world!) is a "feminine value". It's simply how society is structured and it's enforced and regulated by men. Being psyched to marry Joffrey wasn't foolish because it's feminine to want to marry, it's foolish because she believed, as I said, that this system was set up in her interest. It wasn't. And Arya doesn't care any more for Sansa than Sansa does for Arya - they're both kind of jerks who really resent each other, but again, they're children.
posted by moxiedoll at 6:50 PM on August 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


hi, John C. Wright--independent female characters love to dress as maids and get spanked, AMIRITE?

My next AskMe: Where can I get these John C. Wright books?

Seriously, why can't independent female characters be into a little role-playing? It just makes sense to me that independent women would feel more comfortable with that kind of role playing, rather than women who are actually forced to be submissive in real life. Maybe John C. Wright knows women like this, and that's why it comes out in his writing.

I guess I don't feel that sexuality is a taboo subject, or that only sex of the non-kink variety is appropriate to write about.
posted by misha at 6:52 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


The first volume of the Alanna series is perfect and doesn't dismiss femaleness as undesirable -- that's part of the role of Mistress Cooper (to teach Alanna she's wrong when she's anti-female). Also, gender-queer girls need their butch role-models, and butches shouldn't be white-washed away in the name of some balance.
posted by jb at 6:54 PM on August 31, 2011


So out of curiosity, why did you choose to write YA lit? You feel the need to speak to teens and tweens etc? Does it ever feel constraining, to have to write for the demographic? Heinlein did a good job of it, but I don't think his YA stuff is representative of 99.9999% of the work that's out there. It seems to me that most YA stuff is written for entirely commercial reasons, you know, the goal is to see who will be the next Rowling or Meyers or what have you. Doesn't that crassness inherently compromise artistic quality?
posted by Chekhovian at 6:59 PM on August 31, 2011


PhoBWanKenobi: "I really do struggle with the question of, "How do you write this stuff in a way that doesn't make teenagers who read it think, yay, rape means love?" or whatever, so, yeah."

I think, maybe, by writing about difficult subjects, including rape, rather than skirting around them, and having the characters go through the same process of awareness that a real young woman experiencing rape goes through.
posted by misha at 6:59 PM on August 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


From what I now understand, you DO think that authors should moralize their books -- meaning that they should make aesthetic decisions based at least partly on ethical concerns -- but you don't think that doing so need necessarily product preachy books. I agree with that latter point.

But it's tough!

For instance, I love the show "Freaks and Geeks," but my bubble got burst several times when none of the "freak" kids smoked cigarettes. When I later listened to the DVD commentary, I learned that the producers made that decision for ethical reasons, because they didn't want their show to prompt teens to smoke. I had suspected that while watching the show.

Now, I'm not saying they should have put lots of cigarette smoking in the episodes. What I'm saying is that, while it might be possible in theory, they didn't figure out a way to have their ethical cake and eat it, too. When I saw the lack of cigs, I was immediately and profoundly aware that they were gone for ethical reasons. As a result, I felt just as preached to as I would have if there had been an anti-cigarette diatribe. I was more aware of the author's scruples than I was of the reality of the characters.

I realize that other viewers weren't bothered (or didn't even notice) the missing cigarettes. It's NOT the case that when you let ethics control aesthetic choices, you'll blunt or break the experience for ALL members of the audience. But you likely will do it for some.

Another for instance is "frakking" in "Battlestar Galactica." I know some viewers (maybe most) really enjoyed it, but it drive me batshit insane and seriously impacted my enjoyment of the show (due to how often I had to hear it).

It wasn't like they created a "Clockwork Orange"-ish future version of English. The people on the show spoke 21st-Century English with the exception of ONE WORD, and that one word happened to be the one word they weren't allowed to say on TV. So every time I heard "frak," I immediate thought of networks, censors, Standards and Practices and how clever the writers were for figuring out a cheat that allowed them to sort of have the characters say fuck.

That was kind of a fun thought, but it burst the bubble that I was watching something real. Suddenly I was thinking about the writers and not the characters, and that wasn't what I wanted to be thinking about -- and, in general, the show was not presented as an alienating, Brechtian sort of narrative. It was meant to be immersive, and that frak stuff un-immersed me.

So, though it's possible to artfully be ethical, I think a lot of authors fool themselves into thinking they're doing so when they're not. They're serving two masters at once: their moral scruples and the needs of the narrative. As I've said, it's POSSIBLE to do this, but it's hard.

Which isn't at all an argument that you shouldn't do it, anyway. But if you do it, be honest about it. Say, "Well, maybe this will burst the bubble for SOME viewers, and that's too bad, but it's more important to me that kids don't smoke than it is to create a 100% aesthetically pleasing narrative." Don't kid yourself and say that you're SURE you've managed to obey both ethical and aesthetic demands at the same time.
posted by grumblebee at 7:00 PM on August 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


I've only watched the Game of Thrones television series so I probably have no right to comment on GRRM's books, but I found the adulation of the series absolutely perplexing.

The characters are complete caricatures. The storyline is not original, nor compelling, and borders in many areas on offensive, particularly with regard to its depiction of women. It is a poorly drawn mishmash of medieval tropes and character types (the tomboy princess, the bratty teenage daughter, the evil Disney prince, the stoic everyman etc.). It clumsily attempts to add gravitas through the use of taboo (no less than three instances of incest) which is in my opinion a cheap approach.

The treatment of women in the series was disgraceful (for the record, I'm a straight male) particularly where a woman is essentially raped into loving a barbarian. If this is how George R.R. Martin thinks people react to such heinousness then he has nothing worthy to tell me.
posted by smithsmith at 7:01 PM on August 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


kittensforbreakfast:I'm sorry, and I realize this is like a 1200-page book or something, so finding the passage you're talking about might be sort of a pain, but can you show your work here? It's been a whole month since I read this book, but I seem to recall Tyrion finding slavery and slavers quite objectionable.


pg 762 (hardcover), Tyrion XI: "The most insidious thing about bondage was how easy it was to grow accustomed to it. The life of most slaves was not all that different from the life of a serving man at Casterly Rock, it seemed to him. True, some slaveowners and their overseers were brutal and cruel, but the same was true of some Westerosi lords and their stewards and bailiffs. Most of the Yunka'i treated their chattels decently enough, so long as they did their jobs and caused no trouble...and this old man in his rusted collar, with his fierce loyalty to Lord Wobblecheeks, his owner, was not at all atypical." (typos mine)


pg. 870, Tyrion XII: "Yezzan’s slaves ate better than many peasants back in the Seven Kingdoms and were less like to starve to death come winter. Slaves were chattels, aye. They could be bought and sold, whipped and branded, used for the carnal pleasure of their owners, bred to make more slaves. In that sense they were no more than dogs or horses. But most lords treated their dogs and horses well enough. Proud men might shout that they would sooner die free than live as slaves, but pride was cheap. When the steel struck the flint, such men were rare as dragon’s teeth; elsewise the world would not have been so full of slaves. There has never been a slave who did not choose to be a slave, the dwarf reflected. Their choice may be between bondage and death, but the choice is always there."

Okay, now let me try to explain why I have such a problem with these sentiments. I should mention I come to this as an American whose ancestors were sold into chattel slavery in the United States. Many times I have heard how slavery wasn't all bad and how many slaves preferred it. 99% of the time it's a White person saying it. I think it is very common for White Americans (which the author is) to whitewash slavery as being not so bad or not as bad as the alternatives.

Yet there are other choices besides bondage or death, and this goes to one of my big problems with the Essos chapters and the portrayals of the people there. Slaves can fight back. Another thing that gets glossed over is how much African-Americans fought and continued to fight for their own rights and freedoms, in ways both peaceable and not, sometimes effectively and sometimes not. But we are often portrayed as kind of passive recipients of White sacrifice during the Civil War. Even when Blacks are shown fighting, there must be some White person to lead the way (The Help, Glory - which I love but like many things I love it's "problematic").

We don't see Dany working WITH the slaves to bring change. We don't get any slave viewpoints with much screentime except for those who seem pretty content with it. What we get is (beautifully expressed ) gratitude toward the White Mother for saving them, and several slaves (e.g. Penny) who would be content staying right where they are. No other viewpoints.
posted by Danila at 7:01 PM on August 31, 2011 [8 favorites]


My next AskMe: Where can I get these John C. Wright books?

Seriously, why can't independent female characters be into a little role-playing? It just makes sense to me that independent women would feel more comfortable with that kind of role playing, rather than women who are actually forced to be submissive in real life. Maybe John C. Wright knows women like this, and that's why it comes out in his writing.


That's not what's going on in Orphans of Chaos, the only Wright book that I've read. It's all about how strong girls around age 15 and so really want to be raped by unattractive dudes, forced to dress in maid outfits, spanked, held down and forced to have sex with their brothers, etc. etc.

I'm all for kink in writing if approached in a knowing way. This was just like pervy, male gazey fappery. But, uh, hope you enjoy it?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:01 PM on August 31, 2011


When he verges from historical accuracy, he's generally doing it to make the world cooler.

I think the actual middle ages were plenty cool, thanks. But upthread misha rehearses the story of Tyrion and Tysha and how he at 13 is forced to marry, watch his new wife have paid sex with his men, and then coerced into having sex and paying her. This is not an accurate portrayal of how medieval English noblemen married in the late 15th century and I absolutely don't think it's cooler.
posted by immlass at 7:02 PM on August 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


moxiedoll: And Arya doesn't care any more for Sansa than Sansa does for Arya - they're both kind of jerks who really resent each other, but again, they're children.

When she thought of seeing Robb's face again Arya had to bite her lip. And I want to see Jon too, and Bran and Rickon, and Mother. Even Sansa... I'll kiss her and beg her pardons like a proper lady, she'll like that.

There's no mirror to this sentiment from Sansa, even with her sister missing completely. There's zero equivalence, and it has nothing to do with femininity vs. masculinity.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:02 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I guess I don't feel that sexuality is a taboo subject, or that only sex of the non-kink variety is appropriate to write about.

Writing one own's personal stroke material into every book isn't writing about sexuality in any meaningful sense. Whether that's what John C. Wright or George R. R. Martin is doing that is obviously a matter for debate and discussion, but that form of defense has always irritated me, and it comes up all the time in discussions of nerd literature, even when the author only ever writes one or two very particular sexual dynamics.
posted by sinnaith at 7:04 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


So out of curiosity, why did you choose to write YA lit? You feel the need to speak to teens and tweens etc? Does it ever feel constraining, to have to write for the demographic? Heinlein did a good job of it, but I don't think his YA stuff is representative of 99.9999% of the work that's out there. It seems to me that most YA stuff is written for entirely commercial reasons, you know, the goal is to see who will be the next Rowling or Meyers or what have you. Doesn't that crassness inherently compromise artistic quality?

I write YA because I absolutely love it and adore the vividness and intensity of the adolescent emotional experience. I also have little interest in writing about grown-ups. I love being one, but it's pretty boring, considering.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:04 PM on August 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


There's no mirror to this sentiment from Sansa, even with her sister missing completely.

Ok, and I definitely wouldn't be able to find any quotes of any kind in my stack of paperbacks - I guess we just interpret the books differently as we do even that one line. To me saying that she wants to see her family again, "even Sansa", suggests that she is surprised by that emotion and wouldn't have thought that she'd ever care to see her.
posted by moxiedoll at 7:07 PM on August 31, 2011


Martin is propounding a pretty brutal argument against colonialism under the cover of having one of his most sympathetic characters engaging in it.

I'm aware of the critique of colonialism, but it's a colonialism, not how it ever actually was, but in the form of freeing the slaves and helping the poor but I guess, being too aggressive about it. It's White Woman's Burden. What we don't really get is a nuanced, good or even grey perspective from the Yunkai'i or the Dothraki or any of the others whose people Dany "frees". They're still pretty wicked, or mystical or magical or savage.

But the reader says the Martin is indulging in a stereotype by having the Summer Islander women act in this way, and then says that is "really, really gross."

I think she's saying the stereotype is gross, not the characters. Again, it's GRRM's writing she sees as creepy. These are the only black people in the books and they are very stereotypical with no depth to them at all. And their purpose to date has been to help one of the sympathetic White characters let loose and get laid. That about it.
posted by Danila at 7:10 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think Sady Doyle is a creepy puritanical troll who can't distinguish between good attention and bad attention. I don't think that anybody would really want to live in a world in which Sady Doyle got to dictate public morality.
posted by chrisgregory at 7:10 PM on August 31, 2011


But upthread misha rehearses the story of Tyrion and Tysha and how he at 13 is forced to marry, watch his new wife have paid sex with his men, and then coerced into having sex and paying her. This is not an accurate portrayal of how medieval English noblemen married in the late 15th century

Someone who has read the books more recently than me should chime in, but I think this is wrong. Tyrion wasn't forced to marry Tysha, was he? He chose to marry her. His father was furious BECAUSE he married her. As a punishment for the fact that he'd married a low-born girl, he forced Tyrion to watch her being raped and to raped her.

In any case, he's not a typical 15th-Century nobleman. He's a deformed younger son who is hated by his abusive father.

I think the actual middle ages were plenty cool, thanks.

Me too. I love historical novels. But one thing then can't do is surprise you, if you know history. They CAN surprise you about, say, character nuance, but an actual novel about the War of the Roses can not surprise you about who wins the war -- unless you happen to have not studied history.

It's possible that you don't care. Certainly, when I read "War and Peace," I'm not bothered that I already know how the war ends. But that's one sort of book. It's not the sort of book Martin is writing. Sci-fi and fantasy do lots of things, but one of the things they do is to create histories that surprise first-time readers -- that surprise them about major world events. In order to do that, you HAVE to set your books on a world that's at least somewhat alien.

There's nothing wrong with you if that's doesn't happen to be a big pleasure for you. But it is a big pleasure for me.
posted by grumblebee at 7:12 PM on August 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


In any case, he's not a typical 15th-Century nobleman.

Your argument is that Martin is being historically realistic but cooler. Is the Tyrion story (whether or not the marriage is forced) supposed to be the realistic part or the cooler part?
posted by immlass at 7:16 PM on August 31, 2011


But what the piece actually argues is that the books simply depict occurrences that are not consistent with feminist values. It just doesn't follow that they are "exemplary of anti-feminist values." It's a missing link in the piece and I think an absolutely telling one.

It is sad to me that this post has so few favorites.

Okay, now let me try to explain why I have such a problem with these sentiments. I should mention I come to this as an American whose ancestors were sold into chattel slavery in the United States. Many times I have heard how slavery wasn't all bad and how many slaves preferred it. 99% of the time it's a White person saying it. I think it is very common for White Americans (which the author is) to whitewash slavery as being not so bad or not as bad as the alternatives.

Is there an implication that Tyrion's thoughts here are supposed to be objective truth? Or maybe are they presented as the flawed interpretations of a flawed person?
posted by kafziel at 7:16 PM on August 31, 2011


Is the Tyrion story (whether or not the marriage is forced) supposed to be the realistic part or the cooler part?

Can't it just be the part where we learn that Tywin Lannister is a sick, sadistic fuck?
posted by oinopaponton at 7:19 PM on August 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


To me saying that she wants to see her family again, "even Sansa", suggests that she is surprised by that emotion and wouldn't have thought that she'd ever care to see her.

Oh for sure, Arya doesn't like Sansa. That's crystal clear. The point is that Sansa doesn't even give a thought to her missing sister. The way the character is depicted, those around her are just means to her own ends. It's all about whether or not things will work out well -- for her. She's painted with an almost unrealistic degree of self-centredness. The contrast with Arya is, well, stark (ugh). Arya dreams of safety and comfort, too, but cares about both those absent and present and risks herself for them, too. Honestly, I'm surprised anyone would see these two characters as being anything alike. The characterizations aren't remotely subtle.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:20 PM on August 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


PhoBWanKenobia:I imagine that Martin actually thought himself as progressive in characterizing Arya this way--strong, independent, but fundamentally "not girly." And, hell, I love these kinds of characters, and was a tomboy myself. Is Arya problematic because of this? What place is there for boyish girls, and is their presence as good guys fundamentally antifeminist, or is it Sansa's characterization that makes this antifeminist, or what? The idea that a girl has to reject traditionally female values to be "good" is definitely problematic, but what would be the impact of the inverse? Or do we actually want something more nuanced in our fantasy?

Hmm, what about Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games? She seems like a capable girl, good with a weapon and able fighter, yet the characterization remains cool without rejecting all things feminine.

Or Robin Hobb's Althea Vestrit from the Liveship Traders series? A tomboyish heroine who stays that way but the readers and Althea are also shown the value of other ways for women to be. I think she strikes a balance. Althea is also raped at some point and it seemed much more realistic and affecting because we see things from her perspective and her response isn't "fall in love with my rapist" nor is it "this is just how it is". There is slavery and rape and violence in Hobb's books too but, I don't know, it never seems like it's there just to be there, and we get the perspective of the victim or oppressed person without the excuses for the powerful all the time.

Is there an implication that Tyrion's thoughts here are supposed to be objective truth? Or maybe are they presented as the flawed interpretations of a flawed person?

I don't see any implication of that at all. If anything, at first Tyrion seems more anti-slavery (in that he wants to escape and thinks Penny is wrong for not wanting to) but then comes around to this more "nuanced" point of view. Each time these thoughts come up Tyrion has just been corrected by one of the slaves.
posted by Danila at 7:23 PM on August 31, 2011


grumblebee: On the other hand, if you're saying that you'd like authors to sometimes choose to NOT write certain passages that could cause harm, then you're specifically asking them to take action for moral reasons.

Well, you are as well, since "art for art's sake" is another moral value. But, artists can say whatever they like. And people can identify the explicit and implicit political, moral, and ethical messages and draw their own conclusions about whether they're good. And we can say things like, "I really love some of the ideas of H. P. Lovecraft's fantasy, but dislike the racism." Or we can say, "I find the philosophy of Atlas Shrugged to be ludicrous."

But, given that a lot of fantasy since Moorcock has involved dystopian settings and antihero protagonists, I don't think the argument that the nature of the setting or the actions of characters reflects much on the views of the author. Indeed, after the Fahrenheit 451 blowup when Bradbury broke a few decades of science to say that the popular interpretation was not what he intended, claims to authorial sentiment and intent need to be treated with profound skepticism.

grumblebee: I realize that other viewers weren't bothered (or didn't even notice) the missing cigarettes. It's NOT the case that when you let ethics control aesthetic choices, you'll blunt or break the experience for ALL members of the audience. But you likely will do it for some.

All aesthetic decisions are also ethical ones. If you prioritize narrative realism, that's an ethos. If you prioritize the needs of the network-advertiser relationship, that's an ethos. If you prioritize a public service goal of reducing role models for tobacco use, that's an ethos. If you prioritize shocking the shit out of the establishment (to throw a nod at the John Lydon thread), that's an ethos.

I don't think it's possible to create a work that doesn't involve complex decisions about what to show, and each one of those decisions has an ethical dimension. If anything creators of the most provocative art are often the most willing to explicitly describe that dimension.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:23 PM on August 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


Bradbury broke a few decades of silence, my it is late.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:24 PM on August 31, 2011


Danila: I think it is very common for White Americans (which the author is) to whitewash slavery as being not so bad or not as bad as the alternatives.

I hear what you're saying, but I feel like GRRM (through Tyrion) isn't doing this, so much as portraying all of the civilizations on the ASOIAF world as being just as bad as chattel slavery. Tyrion himself doesn't even think of an alternative to either system, and thinks of the only alternative as being death. It seems not so much of a whitewashing of slavery, as a backlash to the kind of fantasy that whitewashes pre-modernity. It's all supposed to be terrible. Aren't those passages from the same chapter where Tyrion points out how Dany is kind of naive about siege warfare, and that his own father would have just poisoned the wells of the Yunkai'i who are besieging Meereen, so they'd have no choice but to only drink water from their dysentery-infected river?

We don't see Dany working WITH the slaves to bring change. We don't get any slave viewpoints with much screentime except for those who seem pretty content with it. What we get is (beautifully expressed ) gratitude toward the White Mother for saving them, and several slaves (e.g. Penny) who would be content staying right where they are. No other viewpoints.

I agree with this for the most part, and it's one of the few things that make me really uncomfortable about the books. It would have been nice if there had been some kind of pre-existing resistance to the slave societies, although he does make a lot of references to individual slaves who resist and are punished or branded for it, especially in some of the earlier books. The societies are really brutal, though, so it seems internally consistent that there's not much in the way of resistance yet, because any attempts would be brutally put down. There doesn't seem to have been any equivalent proto-democracy or even parliament-of-nobles movements in Westeros, either, at least that I can remember off the top of my head. And there is the proto-democracy with the three executives in Volantis, plus the government of Braavos seems to have some democratic or populist elements.

What bothers me more than the dynamics around slavery itself lot that Essos seems to have gotten a lot darker-skinned in ADWD. I'd gotten the impression in the earlier books that the ethnicities were a lot more complicated than "white people in Westeros; all darker people in Essos", but with the exception of the Lysenes (Lyseni?), he seems to have gone completely in that direction in the latest book. Many more skin color descriptions than previously, it seemed like, and it bothered me.
posted by sinnaith at 7:25 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ugh. I'd never heard of Sady Whatshis/hername until this thread.

I read half that article then skimmed the second half. A first rate job of trolling, that. Why anyone would read more than half that drivel is beyond me.

I'm a fan of the GRRM books and the show. Not a rabid superfan. I acknowledge its faults. It's escapist fantasy fiction. To interpret these books as pro-rape, or pro-monarchy, or pro-male dominance is to be completely empty headed. That said, the overall grim-ness of these books gets to be too much after a while. But had it been slashed to a more manageable size, it'd have been a better series.

GRRM's worst offense is to not submit more heavily to an editor, and for turning his trilogy into an 8-book-ology (octology?). There's far more torture, murder, pain and betrayal than there is rape. But rape is a big part. But really, the idea that any of this is glorified is ridiculous. Does it get a little lurid in its excess? Yes.

It seems clear that there was an overall message in these first two books. Even after the "good guys" win, the weak and powerless suffer and get fucked, especially in brutal, unequal societies. There is no glorification of feudalism or monarchy, or male dominance. It's a dissection and naked baring of the "reality" behind fantasy lit.

Then it goes on too long.

My suggestion to those who have a big problem with this: read something else.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 7:25 PM on August 31, 2011 [5 favorites]


Can't it just be the part where we learn that Tywin Lannister is a sick, sadistic fuck?

I think it could be, but I'm not trying to characterize a series that contains said sick, sadistic fuckery as historically accurate, or cooler.
posted by immlass at 7:27 PM on August 31, 2011


My main problem with Martin isn't the presence of rape and sexual violence per se, but rather that so much of it seems reflexive to me. That he's chosen not to engage with the broader issues of sexual violence in the real world, and sexual violence in the genre, yet the books have so very much sexual violence. He's entitled to do that, by all means, but then I think he's entitled to get called on it, particularly when our beloved genre has such a fraught history with these issues.

This doesn't mean that you are morally obliged to hate the books, - nor that you can't criticse them and still enjoy then. However I think a recognition of the broader cultural and genre context can totes inform critical readings of - and reactions to - ASOIAF.

