Thursday, May 21, 2015

Two Questions for the Game of Thrones Showrunners

When I read the first Game of Thrones novel in 1999 I liked the book's complexity, psychological depth and particularly the fact that it had empowered female leads. Until the 1970's fantasy fiction had a poor record of female empowerment. Just look at the covers of most fantasy books written between 1968 and 1978 and you'll see what I'm talking about. However the great Ursula Le Guin, the great Angela Carter and the great Julian May et al came along to shake up the assumptions of that tedious boys club. And then in the 1980s queer and feminist critics started making fun of the horrible writing and gender stereotypes in science fiction and fantasy and by the mid 90's when George RR Martin began GOT the old misogynous shit just didn't play anymore. Martin's female leads were just as ruthless, clever and brilliant as the men and the book was all the better for it. 
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Game of Thrones the TV show initially was praised for the same reasons. Strong feisty female leads but lately the show has taken a backward step. If you're a regular reader here you'll know that I've supported GOT many times in the past. GOT is filmed largely in County Antrim where I grew up and its been a joy for me to see my beautiful home county shared with the wider world. Before GOT aired my little brother and I broke into the Castle Black set, I've talked about accents on GOT, I've raved about Peter Dinklage and I wrote a long piece for the Guardian unpacking some of the criticism of Thrones that it was just a cod medieval soap opera....
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But Game of Thrones, the TV show, has had some very troubling gender politics and lately its been getting much worse. In this week's episode Sansa Stark was brutally raped on her wedding night - an event that does not happen in the book; last year Cersei Lannister was raped by her own brother - an event that does not happen in the book. Three of the four female leads in the show now have been raped in front of the cameras. Raped by the writers and showrunners Dan Weiss and David Benioff that is, because Cersei and Sansa were not raped in the books. The only major female lead left who hasnt been raped is Arya Stark who is played by 15 year old actress Maisie Williams...give them time I suppose.
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Game of Thrones's treatment of female nudity has been preposterous and asymmetrical from the start. HBO is a pay channel with no content restrictions so they are free to show female and male nudity without worrying about sponsors or government censorship. And yet they do worry. My guess is that well over 30 female actresses and young female Irish extras have appeared nude on the show, whereas unless I'm misremembering only 2 male actors have been exposed to full frontal nudity. The male directors, writers and show runners have no problem asking young women to get naked but seemingly they do have a huge problem asking male actors to do the same thing. 
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A real backlash has set now against this nonsense. The three best articles dealing with Sansa Stark's rape on the show were written by very pissed off women. Laura Hudson in the Wired recapJoanna Robinson in Vanity Fair and Melissa Leon in the Daily Beast. Men need to be as angry about this bullshit as women are. If you're a Thrones fan you should read all three articles.
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My two questions to the Game of Thrones showrunners are these: 
1) why use rape to debase, disempower and humiliate the female leads in your show when this wasn't in the books and is entirely unnecessary for the plot? 
2) why are you so fucking prude about male nudity and yet so cavalier about female nudity? Why the asymmetry?