On Thursday morning, I saw Susan C. Young's article "Geek girls help power viewership for sci-fi/fantasy TV" at MSNBC. The article highlighted HBO's new "Game of Thrones" series, based on the A Song of Ice and Fire books by George R. R. Martin. As a passionate female fan of fantasy and sci-fi TV, it's always nice to see some recognition that women can love these geeky genres as well as men. But then on Thursday evening, I saw Ginia Bellafante's New York Time's review of "Game of Thrones". Her message was quite the opposite, perpetuating the falsehood that women don't like fantasy.
Ms. Bellafante didn't so much review the show as she did take the opportunity to show her disdain for the fantasy genre and assert that it is not suitable for feminine sensibilities. I got the impression that she thinks HBO is crazy to have spent so much money on a loony land of make-believe.
With the amount of money apparently spent on “Game of Thrones,” the fantasy epic set in a quasi-medieval somewhereland beginning Sunday on HBO, a show like “Mad Men” might have the financing to continue into the second term of a Malia Obama presidency.A five-minute Google search and back-of-the-envelope calculation proves this to be a ridiculously misleading estimation: Malia, you'd better be ready for the 2016 primary.* This must be a case of "not intended to be a factual statement."
Ms. Bellafante goes on to complain about the plot complexity and spends a whole paragraph expressing her confusion over the fact that a fantasy world might not have a climate exactly like the present Earth. Plot complexity may be a legitimate concern, but it is not necessarily a bad thing. It may turn off the casual viewer, but it rewards the loyal viewer. Thinking is good. "Lost," for instance, thrived on its complex plot and large cast of characters. And while complex TV shows can sometimes get tangled in trying to tie together their story lines, with "Game of Thrones" we already know that George R. R. Martin has done a masterful job at crafting the plot. Second, fantasy worlds can have whatever climate they darn well please. It's fantasy. This discussion does not belong in a review.
Still, the most ridiculous part of the review (other than the fact that it offers very little information about the show's content) is when Ms. Bellafante points to the sex in the show as the only possible draw for a female audience, because "Game of Thrones" is, simply put, "boy fiction." (What does that even mean? Sure, it is fiction written by a "boy"...does that make Harry Potter "girl fiction"?)
The true perversion, though, is the sense you get that all of this illicitness has been tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise. While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first. “Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.I plan to watch "Game of Thrones" in spite of the sex. Call me a prude, but I'm a little uncomfortable whenever a sex scene comes up on "True Blood." One of my straight male friends, on the other hand, told me he started watching "True Blood" for the sex, but got hooked on it because of the story. If that is one way that "Game of Thrones" will gain viewers, that's fine--I want the show to be a success. But I don't think the sex scenes in the show are the producers' desperate attempt to attract a female audience. One could just as justifiably assert that the sex scenes are an example of the producers pandering to the teenage male demographic.
More importantly, though, "Game of Thrones" doesn't need sex scenes to attract female viewers. Ms. Bellafante guesses, correctly, that there do exist women who read books like Mr. Martin's, but a quick Google search could have provided proof that there are lots of women who read books exactly like Mr. Martin's. A Song of Ice and Fire has an impressive female fan base. Women didn't show up at HBO's "Game of Thrones" food trucks just because they heard there would be lemon cakes. It's one thing to review a new, original TV show and guess at the audience it will attract, but when a show is based on an established franchise, one can do research and find out what audience already exists.
So why might women like "Game of Thrones"? I can't speak for every woman, but I love fantasy worlds. I love swords and warhorses and lavish gowns and crowns and magic and mythical monsters. I love fantasy especially when it features strong female characters to whom I can relate. Game of Thrones is woven around an impressive cast of interesting, unique, complicated characters, many of whom are women. Game of Thrones has plenty of female characters for a girl like me to love, admire, and respect.
Seeing as the only book club I have ever belonged to was a fantasy book club in high school, I assure you that I, along with all the other young women in the club (we made up over 50% of the members my junior and senior years), would indeed have stood up in indignation and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore. No offense meant to Lorrie Moore (I had to Wikipedia her but she seems like a nice lady). I am sure there are women in this world who read books like Ms. Moore's, but in my book club, we preferred The Hobbit. Now, I realize Ms. Bellafante has probably never met any of us from that club (she clearly doesn't associate with any geek girls), but I don't imagine that a random public high school in a Boston suburb is the only haven for women who like fantasy literature. Geek girls not only do exist, but we are everywhere.
In short, there are tons of women who will love watching "Game of Thrones" for many reasons beyond the sex scenes. If you like rich worlds with complex characters--both male and female--and smart, challenging plot lines, then give "Game of Thrones" a try. If you don't like the fantasy genre as a whole and are only mildly interested in the series because of the sex, then you'd be better off with reruns of "Sex and the City."
* Edit: Altered from my original interpretation of the sentence to a more charitable and likely one.
And my conservative back of the envelope calculation, in case you're curious:
Mad Men budget = $2.3 million per episode (NYT magazine) x 13 episodes per season =
$29.9 million per season
Cost of Game of Thrones = no more than $100 million (Entertainment Weekly, April 8, 2011, pg. 38). To be conservative, take $100 million.
GoT cost/ MM seasonal cost = 3.34
2011+3.34 = 2014.34, round up to the nearest primary to be charitable = 2016.
The point is that even if HBO is drastically under-reporting its figures, and say actually spent $150 million, that would give Mad Men 5 more years and still put Malia up for a 2016 primary.