Also, it doesn't it mean that the presence of sexual violence is an endorsement of sexual violence - and I think that in particular is why discussion of these issues in fantasy novels tend to get a little hairy. Truly, it doesn't mean that people who disagree and think ASOIAF is fine are wrong, or like rape, or are stupid or anything, but it also doesn't mean that people who find the sexual violence problematic are over-sensitivitye or ruining it for everybody else, or being to hard on Martin etc.

I think in general fandom should be harder on fantasy literature; there's too much shit out there and a lot of it does rely on terribly tired cliches, many of which are somewhat racist, sexist, etc.
posted by smoke at 7:27 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


(I think the Lannisters are cool. they're so bad! all the time! sometimes, reading, I'd laugh out loud and think WOW THOSE LANNISTERS ARE THE WORST! it was a lot of fun).
posted by moxiedoll at 7:30 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think it could be, but I'm not trying to characterize a series that contains said sick, sadistic fuckery as historically accurate, or cooler.

I really don't think that grumblebee meant that individual characters were either historically accurate or cooler than history. The reader is never supposed to see that gang rape as anything but traumatic for both Tysha and Tyrion.
posted by oinopaponton at 7:30 PM on August 31, 2011


The most important question to ask is: When will we get another book? I'm almost done with the last one, and I understand fans have suffered long waits between volumes.
posted by cccorlew at 7:31 PM on August 31, 2011


the vividness and intensity of the adolescent emotional experience
*shudders*

There's a quote from Odd John that pretty much encapsulated my adolescent experience. It went something like: "I knew only the profound urge to be about my business whilst having no clue what my business was to be about." The best YA fiction has main characters that are basically already adults in children's bodies.

That does actually relate to the Sansa vs Arya issue. Arya is pretty damn grown up for however old she is. Sansa is a damn child until many many negative consequence finally filter into her thick skull.

Does anyone really enjoy the naive Sansa chapters? Or is it something you endure until a better POV comes along?
posted by Chekhovian at 7:31 PM on August 31, 2011


In any case, he's not a typical 15th-Century nobleman.

Your argument is that Martin is being historically realistic but cooler. Is the Tyrion story (whether or not the marriage is forced) supposed to be the realistic part or the cooler part?

Neither. It's an event that happened to a particular character that could have happened to a real person in almost any time in history. But it's not particularly a "Middle Ages" thing. It's also not a magical elaboration, such as dragons or giants.

Why do you think Martin verges from history? Do you see any non-didactic point in writing a story set in an alternate world -- one based on (but not 100% keeping to) a real historical period?

I thought I was clear that I was speaking casually when I used the word "cooler." Sorry if I was confusing. "Cool" is a silly word. What I meant was that he was trying to surprise the reader who knows history.

I was horribly bothered by "Inglorious Bastards," because (SPOILER), though it was cartoonish, it was set -- I thought -- in a basically real-world WWII. And then Hitler got killed (way before when he died in real life). WHAT? I know some people thought was okay, but to me it was like seeing a movie set in 1776 in which the hero uses a cellphone.

But there ought to be a non-jarring way to tell a WWII story in which something totally unexpected happens to Hitler. One way to do it is to make it clear to the reader that the story is set on a planet LIKE Earth but not Earth. You signal to the reader that -- yes -- there IS a Hitler, but also that the reader shouldn't expect him to suffer the same fate as the historical Hitler.

THAT'S what I meant by cooler. And I should have used that word. Sorry. It's not that I don't think the historical WWII story is cool. It's very ... er ... cool. But there are certain kinds of stories you can't tell if you stick to the facts. But if you veer from the facts while, at the same time, claim that you're not doing that, you risk creating ugly cognitive dissonance effects, as Tarantino's film did with me. A way out of this mess is to create a fantasy world.
posted by grumblebee at 7:32 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


My main problem with Martin isn't the presence of rape and sexual violence per se, but rather that so much of it seems reflexive to me.

If we weren't so steeped in violence and justification for violence the reflexive use of non-sexual violence to drive plot might seem equally unseemly. Or forget plot, simple characterization. But no, let's parade Sansa in front of her father's mounted head to stoke a little Joffrey antipathy. We can beat and torture and kill the servants at leasure. Raping them, however, would be problematic. It might warp teenage minds.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:39 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


If anything, at first Tyrion seems more anti-slavery (in that he wants to escape and thinks Penny is wrong for not wanting to) but then comes around to this more "nuanced" point of view. Each time these thoughts come up Tyrion has just been corrected by one of the slaves.

Danila, thanks for going back and finding the passages -- I was being kinda snarky when I asked for cites up there, but I also figured (as was true!) that it was possible I really had already forgotten stuff. (When I reread the first four books earlier this year, having last visited them around 2005, I was surprised to find I'd forgotten minor details like Tyrion marrying Sansa, being accused of his nephew's murder, and killing his father and his girlfriend. You know, like a third of Storm of Swords. Apparently, my memory's just not what it used to be...I presume, though I can't really recall for sure.) In any case, while I totally get your misgivings being that we live in a real world where people are right now rewriting history about slavery and making arguments that sound a whole lot like what Tyrion's saying here, I think Stockholm syndrome is what's actually being depicted here, and I think it's worth noting that this adventure does end with Tyrion poisoning Nurse. Tyrion's rationalizations are not that far away from the mental gymnastics that traumatized Theon puts himself through earlier in the novel, and really this kind of thing is all over the series...Sansa is similarly trapped and trying to talk herself into accepting it, first at King's Landing and (more subtly, but even so) then with Littlefinger, and of course almost everyone -- beginning with Ned -- is at some point shoved into some shit situation that they have to try and rationalize as okay, when it's obviously so very not okay.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:44 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, you are as well, since "art for art's sake" is another moral value.

That may be my value, but I don't know, because I don't know what it means. I certainly don't think that an artist should do something for Art in general. I don't think an artist should or shouldn't do anything. There are just certain kinds of stories I like and other kinds I don't. And I have some guesses as to what sort of processes tend to produce both types.

All aesthetic decisions are also ethical ones. If you prioritize narrative realism, that's an ethos.


Are you saying that all decisions are ethical decisions? If that's so, we don't need the word "ethical." We can just talk about decisions.

Is choosing to give the hero a purple hat rather than a green one an ethical decision?

We should make a distinction between decisions that have ethical OUTCOMES and decisions that are made because the artist is consciously thinking about ethics while he makes them. Even non-decisions can do good or cause harm. I can trip and fall on someone, killing him. I can also choose to give the hero a purple hat and wind up causing you great harm, because you were once raped by someone wearing a purple hat, and so the experience of reading my novel traumatizes you.

That's different from what I'm talking about. I'm talking about starting with strong values about what's right and wrong in the real world and using that as a guide to what should happen to your fictional characters. And also worrying about how doing X to your characters might affect moral outcomes in the real world, and so choosing Y instead.

I suspect most people think of ethics as a set of values about what's right and wrong -- not just values about anything. I have a STRONG value when it comes to chocolate, but not what I'd call an ethical value. If you refuse to eat chocolate, I may think you're weird, but I don't think you're evil.

My aesthetic tastes feel profound to me, but they have nothing to do with what's morally right or wrong. An artist who thwarts my wishes isn't evil -- he's just not creating art to my tastes.
posted by grumblebee at 7:45 PM on August 31, 2011 [3 favorites]


Aside from your somewhat snarky and sarcastic tone, Durn, I agree with you entirely; I do feel large amounts of the violence an ASOIAF is reflexive and somewhat gratuitous. However, you have skilfully avoided reading my full comment, where I mentioned sexual violence has a somewhat unique position due to its treatment and prevalence in both broader society and more particular in the fantasy genre since almost its inception.

Or forget plot, simple characterization.

I find the idea that some textual awareness and a more modulated, complex treatment of sexual violence or violence in general in ASOIAF and fantasy more broadly is on the same footing as issues with plot and characterisation - or would somehow impede plot and characterisation - kinda silly and displays a real ignorance of the broader fantasy genre and books more generally, but I'm not sure that's what you're getting at there, is it?
posted by smoke at 7:47 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


smoke: That he's chosen not to engage with the broader issues of sexual violence in the real world, and sexual violence in the genre, yet the books have so very much sexual violence.

Have you read ADWD? Cersei's Walk Of Shame pretty much includes a straight up feminist analysis of the way women are dehumanized by being completely relegated to the sex class, and it's even a pretty good takedown of the anti-feminist "liberation through being hot" being-a-stripper-empowers-me stuff. I've honestly never seen any feminist analysis as strong or insightful in mainstream fantasy, even things by explicitly feminist authors. That scene is incredibly hard to read because Cersei is gang-raped by the entire city, without a one of them ever laying a finger on her. That she's an incredibly self-centered person who goes on to lament the loss of her personal power instead of having some of kind of relevation about the evil of feudalism and patriarchy and how she's been privileged all her life doesn't mean it's invalid. It's an incredibly clear example of how rape is about power and how social constructions of sexuality are used to oppress women, and how you can't tear down the master's house with the master's tools. How isn't that relevant to real world sexual violence? What exactly do you want from him?
posted by sinnaith at 7:48 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have not read ADWD yet, I confess. After Feast for Crows I vowed not to read any more until he finished the damned thing.
posted by smoke at 7:50 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why do you think Martin verges from history? Do you see any non-didactic point in writing a story set in an alternate world -- one based on (but not 100% keeping to) a real historical period?

Alternate histories are fine and enjoyable; I've liked a lot of them over the years. But the point here is that "accuracy" and "authenticity" are being bandied around as a justification for a lot of icky stuff: the rapeyness that Doyle is getting at, brutality and violence of all sorts, and even the colonialism stuff people are talking about. As I mentioned upthread, there's nothing that makes sexism, racism, rape, violence, and brutality particular to that time and place; they have happened all throughout history and are happening right now in places around the world.

Now if you enjoy ASOIAF, more power to you! I don't begrudge readers their pleasure, nor the right of readers to look at it and decide it's not for them, nor to quit partway through. There are plenty of folks in this thread who have expressed problems with various aspects of the books and haven't read them or don't want to read them over those issues. What is annoying me no end, though, is "[these things you don't like in ASOIAF] are OK because they are authentically medieval". It's a dumb defense against "[unpleasant thing] makes me not want to read these books" because people like/dislike what they like/dislike. But also, the "historical" portrayal is generally not accurate in the sense implied by using it as a defense. Whichever character is a sick fuck is a sick fuck because Martin wrote about a sick fuck, not because sick fuckery is inherent to medieval people and not modern people. Frex, he could have written a modern (20th c) alternative history fantasy including a lot of sick fuckery and been just as "authentic" by mining the same vein as Inglourious Basterds.

My complaint is about the defense and the implications of the defense, not about the books per se.
posted by immlass at 7:59 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Alternate histories are fine and enjoyable; I've liked a lot of them over the years. But the point here is that "accuracy" and "authenticity" are being bandied around as a justification for a lot of icky stuff ... What is annoying me no end, though, is "[these things you don't like in ASOIAF] are OK because they are authentically medieval". It's a dumb defense ...

I'm confused, because it seemed as if you were debating with me, and yet I said the same thing in the thread you quoted. I too think "it's okay because it's accurate" is a dumb argument.

From my post:

It's way too simplistic to just claim either...

-- He CAN'T remove all the rapes, because they HAPPENED in the REAL Middle Ages,

or

-- There's NO REASON why he can't tone down the rapes, even if the real Middle Ages was rife with that sort of stuff. After all, he's already verged from reality in all sorts of ways.


I think both sides of that argument are deeply wrongheaded.
posted by grumblebee at 8:03 PM on August 31, 2011


The fact that many of the characters are sexually sadistic sociopaths doesn't mean that the overall prevalence of rape (i.e., forced marriages of young girls, rape of slaves, rape of villagers in wartime) isn't symptomatic of a social structure that intentionally very strongly parallels the pre-modern western European one. That's what I mean by historical, personally.
posted by oinopaponton at 8:06 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


somehow impede plot and characterisation

I'm not sure where that's coming from.

Very few genre authors resist the temptation to resort to violence to drive plot. To say this seldom receives the scrutiny that any instance of written sexual violence receives is to understate the point. Martin goes beyond this into puppy-kicking territory (again, he's not alone in this) but he uses violence and sexual violence to achieve the same ends. It might be gratuitous in that it is unnecessary, a ham-fisted way of directing reader sympathies, but fantasy in particular is the genre of melodrama, and Martin in particular is not subtle. To paraphrase another poster, it is the criticism and the implications of the criticism that I find problematic.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:14 PM on August 31, 2011


Will Mike Godwin come to the courtesy phone, Mike Godwin to the courtesy phone please.
posted by kmz at 8:18 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm still not sure I really understand, are you saying that violence, sexual or otherwise is okay in fantasy because it's inherent to the genre, even if it is gratuitous etc? That it's almost part of the genre, in way? Additionally are you arguing that sexual violence and violence generally should be on the same thematic and critical footing in the fantasy genre?

Sorry for being an idiot; I'm not being sarcastic or rhetorical, I genuinely am trying to understand.
posted by smoke at 8:21 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hmm, what about Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games? She seems like a capable girl, good with a weapon and able fighter, yet the characterization remains cool without rejecting all things feminine.

Katniss is pretty good--there are things I won't spoil that happen in the epilogue to the series particularly that make me think that this was part of Collins' point. What might initially seem to be a flat-out rejection of traditional values is pretty clearly tempered. I'd contrast that with, say, Katsa in the book Graceling who seemed to represent a more simplistic rejection.

Or Robin Hobb's Althea Vestrit from the Liveship Traders series? A tomboyish heroine who stays that way but the readers and Althea are also shown the value of other ways for women to be. I think she strikes a balance. Althea is also raped at some point and it seemed much more realistic and affecting because we see things from her perspective and her response isn't "fall in love with my rapist" nor is it "this is just how it is". There is slavery and rape and violence in Hobb's books too but, I don't know, it never seems like it's there just to be there, and we get the perspective of the victim or oppressed person without the excuses for the powerful all the time.

I need to read these--I've only ever read one Hobb book (Alien Earth, which was fantastic, under another name). As another example of books that do this kind of thing successfully, I think of Lilith from Octavia Butler's Lilith's Brood series. They deal very fundamentally with sexual violence and coercive sex in an incredibly nuanced way--Lilith goes on to not only remain involved with her rapists but also to found a colony with them and be mother to a rapist herself. But at the same time, we understand that her feelings in the interaction are fundamentally nuanced, and that Butler is not precisely advocating the character's behavior. It's about how desperate times call for unpleasant measures for survival, I suppose.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:21 PM on August 31, 2011


I too think "it's okay because it's accurate" is a dumb argument.

Now that you have explained that "cooler" in this case means "surprising to me because it doesn't follow the exact contours of the history" and not what I think of as "cooler", I think we are in agreement, yeah.

Very few genre authors resist the temptation to resort to violence to drive plot. To say this seldom receives the scrutiny that any instance of written sexual violence receives is to understate the point.

This is a well-taken point and I'll throw in as generally agreeing with it, although I hardly think it's a problem exclusive to fantasy (see: murder mysteries). There is a certain weirdness that one might almost characterize as Victorian in the complaints about rape but not about beatings or murder in fantasy novels. That said, reports of ASOIAF plots from its fans tell me that the general violence level in the books is high enough that it pegs over tolerance for many fantasy readers.
posted by immlass at 8:32 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


One of the things I love about the series is that I feel it's the product of a deeply confused mind -- a mind that is confused in a way that fascinates me. I feel similarly about the mind behind Shakespeare's plays.

Was Shakespeare a rebel or an upholder of the status quo? Having worked with his plays for years, it's pretty clear to me he was both. And I'm not just saying that he was an even-handed writer who felt that there were both good things and bad things about monarchy. Rather, I think he was a man who was profoundly in love with kings, queens and the aristocracy. I also think he was profoundly disturbed by his country's form of government and the people in charge of it. He loved it one minute; he hated it the next.

These unresolved, contradictory feelings disturb a lot of people, and a lot of people deal with their feelings by simplifying his plays -- producing them (or writing critical essays about them) as if Shakespeare had a simple set of moral principals. That's too bad. The heart of his plays lies in that confusion.

Martin, while not nearly a writer of Shakespeare's magnitude, has a similarly conflicted relationship with the Middle Ages. On the one hand, he's written a sort of anti-monarchy, anti-Arthurian-Legand sort of story, one that pokes viscous cynical fun at Noble, Virtuous, Chivalrous Knights. On the other hand, he's a man who loves the period, collects toy soldiers and has fantasies about jousting tournaments. He goes back and forth between saying "The Middle Ages were horrible and evil!" and "The Middle Ages were super cool!" And I think if you're looking for a way to resolve this contradiction, you're simplifying the books.

When it comes to rape, I DO think it's true that he's guilty of writing "rape fantasies." I also think he's condemning rape. I think, for instance, that Cersei's Walk of Shame is meant to be horrible, shameful and titillating all at once. When I read it, I am glad Cersei is finally getting punished while, at the same time, I feel deeply sorry for her. I feel like I AM her and I'm also the people watching her. I'm throwing rotten fruit at her and I'm running up to protect her from the rotten fruit.

One side of Martin's story is clearly expressed by the Hound, who is sort of an author's mouthpiece when he makes sarcastic remarks about "honorable" knights. Another side of the story is Jamie Lanister, an actual honorable knight. So which is it, George? Is Knighthood a crock of shit or is it the real deal? I don't think Martin knows. Or, rather, he knows for SURE in one chapter and sure of the exact opposite in the next chapter. And what makes the books wonderful is that he makes the contradiction vivid rather than confusing. But if you're looking for a clear, moral statement, you will hate or be frustrated by the books. Or you'll pretend a clear statement exists by doing a selective reading.

Readers are definitely going to come across parts of the book in which it seems as if the author is saying that this culture -- this culture that continually rapes and tortures women -- is a great place. They will also come across sections that seem to say, "So you're one of those folks who lionizes the Middle Ages? Pull the cotton out of your ears and the wool out of your eyes! It was an evil time!"

I've always disagreed with people who claim that Martin is thwarting all the genre conventions. He IS doing that, but he's also upholding them. He is pulling the rug out from under sexist, boy fantasies while, at the same time, reveling in sexist boy fantasies and trying to write the best one ever written.

Ned Stark is the Honorable Lord. He's also the naive fool who dies and destroys his family by refusing to budge from his silly code of honor ... and yet he really IS an honorable man because he HAS a code of honor... What are we supposed to think? I love this unresolved tension. Others hate it. Still others pretend it doesn't exist. These are the three ways people generally react to cognitive dissonance.
posted by grumblebee at 8:36 PM on August 31, 2011 [30 favorites]


No; I think my reply may have been framed more as a response to you than intended, smoke, and therein lies some confusion. I think resorting to violence in service of plot is more understandable than in service of characterization, partly because of genre conventions and partly because I think violence in service of characterization is particularly lazy and unnecessary. But there again I don't think it's black and white because when it comes to fantasy, evil often won't do (it must be Evil). I would apply the criticism equally to violence and sexual violence.

I don't think that sexual violence and non-sexual violence need by on the same footing in or out of the genre, but that makes it seem almost as if we're highly critical of non-sexual violence and supremely critical of sexual violence, or should be. It's not that kind of fine line, and I do find that troubling, and indicative of our position in society and what we think is justifiable to defend it. It's not like I have no problem with the non-sexual violence. I think the way it is singled out, however, in works steeped in blood is frankly, twisted, and it really concerns me.

That's a bit more earnest than I like to get. I am going to have to do double-snark duty as penance tomorrow.

oh, on preview:

I hardly think it's a problem exclusive to fantasy (see: murder mysteries).

Not really my genre so I can't say, but are they thoroughly blood-soaked? My outside impression of murder mysteries is that the violence is spare, usually up front, and the opposite of gratuitous.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:39 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


that one might almost characterize as Victorian

That's spot on! It was the fate WORSE than death after all in every one of those old stories. And from this thread it seems to be the fate worse than death, mutilation, castration, beheading, etc.

By induction then, should one assume that a sort of Victorian psychology the cause of these feelings?
posted by Chekhovian at 8:40 PM on August 31, 2011


My outside impression of murder mysteries is that the violence is spare, usually up front, and the opposite of gratuitous.

I'm thinking less of what one of my guy friends likes to call "cozies" and more sort of thriller-y or noir mysteries. Perhaps "hard boiled crime" novels might be more accurate.
posted by immlass at 8:45 PM on August 31, 2011


Thanks Durn, I get you now.
posted by smoke at 8:50 PM on August 31, 2011


"Tolkien with STD's"
posted by bardic at 8:51 PM on August 31, 2011


Is the Tyrion story (whether or not the marriage is forced) supposed to be the realistic part or the cooler part?

Look, I don't want to pick on you, but you do realize that you are taking grumblebee's analogy to the point of absurdity with this question, right? We're talking about a series of books that covers thousands of pages, and to really get an idea of Tyrion's character--which, actually, is quite a complex one and easily one of my favorites--you need to read the books. If you don't want to read the books, that's fine, but you can't just pick out one character and then challenge someone who has to explain that character to you to defend his argument.

There are so many nuances to each character that they can't be easily pigeon-holed, which is one reason I like the series. For instance, Tyrion is not only an intelligent, well-read man, he's also a dwarf in an era and place where dwarfs are viewed as freaks, jesters or clowns. But he has the advantage of being well-born. That makes him unique. His family is proud and beautiful and really have no understanding of him whatsoever. I imagine that would fall under realistic. When he marries Tysha because he loves her, and his father is angry over his less-than-advantageous marriage, that's realistic, too. The way the father deals with this? Completely over the top and not realistic, I would certainly hope. And so on.

Also, I want to be clear that by the book having medieval elements, I meant that it is based on the Wars of the Roses as a starting point (not just a supposition of the readers, I don't think. Look up the battle in the fog or the family betrayals in the Wars of the Roses on wikipedia, and if you have read the books, it's obvious). Martin then adds in the fantasy elements, but I don't think that anyone who has actually read the books would argue against the setting being medieval.

And that is pertinent, because even though I am not an expert on the finer points of medieval life, one thing I do know is that property and titles were past down through patriarchal lines, and marriages were arranged with that in mind more than the opinion the prospective bride had of her future husband. So I think that does directly tie in to the treatment of women in these books, and should be taken into account in any mindful criticism of them.
posted by misha at 8:54 PM on August 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


grumblebee: That may be my value, but I don't know, because I don't know what it means.

It's pretty much what you've stated earlier.

Are you saying that all decisions are ethical decisions? If that's so, we don't need the word "ethical." We can just talk about decisions.

Is choosing to give the hero a purple hat rather than a green one an ethical decision?


I'm pointing out that all (and I'm deliberately overstating the case to point out the ludicrous contradictions in yours) aesthetic decisions certainly have an ethical dimension.

Why did you give the hero a purple hat? Are you going for historical realism based on what was worn at the time? Are you going for historical realism based on documentary evidence of what that historical person wore? Are you using purple to evoke a certain set of cultural associations? Is it a stylistic liberty driven by your choice of photographic film? Is it done to make the character stand out from the rest, and do you justify that? Or is it a trivial detail and the color of hat was arbitrarily chosen at the last minute?

The tradeoffs between historical accuracy vs. stylistic liberty certainly have an ethical dimension to them. How many people confuse Shaffer's highly stylized biography of Mozart with the historical facts because it was presented on screen with a wealth of historical visual detail rather than a bare stage?

The argument about a hat traumatizing people is a ludicrous strawman that doesn't need further discussion or examination.

grumblebee: I'm talking about starting with strong values about what's right and wrong in the real world and using that as a guide to what should happen to your fictional characters.

I don't see how you can construct a coherent narrative that doesn't do this. Certainly the argument that Martin's treatment of the social dynamics of feudal cultures is dystopian hinges on either Martin writing it that way, or the audience interpreting it that way. And presenting the horrific aspects of human nature for the audience to be horrified can be found in the Bible among dozens of other literary works.

I'm giving Martin the benefit of the doubt that he, like Moorcock, understands that rape is both a taboo and a moral wrong, and understands that his audience will see it as a bad thing about his setting. The other alternative is to see him as a hack.

More disturbing to me on the rape front, is the thesis that coerced or non-consensual sex leads to psychological liberation, which is what I see in the subtext of a ton of paranormal romance or mystery. But that's possibly my personal hangup.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:05 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


a sort of Victorian psychology the cause of these feelings?

What do you mean by Victorian psychology? I'm talking about a society with an emphasis on public sexual morality that also enjoyed public hangings.

you are taking grumblebee's analogy to the point of absurdity with this question

That is because what he appeared to have said (it's historical or COOLER!) was patently absurd as applied to the stories the fans are talking about in this thread. Defenders of the historicity want it both ways: it's accurate historically except when it's not. It's accurate when a woman wants to complain that it's too much rape for her, because accuracy trumps any problems she might have with the text or any callouts for it being sexist, brutal or whatever. But if I drill down to a specific incident and ask, the defense is that no, of course, nobody expects specific incidents to be accurate, not even if they're characters who are supposed to be fantastic versions of actual people following the actual storyline! I call BS.

I'm not criticizing the books. I am criticizing the excuse that Martin wrote the story any way other than the way he wanted it and that so-called "historical accuracy" is a defense against other people's criticism of their content.
posted by immlass at 9:11 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


grumblebee: My aesthetic tastes feel profound to me, but they have nothing to do with what's morally right or wrong. An artist who thwarts my wishes isn't evil -- he's just not creating art to my tastes.

They do when you argue that television writers have a greater obligation to scratch your personal aesthetic itch rather than the demands to create something that will sell to the network and advertisers.

But, where the heck do you get this "evil" from?

immlass: I'm not criticizing the books. I am criticizing the excuse that Martin wrote the story any way other than the way he wanted it and that so-called "historical accuracy" is a defense against other people's criticism of their content.

Well, I'm a critic of "historical accuracy" in drama and fiction anyway. Good history these days doesn't make for good drama. Fantasy writers abuse history and folklore the same way that science fiction writers abuse science and technology. Praising or critiquing the accuracy of either is a mistake.

But then again, I can't stand straight versions of the biopic or docudrama these days. The exceptions are All That Jazz, De-Lovely, and Marie Antoinette which break the fourth wall or use other meta-narrative devices to break believability.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:27 PM on August 31, 2011


all i can say is that westeros wasn't a world i wanted to spend time in - the people were mean and it seemed to me that the main purpose was to take all the tropes of fantasy literature and make them into their nihilistic and ugly opposites

whoever said raymond chandler's novels were motivated by a hatred of people had clearly never read the westeros books
posted by pyramid termite at 9:38 PM on August 31, 2011


I hope she didn't watch "Deadwood", especially Season 1 and 2....where horrible violence against women was depicted, as a routine fact of the story world
posted by thelonius at 9:42 PM on August 31, 2011


What do you mean by Victorian psychology?

What I would call a "Victorian Psyche" is one based on repression. Desires that do not conform to societal norms are suppressed, pushed back, and only revealed in private. The tighter that little ball of unaddressed need is compressed, the darker it becomes when ultimately revealed.

There is a certain weirdness that one might almost characterize as Victorian in the complaints about rape but not about beatings or murder in fantasy novels.

One wonders why.
posted by Chekhovian at 9:47 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


whoever said raymond chandler's novels were motivated by a hatred of people

That sounds like some kind of Dorothy Parker crap
posted by thelonius at 9:47 PM on August 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hmm, what about Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games? She seems like a capable girl, good with a weapon and able fighter, yet the characterization remains cool without rejecting all things feminine.

I think one of the interesting parts of the Hunger Games trilogy is that there's not a whole lot of gendering going on in general. On the surface it can look like a simple role reversal, with Peeta as the more feminine, caring, weaker half of the Peeta/Katniss team but I think there's a lot more going on with the gender stuff than that. There seem to be as many female as male Victors. Coin is as formidable a leader as Snow in her own right; Katniss' prep team are almost sexless in their inhumanity, but I believe they are 2 female and 1 male, Cinna's being a male stylist is never even noted.

[Spoilers for Mockingbird RE: Finnick's backstory in the rest of this post.]

But I think the place where the whole lack of gender politics really shows through is with the character of Finnick. He's gorgeous, deadly, and young and you eventually learn that he was basically forced into prostitution by the Capital, who threaten to kill his family and/or lover if he doesn't go along with it. It's explicitly stated that he has both female and male admirers.

Collins could've made Finnick female, or switched his backstory with Johanna Mason. The Capital would've looked just as evil exploiting a teenaged girl as a teenaged boy.

I didn't get through SOIaF-- I keep meaning to but getting distracted by stuff like The Hunger Games-- but it seems like GRRM exploits the female characters in very specific ways to show how evil people are. Oh look at the Lannisters, they are so terrible, look at all of their rape, etc. And then he has ways of sexually exploiting and torturing the men, apparently, with some kind of penis torture or something?

And I think it adds "grit" to his world to do that because look at how corrupt and terrible it is, see the torture and the penis torture and the rape and everything. It's a bit like how in BSG the leadership and crew of the Pegasus ends up being shown as totally fucked (frakked?) up purely through the treatment of their Six.

Collins' Capital is evil because they practically enslave the Districts, because they are overly decadent, cruel and dehumanizing to the people of the Districts, because they have brainwashed the citizens of the capital and because they do the whole "let's throw a bunch of kids into an arena and watch them kill each other: it's fun for us and it keeps the slaves in line!" bit. Not because they do all that and then enforce archaic gender relations on top of it.

I'm not saying that's the best way to do any series. The gender stuff in Tamora Pierce's work is fantastic, and I don't think it's too heavy-handed; for the most part it is just stuff like Beka occasionally commenting on how no one thinks ill of a *boy* who decides to go become a cop instead of a servant and yet when a *girl* does it everyone gets all indignant and worries about how she's gonna mess up her pretty face. (The Alanna and Kel series are about girls doing boy things and dealing with being treated badly for it, so those are obviously going to involve gender stuff a lot more.)

And not every series has to be about all these feminist themes and stuff. But "look at how evil the bad guys are... they're so rapey!" is kind of lame and overdone, and I worry it alienates survivors with triggers from genre fiction. (I'm not a survivor of rape and don't speak for them at all with this. I personally can't stand watching rape-- or much torture for that reason-- and can only stand reading about it in vague terms without feeling rather ill; I've pretty much stopped reading horror as a genre because of this. I'll probably not go on with SOIaF either for the same reason.)
posted by NoraReed at 10:56 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


That sounds like some kind of Dorothy Parker crap

it wasn't her - i certainly don't agree with that review of raymond chandler
posted by pyramid termite at 10:59 PM on August 31, 2011


With both Cersei and Asha Greyjoy, Martin questions the logic of patriarchal succession and implies that the women are at least as qualified to rule as the men.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:27 PM on August 31, 2011


NoraReed: And not every series has to be about all these feminist themes and stuff. But "look at how evil the bad guys are... they're so rapey!" is kind of lame and overdone, and I worry it alienates survivors with triggers from genre fiction

That's a vast oversimplification of how Martin handles rape. You haven't even read past the first book, right?

Personally, as a rape survivor with triggers, I find it pretty alienating and quite condescending when people assume that being a survivor means I'm going to relate to something in a certain way, hold a certain opinion, behave/feel a certain way, or (and this is the kicker) that a trigger reaction of some imaginary monolithic body of "survivors" to a particular TV show/movie/book is in and of itself a legitimate form of criticism in how it handles rape. That is not how triggers work and it's not how criticism works. Something can be very triggering, even to a fairly broad sample of survivors, without it necessarily uncritically wallowing in or glorifying rape culture. Conversely, pretty much anything that does deal with rape in a non-exploitive, critical, or artistically meaningful way is absolutely going to be triggery to a lot of survivors, just by virtue of being an accurate or evocative depiction.
posted by sinnaith at 11:56 PM on August 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


Defenders of the historicity want it both ways: it's accurate historically except when it's not. It's accurate when a woman wants to complain that it's too much rape for her, because accuracy trumps any problems she might have with the text or any callouts for it being sexist, brutal or whatever. But if I drill down to a specific incident and ask, the defense is that no, of course, nobody expects specific incidents to be accurate, not even if they're characters who are supposed to be fantastic versions of actual people following the actual storyline! I call BS.

What you're claiming is an inconsistency is really a necessity of the project by virtue of its nature. You're misunderstanding the "accuracy" argument and, more generally, you're badly misunderstanding ASOIAF as a whole.

Before I substantiate this, I have to mention that I'm finding this a bit discombobulating. At other times and places, I've normally been on the side of the debate which finds ASOIAF "problematic" in a number of respects. But Doyle's polemic and much of the debate here is so misguided, that I'm compelled to defend ASOIAF. To be sure: I've always thought that the books are much more notably feminist than misogynist (though there are occasional problems) and it's mostly been the racism, particularly the orientialism, that I've criticized.

Back to the argument: a lot of people seem to be missing the larger context in which these books exist...the genre of "epic fantasy". Tolkien essentially invented this genre and it is extremely narrowly defined. Tolkien wrote his books explicitly with a deliberate point-of-view of a strong, politically regressive cultural conservatism and chauvinism that idealized feudal and rural Britain in the familiar form of an altered medieval Arthurian-style romance. He used Anglo-Saxon and Norse mythologies for his magical elements; but otherwise these books are set in a time-and-place that is deliberately more historical than it is whole-cloth fantastical. In short: epic fantasy in its foundations, its blood and bones, is a deeply regressive political commentary on what Tolkien disliked about modernity and valued in pre-modernity.

Essentially all of epic fantasy—which for decades has for the most part been equivalent to "fantasy"—is an uncritical recapitulation of Tolkien's love-letter to a thoroughly racist, classist, and sexist patriarchal Britain which he mourned. That's the genre, that's what it's about, those are the messages embedded in almost every epic fantasy novel written in the last fifty years. People buy heavily into this notion of how society should be structured whether they realize they're doing it, or not. In this sense, how traditional fantasy's faux-British medieval cultures differ from the reality is extremely relevant; and it's obviously true that the reality was more brutally classist, more racist, and much more brutally sexist than Tolkien's whitewashed fantasy world.

It's self-evident in the books for those who have the eyes to see it, but Martin himself has explained in interviews numerous times how these books came to exist and what he intended to do when he began writing them. He most frequently explains it with an example of the familiar love story of the princess and stable-boy who run off together. He, correctly, says that this is egregiously unrealistic; that what would have actually happened is that men would have been sent to hunt the pair down, bring them home, the stable-boy killed, and then the princess married off within the nobility with no thought to her wishes or happiness.

Martin is explicitly engaged in a hostile deconstruction of epic fantasy. Martin is well aware that traditional epic fantasy is literally an escapist fantasy for privileged white men and the women who are co-opted into these patriarchal values. It's not only that medieval Britain wasn't actually like Tolkien's Middle-Earth, it's that if you think carefully even a little bit about how these fantasy societies are structured, it's obvious that they are necessarily brutalizing classist, racist, patriarchal hells for which only the very few privileged men could be empowered, self-actualized, or even happy. The whole notion of the Hero's Journey in this context becomes extremely offensive when you understand this. These societies are deeply patriarchal and, as a result, women are viciously disempowered and, as happens to be historically true, this disempowerment is frequently realized and emphasized in the form of sexual violence. Sexual violence is an endemic feature of this particular social organization.

Martin's depiction is "accurate" in the sense that it's much closer to the reality of medieval Britain than it is to the idealized versions which have defined the genre; and it's "accurate" in that the brutally of Westeros is logically necessary given how these societies are structured.

But it's not historical fiction. This work exists very much as a critical deconstruction of a familiar form. It cannot be understood properly in isolation. For that matter, The Lord of the Rings can't be properly understood in isolation. Epic fantasy was born as social commentary. In this sense it is absolutely not true that because it's fantastical it can be anything the writer imagines. Not only that, but also because it's genre it cannot be anything the writer imagines.

Genre is, by definition, narrow. When a writer sets out to deconstruct genre, they are doing a very interesting but also very tricky thing. They have to work within the strictures of the genre—that's necessary to deconstruct and subvert it. But in doing so they are also in some unavoidable respects reinforcing the genre conventions.

For those who aren't familiar with fantasy or this analysis of it, ASOIAF might best be understood in comparison to the subversions of movie Westerns we saw in the so-called Anti-Westerns of the 70s and 80s. In particular, it's helpful to think about ASOIAF in comparison to The Wild Bunch and Unforgiven.

ASOIAF is more like the latter film than the former because, like Unforgiven, it's not as successful a subversion and this is because both Martin and Eastwood are primarily genre writers and, in some places, wandered too far and for too long into simply celebrating the genre conventions they were otherwise intending to criticize. This is the source of a fair amount of confusion with regard to Martin and sexism in these books. And Martin fails almost entirely with regard to racism—that, I believe, is because unlike classism and sexism, racism and orientalism were never much on his radar to being with.

Martin's books are valuable as feminist literature not only because he's explicitly criticizing the deep sexism of the traditional epic fantasy which celebrates a world in which women are property, but also because there's a recent trend in fantasy which attempts a "feminist" Action Grrl reimagining of this same world that necessarily cannot ever be anything other than misogynist. Because modern readers rightly want female characters they can relate to, who themselves participate in the Hero's Journey, Martin is vividly demonstrating to these readers what it could possibly mean for a woman to go on a Hero's Journey in such a deeply patriarchal, misogynist world. Most attempts would be moot before they begin.

Those women who begin such a journey will be brutally punished by a society that would not and cannot allow a woman to attempt to be self-empowered. They will be punished the way that women have always been punished by patriarchal, misogynist societies: with sexual violence.

Every woman in this story has been badly damaged by a culture which denies them any agency. Cersei is the most unsympathetic portrayal, but Martin makes it clear that Cersei's chief complaint is absolutely correct: her real crime has never been anything other than being a woman. Everything she's done or attempted to do would have been facilitated, rather than resisted, had she been a man; she would have been admired rather than reviled for her will-to-power.

Anyone who reads the first book and thinks that Martin portrayed Robert favorably and Cersei unfavorably just wasn't paying attention. Both are deeply selfish, arrogant, narcissistic people. But in every respect there's a social double-standard with regard to their behavior. They are far more alike than different and yet for exactly these qualities Cersei is despised...including by the reader. Over the course of the five books, Cersei is—more than any other female character—a challenge to the reader. Many readers will not realize this and a few of them will misunderstand so badly that they will criticize the books as sexist because Cersei is "evil".
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:01 AM on September 1, 2011 [48 favorites]


Genre deconstructions written by genre fans are a tricky thing. It's far too easy for the author's enthusiasm to be read as endorsement (and I certainly don't think the author is without blame for this).

Having read the books I think that the accusations of racism are pretty dead on, that GRRM is failing to engage meaningfully with his issues there and it harms the books.

As for the sexism, I think that's a lot more complicated. Perhaps it's because I read his first novel "Dying of the Light" as engaging with feminism in a fairly sophisticated way. He seems to me to be attempting this as a critique of most Tolkien style fantasy, using the lurid descriptions of violence and rape to drive home as forcefully as possible, in as many ways as possible that Feudal Society was a horrible way to run a world that left damn near everyone in danger of horrific abuse. It's supposed to make you uncomfortable, not just by its presence in these books, but by its complete absence in a lot of other books in the genre despite its plausibility. And therein lies the problem, he wants the violence (of all types, not just the sexual violence) to be horrific and completely shocking for the reader, but also mundane and plausible for the world of his novels, and the worlds of the other novels his a critiquing. I think a major problem is that he's not found a way to reconcile those competing requirements, making the violence read as gratuitous. I really don't think the violence is primarily intended to titillate though, just the opposite.
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 3:22 AM on September 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Fantastic comment. This feminist loves ASOIF not because it's a perfect deconstruction of epic fantasy, but because Martin has noticed and acknowledged the problems of epic fantasy, and has something to say about them, while still realising that there's good things to be found in the genre and understanding it's appeal to otherwise right-on people. I'll take an imperfect attempt to say something complex and nuanced over a perfect yet ideologically-bound novel any day.

Other minor points: ASOIF easily passes the Bechdel test; and all the major POV characters have unique voices, including the women, which is rarer than I'd like in fiction.

As a major point: there are very few scenes describing the rapes that are in the books - they're frequent, but not often dramatised. They're usually evoked by small yet telling details, and often mentioned in passing by the victim to a sympathetic third party as they reveal some other information. I understand and fully support anyone who chooses to avoid reading even small details about rape in their spare time (especially in a world of nearly infinite reading choice), but for me it barely rates on the Disturbing Sexualised Violence scale compared to other stuff in the novels or in fiction generally.

To hear some people describe it, you'd think it was porn, and I think that's where the "why do you want to ban rape from fiction" stuff is coming from. If you were to remove it from the story, you'd be left with a large gap in motivation and character, but you wouldn't reduce the word count by much.

I believe the real reason Martin's story draws people's attention and ire is that rape culture is shown as having a deep and pervasive influence on women, rather than merely being a quick plot device so the male hero can start his revenge quest or murder-detection (seriously, what would half our current fictional detectives do without evidence gained from DNA samples left behind during the euphemised crime?). Martin shows that it's not just about the incident itself, it's about the type of society that accepts sexual assault as normal. The rape in ASOIF can't be dismissed easily by the fans or the critics, so it becomes a point of contention because it can't simply be lumped in with the usual ficitonal depictions.

In AFFC, Cersei joined my Favourite Characters group from ASOIF. I don't *like* her, but she's fascinating: determined, loyal (in a highly specific way), risk-taking and dangerous. Sympathising with her past just makes her a more complete and fully-rounded villain. I worry that Sansa will become like her. But then I think that if Sansa is given a better education and more opportunities, being a wiser and kinder version of Cersei wouldn't be such a bad thing.
posted by harriet vane at 3:23 AM on September 1, 2011 [6 favorites]


"They do when you argue that television writers have a greater obligation to scratch your personal aesthetic itch rather than the demands to create something that will sell to the network and advertisers."

I don't believe TV writers have this obligation. I can't imagine myself ever saying anything like that, and if I did, I must have had a neural misfire at the time.

There are things I'd like TV writers to do, but they're not OBLIGED to do those things. And I'd say, if we're talking about obligations, TV writers have a way greater obligation to their networks than they do to me. I don't pay them, and they don't even know me.
posted by grumblebee at 4:29 AM on September 1, 2011


Also, as an ASOIAF fan and someone who's liked a lot of Sady's writing in the past (including things I've disagreed with), I found this whole thing seriously disappointing for reasons that had very little to do with her views on George R R Martin.

Pre-emptively framing disagreement as 'nerd rage' before you've even started, lacing your introductory paragraphs with dismissive comments about the action figures and first editions of the people you imagine will be disagreeing with you, and then blaming them for your lack of nuance and careful thought because they wouldn't appreciate it anyway? Those are some fairly shitty moves. And it's just not even close to an accurate portrayal of internet-based fandom in general, which is not only heavily female in a lot of areas but pretty keen on discussing problematic source material in things it loves, at length and intelligently and to a level of beanplating that even Metafilter would struggle to meet. The Great Racefail Debates of '09? Five hundred essays about the socio-cultural forces shaping the Mary Sue figure? Every other conversation about Supernatural?

So okay, maybe she didn't know about that. Fandom can be kind of insular, you can't expect people who aren't interested to understand how it all works, taking a naive approach to your subject ("if these are your toys, you’re going to be mad no matter what, because criticism of your favorite things exists. On the INTERNET, no less! SCANDAL!") doesn't actually make you a bad person. But what gets me is, when she got some thoughtful and eloquent responses to her critique, she dismissed them as coming from pseudo-feminists just trying to get blog hits to promote their work, and/or as coming from men who didn't appreciate sexism and were also just trying to get blog hits. And then grumbled on Twitter about how people in fandom were bound to disagree with her because they were shocked that someone - on the Internet, no less! - would criticise things they liked.

I mean, I disagree with the points she made too; I think her reading of the books and their genre context was simplistic to the point of being downright incorrect, for one. But when you set up a commentary in such a way that all disagreement is framed as something you don't need to pay attention to because fandom's just pathetic like that, it strikes me as somewhat disingenuous to then claim that you're the only one willing to have a thoughtful and critical conversation.
posted by Catseye at 5:23 AM on September 1, 2011 [13 favorites]


But what gets me is, when she got some thoughtful and eloquent responses to her critique, she dismissed them as coming from pseudo-feminists just trying to get blog hits to promote their work, and/or as coming from men who didn't appreciate sexism and were also just trying to get blog hits.

Not to mention that she's admitted to deleting a good deal of the critical comments.

I've always been a proud feminist, but if Sady's going to co-opt the mantle of Internet Feminist, I might have to start looking for a new philosophy.
posted by oinopaponton at 5:42 AM on September 1, 2011


Essentially all of epic fantasy—which for decades has for the most part been equivalent to "fantasy"—is an uncritical recapitulation of Tolkien's love-letter to a thoroughly racist, classist, and sexist patriarchal Britain which he mourned.

A nice post, but can we please stop propagating this myth? Tolkien may have been the most popular. But he wasn't the first, he wasn't definitive, he wasn't the exclusive influence, and the other major subgenres were published in the 60s and 70s as well. Applying this to Howard and Leiber is an anchonism. Lewis was a contemporary. And the first Elric story came into print four years after LotR.

Martin may certainly be involved in deconstructing Tolkien, but he's in the footsteps of Moorcock who never had much use for Tolkien and was openly sympathetic to Andrea Dworkin.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:45 AM on September 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sure KirkJobSluder, there was plenty of fantasy, but not really Epic Fantasy. Epic Fantasy is a subgenre, featuring multiple viewpoint characters, long multi-volume stories which revolve around the fate of kingdoms, clashes between armies.

Moorcock, Howard and Leiber were writing Sword and Sorcery, episodic stories focusing on the exploits of an individual hero fighting largely on his own against a larger backdrop.

Lewis was writing Christian fables for children, and he was a close friend of Tolkein.

After Tolkein, Epic Fantasy started to take over from Sword and Sorcery as the dominant subgenre, just as these days Paranormal Romance is becoming extremely prevalent since Twilight blasted the doors wide open (of course there's plenty of prior art there too, but I'd argue a lot of what's on the shelves is Twilight-derived like Epic Fantasy is largely Tolkein derived).

Moorcock was indeed pretty openly sympathetic to the feminism of his day, wrote a lot of queer characters into his books too. Was more interested in wrestling the whole fantasy/scifi ghetto hard to the left (New Worlds and all that) than deconstructing Tolkein, although Epic Pooh is pretty scathing.
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 6:23 AM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm pointing out that all (and I'm deliberately overstating the case to point out the ludicrous contradictions in yours) aesthetic decisions certainly have an ethical dimension.

Good lord! I not only contradicted myself, but I did so ludicrously. I almost feel proud.

I don't know what an "ethical dimension" is. Perhaps you mean that when a writer makes a narrative choice, his actions can have ethical ramifications in the real world. That may or may not be true, and you're welcome to discuss it, but it doesn't make sense to discuss it in reply to what I wrote, because it wasn't what I was talking about.

I was talking about CONSCIOUS thoughts about ethics that writers have while making choices. I don't believe that all (or even most) writers regularly think about REAL WORLD ethics (ethics that affect real people, not characters in their books) while making aesthetic choices.

If you want to say, "Well, whether they think about it or not..." that's fine, but that's not what I'm talking about.

I don't see how you can construct a coherent narrative that doesn't do this.

Here's how I'd do it (and I didn't make the following up -- it's a pretty standard technique):

1. Character A has a goal.
2. She takes the fist step to achieve it.
3. She's thwarted, either by an external obstacle (e.g. she's attacked) or an internal one (e.g. her own fears)
4. She overcomes the obstacle.
5. She takes the second step towards achieving her goal.
6. This process repeats, until she either attains her goal or is permanently thwarted from achieving it. At which point, whether she succeeds or fails, her story is either over or she has some new goal.

The complicating factor is that, in most stories, multiple characters are all trying to achieve goals at once, and many of those goals are contradictory. So they become obstacles for each other.

Via this system, writers often feel like the story is writing itself and the characters have minds of their own. This is because it seems inevitable that Alice, when pursuing her goal of marrying Fred, will -- given her talents and limitations -- do X to achieve it. And it seems obvious that the world, given its present state, will do Y to thwart her.

Now, sometimes it's not that clear. Sometimes a writer reaches a plot point where he has to throw an obstacle at Alice (or she'll instantly reach her goal and the story will be over too quickly) and he has several options to choose from. What makes him choose option A (Fred moves to another country) over option B (a rapist attacks her)?

Well, this depends on the writer and his working techniques. He may find one of those two options more plausible; he may find one of them more surprising (while still being plausible); he may find one of them easier to write about; he may find that one of them gives the reader a more visceral experience; etc.

Any of those factors could lead him to make the aesthetic choice of A vs. B, but note that all of those choices are like arrows that point toward the narrative, not away from it: what would make the STORY more plausible? what would make the STORY more exciting? Etc.

SOME writers, when faced with such choices, work at least partly with arrows that point AWAY from the narrative: what would help sell my book to Hollywood? What would help the book get good reviews? What would please readers? Etc. One of those sorts of choices might be "What would cause the least harm (or lead to the greatest good) in the real world?"

While some writers ask those (arrow-pointing-away) sorts of questions, not all do, and they're not necessary for story construction. They may be necessary in order to please certain kinds of readers. But they are not necessary to please ALL readers.

A legitimate question is this: SHOULD writers ask those sorts of question. By "should," I mean are they ethically bound do to so? Are they bad people if they don't. That's a valid question worth debating, but it's a different question than one about aesthetics and narrative construction. At least it is for some readers. There are readers for whom a morally-corrupt story (one that causes harm in the real world) is, by definition, an aesthetically displeasing story. But that's not the case for all readers. It's certainly not the case for me. For me, narratives (in terms of how I relate to them) are morally innert.

I have a lot to say about whether writers SHOULD worry about the effects their stories have in the real world (whether they're ethically bound to do so), but I won't post them in this response, because I don't want those concerns mixed up with what I've discussed above, which is whether or not ACTIVELY thinking about ethics is necessary for story construction. I don't believe it is for all writers. And I don't believe it is in order for stories to please all readers.

I am not a fan of your phrase "ethical dimension," because it's vague. It implies that in some way (direct? tangential?) storytelling is wrapped up with morality. I don't deny that. I just don't think A-is-in-some-way-connected-to-B tells us much about A, B or the relationship between them. For the same reason, I don't like the phrase "Art for Art's Sake." When I said I didn't know what it means, I didn't mean I'd never heard the phrase before or that I was totally clueless about the types of concerns it was trying to evoke. But it's a bit vague. What EXACTLY does an Art-for-Art's-Sake artist do when making specific story choices and why does he do it?

I can't force anyone in this thread to do anything, but I wish people would avoid phrases like "ethical dimensions" and "moral concerns" and talk, in a nuts-and-bolts way, about what writers do when constructing stories and how those choices affect readers.
posted by grumblebee at 6:27 AM on September 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've always been a proud feminist, but if Sady's going to co-opt the mantle of Internet Feminist, I might have to start looking for a new philosophy.

oino, these comments are pretty weird. I hope there's room in your brand of feminism for accepting women who are provocative, who say things you disagree with, who make choices and have tastes that are different from yours.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:42 AM on September 1, 2011 [9 favorites]


Proofs and Refutations: Sure KirkJobSluder, there was plenty of fantasy, but not really Epic Fantasy. Epic Fantasy is a subgenre, featuring multiple viewpoint characters, long multi-volume stories which revolve around the fate of kingdoms, clashes between armies.

In that case, you're just engaged in a silly and circular argument. Tolkien dominates fantasy, because fantasy is defined by works that imitates Tolkien. Of course, your definition here excludes one or both of Tolkien's two published novels (if you think the focus of LotR is on kingdoms and armies, you don't understand it), and a large quantity of his posthumously published work which included episodic short stories.

Lewis was writing Christian fables for children, and he was a close friend of Tolkein.

I give Lewis a bit more credit here. Dawn Treader and Magician's Nephew involve some pretty interesting metaphysical leaps that are much more akin to Lovecraft's Dunsanay period than most of Tolkien's work, which demands a more nuanced reading of what Narnia is and might be than Middle Earth, and The Last Battle really tips the concept on its ear. In that light, I think his "Science Fiction" trilogy likely should be revisited as well. Not that I particularly like Lewis as a writer once I start seeing his underlying polemics, just that I don't think his treatment of alternate realities can be handwaved away as a fable.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:55 AM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, I'm a critic of "historical accuracy" in drama and fiction anyway. Good history these days doesn't make for good drama.

I might disagree with that, she said with a smiley, but yeah, I take your point. Example: I loved The Tudors, but not because it was historically accurate. It's a soap opera in Tudor era dress that uses some historical events as a basis. It also squishes characters together (Henry VIII had two sisters, not one), adds scenes that have no historical basis, picks interpretations of historical events based on what would fit the kind of plots Neil Jordan wanted to include, etc. As far as I could tell, Neil Jordan also had a contractual obligation for naked boobs and butts almost every episode, which included a lot of sex scenes with questionable (at best) consent. There's also a lot of violence, head-lopping, burning at the stake, etc., some of which is historically accurate and documented and some of which was outright made up. Most of what I learned while watching the show was from looking up things I was pretty sure didn't happen that way and finding out how right I was.

Kate Beaton calls it "sexy Tudors" and people have no problems with that (uncomplimentary) description. It's not like folks think the Tudor era was really that "sexy" because the miniseries showed it that way. But somehow saying the same thing about the rapiness, brutality, and violence Martin is choosing to emphasize in his fantasy roman a clef is a serious offense.

it's "accurate" in that the brutally of Westeros is logically necessary given how these societies are structured.

I reject the idea that late medieval social structures logically mandate scenes like the Tyrion and Tysha scene repeatedly mentioned above. I reject this because the records we have of late medieval Britain tell us some things about how people behaved and allow us to deduce others. Medieval people did nasty stuff (York and the paper crown!) but the Tyrion and Tysha scene is way over the top and not accurate to anything. That scene may be part of a great critique of fantasy doorstop novels, but it has no more to do with the historical accuracy of anything than sexy Tudors.

(I'm pretty sure I've busted my 3x rule here somewhere, possibly one more than one point, so I'm bowing out of this thread. If you need to tell me I'm wrong again, I have MeMail. Thank you and good morning.)
posted by immlass at 7:19 AM on September 1, 2011


KirkJobSluder, I think I must have been unclear. I'm not saying Epic Fantasy is dominant because all fantasy is Epic Fantasy. I'm saying that Epic Fantasy was, for the second half of the twentieth century, the majority of what on would find in a bookstore when one looked at the shelves under the Fantasy placard (or probably more accurately, what remained on the shelves under the SciFi/Fantasy placard, once you removed the SciFi).

I agree that LotR is a pretty poor type specimen for what the subgenre has become, I'm just pretty confident that the dominant (in terms of words written, shelf space, mindshare) subgenre has been Epic Fantasy, often transparently modelled after LotR (See the Shannara books for a particularly blatant example).

I'm emphatically not arguing that Epic Fantasy is better, more legitimate, truer, or anything of that nature, just that it became for a time so prevalent that it was what a great many people thought of as "Fantasy". I suspect in a few more years it'll be Paranormal Romance that will hold that dubious honour from the way it's been gaining shelf space.

Oh, and you're probably right that I am being uncharitable towards Lewis. I find his works quite unlikable, and I have never understood why someone who suggested the Trilemma in all seriousness receives such praise as a deep thinker.

TLDR; Dominant Descriptively, not Dominant Normatively.
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 7:46 AM on September 1, 2011


Medieval people did nasty stuff (York and the paper crown!) but the Tyrion and Tysha scene is way over the top and not accurate to anything.

Here's what happened in that scene: a man with great power -- power enough to force others to carry out horrible, painful, humiliating acts -- exercised that power. And he wasn't punished for doing so.

I've read a lot of history, and from what I understand, that sort of event has happened repeatedly, in pretty much all eras, including our own (Hitler, Stalin, etc.). I don't think it's a sort of event that's specific to the Middle Ages, but since it's a general human, pan-era event, it's not logically inconsistent for Martin to include it. It's part of the Human Condition.

If you're making the case that there was something special about the Middle Ages that precluded it from happening in that era, I'm skeptical. Why couldn't a powerful, warped person in the Middle Ages have done something like that?

In my lifetime, Jim Jones forced his followers to drink poison. Are you saying there couldn't have been a Jim-Jones-like figure in the 15th Century?

Regardless of what could have existed in the actual Middle Ages (regardless of whether or not Martin is being historically accurate), the books are consistent when it comes to events like this. Martin has created a world -- historically accurate or not -- in which many powerful people have unchecked and vast power. Yes, there are -- eventually -- prices some of them have to pay for wielding that power (e.g. Tywin ultimately gets murdered by his son), there's no immediate punishment if the powerful person is powerful enough.

There are tons of examples: Cat has the power to abduct Tyrion, so she does so. There's no police force that comes in and stops her. No one sues her over it and takes her to court. The Bastard of Bolton repeatedly tortures Reek because he can, etc. Tywin forces his son to watch Tysha getting raped because Tywin, being the richest man in Westeros -- and in some ways the most powerful -- has the desire to do this any the power to do it.

Even if, in general, there's more law and order in Westeros, these books are set during a power vacuum. There's no undisputed head on the thrown. So many, many powerful people are basically doing whatever they want.
posted by grumblebee at 8:31 AM on September 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


oino, these comments are pretty weird. I hope there's room in your brand of feminism for accepting women who are provocative, who say things you disagree with, who make choices and have tastes that are different from yours.

Okay, I'm hyperbolizing, but I honestly do think that Sady's attitude is reductive and noxious to feminism, and if potential readers are turned off Martin because they believe that reading and enjoying his books is anti-feminist, then that sucks.
posted by oinopaponton at 8:32 AM on September 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


Personally, as a rape survivor with triggers, I find it pretty alienating and quite condescending when people assume that being a survivor means I'm going to relate to something in a certain way, hold a certain opinion, behave/feel a certain way, or (and this is the kicker) that a trigger reaction of some imaginary monolithic body of "survivors" to a particular TV show/movie/book is in and of itself a legitimate form of criticism in how it handles rape.

You're right; I apologize. I suppose worrying about triggers for survivors of rape in sexually violent scenes but not worrying about triggers for people with PTSD from stuff like torture, violence, war, etc is a bit disingenuous of me as well.
posted by NoraReed at 8:38 AM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


grumblebee: Mostly you're begging the question of where the aesthetic values used to make those aesthetic decisions come from. The entire point of criticism it so unpack the hidden assumptions behind those aesthetic decisions, and when we do that, we find a whole mess of ethical and moral assumptions.

To me, the central question in this debate is one that's been a big part of literature from the start: should bad deeds be punished in narrative? The traditional approach would be to say that yes, the denouement should wrap up any lingering moral questions. Both Dumas and Shakespeare provide a moral resolution to Hamlet, and both do so in ways that are compatible with the moral sensibilities of their audiences. Shakespeare kills everyone, while Dumas lets Hamlet live.

Realistic and dystopian approaches say that such moral denouements are rarely realistic, and the reader can make up his or her mind about the moral judgements involved. This kind of art is often attacked (unreasonably IMO) for advocating the actions of the characters, but I find that to be too simplistic.

Neither of these approaches are neutral, and they both are something that a writer implicitly or explicitly takes a stand about. Am I preaching to the audience, or provoking the audience to ask questions? To what degree am I doing both? In what ways do I communicate the moral flaws of my protagonists to the reader?

Now that you've challenged me, I think it's possible for people to uncritically write about moral problems without addressing these questions. But we generally call them hacks, bad writers, not necessarily bad people.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:38 AM on September 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm only about halfway through the second book here, and trying to avoid too much spoilerific goodness, but does the incidence of rape increase as the books go on? I'm just not seeing the books as being all *that* rapey yet. What annoys me more about the books are his endless, ENDLESS over-descriptions.
posted by antifuse at 8:38 AM on September 1, 2011


Now that you've challenged me, I think it's possible for people to uncritically write about moral problems without addressing these questions. But we generally call them hacks, bad writers, not necessarily bad people.

Really? What about Tarantino, for example.

People write tidy moral lessons in narrative form are considered hacks, as well.

I think whether or not you take a moral stand on the actions of your characters is rather orthogonal to the quality of your work.
posted by empath at 8:45 AM on September 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm only about halfway through the second book here, and trying to avoid too much spoilerific goodness, but does the incidence of rape increase as the books go on? I'm just not seeing the books as being all *that* rapey yet. What annoys me more about the books are his endless, ENDLESS over-descriptions.

I'm going to try to not spoil too much, but things... deteriorate in Westerosi society as the books progress, and the actions (rape, murder, atrocity, etc.) tend to get more extreme as the books advance.

His over-description continues at pace, I'd say.
posted by codacorolla at 8:55 AM on September 1, 2011


I'm going to try to not spoil too much, but things... deteriorate in Westerosi society as the books progress, and the actions (rape, murder, atrocity, etc.) tend to get more extreme as the books advance.

Fair enough. Guess I'll get to that when I get to it (I have to read a handful of books between each SoIaF book though, because they are a hard grind for me, much as I am enjoying them.

And actually, I just realized I'm on the *third* book, not the second. Whoopsy. I don't remember the second book being particularly rapey at all, as I tend to be remembering more in terms of battles and hocus-pocusery from that book, so I could be way off there too.
posted by antifuse at 9:02 AM on September 1, 2011


The entire point of criticism it so unpack the hidden assumptions behind those aesthetic decisions, and when we do that, we find a whole mess of ethical and moral assumptions.

That's one sort of criticism, a type that bores me, though I don't expect others to be bored (or not bored) by it. It's one based around authorial intent and biography. It's possible to write critically about a work without knowing anything about an author or even his context. This sort of criticism my not interest you, and that's fine, but it IS a sort of criticism.

You engage in it be first getting a clear understanding of what effects the work has on you. You then do a close reading of the work to see what aspects of it (regardless of whatever the intent of the author may have been) caused those effects to happen.

I do agree that when Martin, or any author, makes a choice, that choice is biased by his biographical details, including but not limited to his ethical framework. But all I'm talking about his this: when he's faced with choosing between a narrative event that HE KNOWS might cause harm in the real world and one that he knows might not, does he take that into account? Or does he say, "It's not my job, as an author of fiction, to worry about that?" And do we think Martin SHOULD worry about that? Why or why not?

Am I preaching to the audience, or provoking the audience to ask questions? To what degree am I doing both? In what ways do I communicate the moral flaws of my protagonists to the reader?

Or am I not thinking about the reader at all? Rather, am I thinking about the story, where it's going, where I want it to go, where my characters want it to go, etc?

Now that you've challenged me, I think it's possible for people to uncritically write about moral problems without addressing these questions. But we generally call them hacks, bad writers, not necessarily bad people.

Well, clearly YOU call them that. I don't see evidence that most readers do. To me, a hack writer is someone with a bad command of language (he doesn't know how to put words together in a pleasing, surprising, non-confusing way), someone who doesn't know how to construct a plot that isn't laced with logic propblems, someone who writes cliched characters, someone who doesn't understand human psychology or someone who doesn't understand pacing. Ethics doesn't enter into it ... for me.
posted by grumblebee at 9:03 AM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, and I should also mention - I would only really consider Martin "creepy" because of the SoIaF rape if all he ever wrote about was rape. If it was a common theme in his books, ALL of his books, I might be more inclined to consider that a valid label. When I think of a "creepy" author, the only name that really comes to mind is Clive Barker, due to all the horror stuff that he's written. But even then, I dunno. I think it's possible to have twisted imaginations and write about horrible things, without necessarily being "creepy" people in general.
posted by antifuse at 9:11 AM on September 1, 2011


imlass: I was willing to buy into the alt-history idea of Tudors up to the point where we were treated to multiple minutes of George Boleyn's marital rape, which was just a cherry on a pile of shit character assassination.

But a central problem of history and fiction is that the "great men doing great things" approach is increasingly difficult to support, and even attempting something like biography requires considerable literary license.

Proofs and Refutations: Mostly my argument was in response to Ivan who did generalize to all fantasy. I still think that Tolkien's influence is grossly overstated in the field.

empath: Really? What about Tarantino, for example.

What about Tarantino? Do you really think that his treatment of morality within his narratives is either uncritical or unexamined given his self-conscious appropriation of grindhouse, kung fu, and anime aesthetics along with a shitload of humor used to frame the violence? No, everything I've read about Tarantino, and everything I've seen from him gives me the impression that he has taken a moral stand about the relationship between author and audience WRT to violence.

I think whether or not you take a moral stand on the actions of your characters is rather orthogonal to the quality of your work.

Um, who's argued this?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:11 AM on September 1, 2011


grumblebee: That's one sort of criticism, a type that bores me...

Then I don't see what stake you have in this discussion.

It's one based around authorial intent and biography. It's possible to write critically about a work without knowing anything about an author or even his context.

It evidently baffles you as well, because intent and biography have nothing to do with it. It's also another point of self-contradiction, because you've previously argued that only CONSCIOUS artistic choices matter to you.

But all I'm talking about his this: when he's faced with choosing between a narrative event that HE KNOWS might cause harm in the real world and one that he knows might not, does he take that into account?

Again, you're arguing on the basis of intent.

Or am I not thinking about the reader at all? Rather, am I thinking about the story, where it's going, where I want it to go, where my characters want it to go, etc?

What makes writers different from everyone else in the world is that writers actually develop their stories for an audience.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:18 AM on September 1, 2011


Here is a very short alternate take on grumblebee's argument above. Anyone can feel free to correct me:
Elements of fiction that force you to focus on the author's process are boring (feel free to interpolate "to grumblebee" here and elsewhere). Where the author has inserted an element for some outside moral purpose, rather than out of fictional necessity, this breaks the fictional dream and calls attention to itself. The incongruity draws attention to the author's decision, which is undesirable.
I don't think this position necessarily disagrees with what Kirk is saying. The broad idea is that fictional necessity can overlap with moral purpose. An element of fiction can be both morally loaded and integral to the work in which it appears; seemingly everyone can agree this is okay.
posted by grobstein at 9:20 AM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, grobstein nailed it.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:21 AM on September 1, 2011


Then I would like everyone to make fun of GRRM's neck beard, his hat constantly covering his bald head, his entire second house full of painted miniatures. ...

"His entire second house full of painted miniatures"??

OK, now we're talking-- talking serious OCD probably accompanied, as it often is, by Tourette's.

I'd guess Martin can't help the Tourette's-driven horrific brutality mountainously accumulating in his books any more than he can help buying another painted miniature and stuffing it into his second house.

He needs an intervention.

Maybe his TV producers will have enough leverage to help him up out of his own internal morass, but I doubt it.
posted by jamjam at 9:29 AM on September 1, 2011


I think whether or not you take a moral stand on the actions of your characters is rather orthogonal to the quality of your work.

To be more explicit. Of course authors don't have to take a moral stand on the actions of characters. Personally, what rocked my world was reading an argument by Umberto Eco that the best works of art are the ones open to questioning and multiple interpretations.

But the idea that the author isn't obligated to lead the reader by the hand to a pre-defined set of conclusions about the characters is a moral one, and is a reason why realistic and dystopian works of fiction are routinely challenged by moral conservatives.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:38 AM on September 1, 2011


That's one sort of criticism, a type that bores me...

Then I don't see what stake you have in this discussion.

It's one based around authorial intent and biography. It's possible to write critically about a work without knowing anything about an author or even his context.

It evidently baffles you as well, because intent and biography have nothing to do with it. It's also another point of self-contradiction, because you've previously argued that only CONSCIOUS artistic choices matter to you.

But all I'm talking about his this: when he's faced with choosing between a narrative event that HE KNOWS might cause harm in the real world and one that he knows might not, does he take that into account?

Again, you're arguing on the basis of intent.


Okay, I think I see the confusion.

My stakes in the discussion are these:

1. I am deeply fascinated with the many ways people relate to stories. I may be interested in understanding your way of relating to fiction, even if it would purposefully bore me to relate to it in that way. I'd say this topic is my major interest in life.

2. I don't believe there are any right or wrong/better or worse ways of relating to fiction. Most of the voices in this thread are making absolutists statements. I disagree with those, even the ones that get close to my subjective feelings. I am injecting that point-of-view into this thread.

Personally, I don't find the books creepy. But to me that doesn't mean that they're not creepy. Or that they are.

3. I like Martin's books, so I'm interested in participating in a thread about them.

4. I find Martin interesting as a person, so I enjoy discussing whether he's creepy or not.

Here are two question, both of which I find interesting:

1) Why do Martin's books evoke a feeling of creepiness in some readers? Who do they not evoke this in other readers. I am totally UNINTERESTED in discussing whether or not the books are inherently creepy, as I don't even think such claims are meaningful. But clearly some people ARE creeped out by them; others aren't. Why? And is there a way that the books could have been constructed so that they didn't creep anyone out -- without sacrificing what fans like about the books?

2) As I am interested in Martin the person, I enjoy thoughts about whether or not he's a creep and why or why not. I even enjoy discussing theories about what his authorial intents might be. However, I don't consider those theories to be literary criticism. To me, those are biographical issues. They are interesting; even fascinating, but they are not literary. They do, of course, effect what ultimately gets printed on the page, but I find these discussions much clearer if we make a clean separation between author biography and effect-of-the-books-on-readers.

Obviously, other people enjoy tangling those two topics together. Some disagree with me that those are two separate topics. Fair enough. I'm just explaining where I'm coming from. And I now see that I have -- to some extent -- switched back and forth in this thread between the two topics. Sorry if I did that in a confusing way.

Here's an analogy. Obama's policies have certain effects on the world, regardless of why he made them. That's one topic: how they effected the world. A totally different topic (but still an interesting one) is what aspects of his character and situation compelled him to make those policies. To me, everything gets muddled if we jumble those two topics together.

What makes writers different from everyone else in the world is that writers actually develop their stories for an audience.

There are various differences between writers and "everyone else." You're focusing on one -- presumably the one that's most meaningful to you.

To me, the major difference (the one that I'm most interested in) is that a writer uses various formal techniques to shape narratives. He is consciously constructing narratives. We all do that to some extent. I think the difference between writers and non-writers exists on a continuum, rather than being sharply defined. SOME writers who consciously construct think a lot about audiences; others don't.

Another way of thinking of this: some writers work hard to please their fans. Others work hard to please themselves. Still others work hard to please some ideal. That ideal is really a part of themselves, but they experience it as something external. That mirrors my experience. I work to please "The Story." The story is really "the story I want to tell." I try to make it as clear and evocative as possible. So in a sense I'm just trying to please myself (and if other people like it, that's great, but it's not my main concern). But it FEELS like I'm trying to please some external ideal.

It's like the idea that a sculptor chips away at rock to reveal a sculture. Of course, he doesn't really do this. He chicks away at rock to achieve a personal goal. But it feels as if somehow the sculture is there, in the rock. That's how storytelling feels it me -- as if the story is somehow "out there," and my job is to serve it.

But the idea that the author isn't obligated to lead the reader by the hand to a pre-defined set of conclusions about the characters is a moral one

To me, this goes into the same category as "Not making a decision is a decision; not voting is voting; the personal is the political; etc.

I think all of those statements are true but not terribly interesting. If all choices are moral choices, then we can ditch the word "moral" as a modifier. If the only flavor in the world was chocolate, it would be pointless to talk about chocolate ice cream. We could just talk about ice cream.

My point about authors is that some (including ones that I personally consider good or great) take no active interest in ethics as they write. If you want to point out that such a choice IS an ethical choice, that's fair enough. Certainly, all choices have ramifications. Though that doesn't seem like a very interesting statement to me.

There are also some readers who don't care about a story as an ethical object.

Elements of fiction that force you to focus on the author's process are boring (feel free to interpolate "to grumblebee" here and elsewhere). Where the author has inserted an element for some outside moral purpose, rather than out of fictional necessity, this breaks the fictional dream and calls attention to itself. The incongruity draws attention to the author's decision, which is undesirable.

I largely agree with this. In general, I don't like fourth-wall breaks. There are exceptions to this, so please refrain from "Seriously? You hate breaking the fourth wall and yet you like Shakespeare?" I can discuss why I don't mind fourth-wall breaks in certain works, but that would take us down a whole other avenue of discussion. Hopefully it will suffice to say that I don't want to think about the author while I'm reading a traditional, linear narrative like "Game of Thrones."

I don't think it's ALWAYS or NECESSARILY the case that when an author concerns himself with some outside moral purpose, he'll wind up breaking the fourth wall. I just think that TENDS to happen. It's like asking if it's impossible for someone to play a good game of poker if he has a horrible stomach ache. No, it's not impossible. But most people will TEND to do worse at a task if they're distracted by something outside of that task.

And I'm suspicious of writers who claim they can balance narrative concerns and other concerns at the same time. Or that the two are somehow the same thing. I mean "suspicious" literally. I am not saying it's impossible. I'm just skeptical of it as a general strategy.

I've grown up watching DECADES of smart writers attempting to write realistic dramas while under the various restrictions put on them by Network Television. I've even heard many of the them talk about how they are so clever that no one notices that their cops never curse and their couples always have sex while covered with sheets. "If you write cleverly enough, you can get away with it." Well, I notice the lack of cursing. I notice the sheets. Usually. Sometimes I don't. So clearly it's possible to serve multiple masters. It's just very difficult, and people tend to convince themselves they've done it successfully when they haven't.
posted by grumblebee at 10:29 AM on September 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


grumblebee: I think you still misunderstand. Refusing to treat your audience as idiots is not only a moral choice, it's also a highly political and contested one.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:54 AM on September 1, 2011


As far as I could tell, Neil Jordan also had a contractual obligation for naked boobs and butts almost every episode

Add to queue > move to position #1.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:03 AM on September 1, 2011


I never said anything about refusing to treat your audience like idiots. When I write, I don't attempt to treat my audience like anything.
posted by grumblebee at 11:04 AM on September 1, 2011


"His entire second house full of painted miniatures"??

OK, now we're talking-- talking serious OCD probably accompanied, as it often is, by Tourette's.

I'd guess Martin can't help the Tourette's-driven horrific brutality mountainously accumulating in his books any more than he can help buying another painted miniature and stuffing it into his second house.

He needs an intervention.

Maybe his TV producers will have enough leverage to help him up out of his own internal morass, but I doubt it.


That is not a kind thing to say, nor does it really fit with Tourette's. In the wikipedia article you linked to, there is the statement that tics are not transferred to the written form. Even if it did, as much as I'll complain about Martin's need for editing just on sheer length, he does have one, and they'd catch it.

As well, so he has a house for his miniatures, so what? Jay Leno has about 100 cars, I assume that's a house-worth. All that having a house full of miniatures says is: 1) Martin really likes miniatures; 2) Martin can afford a second house for them. Neither of which is indicative of OCD.

Fundamentally, don't call something you don't like OCD or Tourette's.
posted by Lemurrhea at 11:23 AM on September 1, 2011 [12 favorites]


"How do you write violence authentically without making it exploitative? There are times when I worry I am contributing to the kind of cultural numbness that would allow an article like the one in the Times to be written and published, that allows rape to be such rich fodder for popular culture and entertainment. We cannot separate violence in fiction from violence in the world no matter how hard we try. As Laura Tanner notes in her book Intimate Violence, “the act of reading a representation of violence is defined by the reader’s suspension between the semiotic and the real, between a representation and the material dynamics of violence which it evokes, reflects, or transforms.” She also goes on to say that, “The distance and detachment of a reader who must leave his or her body behind in order to enter imaginatively into the scene of violence make it possible for representations of violence to obscure the material dynamics of bodily violation, erasing not only the victim’s body but his or her pain.” The way we currently represent rape, in books, in newspapers, on television, on the silver screen, often allows us to ignore the material realities of rape, the impact of rape, the meaning of rape."

The Careless Language of Sexual Violence
-Roxane Gay
posted by macross city flaneur at 11:42 AM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


We cannot separate violence in fiction from violence in the world no matter how hard we try.

Who is this "we"? I have no doubt some people have trouble separating fictional violence from real-world violence. I've met some of them. Some are my friends. Still, I'm bemused by the attempt to extract a human universal from a phenomenon experienced by some people. I guess it's so profoundly felt that the experiencers of it can't imagine anyone not feeling it.

Counter-example: I am a TOTAL WIMP about violence. I have never been in a fist-fight in my life. I want to cry when I stub my toe. I hate the sight of my own blood. I hate the site of anyone's blood in real life. There's not even a small part of me that thinks "cool!" when I see someone cut himself.

My wife LOVES gore. She's a kind person, but she's fascinated by injuries. She could not stop watching news reports about that woman who got her face ripped off by a chimp, and she insisted on regaling me with the details, even though I wanted to cover my ears and shout LA LA LA!

But I LOVE violent movies and books. Go figure.

Let me be really clear. I seek out movies in which CHARACTERS I CARE ABOUT get hurt. But I don't like seeing someone I care about in real life even getting a mild skin rash.

I don't think this should be about me, me, me. And I would even bring myself up, except other people keep insisting on telling me how I react to things. And yet I don't react that way. Or maybe when they say "we" then mean "Normal people, and not freaks like you." In which case I guess I should just shut up and let the normal people converse.
posted by grumblebee at 11:56 AM on September 1, 2011


Okay - so this conversation has gone all sorts of places and I'm late to the party, but people were asking about sexual violence against men in ASOIAF. I haven't re-read the first four books recently so I can't speak to those.

However, I'm about halfway through the most recent book and we've seen men mordered, with their own genitals stuffed down their throat, which may or may not imply raped but is certainly a sexual assault. And when that asshole Victarion Greyjoy shows up a POV, it's mentioned that a maester on his ship complains of having been raped by 4 of the sailors. Victarion tells him to get a knife and use it. A little later, he threatens the maester with gang rape by all the ship if he doesn't comply with Victaroin's demands.

So there you go. There might've been sexual violence towards slave men in the chapters where Tyrion is enslaved in Meereen but I generally skip all the boring shit that occurs across the narrow sea.
posted by Squeak Attack at 1:12 PM on September 1, 2011


grumblebee: Why do Martin's books evoke a feeling of creepiness in some readers?

I like the books a lot--but I wouldn't recommend them to everyone. A lot of cruel, horrific things happen to people. Early in the first book, a seven-year-old boy is thrown from a tower; he survives, but he's crippled for life.

I can totally see why a lot of people (Sady Doyle included) would hate the series. Martin's writing has strong horror elements (see "Sandkings" and "Nightflyers"), and a lot of people don't like horror. If you dislike violence and cruelty, stay away from these books.

What's the point? I've said this before:
To me, what's unique about the books is Martin's extraordinary sympathy for outcasts, cripples, victims, and losers.

A lot of terrible things happen to Martin's characters. The point isn't just that War Is Hell, or even that Life Is Hard (although Martin certainly doesn't hesitate to illustrate both these themes). To me, what Martin vividly conveys is the sense of helplessness in the face of brutality and injustice; the guilt and self-loathing felt by the survivors; and the importance of compassion, to those most in need of it.
posted by russilwvong at 1:57 PM on September 1, 2011


misha: "7 yes, 17 no: 41%."

Er, wouldn't that be only 29%? You'd be dividing 7 out of the total (7+17=)24, not 17.
posted by Rhaomi at 2:08 PM on September 1, 2011


Oh, my goodness, Rhaomi, you're absolutely right! I did divide the 7 into 17 rather than 24. Thank you!

I also realize that I did not put Joffrey's younger sister in the tally (she's mentioned by name but we really only know that she's a "sweet" child, so I forgot all about her), but that would actually make the percentage lower, not higher, as she is not sexually assaulted.
posted by misha at 4:39 PM on September 1, 2011


Misha, you seem to be cherry picking as to whom you are including in list of women raped/not raped. I don't have time to go through all of them but while I notice you include Ned's sister, what about the Targaryaen princess raped by The Mountain before he killed her?

I'm just amazed that so many people reading didn't feel that the rape count was particularly high-- I remember complaining to my husband that hardly anybody's backstory was introduced without rape being mentioned.

Also: "Dany (sort of iffy)--I might say yes on this one by the HBO show, but by the book? No" Are you kidding me? Deny's repeated, painful rapings by her new husband nearly drove her to suicide. I thought that horrifying little detail about her being saddle sore to the point of blisters really made her husband's attentions particularly nasty.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:01 PM on September 1, 2011


this post contains spoilers for all books (warning only because I see there are people in this thread who have not read all of the books)

I checked to clarify something for myself and maybe for anyone else who cares, but Sady Doyle didn't claim that all of the female main characters (those with point of views and storylines) are raped nor did she claim that sexual violence isn't used against men in the books. The article claims that, as of Book Four, 83% of the female main characters (main characters are Cersei, Catelyn, Brienne, Sansa, Arya, Daenerys) are sexually assaulted or threatened with sexual assault. Nothing like that happens to Catelyn except she dies.

As for the male main characters, up to AFFC I can't think of any who are threatened with or experience sexual violence except perhaps Tyrion who was forced to rape Tysha (though Tyrion may not have realized she was being raped, I really don't think he wanted to engage in any kind of sex at that point). In ADWD I am pretty sure Ramsey Snow-Bolton (hee) sexually assaults Reek in a number of ways (forced participation in a rape, probable mutilation of genitalia). Not only that, but I believe Reek's POV is a poignant look into the mind of a male victim of sexual assault and torture. I also agree with whoever said that Cersei's "punishment" is clearly intended to be a form of sexual violence and she is portrayed as a victim, it's not titillating.

I talked about where I agree with Sady but not where I disagree, and since nobody much is talking about all of the racism then I'll stick to the thread and talk about the accusations of sexism and creepiness. I should say that I see where Sady is coming from, but I do think GRRM is making a pointed effort to reveal and critique the sexual violence and misogyny in medieval-based fantasy worlds. I think there are some missteps, which may be major depending on the individual. Daenerys-Khal Drogo is creepy and rapey and doesn't work at all for me. There are some sex scenes that I find exploitative: Samwell and Gilly and the milk-sucking, Asha's "rape", and the lesbian scenes involving Cersei and Daenerys. I didn't really like the way any of those scenes played out and they did seem kind of exploitative to me.

But for the most part I think he handles Cersei really well, and I don't think it undermines feminism to have the "evil queen" be the only one explicitly calling for equality. I think it humanizes Cersei and makes her more grey; it doesn't make feminism more black (hope that makes sense). Cersei has been victimized a lot, raped multiple times by Robert, beaten by him as well, and the only man who treated her with love is her twin brother who is forbidden. She's messed up and I think we can see why. Game of Thrones the show does a better job with Cersei because Lena Headey plays her a little softer and much less of a caricature, so I think the sympathy GRRM might have intended in the books but missed will come out on the show.

I think Sansa and Arya are deconstructions of the spoiled princess and tomboy princess. Due to her upbringing Sansa just wasn't very prepared for the violence and degradation she would face as a pawn. I find this is very realistic and better than how princesses are usually portrayed in fantasy (everything is soft and wonderful and beautiful). And Arya is tough and a tomboy, but I also think she is headed down a dark path. She's a fun character but she too is grey.

For me, the main failure is the Daenerys storyline (I find it sexist, racist, and in ADWD insufferable) and it's a wonder I still love her so much but I do. Maybe if he would have relented and allowed one of the Essenes to have a POV similar to Davos, a support character who is allowed to have opinions and perceptions, maybe this could have helped.

And while most of the male characters are more likely to be raping women than being raped or threatened with rape by anyone (which seems realistic), there is a lot happening to the less powerful men. There's the guy on the Wall who is there because he refused the advances of some lord. There are all of the boy prostitutes who are drowned by Victarion for being "abominations" or whatever. The maester who is raped and then Victarion murders him even though he's supposed to be a protected hostage (seriously, I HATE VICTARION). All of the Unsullied (aww, especially that guy who paid women just to hold him, I cried there). GRRM is putting all of that in there for a reason and it doesn't seem like it's just for "grit" or to make the story more interesting. It's a messed up world.

I also think a lot of nuance is picked up on re-reads of the book. There is a lot to miss when you don't know what's coming next. The characters are deeper than GRRM is given credit for, and he is doing more than just telling a rip-roaring story. He is trying to make some points, not all of them made well I grant, but in my opinion he is making a conscious effort and deserves some credit for that.
posted by Danila at 5:34 PM on September 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


That said, while GRRM may not be creepy in a sexist way to me, a lot of his male fans are (not talking about anybody here!). It's hard to participate in any of the forums because there is so much antipathy toward female characters, open calls for rape, and valorization of rapist male characters.
posted by Danila at 5:38 PM on September 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yikes about the forums. I heard someone explain to me that a good portion of watchers of the Wire did it because they wanted to watch the black drug dealers be arrested by the cops as in any normal cop procedural.

But that's why we read and discuss on metafilter.
posted by stratastar at 8:33 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


I heard someone explain to me that a good portion of watchers of the Wire did it because they wanted to watch the black drug dealers be arrested by the cops as in any normal cop procedural.

Just as I'm sure a lot of people watched it because some of the criminals were cool in their violence, intimidation, and dominance. And they were, no doubt, but look at the system, look at the world they were living in (this one). And look at Westeros.

Is there something especially wrong with Westeros or is it a "realist" version of medieval fantasy? Take royal marriage arrangements. It doesn't work out for anyone. They're just pawns, whether it be Cersei or Sansa or Margaery. I don't pay much attention whenever they start talking about dead Targaryens (maybe because I'm hoping against hope this will keep anymore from showing up), but I can't imagine things were ever so happy with them either. Is this type of royal marriage a form of sexual violence? It's certainly violence. And sexual. And non-consent is built into it. Being forced to marry your own sibling even though you know your children will likely be insane? Being forced to marry an arrogant, brutal person because, well, that's who is most likely to be king? Some of these marriages are founded on "kill or be killed".

And these are the people at the top, who are trapped in a system just like the people at the bottom. Very reminiscent of The Wire actually. This is not to say that the more powerful suffer more or even as much as the less powerful, but what they have cannot be called "good" or even "adequate". And not any one of them is really in a position to change it. The renegade cannot change the system any more than anyone else. Now I suddenly think Dany is going to end up like Omar :-(.

This is why I'm disturbed when people say "that's just the way it is" in whatever world we're talking about. That's the way it is, yeah, but it's really messed up. It seems to me that Martin actually cares about that and is making that point, but it's touchy because he's also trying to write entertaining fiction at the same time. And identifiable characters. And also a sound deconstruction of epic high-fantasy. It's really ambitious and not always successful. Some things get short shrift. Glossed over. And when the story is as gripping and brutal as this one, overlooking depth or glossing over things can be even worse because the emotional impact is higher.
posted by Danila at 9:03 PM on September 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


I heard someone explain to me that a good portion of watchers of the Wire did it because they wanted to watch the black drug dealers be arrested by the cops as in any normal cop procedural.

Is there a link to the study that proves this? I'd be frankly surprised as it wasn't a ratings hit and to this day many people have never even heard of it. For those that did watch it, I'd find it, on second thought, almost shocking, that a "good portion" of them did it because they wanted to watch black drug dealers be arrested by cops as opposed to say, the spectacular writing, story-telling, and social commentary without the looky here and we're going to pass the judgement for you and make sure you get the point because audiences are idiots we typically see. Is the HBO demographic, in broad terms composed of such people? Is COPS on HBO now?

As for this article, I have a feeling she would be right at home at a state run arts review board before various works of art are released to the assumption that the public are brainless morons who don't get what art is even more than said review board.
posted by juiceCake at 11:50 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wasn't "Alyssa Rosenberg" Ayn Rand's real name?
posted by acb at 6:18 AM on September 2, 2011


This would probably have gone better if the author had criticized the ideas in the books, instead of attacking the author personally by calling him "creepy," and so on. It was kind of a flame war before we even got to it.
posted by Stagger Lee at 7:40 AM on September 2, 2011


I'm just amazed that so many people reading didn't feel that the rape count was particularly high-- I remember complaining to my husband that hardly anybody's backstory was introduced without rape being mentioned.

Well, as a man, I can only speak for myself. For me, at least, rape isn't particularly interesting or noteworthy, as it's not something that I particularly worry about, ever (yes, I know men can get raped... but the odds of a middle class white male getting raped are just about zero). I understand that rape is horrifying and terrible, but as an example - when Dany goes around saving female captives from being raped to death by her husband's Dothraki conquerors, somebody who notices how much rape is in the books might be thinking "Seriously? More rape? Holy crap, can GRRM not have ONE scene that doesn't involve a rape?" - I was thinking "Interesting that Dany thinks she can save all these women from the savage practices of her husband's people, that's not really practical." The way I look at rape is, men are savage beasts. Really, a lot of men are just terrible, terrible people. Put them in a position of power, where women are basically seen as possessions to do with as they will? Yeah, there's gonna be a whole lotta rapin' goin' on. I don't know that it necessarily needs to be pointed out quite so frequently, but nor do I think it is inconsistent at ALL with the world that GRRM has created.
posted by antifuse at 7:44 AM on September 2, 2011


The rape count is definitely high. As portrayed by Martin, it's a regular occurrence during wartime. Besides the ones misha has counted, one scene that made an impression on me is the long and horrifying story that "jolly old Chiswyck" tells in the second book. Chiswyck's punchline:
"... damned if that old man didn't fetch a fistful of coppers, beg m'lord's pardon, and thank him for the custom!"

The men all roared, none louder than Chiswyck himself, who laughed so hard at his own story that snot dribbled from his nose down into his scraggly grey beard. Arya stood in the shadows of the stairwell and watched him.
The real punchline: Arya kills him.

Is Martin's nightmarish depiction of the devastation of medieval warfare, like the atrocities that Arya witnesses in the second book, realistic? Actually, civilian casualties during the Wars of the Roses were relatively light:
The level of casualties and the extent of disorder caused by these wars was much exaggerated by Tudor writers and later historians. At Northampton the order was issued by the Yorkist commanders to spare the commons. But the death rate among the gentry and aristocracy participating could be high; this was especially so at Towton. On the other hand many of the knightly class avoided entanglement if they possibly could. The wars as a whole, with the exception of 1460-1, did not embroil the entire political nation. The most intense period of warfare occurred between July 1460 and March 1461, but in total there were barely more than two years' military activity throughout the 32-year period. Civilian casualties and physical damage were light. The greatest amount of destruction was caused by the army from the north with which Margaret of Anjou campaigned in January-March 1461, but the havoc caused may have been exaggerated by excitable chroniclers and Yorkist propaganda. Even at the height of fighting it was possible for most people to go about their normal business.
The Hundred Years' War, on the other hand, was so brutal that according to Wikipedia, the population of France was reduced by half.
posted by russilwvong at 8:45 AM on September 2, 2011


I think the rape count is noticeable in ASOIAF because historical narratives, true of fictional, have tended to ignore it. For a long time, it's been the "hidden element of war" (quoting WP), something not much talked about except in passing (... and they took the women...) or for propaganda purposes (but then only the other side did it). I guess it's part of the deconstructive aspect of ASOIAF. The books may have been inspired by the War of Roses, but one could replace the Lannisters, Starks etc. by the various factions in the more recent wars in Congo (1996-present), Balkans (1991-1995) or Algeria (1991-2002), all conflicts where rape has been used as a weapon of mass social and psychological destruction. Historiography is now much more aware of that and one cannot expect less from a contemporary fiction dealing with war, even one happening in a fantasy setting.
posted by elgilito at 9:07 AM on September 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


if that's true elgilito then what does it mean that sexual violence perpetrated against men doesn't get the same grit-treatment?
posted by beefetish at 9:12 AM on September 2, 2011


if that's true elgilito then what does it mean that sexual violence perpetrated against men doesn't get the same grit-treatment?

Maybe I've missed something, and I'm no war historian or sociologist, but the kill the men/rape the women pattern that Martin uses seems much more common in real-life wars (certainly in recent sub-Saharan African wars) than some sort of rape everyone policy.
posted by oinopaponton at 10:04 AM on September 2, 2011


oino, sexual violence between soldiers and sexual violence upon male prisoners or wars is more common than reported, and as to sub-saharan Africa: guardian article
posted by beefetish at 10:16 AM on September 2, 2011


Is this what you meant to link to? Point taken, and that's heartbreaking, but I guess if investigations like this are just going on now, I don't see how Martin could be expected to have worked them into books he started writing in 1996. It would be interesting if he started to do so in the volumes to come.
posted by oinopaponton at 10:30 AM on September 2, 2011


i mean its' not even that, it's that sexual violence against men comes up in classical historical accounts as a means of asserting dominance, and the idea that guys raping one another at sea has been around for a long time in the public brainpan. i think that martin's choice of horrors to engrittify his books is kind of corny and unexamined, but i also do not have the expectation that martin's books are going to be the most examined things on the face of god's earth. i will agree that it will be interesting to see if the horrors he chooses to write about reflect contemporary societal attitudes toward those horrors.
posted by beefetish at 10:49 AM on September 2, 2011


elgilito: "I think the rape count is noticeable in ASOIAF because historical narratives, true of fictional, have tended to ignore it."

That, and also, in fantasy, there is a common "good vs evil" refrain that the reader gets used to and even begins to predict, where any woman threatened with rape is rescued just in the nick of time. This is a common trope that has played out again and again, and I think readers were shocked when it didn't always happen in ASOIF.

if that's true elgilito then what does it mean that sexual violence perpetrated against men doesn't get the same grit-treatment?

Again, most of the sexual rape against women in the books is NOT gone into with detail; it's more the casually brutal attitude of the men and the threats the reader is exposed to, and the after-effects once she has gone through it.

Also,we don't get really too far into Reek's story until the fifth book (which Alyssa didn't review), but that should be sufficiently "gritty". It's also some of the most powerful writing I have ever read.

Reek is not spared in any way because he is a man, believe me. His life is painful, and so vividly drawn that I have been moved to tears by his experiences. And yet the account of what he has endured is not voyeuristic, but incredibly sympathetic.

I don't know how Martin understood the mindset and shattered psyche of someone who has undergone repeated, institutional abuse, but he nailed it. Just reading those sections is almost traumatic; Reek's transformation from the man he once really start to mess with your head, too (Reek, rhymes with weak...).

But as uncomfortable as it is to read, that section alone makes slogging through thousands of pages worth it for me. The writing there is amazing. It's hard to believe that the same man who can take three books to advance one character's plot in any meaningful way can also rip out my heart and just dissolve me into tears with a few chapters, but it's true.

I had similar, but not quite as devastating, reactions to what Jaime suffered in the book, and yes, I was hurt and angered over the plight of the Unsullied. I cheered along when Dany got all medieval on the slavers' asses, even though I knew it would come back to bite her in the ass.

I feel for Jorah, too, and miss Eddard and Robb.

I don't think Martin has done such a good job with the female characters, but I don't think it's for lack of trying, either. I think the only reason Sansa is not as sympathetic as Reek is that Martin shied away from taking her so far into her suffering at Joffrey's hands as he went with Reek. It may just be harder for him, as a man, to put himself as convincingly into the mind of a woman. I think that's why Asha Greyjoy has what many of us would consider a really distasteful "love" scene, and while Cersei, who has a valid viewpoint about her limitations simply because she was born a woman at the wrong time, often comes across as shrewish rather than strong and ruthless, like her Dad.
posted by misha at 10:52 AM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, Dany is definitely abused, but by her brother, not Drago. She is not raped. I thought maybe I was remembering it wrong, as I just recently read all five books, one after the other, so naturally my memory of the first is not as vivid. But these are accounts from the web of her wedding night, which jibe with what I remember:

Khal Drogo’s gift of a silver grey filly is a turning point for her. She has never taken the reins before, and her clear delight translates itself to her husband. She is doing more than accepting a gift, she is accepting his way of life as her own. The fear hasn’t gone, but she is prepared to face it and learn. The same readiness to adapt shows itself on her bridal night. The Khal is a kind man who wants a wife as well as a bedmate. He takes his time and lets her have the power. He doesn’t just want her body, but also her desire, her will to become intimate with him. (via)

Finally Khal Drogo leads her off to consummate the marriage. Daenerys is afraid, but Drogo firmly yet gently takes her in hand and arouses her. They have sex. (via)

She receives many gifts including three handmaidens, three dragon eggs, a book from Westeros, and a silver horse. Finally, Drogo takes her away from the ceremony to consummate their marriage. He is surprisingly gentle and Daenerys is no longer afraid.(via)
posted by misha at 11:07 AM on September 2, 2011


if that's true elgilito then what does it mean that sexual violence perpetrated against men doesn't get the same grit-treatment?

I'm only halfway through the books (which makes reading this thread perilous...), but Martin seems to tiptoe around same-sex relationships, even consensual ones (see how Renly/Loras is handled in the book vs the TV show). Perhaps he's outside his comfort zone here, as a writer. Or perhaps it's a consequence of the "third-person subjective" narrative mode: the characters don't talk openly about Renly/Loras (except in a derisive and allusive mode) no more than they talk about male-on-male rape because such things are taboo in their heteronormative universe... unlike male-on-female rape, torture, killing children etc. For instance, Tyrion and Jon's disdain for the democratic ways of the wildlings and clanspeople ("Even their women were allowed to speak") proceed from such a subjective, limited POV. But then only Martin can answer that question. Of course he could make anything non-taboo anyway, so that's it's decision.
posted by elgilito at 11:36 AM on September 2, 2011


I'm only halfway through the books (which makes reading this thread perilous...), but Martin seems to tiptoe around same-sex relationships

How many of you folks, when you read a story, have a checklist in your head: does the author treat women fairly? does he treat men fairly? is there a possibility that he's sexist? is there a possibility that he's racist? Is he not-racist against people from Africa but racist against people from Asia? is he homophobic? is he not actively homophobic but does his story under-represent homosexual characters? is there any creepy sex in his book? does the book make any disparaging remarks about overweight people? is he fair-minded when it comes to all social classes or is he championing the rich? does he seem to be pro imperialism? is he glorifying violence? are the sex scenes are completely necessary or are some of them gratuitous? does he make sure all his characters take multivitamins every day?
posted by grumblebee at 12:01 PM on September 2, 2011 [5 favorites]


grumblebee, what exactly is wrong with examining our entertainment to see what it is portraying as "normal" and "bad" and why, and what gets left out and why, and what is afforded center stage all the time and why? you sound weirdly threatened by the fact that a person on the internet is pointing out that george r r martin doesn't write about same-sex relationships.
posted by beefetish at 12:25 PM on September 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


also that is an interesting point to make elgilito, about the subjective pov limiting the perspective on relationships within the books. i am still tempted to ascribe an unexamined nature to george rr martin, since the trope of doorstop fantasy having strange gender issues is kind of a Thing (dune, tolkien, wheel of time)
posted by beefetish at 12:29 PM on September 2, 2011


you sound weirdly threatened by the fact that a person on the internet is pointing out that george r r martin doesn't write about same-sex relationships.

This thread is starting to get tedious. I don't share grumblebee's particular source of irritation but if you are actually trying to say that same sex relationships do not appear in ASOIAF, then you are incorrect.

Also, you mention sailors raping other men at sea as something that the public knows of but Martin doesn't discuss, but about 25 comments ago I stated that sailors raping a guy does happen in book four.
posted by Squeak Attack at 12:53 PM on September 2, 2011


grumblebee: How many of you folks, when you read a story, have a checklist in your head...

I don't have a checklist, but when H. P. Lovecraft introduces yet another horde of squat, sallow-skinned, slant-eyed, evil men, it's hard not to roll my eyes. And, like it or not, many speculative fiction works explicitly look at issues of gender and sexuality. I don't see why that can't be examined. Again, the point of criticism is to say, "hey this is interesting, let's talk about it."
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:54 PM on September 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oops, that's book five. I think I try to forget that A Feast for Crows ever happened.
posted by Squeak Attack at 12:55 PM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


squeak - i am annoyed at grumblebee because his comment is conflating people examining shit with people condeming it as Immoral. i pointed out sailor-on-sailor rape as an example of same-gender sexual violence that is a known quantity in the public mind as a contrast to soldier-on-soldier or soldier-on-male civilian rape, which is less present in the spectrum of sex violence concepts that spring to mind in the brain of the average human. i'm not trying to crap on anybody's fucking books, i just think that genre fiction is weird in ways that society is weird and i like thinking about them. jesus.
posted by beefetish at 12:58 PM on September 2, 2011


Treatment of same-sex vs. mixed-sex relationships is kind of a big deal in genre lit., in part because fantasy and science fiction authors have taken the liberty to present alternative realities and characters where same-sex (or even ambiguous-sex) relationships are treated as normal. So when a text deals with heterosexual relationships explicitly but treats homosexual relationships with ambiguous layers of subtext and plausible deniability (which is how the subject has been treated going on 500 years) that's something worth examining.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:25 PM on September 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


How many of you folks, when you read a story, have a checklist in your head: does the author treat women fairly? does he treat men fairly? is there a possibility that he's sexist? is there a possibility that he's racist? Is he not-racist against people from Africa but racist against people from Asia? is he homophobic? is he not actively homophobic but does his story under-represent homosexual characters? is there any creepy sex in his book? does the book make any disparaging remarks about overweight people? is he fair-minded when it comes to all social classes or is he championing the rich? does he seem to be pro imperialism? is he glorifying violence? are the sex scenes are completely necessary or are some of them gratuitous? does he make sure all his characters take multivitamins every day?

*raises hand*

I've reviewed novels with an eye toward some of these very questions. Fair representation is important to me. And your last line makes the list pretty insulting to readers who care about these things as well--it's fine if it doesn't matter to you, but that doesn't make those who do frivolous nitpickers.

I mean, geeze, grumblebee . . .
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:45 PM on September 2, 2011 [5 favorites]


i am annoyed at grumblebee because his comment is conflating people examining shit with people condeming it as Immoral

I don't see his comment doing any of the sort. Much more innocent than that. Martin doesn't wax poetic about a lot of things, why the fuck should he go into guys fucking guys against their will on a ship in depth just because it happens and just because women get raped from time to time in the brutal world of Westeros? Is there a reason? What does this actually say? Why is it important? Sure, as subject it's something to talk about society wide and you can say Martin doesn't talk about it but he doesn't talk about or expose many things. Why should he? As far as I can tell he's not a Neal Stephenson type of author.

In Timothy Findley's The Wars, there is a vivid account of male rape. Why didn't Findley cover child rape too, or the rape of women similarly vividly, seems to be the pattern we are seeing here in terms of "criticism".

The hijacking of literature and other arts to sociological and other non-literary based criticism (biographical being one of the primary bents) is fine. It's unfortunate that along the way criticism of literate as literature has been thoroughly thrown out the door and as far as I'm concerned should not be trumped by Marxism, Feminism or any other extra-literary framework.

Fiction is itself a science, which writers practice. Their work very often says absolutely nothing about them and rarely, if ever, endorses particular or at least very particular ideas, behaviour, etc. That wouldn't be fiction, it would be propaganda or an essay.

Studying and discussing works of fiction and how they are interpreted outside of the fiction in them themselves is again, fine, but ignoring the logic of fiction. of story writing, etc, and holding it to extraliterary standards isn't critical of the fiction itself. It's like complaining that a news report lacks metaphors, symbols, and a poetic unity, like say Moby Dick does.

1984 for example, is obviously speaking to the politics of the day and politics in general, most particularly totalitarian regimes. But it's also a story that tells one of the founding western myths of the fall of man, in an ironic manner with references to Paradise Lost, Adam and Eve, and even Fredrick Douglass, among other.

Orwell portrayed a brutal world where people were afraid to speak their mind and express themselves. Why didn't he cover this off from a feminist/marxist/esotericist/absurdist/neo-realist angle? Because he didn't what does that say about Orwell himself? I've been told that Orwell was a chauvinist because of Julia wearing makeup. Really? It's that easy to conclude such a thing? I guess it is if you ignore 1984 as a work of art.

Why does Julia have to wear makeup instead of Winston? Because at that time (and still today) women wear makeup far more than men it could be said. The reasons why are numerous and some of the are unfortunate but does it necessarily have to be some sort of issue with Orwell or the book itself? In the context of literature (it's a book not a manifesto), it's possible that Julia does so as an act of art and creativity (no doubt stemmed from a model she was familiar with from societal norms before the regime), both of which these people have been starved of. Their is an entire model of destruction going on in the book against which they rebel in smallest of ways (and their promise to destroy the system is again ironic but shows how limited their creative options are). When Julia and Winston are together they make love. When Winston and O'Brien are together (sharing a different kind of intimacy) Winston is tortured. A creative use of the senses contrasted with a destructive one. But why didn't Orwell concentrate on Julia instead of Winston? Why did Winston have to be a man? Why did the main character have to be male rather than female? These sorts of things are extra-literary and can often lead to conclusions about the author that he is "creepy" or a chauvinist. I think these questions are perfectly valid, but are to often used to condemn works of art and their creators.

Even the Wire is chock full of literary conventions, circles of life/death, wheel of fortune, alazons and eirons for character types, metaphors, symbolic equivalency, balance and unbalance, etc., which is why it works so well though most people will talk about the drug trade, the projects, politics, corrupt or incompetent police but man alive, they didn't cover the role of the citizen that much in the Wire. Now what does THAT say about the writers or the work. Problematic? How so?

I just don't see how any of this is an issue is all. Has nothing to do with judging things immoral whatsoever in my mind, nor did I get that impression from grumblebee's statement, though I could be wrong, and this might indicate that my impression is problematic, not thorough enough, and because I didn't talk about planes crashing, make it incomplete.
posted by juiceCake at 1:48 PM on September 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Just a note: I'm a writer myself, working on an urban fantasy novel at this time, and I personally find it a bit tedious when someone attacks the sort of criticism found in this thread on the basis of defending artistic freedom from external political influences and the like.

When such meta-criticism comes from a creative artist themselves, I suspect that it's motivated mostly out of self-interest; and when it comes from others it seems presumptuous to me.

I can only speak for myself, but I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in not really minding that my creative works exist within a real-world political context and my creative choices have political consequences. I'm not going to allow myself to let those considerations override my "artistic vision"; but for the most part this isn't a concern. I certainly don't expect to be immune from such criticism; indeed, I welcome it. To be sure, just as in the case of Doyle's criticism of Martin, that doesn't mean I won't dismiss it as wrongheaded or even as the result of a tendentious, ill-intended misreading. Otherwise, I have objectionable biases, some of them which aren't fully unearthed except implicitly in my creative output. I expect some to come to light there.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:16 PM on September 2, 2011 [5 favorites]


misha

I'm in the middle of an audiobook listening of aGoT (currently stalled on one of the maddening post-slaughter Sansa chapters), and while it's clear that Khal Drogo seduced Dany on her wedding night (the show, I've heard, portrays it differently), Dany's description of subsequent nights on the Dothraki Sea is less positive: while she is making the slow, painful adjustment to a life spent on horseback, Drogo "rides" her (Martin and Dany's terminology, not mine) nightly as well.

This experience is not portrayed as pleasant for Dany, and while it seems positively angelic by Dothraki standards, and probably par-for-course even in the more civilized corners of Westeros, by contemporary standards it would probably be considered rape.

Dany never names it as such, and of course lacks any practical means of resisting Drogo's advances in any case... so when she begins to take agency and exercise her authority as Khaleesi (starting by defying her brother, Viserys) she decides to exercise some control over her sexuality as well. It is no coincidence that both of these developments happened the same day.

By these lights, Dany's sincere affection for Khal Drogo, taking comfort in the gifts he had given her, and calling him her "sun and stars" long after his death, is probably intended as a "Stockholm Syndrome"-like response.
posted by The Confessor at 2:57 PM on September 2, 2011


juice, grumblebee's comment seems pretty bad-faith to me. the image of someone reading a book against a checklist of potential moral ("politically correct") infractions suggests a censor, someone uptight.

also yeah literary criticism has totally been hijacked by feminist marxists who want to ruin all of your poorly examined book fun what the fuck are you talking about
posted by beefetish at 3:18 PM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


basically ivan says it the very best right up there, upthread.
posted by beefetish at 3:26 PM on September 2, 2011


juiceCake: Why do you see that criticism as extra-literary? Or even biographical? I don't know much about Lovecraft's biography, or even his psychology. But what I have on my desk is a text that says:
"Kuranes, clad in a dressing gown of the sort favored by London tailors in his youth, rose eagerly to meet his guest; for the sight of an Anglo-Saxon from the waking world was very dear to him..."
And a few pages later:
"And as he stopped in final resignation he dared at last to look behind him, where indeed was trotting the squat slant-eyed trader of evil legend..."
Please enlighten me as to how the use of one set of ethnic signifiers for heroic characters, and a different set of ethnic signifiers for evil characters, there on the printed page, is "extra-literary." The framework is embedded in the text, and as a part of the text, can be analyzed and critiqued.

Fiction is itself a science, which writers practice. Their work very often says absolutely nothing about them and rarely, if ever, endorses particular or at least very particular ideas, behaviour, etc. That wouldn't be fiction, it would be propaganda or an essay.

Which of course, isn't necessarily a claim of feminist or any other form of literary criticism. (Which is no more "extra-literary" than using the aesthetics of Aristotle or Eliot.) I don't know of many people who would argue that Pride and Prejudice endorses the class system of 19th-century England. Pride and Prejudice does privilege and reflect a certain perspective in which servants and renters are mostly invisible.

The reasons why are numerous and some of the are unfortunate but does it necessarily have to be some sort of issue with Orwell or the book itself?

Why do you think that an analysis of gender roles as presented within a novel constitutes an "issue" with it. Again, the point of literary criticism isn't necessarily to attack or condemn. It's to say, "Hey, this is interesting. Let's talk about it." It is, in fact, a form of flattery in that crap writing rarely gets critical attention except to be dismissed as crap writing.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:26 PM on September 2, 2011


Certainly, there's shallow feminist criticism abused to shout j'accuse! There's a similar number of bad defenses of genre lit based on the "rule of cool." The former does not invalidate analysis of gender roles; and the later does not invalidate analysis of the fantastic.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:47 PM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


the image of someone reading a book against a checklist of potential moral ("politically correct") infractions suggests a censor, someone uptight.

Earlier I called this a sort of shifted Victorian Psychology, in that people are okay with all sorts of gruesome violence, gore, and children murdering, but they shit bricks if there is any sort of bad sex stuff, or not enough gay characters, or what have you.

Can some one out there suggest a well-written book that contains the most absolutely vile sorts of torture, mutilations, murders, genocides, and bizarre but consensual sexual behaviors, but absolutely no rapes? I don't really particularly want to read that book, but it would be interesting to here the discussion what would result from it.

(My guess is that few of the people offended by these GRRM books would be offended by this new title, whatever it might be)
posted by Chekhovian at 4:04 PM on September 2, 2011


That's a false dilemma that no one but you suggested, Chekhovian. I'm not a big fan of gruesome violence, gore, or child murdering, either. The reason we're focusing on issues of sexuality and representation in this conversation is because the original link was focused on it--because Sady Doyle often comments on gender and media. That doesn't mean--and I don't think we should assume--that this comes out of any sort of "Victorian" prudishness.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:08 PM on September 2, 2011


we're focusing on issues of sexuality and representation
And as far as I can tell this is all that ever gets significant attention focused on it, even in threads that don't begin with it. To use the relevant parlance, my complaint is that other issues that might be criticized are under represented in criticism. Don't you think that is "troublesome"?
posted by Chekhovian at 4:18 PM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't agree that rape is "bad sex stuff". I think it is of a sort with violence, gore, torture, mutilation, genocide, and murder. Sometimes rape is exactly the same, actually, because rape can be used in torture (Tysha), mutilation (Reek), or to kill by raping to death. Some people perceive a difference between how the books handle sexual violence and other forms of violence. I'm pretty sure Sady Doyle does but right now I can't go over that article again just to highlight the points.
posted by Danila at 4:43 PM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Chekhovian: Alastair Reynolds comes to mind. But I'm not particularly offended by any of that or rape in literature, because I don't approach genre lit with the assumption that I'm obligated to like or approve of any of the characters. But I think the notion that the problem is rape qua rape and not the manner in which rape is portrayed within a given narrative is a bit of a strawman, since few people seem to mind rape in Cyteen, Handmaid's Tale, Titus Andronicus, Gate to Women's Country, Kij Johnson's "Spar," and the Color Purple, or the metaphoric rape of dozens of monster movies including Alien.

And as far as I can tell this is all that ever gets significant attention focused on it, even in threads that don't begin with it.

Really? There's 237 comments down the hall about George Lucas tweaking Star Wars for blue-ray. Since you phrased your objection in ridiculous and absolute terms, there's no need to sift through dozens of more non-examples for the best ones, including discussion of the role of ambiguity in The Thing, historicity in Lord of the Rings, and multiple debates on the narrative vs. ludic nature of games.

Actually, as far as I recall, the discussion of "Spar" disproves your thesis. It's a short story with rape as a central theme, but most of the criticism was on the choice of ending.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:53 PM on September 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


And as far as I can tell this is all that ever gets significant attention focused on it, even in threads that don't begin with it. To use the relevant parlance, my complaint is that other issues that might be criticized are under represented in criticism. Don't you think that is "troublesome"?

Nope.

I think the attention paid to sexual assault has been historically almost nil, and I'm glad there are conversations about it now. Sexual violence (rape, assault) is far more common than murder in our own lives. It makes more sense that people would be more concerned with how it's represented in books and on television--they're more likely to have dealt with it directly.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:02 PM on September 2, 2011


And as far as I can tell this is all that ever gets significant attention focused on it [WHEN WE ENGAGE IN LITERARY CRITICISM AND DECONSTRUCTION], even in threads [REGARDING LITERATURE] that don't begin with it.

Is my meaning sufficiently clear for you now?

I think the attention paid to sexual assault has been historically almost nil.
Certainly true throughout most of human history. Does that mean that the next fifty years of internet based SF book discussion have to be used to make up for that?
posted by Chekhovian at 5:43 PM on September 2, 2011


MLK's last effort before he was murdered was the poor people's campagin to end poverty. My understanding is that he had come to the realization that to truly end the racism and discrimination against which he had struggled, he had to combat the true source of those social ills, endemic poverty and inequality.

My feeling is that if you truly want to improve* the troublesome aspects of the literature we discuss, then you have to start at the roots of it all: endemic violence, brutality, and oppression.

*The point of criticism is to bring about improvement, right?
posted by Chekhovian at 6:07 PM on September 2, 2011


Chekhovian, one of my favorite series is Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's books, which has all kinds of debauched behavior and sexual practices of every persuasion, but as people in the books have the philosophy that their gods want them to "Love as thou wilt," there's no judgment about it.

So that WOULD be a good answer, except the last book in the series involves an absolutely vile slaver who delights in sexually torturing slaves until they die.

So that one doesn't work, either.

The Confessor, I see where you are getting your opinion about Dany, and I think we are just looking at the descriptions differently. I figured Drago was "riding Dany hard" because they were both young, passionate and attracted to each other, and it was just wild monkey sex + being unused to hours on actual horseback that made Dany so sore. Since he was kind on their wedding night, I just figured it didn't occur to him that it might be an issue for her--after all, his people are very sexual and not shy about it, so who knows how old the average Dothraki girl is when she first has sex? And they are all practically born on a horse; the worst thing for him is when he can no longer ride. So why would Dany be in pain riding her horse after having sex all night?

But for a sheltered girl like Dany, it's different. When you're a young girl, and married to this giant of a man, when you first have sex, hell, even the first few times you have sex could be painful, and adding riding a horse all day into the equation makes it worse.

But I definitely see where it could also be interpreted as Drago treating her badly.

And I do think that Chekhovian has a good point, and a lot of threads that don't start out about sexuality end up becoming about it, especially how it relates to feminism or gender equality.

Which is not bad, but can get tiresome.

For example, someone mentions the same-sex relationships being tiptoed-around in ASOIF, like that's a mark agains the books. But I feel that's an issue of perspective and an unreliable narrator.

Sansa, still an innocent girl with stars in her eyes and visions of knights on white horses, sees Loras as this dashing figure in his armor with the flowers on it. So when Loras is dejected, Sansa figures it is because he misses his cousin Margery after her marriage to Renly. But really Loras is sad because he is in love with Renly--it's him Loras misses. Sansa sees his pain but is completely oblivious as to the reason, and that's because Sansa's incredibly naive and infatuated with Loras herself.

Other characters, though, obviously know about Loras and Renly. They show this by making barbed remarks and crude jokes about their relationship--which, again, Sansa doesn't understand. The jokes go right over her head. So we don't see Loras and Renly's sex life explored, because Sansa has not once thought, "Wow, I bet Renly and Loras are in a same-sex relationship! I wonder what that's like?"
posted by misha at 6:32 PM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Chekhovian: And as far as I can tell this is all that ever gets significant attention focused on it [WHEN WE ENGAGE IN LITERARY CRITICISM AND DECONSTRUCTION], even in threads [REGARDING LITERATURE] that don't begin with it.

It's a claim that's just plain wrong, no matter how you reframe it. If you want a discussion about other aspects of speculative fiction, find an interesting article (my blog feeds deliver at least one a week) and make your own FPP. But here on metafilter, there's been an asston of arts criticism that hasn't involved either rape or gender.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:44 PM on September 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ugh, seriously. Will you be fucking happy if I restate it this way:

And as far as I can tell {X%} of our attention is focused on it [WHEN WE ENGAGE IN LITERARY CRITICISM AND DECONSTRUCTION], even in threads [REGARDING LITERATURE] that don't begin with it.

So should we really argue what X is? That sounds super boring.
posted by Chekhovian at 7:10 PM on September 2, 2011


And I do think that Chekhovian has a good point, and a lot of threads that don't start out about sexuality end up becoming about it, especially how it relates to feminism or gender equality.

Which is not bad, but can get tiresome.


Sorry if discussion of feminism or gender equality is tiresome to you? If you guys are really upset about discussions of feminism and gender equality in a thread about an article criticizing less-than-feminist aspects of a work, maybe start a MeTa about it or something. I dunno.

Is my meaning sufficiently clear for you now?

Ugh, seriously. Will you be fucking happy if I restate it this way:

It's not that we don't understand you. It's that we disagree with you.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:24 PM on September 2, 2011


It's that we disagree with you. Perhaps I'm wrong and X is very small, perhaps you're wrong and X is reasonably large. Unless either one of us plans to actually go back through and measure it, then its a non-argument. C'est la vie.
posted by Chekhovian at 7:46 PM on September 2, 2011


Chekhovian: A man goes into the doctor and says, "doctor, doctor, it hurts when I do this!"
So the doctor says, "stop doing that."

You've made more posts bitching about discussion of rape in this thread, where it's the topic of the FPP, than there are mentions of rape in the announcement thread for A Dance with Dragons and this thread on the television adaptation combined.

And that's just looking back gameofthrones tag and not at any of the science fiction tags.

But by all means, I'd love to hear your brilliant thoughts on how Dune has been envisioned in different ways around the world, in that thread.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:52 PM on September 2, 2011


bitching about discussion
That's a poor characterization of my argument. Let me try to make a shorter version of it just for you: "There are also many other terrible terrible things in the GRRM books."

I must have missed the dune thread you're mentioning. I've only commented on the video game version. It is hard to keep track, isn't it?
posted by Chekhovian at 10:05 PM on September 2, 2011


Chekhovian: That's a poor characterization of my argument. Let me try to make a shorter version of it just for you: "There are also many other terrible terrible things in the GRRM books."

Your "clarification" just confirms what I've been arguing. So let me make a shorter version just for you:

1) Yes, we already know about the many terrible things.
2) This FPP is about one of them.
3) You are invited to create more FPPs to talk about others.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:37 PM on September 2, 2011


Or write about those other terrible things in this post, others have. I don't care and I'd actually wouldn't mind reading analysis of warfare, slaver, monarchy, or incest in GRRM's narratives. If you want to see something at metafilter, you need to contribute it. Scolding others for failing to scratch your critical itch doesn't work though.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:51 PM on September 2, 2011


So ends another thrilling episode of Metafilter: SVU
posted by Chekhovian at 12:30 AM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


grumblebee, what exactly is wrong with examining our entertainment to see what it is portraying as "normal" and "bad" and why, and what gets left out and why, and what is afforded center stage all the time and why?

There is absolutely nothing wrong with it. When it comes to fiction, as opposed to -- say -- how one treats one's children -- I don't think in terms of right and wrong. I don't even think those labels apply. They don't apply to what writers write nor how readers read. There is absolutely no wrong way to read a book. If you use the sort of mental checklist I talked about, and you enjoy using it, that's fine.

However, I think it's odd to read a book that way. By "odd," I mean alien TO ME. I don't mean perverse or abnormal. I don't know if it's abnormal or not, which is why I asked about the number of people who read that way.

So, to me, it's like I said, "How many of you folks put mustard on your ice cream?" and you retorted, accusing me of saying it's WRONG to put mustard on ice cream. It's not wrong. It's -- to me -- odd. Can you see how, given that I don't give moral weight to story telling, I (personally) might find PC checklists odd?

you sound weirdly threatened by the fact that a person on the internet is pointing out that george r r martin doesn't write about same-sex relationships.

Threatened? When someone asks a question, you assume he's threatened. For the record, I think it would be great if Martin had more scenes involving penises inserted into male asses. I am looking forward to a make-out scene between Jorah and Varys. I assume there will be one in the next book. At least I can hope!

And I think it's odd -- not threatening -- that people (on the Internet or off the Internet) are pointing this stuff out.

When I'm puzzled, I ask questions. This thread made me suddenly think that people read books with the sorts of checklists I mentioned. Maybe they don't, but this thread gave me the impression that they do. As that's alien to me, I'm puzzled by it. I was curious whether one or two people here do it or whether it's an extremely common phenomenon. So I asked about it.

I do not have nightmares that someone will sneak into my bedroom and point-out non-PC aspects of "Wuthering Heights," thought I admit that would be boring if it happened. So I wouldn't call myself "threatened."

i am annoyed at grumblebee because his comment is conflating people examining shit with people condeming it as Immoral.

I mentioned immorality .... where? Again: I do not believe it's POSSIBLE for literary criticism to be moral or immoral. So if I gave you that impression, I must have had a neural misfire that caused me to write something counter to one of my most deeply-held beliefs. One of the two of us is confused, that's for sure.

your last line makes the list pretty insulting to readers who care about these things as well--it's fine if it doesn't matter to you, but that doesn't make those who do frivolous nitpickers.

I apologize for the multivitamin comment. I was lamely trying to inject humor into my post. It didn't occur to me that it could be taken as an insult, but I can see now how that's possible. My bad. I'm sorry.

grumblebee's comment seems pretty bad-faith to me. the image of someone reading a book against a checklist of potential moral ("politically correct") infractions suggests a censor

I don't remember writing anything about censorship. I never thought anyone in this thread was trying to stop books from being written, read or printed. You really thought that was what I was advocating? I actually wan't advocating anything. I was questioning.

If my checklist people exist, I assume they emerge from their lists and concluse that they like or dislike a book, that it's a moral or immoral book. But even if they hate it and think it's immoral, I doubt most of them want it to be censored. Censorship is such an evil to me that I would not participate in a thread in which I thought people were advocating it. So the fact that I'm here means that I don't suspect anyone here of being a censor.
posted by grumblebee at 8:26 AM on September 3, 2011


To be fair to grumblebee, he wasn't the one insinuating censorship. Amanojaku seemed to be saying that, and others.

But grumbs, it's still weird that you're focusing on readers interacting with the text with a "PC checklist." Even that terminology is a bit more insulting that you're acknowledging. It implies an artificiality of intent that just isn't there with most readers who read with an eye toward these things. In fact, what most of us are calling for is, to us, a universe within books that simply looks as diverse and complex as the one around us without defaulting to patriarchal, Anglo-saxon, white, hetereosexist models which have been culturally dominant for hundreds of years. For most of us, these models aren't just un-"PC"; they're bad (hackneyed, cliche, unrealistic) writing.

This conversation has been frustrating for me to watch play out, even after I ducked out of it. There are some people here who genuinely seem to like the books, and who want to discuss the aspects raised in Sady Doyle's article. beefetish, elgilito, Danila, many others . . . And your answer is, again and again and at great length, "Well, I just don't care about that." Which means that these discussions that are actually of great interest to many of us are getting derailed into arguments about your own personal aesthetic values over and over again. And all the while, you purport to not care about the argument at all. That's incredibly frustrating.

I apologize for the multivitamin comment. I was lamely trying to inject humor into my post. It didn't occur to me that it could be taken as an insult, but I can see now how that's possible. My bad. I'm sorry.

Thanks, I appreciate that.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:06 AM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


it's still weird that you're focusing on readers interacting with the text with a "PC checklist." Even that terminology is a bit more insulting that you're acknowledging.

I apologize. Put it down to total ignorance. I've had friends who call themselves PC (e.g. "I'm too PC to enjoy that. The sexist stuff offends me."), so I didn't know the label would offend anyone. I was just trying to find a shorthand term. Is there a non-offensive, pithy way to refer to someone who is concerned with literary sexism, racism, egalitarianism, classism and gratuitous sex and violence?

It implies an artificiality of intent

I don't think anyone here has an artificiality of intent. I'm assuming everyone is honestly talking about what honestly interests them. When I asked if anyone has such a checklist in their head, I was only interested in hearing from people who ACTUALLY have it -- not from people who think they should have it or put on poses of having it.

what most of us are calling for is, to us, a universe within books that simply looks as diverse and complex as the one around us

THAT is a fascinating comment to me, because it's diametrically opposed to what I want from fiction. I want fiction with a strong personal biased (even prejudiced or unfair) voice. Most people I've met have some sort of prejudice. I want fictional voices to have them, too.

It's like how I feel about the Beach Boys. I am kind of the opposite of the ethos they project in their songs. I rarely go near beaches; I am not into cars; I like women, but I don't think about them as "girls," etc. I LOVE the Beach Boys because they slam with with this really clear PERSONALITY that is so very different from mine, even in ways that offend me. My favorite song of theirs is "Be True To Your School," even though I hated school and loath the idea of school spirit. My negative feelings are WHY I like their positive ones.

I DO enjoy that feeling of identification in fiction: "Wow! It's like the author crafted the perfect world for ME!" But what I more enjoy is fiction that prods me and pushes me out of my comfort zone.

I was raised in a Feminist, ultra-lefty environment. And most of my personal value are pretty predictable: pro-choice, pro-equal rights, pro-gay-rights etc. All my friends are lefties, many are gay, etc. I head that voice (basically my voice) all day and all night. I don't want that voice in my fiction, at least not in all of it, because it's too close to home, too boring, too much like me.

you purport to not care about the argument at all.


That's not exactly true, although I'm not sure there's one single argument in this thread. Certainly, I'm deeply interested in these particular books and the ways the people react to stories in general.

these discussions that are actually of great interest to many of us are getting derailed into arguments about your own personal aesthetic values over and over again.

Well, no one is compelled to engage with me, but maybe it's difficult to not respond to someone who you feel is irksome, wrong or misrepresenting your views. In any case, I am sorry if I have derailed the thread. I don't want this to all be about me. If I've stopped people from being able to discuss what they want to discuss, I'm very sorry. I will quit posting here. If anyone has questions or comments for me, they can reach me via email. Thank you all for the great discussion.
posted by grumblebee at 9:30 AM on September 3, 2011


I understand and appreciate both grumblebee's and PhoebeNorth's opinions, and I don't feel that either of you need to quit the thread.

For me, grumblebee is basically saying that he wants his fiction to be, above all, an immersive experience. He doesn't want to be reminded, by poor writing and/or characterization, that what he is reading is just some author's creation. He just wants to throw himself into the world and experience it.

Whereas PhoebeNorth (and other critics here, where critics just means analysts) want to explore the writing process of the author and how well that process transfers into real-world problems and solutions. And those issues directly impact their opinion of the work as a whole.

I understand both positions because I am somewhat in the middle. I want, like grumblebee, to immerse myself in the fantasy world. This does not mean that I want to live in Westeros or be one of the central characters (I wouldn't wish that on anyone, actually, it's a harsh world), but that I want to feel that all the characters, the settings and even the meals all work to create the sensation that this place, time and people could exist, so that I can lose myself in it. This becomes harder for a voracious reader to do over time; your mind begins to recognize familiar patterns and you outgrow certain authors and genres as they become too predictable. So I really enjoy Martin's work, as it is not as predictable and the details are amazing (Martin puts far more description into the meals the characters eat than the violence or the sex, actually).

After I've actually finished a work, I then start to analyze it, as PhoebeNorth does. But my analysis (and maybe this si because I am a writer, too) is all about how well the author draws his characters; conveys his messages; makes actions seem to follow logically and naturally from what the characters know at that time in the narrative and who they are, so that there is internal consistency; and keeps the reader wanting to read on with gripping action and a compelling plotline.

I think Martin does much of this well, with two exceptions: he brings in too many characters while also abandoning others (anyone remember poor Rickon? Anyone really care about the attempting-to-kidnap-Princess-Myrcella side story?), and he backtracks and proceeds at a snail's pace with some characters while others advance more quickly (I didn't really care about Robb's secrerive marriage at all because we saw no courtship and knew nothing of his choice of wife, which just made it seem all the more stupid, and out of character, for noble Ned Stark's son to betray his promise to marry one of the Frey daughters).

Martin also has some minor inconsistencies within the world, which became obvious in books two and three, which overlapped because time factors weren't right, and also a horse inexplicably changed gender.

So, anyway, I do see both viewpoints, and I'm interested because they differ from mine, not bored by them. And when I said that issues of feminism completely dominating a discussion can become tiresome to me, I meant exactly that. Not that they should be censored or stop just because I would also like to discuss other issues as well, just that they are not the only concerns for me when evaluating a book.

PhoebeNorth, btw, I read the critiques you linked above, and I found them interesting and well-supported, though I feel you leave YA authors, perhaps, a difficult playing field to maneuver. You say one work is unrealistic because it pushes total chastity onto teens and that's just unrealistic, while the other is practically hedonistic in its almost orgiastic exploration of teens having sex. Good points, but you also have to recognize that many adolescent girls have the books they read vetted by their parents, so the first work is likely trying to push the mindset that appeals to the most parents. A lot of (especially American) parents are in total denial and really want and even expect their daughters not to have sex until they get married, despite the fact that they did themselves.

The second book, I can only assume, is written with the audience of repressed teens who are rebelling against their overly-restrictive parents in mind.

The point being that when authors write they have to consider their audience in order to make it marketable, and I think that needs to be factored in to any critical reading of their work.
posted by misha at 11:00 AM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, please call me by my username on here. It's not a biggie--I just don't want my mefi account pushed to the top of my google search results.

Btw, I read the critiques you linked above, and I found them interesting and well-supported, though I feel you leave YA authors, perhaps, a difficult playing field to maneuver. You say one work is unrealistic because it pushes total chastity onto teens and that's just unrealistic, while the other is practically hedonistic in its almost orgiastic exploration of teens having sex. Good points, but you also have to recognize that many adolescent girls have the books they read vetted by their parents, so the first work is likely trying to push the mindset that appeals to the most parents. A lot of (especially American) parents are in total denial and really want and even expect their daughters not to have sex until they get married, despite the fact that they did themselves.

Oh, just a factual note: the orgiastic sex in Across the Universe is societal, not just something that only teens engage in. In the SF world, all people (who are all legally adults aside from two character who don't participate anyway) have sex once a generation all over the place but are otherwise practically asexual, and this includes a scene where a group of adult men of color chase down a white girl and nearly rape her in easily one of the most "triggering" scenes I've encountered in YA. It's thorny in multiple ways (racially, particularly), but I don't read it as indicting teens for natural sexual behavior (in fact, the heroine has an unhappy, if in many ways healthy sexual relationship that she leaves behind on Earth--her mom takes her to an OB-GYN, for instance). Whereas the other work clearly is approaching teen sexuality through a lens that's been changed by either adult perceptions of sexuality or influenced by the attitudes of our abstinence-only-ed-loving society. It's not that I mind messages like, "It's okay if you don't want to have sex"--it's that I take issue with presenting every teenage girl who does ends up croaking, and, more, with a work that does that being widely touted as "feminist."

(In other words, I don't really think the "arguments" of the two books can really be compared in such a direct way, because of worldbuilding constraints.)

For me, grumblebee is basically saying that he wants his fiction to be, above all, an immersive experience. He doesn't want to be reminded, by poor writing and/or characterization, that what he is reading is just some author's creation. He just wants to throw himself into the world and experience it.

I actually agree with these feelings. However, I disagree that any work which considers issues of race or sexuality automatically is "poor." I think a good writer can deal with these issues in a way that feels organic and true to the plot. More, a culturally aware writer will have approached the novels and the character from the ground-up via this awareness. Bad writing is bad writing whether it's culturally sensitive or not, but you can discuss cultural sensitivity without discussing issues of quality at all; you can say "Martin tip-toes around issues of consensual same-sex relationships" and think that that's bad without thinking the book, as a whole, is bad.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:31 AM on September 3, 2011


is it creepy if you want your book to be just a plotless characterless stream of dragon boning

dudes boning other dudes who are dragons, lady dragons boning other ladies and lady dragons, page after page of anonymous dragon sex
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 1:34 PM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Martin tip-toes around issues of consensual same-sex relationships"
Misha already explained that pretty damn well. For the most part, Sansa is just an incredibly unreliable narrator. She doesn't see this stuff, doesn't have it in her set of experiences to understand that it is even a thing that could be.

Its been so long, but as I recall the Joffery/Arya/Nymeria fight scene was POV'd by Sansa right? I remember having to go back and reread that to actually reverse engineer what had actually happened, vs what darling Sansa had perceived to happen in her magical inner world.

a culturally aware writer will have approached the novels and the character from the ground-up via this awareness.
IANAA, but my understanding of true art was that it was supposed to be something that poured out of your soul onto the page. A good writer just listens to the characters speaking and writes it down right?

You can see that to a certain extent in the GRRM books, because they're so goddamn long. These people are clearly alive in his head, and new people are being born page by page, which is why the books keep getting exponentially longer.

The fourth book was so long that it was actually two books.

This is also why they're never going to be finished, because GRRM's living characters will keep meeting new characters, who will meet new characters ad nauseum. I'm sure that before we can finish the series, Brienne of Tarth will have more adventures, and meet more tertiary characters, who will then have adventures as POVs where they meet new even more tertiary characters etc. Whatever your complaints about the world may be, scope and breadth cannot be one of them, can it?
posted by Chekhovian at 2:43 PM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Misha already explained that pretty damn well. For the most part, Sansa is just an incredibly unreliable narrator. She doesn't see this stuff, doesn't have it in her set of experiences to understand that it is even a thing that could be.

I was only using this as an example, not arguing it.

IANAA, but my understanding of true art was that it was supposed to be something that poured out of your soul onto the page. A good writer just listens to the characters speaking and writes it down right?

I categorically disagree that such "true art" exists. The characters in question certainly don't--they're a collection of the author's thoughts, internal attitudes, beliefs, the people he's met on a daily basis--not the mention all of the above of their agent (if it's an editorial agent; I have no idea about Martin's) and editors. Characters aren't real people and they inevitably change through writing and editing from conception. That's a feature of control, not a bug. In my experience, characters grow in depth and interest the better your control is as a writer. Those who believe in "true art" without editing or control are much more likely to end up with a collection of hackneyed cliches. Because cliches are easier to write, and they're what we reach for when we can't come up with anything else.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:51 PM on September 3, 2011


a collection of hackneyed cliches
Sounds just like the Ice and Fire books to me.

I categorically disagree that such "true art" exists
I know it when I see it, even when I don't like it. I've never been able to finish Stapleton's Starmaker, but I know, incontrovertibly, that it is a masterpiece.
posted by Chekhovian at 3:06 PM on September 3, 2011


a collection of hackneyed cliches
Sounds just like the Ice and Fire books to me.


Didn't say that ASOIAF was hackneyed. I have no idea how Martin edits or whether he feels his characters are writing themselves and he just writes down their actions. I just think that sort of attitude about writing--that good art is unthoughtful art where the writer is beholden to the characters' whims--is emblematic of actually not knowing the loads of care that actually goes into writing in a way that seems artful.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:16 PM on September 3, 2011


a collection of hackneyed cliches
Sounds just like the Ice and Fire books to me


Sorry, I didn't mean that to sound sarcastic. I was serious, at least about the characters. I think the layers of plotting and scheming and wheels within wheels are pretty damn good, but the individual characters, nah.

loads of care that actually goes into writing in a way that seems artful.
Picasso vs Cézanne, I know. True art doesn't have be produced quickly by the precocious young genius. What I was trying to ask was this: if the primary goal of some artwork is to squirt forth a point of view, then how can that be art and not just propaganda?
posted by Chekhovian at 3:28 PM on September 3, 2011


Sorry, I didn't mean that to sound sarcastic. I was serious, at least about the characters. I think the layers of plotting and scheming and wheels within wheels are pretty damn good, but the individual characters, nah.

I see. Well, that sounds fair. I wonder if part of what Doyle was grappling with in the first place is that some of the characters named--Sansa and Arya, for instance--are a bit cliche (the pretty, naive girl; the strong tomboy whose fatal flaw is her false belief in her independence). Sure, these cliches are sexist. But perhaps the bigger crime is, in fact, that we've seen these characters before. Though from what people are saying here, and from what I've heard before, they grow in complexity over the course of the narrative.

What I was trying to ask was this: if the primary goal of some artwork is to squirt forth a point of view, then how can that be art and not just propaganda?

I guess I disagree that, for those who are considering these issues, it's necessarily a primary goal. An author can consider questions of identity without having them dominate the narrative? I think so, personally.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:02 PM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think so, personally.
If you write a modern version of Have Spacesuit Will Travel, or maybe a cutting satire of any Doctorow's YA trash, I will read it and let you know.
posted by Chekhovian at 5:38 PM on September 3, 2011


Chekhovian: What I was trying to ask was this: if the primary goal of some artwork is to squirt forth a point of view, then how can that be art and not just propaganda?

Well, with a lot of art, we just don't know what the "primary goal" was. Do Macbeth, The Iliad, and Genesis have certain things to say about the politics in which they emerged? Probably. Does that undermine their value as art? Probably not. I think your analysis requires understanding or assuming too much about the artist. And I find that to be usually disillusioning and frequently impossible.

PhoBWanKenobi: I guess I disagree that, for those who are considering these issues, it's necessarily a primary goal. An author can consider questions of identity without having them dominate the narrative? I think so, personally.

Well, a large part of the issue here is that the identity of the narrative voice is so often taken for granted unless we compare to other works that don't take it for granted. For some reason Left Hand of Darkness comes to mind because Le Guin gives us a split first-person narratives in conflict with each other. Questions of identity are rather central to The Hobbit as well, as there's very real development of Bilbo from something of a insular bumpkin to a worldly narrator willing to interfere in events.

But, it's foolish in my mind to associate any of the above narrators with their authors, and it's foolish to do that generally. When I look at things like gender and sexuality within a text, it's not as a window to the author, but because gendered relationships are often used to build or avoid some of the key conflicts of the text. Some texts explore that, some don't. Texts by Heinlein certainly take the position that 20th-century American norms of gender and sexuality might not apply to science fiction cultures (Stranger in a Strange Land).
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:34 PM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think your analysis requires understanding or assuming too much about the artist. And I find that to be usually disillusioning and frequently impossible.
If all we had no direct knowledge of Ayn Rand's purpose in writing her novels, and all we could do was infer from the texts themselves what her goal had been, it would still be blindingly obvious what she had planned. Call a spade a spade.

If your goal is propagandize a point of view, you necessarily sacrifice the artistic integrity of you work. Perhaps enough raw artistic skill can make up for that, but that doesn't seem to be very common.
posted by Chekhovian at 6:57 PM on September 3, 2011


Necessarily? Really? Joanna Russ did a damned good job of it. The Female Man would not, in fact, have had much integrity without the "propagandizing." And that's just one example.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:16 PM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Chekhovian: If all we had no direct knowledge of Ayn Rand's purpose in writing her novels, and all we could do was infer from the texts themselves what her goal had been, it would still be blindingly obvious what she had planned. Call a spade a spade.

Sure, and the goal of Shakespeare in writing Richard III was to rewrite history to be sympathetic to the ruling dynasty. Almost all of Shakespeare's historic and tragic works can be called propaganda to some degree.

But can you conclude from Left Hand of Darkness that Le Guin wants for everyone to be androgynous, or from The Word for World is Forest that she wants for humans to be like Athsheans? How do you deal with Bradbury's revelation that most of the critical analysis of the meaning of Fahrenheit 451 wasn't intended by him?

If your goal is propagandize a point of view, you necessarily sacrifice the artistic integrity of you work. Perhaps enough raw artistic skill can make up for that, but that doesn't seem to be very common.

Really? Here I'm going to muddy the waters a bit and point out that almost everyone in history who advocated "pure art" did so as part of a political agenda regarding the relationship between art and culture. Manet knew exactly what he was doing when he painted himself as Jesus, thus insuring that he'd be rejected by the government salon. Surrealism and Dada followed as well.

But that's history. Most great art is political and/or moral. It's no more absurd to look at Martin's construction of a brutal and violent feudal system than it is to examine the conflicts between masculine and feminine in Gilgamesh, the contrast between Darcy and de Bourgh in Pride and Prejudice, or Dumas's critique of political opportunism and social climbing in The Count of Monte Cristo.

PhoBWanKenobi: Necessarily? Really? Joanna Russ did a damned good job of it. The Female Man would not, in fact, have had much integrity without the "propagandizing." And that's just one example.

Richard III. But it's an absurd argument based on the idea that because Ayn Rand did it badly, that great art must be apolitical. Great art is connected to human concerns, and where human concerns come into conflict with each other, the result is political. Even something like Helvetica has political values associated with it's ideal forms.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:05 PM on September 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Not going to lie, I haven’t been reading the back and forth argument in this thread. So if what I’m about to say has been said before, then I apologize for being redundant.

Anyway, here’s my take on the sexual politics of ASOIAF (spoilers up through the current book):

The lynchpin character of the book, to me, is Tyrion. Tyrion is probably one of the truestand most loving depictions of a neckbeard that modern literature has given us. Because of Tyrion’s deformed body he can’t take part in the usual male activities that other male Westerosi nobles can. He can’t compete in tournaments, he can’t get women to have consensual sex with him, he can’t even be respected as an intellectual / military leader. He’s the constant butt of every joke, a disgrace to his father, and denied sexual agency (beyond buying whores). In short (haw), Tyrion is a terminal nerd.

In spite of this Tyrion is witty, sardonic, intelligent, and cunning. You see this in other characters, like Littlefinger and Varys, where they too are castrated male figures (one figuratively and other literally) who connive and scheme their way into being the hands behind the scenes that move the other, ostensibly more powerful and manly characters around in their game of thrones. Ned (a sort of archetypal heroic, able-bodied male) is the first victim to this plotting, and his death sets the action of the books into play. Unlike Littlefinger or Varys, Tyrion doesn’t take the intelligence and perspective that his deformity has given him and turn it into a dark, driving force, but rather retains his nobility and humanity with a self deprecating sense of humor, and an ability to roll with the punches. So not only is Tyrion an uber-nerd, but Tyrion is also A Genuine Nice Guy. Plus he plays medieval Warhammer 30K.

The idea behind Tyrion, that his body has denied him access to society-proper, is seen again and again throughout the book. Cersei, not having a penis, is unable to be the ruler that she knows she could be. Bran, no longer having legs, ventures into the North to become a skin-walking wizard. Jamie, the exemplar of having a body that grants access, has his hand chopped off for his arrogance. Brienne, one of the best and most noble knights of her generation, is shunned because her body doesn’t have the right plumbing for her soul. Jon, arguably the protagonist of the series, is forced into the servitude of the black because he came out of the wrong body. Two of the main antagonists are people who steal or deform bodies: the bastard with his flaying, and the Others with their walking dead .

Dany, despite the eyebrow raising racial overtones, is a woman who is able to gain power not despite, but because of her body. Because she has the inherited traits of the Targaryans (white hair, purple eyes, and flame resistant skin) gains power and leads her army to stop the practice of one person literally owning another person’s body.

The body, and the access that the body grants to the person inhabiting it, is the central theme to the series. If you look at nerds as a stereotype, of people who (because of their bodies) have to turn to obsessive interests of the mind, as they’re denied the pleasures of reality, and of flesh, then this is the perfect book. It’s an indictment of a patriarchal society run by people who grant access to power based solely on one’s body.

I think this is why so many people love this series so fiercely, and also why it constantly wanders into such gross and creepy territory.
posted by codacorolla at 9:42 PM on September 3, 2011 [13 favorites]


codacorolla, I'm glad you contributed that analysis of Tyrion and the central theme being the body. The things you said about the body I have to digest for a bit, but I have some thoughts about Tyrion as it relates to possible sexism in the books.

I think Tyrion is sometimes very harshly sexist towards women and does not see women as being his equals in the same way he sees men. I really want to say that he hates women but that might be too strong a term. But there is a nasty undercurrent in his behavior toward women. And I find this to be very reminiscent of the way a lot of geeky guys see women and treat them.

I also know a lot of people see Tyrion as an author-avatar for GRRM and believe we are supposed to be sympathetic toward Tyrion. Combine that with his sexism and it doesn't look good.

Before I go into examples, I should say that I do not think geek culture is more prone to sexism than any other, nor do I think Tyrion is "most sexist" or anything like that. He's a product of his very misogynistic environment. However, I do think there is a lot of sexism in geek culture, and much of this is overlooked because geek guys are often the victims of alpha guys, so fail to recognize their privileged position within society relative to women. I also think a lot of these men have deep-seated anger towards women because they blame women for their inferior social positioning vis a vis non-geeks.

Now on to Tyrion's sexism and possible similarities to male geek culture. It's interesting you call him "A Genuine Nice Guy". Are you deliberately making a reference to the "Nice Guy" phenomenon? Or are you saying Tyrion is sincerely nice? Don't want to misinterpret you. Anyway, it made me think of his marriage to Sansa and the way he seems to expect sex because he's nice and doesn't rape her like most other Westerosi guys would in that situation. A sad, messed-up situation for the both of them and this is clear in the books. There is room for sympathy for both. At least Tyrion got to know ahead of time, whereas Sansa didn't know until they were on the way to the wedding (just a further indication that as a noblewoman Sansa is less than nothing to them, while the nobleman is involved in the negotiations even if he still has to marry a stranger).

The fact that the only women he has any kind of intimacy with are women who are paid to please him is indicative of a problem. It's not this way with men, as he is able to forge a genuine friendship with Jon Snow, he loves his brother, he has camaraderie with Bronn, etc. As a female fan of Tyrion, at some point it struck me that while I like him and if he were real I'd want to hang out with him, I don't think he'd like me because I'm a woman. When I had that thought it changed my perception of him.

He also does not always treat prostitutes well. In "A Dance With Dragons" Tyrion seems to have lost his mind a bit and of course is taking it out on women, particularly the prostitutes. There is one girl who is crying as they have sex, which is not something a man with any decency would do even if he paid her. But it's not that Tyrion has no decency at all, it's just that when he's at a really low point he tends to take it out on women. This is a problem. And while I admit to no sadness over the murder of Tywin, it's compounded by the murder of Shae and disturbing.

So while I see how Tyrion has been victimized and denied agency I cannot also help but see him doing it to others.

A big question is does Tyrion's sexism reflect the author's point of view? There was a time when I would have said yes and viewed it as a mark against GRRM. The first time I read the series through the first four books it seemed to me that Tyrion is an author-avatar and a character we are to identify with. The portrayal of Tyrion seems very sympathetic, especially when you're first reading the books and it is INTENSE EVENT after INTENSE EVENT with the reader just flying along for the ride. It's "The Adventures of Tyrion and Arya and Brienne and Jaime and Bran and Ned and Dany" and so on and so forth. This is especially true if you see the book as being like most epic fantasy, even the "gritty" kind. It seemed to me that we were supposed to have more sympathy for Tyrion than some of his "opponents", but that was a problem because sometimes Tyrion was just flat wrong, and sexist in his wrongness.

Reading the books again, and this time having the last book which is not quite as sympathetic to Tyrion, I can see some signs of critique and nuance that I didn't before. I do think GRRM could have done a better job with certain things, such as the characterization of Shae which is very shallow and unsympathetic.
posted by Danila at 11:15 PM on September 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Kirk, now this is interesting. You've made some good points, so please allow me to refine my argument in response.

Great art is connected to human concerns, and where human concerns come into conflict with each other, the result is political.
My view exactly. The point I've been blindly thrusting toward is more one of effectiveness. What separates Rand's piss poor attempts from Shakespeare's blinding success? I can't answer that exact question with any expertise, as I do not have the iron stomach to closely read Rand or much driving interest to go back to Shakespeare (wretched of me I know, I blame high school English).

Does great art start with the top down imposition of moral lessons during design or does political statement emerge organically from great work?

You're entirely correct that the stated intent of the artist (when available) is largely irrelevant to the ultimate quality of the work. I think the "artistic process" is much more complicated than that, and that much of it occurs at a subconscious level. Any serious writers out there, I would love to hear you reflections on this.

Without a set of stringent classification rules, I can only report what I empirically see as correlated with greatness, and what I see as correlated with shit. What I would call "top down" works seem to have characters that radically diverge between entirely passive or proactive behavior. These classes account for most of the characters you see in fan-fiction or in pornographic literature.

The point of an erotic story isn't to tell a story, its point is to service an end. Checklist literature doesn't primarily seek to tell a story, it tries to service a different end. Maybe a good story actually happens, but if so, its incidental to the real goal.

I think this is distinct from the earlier point (cliches are bad), but this comment is too extended already.
posted by Chekhovian at 5:43 AM on September 4, 2011


Are you deliberately making a reference to the "Nice Guy" phenomenon?

Yeah, I was. I would also agree that a lot of what Tyrion does is really petty and shitty, but that overall he's written as being a noble and 'good' character.
posted by codacorolla at 7:52 AM on September 4, 2011


I feel like I've been a bit blind to Tyrion's sexism. It's clearly there, but I've been reading it less as sexism and more as personal pathology. (Mind you, everything that contributed to his pathology is institutional sexism.)

Tyrion is misogynist or quasi-misogynist because women almost don't exist in his world (literally! as a practical matter) and the very, very few relationships of any sort he's had with women have been extremely unusual and perverse. He grew up without a mother, who he's "blamed" for killing in childbirth, who presumably his father and two siblings idealize as the truly feminine; his sister is, I think, equally stunted and pathological in her gender relationships and understanding of both men and women. In our world, people like Dinklage are seen as asexual freaks who are, at best, sexually null, and, at worse, sexually repulsive. In Martin's world, it's clear that such babies/children are routinely left to die of exposure. We don't really know what Tysha saw in Tyrion, we can't even be sure that any of the stories we've heard about her are true. Regardless, we do know that Tyrion first thought she was genuine and in love with him when he was only seventeen; then he was told she was a prostitute who was paid to behave thus with him, then he was many years later told that the previous was a lie. That's the full extent of the one close relationship with a woman he's ever had in his life. No mother, there is no mention of influential older female family around the household, and Cersei always has despised him and seen his deformity as evidence of him being repulsive in every possible sense.

After the trauma he suffered with his father's treatment of Tysha, he internalized both his self-hatred (of himself as a sexual being) and his hatred of Tysha for her falsehood into a misgynist pathological repeated re-enactment of this relationship with prostitutes and his own sexual identity.

Tyrion is very much what his personal tragedies have made him in the context of a patriarchal, misogynist society. Because of the latter, his gender relations are very sexist, even misogynist. But these aren't traits that I see Martin celebrating. Tyrion is a very badly damaged man. Martin writes him as almost heroically making the best of a terrible situation with regard to his deformity; but I feel that from the moment he's introduced he shows this to be the brave lie that it is by way of his deeply pathological relationship with women. Tyrion has managed to triumph as best he can by his father's views of what is important—power and influence, intelligence—but he has allowed his particular circumstances and his world to entirely beat him down, almost destroy him, with regard to, well, love. To the very thing that Martin leads the reader to believe would have been most important to Tyrion had his life been different. Repeatedly, Tryion shows signs of being ethically aware, of being sensitive. That's he's allowed himself to be so badly desensitized with regard to women and sex is the real tragedy of Tyrion's life.

And my impression is that a lot of what we see with Tyrion at the beginning of the most recent books is designed by Martin to make that more clear to us. Tyrion is far more damaged than many readers have recognized.

Furthermore, codacorolla's analysis of Tyrion is very interesting in this context because the sort of sexism and misogyny we see from the nerds she argues Tyrion represents is, qualitatively, similar...it's a pathology that arises in a particular form of patriarchal society, one where value lies most in the perceived utility of one's body. That's most obviously and deeply true for women; but it's also true for men.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:05 AM on September 4, 2011 [10 favorites]


Chekhovian: Does great art start with the top down imposition of moral lessons during design or does political statement emerge organically from great work?

That's something of a chicken and egg question, and one that's more applied to the biography of the artist than the text of the work in question.

Checklist literature doesn't primarily seek to tell a story, it tries to service a different end. Maybe a good story actually happens, but if so, its incidental to the real goal.

What the heck is "checklist literature?" Generally I find that when speculative fiction writers approach these issues, it's because they find them to be genuinely interesting ground for literary conflict.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:26 AM on September 4, 2011


I think Tyrion is sometimes very harshly sexist towards women and does not see women as being his equals in the same way he sees men. I really want to say that he hates women but that might be too strong a term. But there is a nasty undercurrent in his behavior toward women. And I find this to be very reminiscent of the way a lot of geeky guys see women and treat them.

I would argue that Tyrion is, as Ivan Fyodorovich notes, profoundly damaged rather than sexist.

Tyrion considers himself a realist, and he tells Jon Snow to take ownership of his bastardy by accepting that's what he is and thus not allow anyone to hurt him with slights directed at his dubious parentage. Tyrion believes this is what he has done with regards to his dwarfism: he is the first to poke fun at himself, he goes by the nickname The Imp, etc. And to some extent he has succeeded in that once men get to know Tyrion, they accept him.

But Tyrion is not a realist when it comes to women. He never allows women to get close enough to see who he really is, because his fear of rejection from women is so great (obviously stemming back to his love for Tysha). He deliberately chooses prostitutes for sex so that he doesn't have to deal with rejection, as they have to take his money, and thinks he is in control and keeps relations business like.

But this doesn't work for him; he thinks he is smart when it comes to Shae but actually falls for her as well. When he is once again (he thinks) humiliated by the deceitful actions of a lying prostitute, all that denial comes to a head and he kills her, and his father, gives himself over to drink and tries to punish every prostitute for Tysha's innocence and Shae's deception.

Which, of course, is not going to help, because what really kills Tyrion is the belief that all women find him repugnant. If Sansa had only been able to see the man he was and not be so caught up in the way he looked, and learned to accept him and love him, Tyrion might have become a completely different person. In a typical fantasy, the "love of a good woman" would have been his redemption. But Martin, as we know, likes to turn our expectations upside down.

Tyrion has the potential to be a nice guy or an utter sociopath. He's intelligent, basically decent, and has known enough suffering that he could be empathetic--but that same suffering, beginning with his Father and his sister from the day of his birth, could easily damage him beyond any redemption. He could be worse than the Mad King if he let himself go down that path.

I like Tyrion; I can't help it. I want him to find love and acceptance (which, ironically, Penny is willing to give him, but now it is Tyrion who rejects her). I doubt he will--the idea of him discovering, for instance, that Shae is still alive and reuniting with her is highly improbable, even if we weren't talking about Martin's books.

But I don't see him as sexist so much as self-loathing.
posted by misha at 9:55 AM on September 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


But I don't see him as sexist so much as self-loathing.

I think it's a little bit of both, which is why I mentioned that he's one of my favorite nerd characters in popular fiction (alongside Ignatius J. Reilly in Confederacy of Dunces). I think, often, when a writer constructs a nerd character they either make him warped and evil, or they make him some sort of virtuous martyr. Tyrion combines both aspects in a very believable way - especially in the context of a fantasy story about dragons and magic.

Also, I think it's funny that in a story that's largely centered around themes of othering female, bastard-born, queer, and disabled characters the central antagonists are literally called "The Others".
posted by codacorolla at 10:13 AM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Some very insightful comment about Tyrion by both misha and codacorolla.

In one sense, Tyrion's response to / relationship with Penny is extremely unsubtle of the writer. Martin is telling us very obvious things about Tyrion. In another sense, the more I think about it, the more inclined I am to believe that codacorolla's reading is correct: Tyrion is a representation of "the nerd", he is the primary target for identification for the nerdy male readership, and insofar as this is true, there's a lot of these readers who will not be inclined to recognize certain truths about Tyrion's character and they require a 2x4 to the head to see them.

Tyrion's antipathy and disdain for Penny is quite obviously his own self-loathing externalized because Penny is like him and he is like her and that's the last thing in the world that he wants to admit to himself. Penny is Tyrion's self-loathing made manifest; and, in that, he's a jerk to a very nice person who the reader would otherwise expect Tyrion to be sensitive to. (As he has previously to other outcasts.) Martin is forcing the resistant readers to see Tyrion's internal ugliness, just as he does at the beginning of the book.

What's really interesting, though, is that (as far as I can tell) there's no possibility within the story that Tyrion could, or should, reciprocate Penny's feelings for him. And what I mean by that is that both Martin arranges it this way and that this is what most readers want...because the readers naturally want Tyrion to find love with a beautiful young woman like Sansa, or a sexy, smart, savvy woman like Shae (not possible now, but perhaps someone like her), or presumably the inevitably still-beautfiul Tysha. Not another dwarf. And while I strongly suspect that almost all readers will naturally and unconsciously feel this way, it's those who identify most strongly with Tyrion who will most strongly feel this way.

My sense is that many of even the favorable readings of ASOIAF are not quite giving Martin enough credit. I'm not saying that he's not made some missteps and there aren't questionable biases of his own which make themselves clear in his books. I think this is emphatically true with regard to racism; but I think it's also true with regard to sexism, even though these books are deliberately anti-sexist. It can't be emphasized enough that everyone who is a product of a racist and sexist society will have internalized some racist and sexist ideas, even when they've been diligent in self-examination and criticism. It's entirely possible for there to be racist and sexist elements in Martin's books even if he is a relatively informed and diligent anti-racist and anti-sexist.

What I'm leading up to is that I think that it's quite likely that to some degree Tyrion is an authorial stand-in character. I think that Martin is partly writing Tyrion as self-criticism. He's examining his own nerdish misogyny. And I think that he's extremely well-aware of what it represents, both for Tyrion and for our own culture, that Penny is not a viable love-interest for Tyrion.

With Penny, Martin is creating an extremely uncomfortable situation for the self-aware reader: that we (most of us, anyway) don't want Tyrion to be with Penny says something ugly about us, and that we would find it unacceptably very unrealistic and sentimental if they were to be together says something about why there's that ugliness within us. (Which is interesting because, really, it's more realistic and less sentimental for Tyrion and Penny to find love with each other, in Martin's world or this one.)

Which, by the way, brings up something that ought to be mentioned in this context: Martin was, IIRC, the head-writer for the TV series, Beauty and the Beast. There is a terrible lie at the core of that story. In a way, Tyrion's story is an answer to this. I strongly suspect that Martin has no intention of allowing Tyrion to find love such that some idealized woman recognizes and loves him for his internal goodness. That we would expect such a thing in a story like this is exactly the same as the Princess/Stableboy story that Martin is explicitly deconstructing.

The ugliness in Martin's world is just the ugliness in ours, but magnified. That we tell stories set in worlds like Martin's which tell lies about the inherent ugliness of those worlds reflects the lies we tell ourselves about the ugliness of our world. We look at Peter Dinklage and his beautiful spouse and the professional respect he's earned and we allow this to distract us from the fact that he's incredibly exceptional. We imagine that women's suffrage, civil rights, the ADA, and laws against sexual violence make our world utterly unlike Martin's. Even if the notion of a fictional, "fantasy" world being independent of our own weren't absurd in principle, in this case it's an especially inapt argument to make because fantasy—not just epic fantasy—is all about taking implicit social forces in the real world and making them explicit and "magical" in some imaginary world. (For example, I mentioned earlier that I'm working on an urban fantasy novel—that particular subgenre is steeped in contemporary gender relationships and the psychosocial problems faced by contemporary American women.)
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:31 AM on September 4, 2011 [10 favorites]


A little adendum to this sentence I wrote:

Tyrion's antipathy and disdain for Penny is quite obviously his own self-loathing externalized because Penny is like him and he is like her and that's the last thing in the world that he wants to admit to himself.

Penny is no less pragmatic about her place in society vis a vis her deformity than is Tyrion. Yet, this pragmatism of Penny's infuriates and disgusts Tyrion. He would say that it's because she's made herself small, while he's found ways around being perceived as small. Yet he has made a virtue out of using others' insults as his armor. Despite what Tyrion wants to believe about himself, he's not remotely made peace with his status in his society. Penny is like looking at himself with all his lies about himself stripped away.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:37 AM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sansa (no)

SPOILER:

Remember, the PoV characters are unreliable narrators. I'm pretty sure I read somewhere that Martin has acknowledged Sansa's story of "singing a song" for the hound during her escape from King's Landing was actually about him raping her.
posted by russm at 8:27 PM on September 4, 2011


No, Sansa is definitely unreliable, but she wasn't raped by the Hound. Here's what GRRM said:

"You will see, in A STORM OF SWORDS and later volumes, that Sansa remembers the Hound kissing her the night he came to her bedroom... but if you look at the scene, he never does. That will eventually mean something, but just now it's a subtle touch, something most of the readers may not even pick up on."
posted by misha at 10:22 AM on September 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not that I think she was raped by the Hound, but I don't see a denial in what you just quoted.
posted by ODiV at 11:56 AM on September 5, 2011


I haven't read the books or seen the show, but I admit that when people kept saying it was a retelling of "The War Of The Roses", I kept thinking of the Michael Douglas movie and was like "holy SHIT this guy is abstract!"
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 9:19 AM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think that Sandor Clegane's final scene with Arya in A Storm of Swords rules out that he actually raped Sansa.

His final confessions seem motivated by a desire to anger her into giving him "the gift of mercy", a swift stab through the heart to end a wounded combatant's suffering. He lists killing Arya's friend and early sparring partner Mycah, standing aside while Joffrey ordered the Kingsguard to beat Sansa, and "taking" the song from her... but he notably denies having raped her.
posted by The Confessor at 4:01 PM on September 12, 2011


Fall is coming.
posted by homunculus at 7:50 PM on September 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


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