Dismissing the Higher Taste

How the hell did fantasy become a ‘low-culture’? Interesting responses to the genre throughout the discussions in this week’s reading provided some insights. In Bellafante’s review of the pilot series she refers to HBO’s fantasy genre as ‘costume-drama sexual hopscotch, and clearly stated her aversion to such tactic from a feminine perspective by arguing that the creation of fantasy drama such as True Blood and Game of Thrones means a shift from ‘sophisticated’ to ‘cheap’ to the network.

She has a point – one which I did not recall until reading another blog entry by Myles McNutt. He put some comments and tweets by writers from IGN on the table – then we see what Bellafante means by her verdict on Game of Thrones (or the fantasy genre) as a patronising, dangerous, and vulgar male expression of sexuality through visuals and plot. The IGN guys, simply put, passionately justified their love for the show due to its direct relations with violence and sex. As McNutt points out, ‘The piece becomes a perpetuation of some pretty limiting male stereotypes which could be seen as dismissive of female readers’.

However, that is not all. Reading Bellafante’s review I cannot but help questioning whether her engagement with the show ever went beyond the initial skepticism towards the genre and its theorised audience. In making her point that the show is a patronising fiction from a male genre towards woman, she makes the comparison to Lorrie Moore and to be, sounds patronising by saying that ‘no single woman’ would have refused reading her books. It is patronising because the audience of such book club. although female, does not have the power to override as the spokeswomen of the female readers. In fact, the way Bellafante addresses the female Game of Thrones reader was almost a call of dismissal, a call of irrelevance. She did not bother exploring their side of the story, leaving us with the assumption that such female readers either read the genre like a ‘boy’ (boobs and fights, no emotional exchange even for sibling intimacy, etc), or read it as if she’s happy to be patronised in the way Bellafante described. I might be overreacting here but this reminds me of how some politicians, when addressing issues such as family values by linking it to love, care and responsibility, simply dismisses alternative family structures such as same-sex or single parenting groups as if they are assumed irrelevant.

Bellafante also pointed out, after viewing the pilot episode, that the show has little to offer other than the perversion and bizaare fantasy elements such as language creation. In her words, the show is therefore shallow because it does not offer HBO’s instinct for ‘real-world sociology’. In one of my previous blog post I have expressed how I love this feature of some of the HBO dramas I’ve watched compared to the more ‘singular’ characters portrayed by many TV shows – and I love the way Bellafante put it into words – ‘real-world sociology’. The ironic thing is, Game of Thrones does reflect the beautiful characteristic of it. I was very skeptical after viewing the first episode for the first time, to me the fantasy genre was something I liked and grew out of – and I was immediately drawn to the bits and pieces of visual violence and castles, barbarians, etc, which kind of pissed me off. However as the show evolves one gets to see how in a ‘real world’ woven by power, war and order, characters such as Jon Snow experiences, learns and reflects. In The Sopranos Tony Soprano’s interaction was authentic, and as the audience we ‘get it’ because we almost go through similar decision-making processes in our own life. However all our realities are different. The ‘real world’, whether built by mobsters, or a funeral home, or American political arena, can all be authentically experienced. The great thing about Game of Thrones is that it brings the much condemned fantasy alive with a sense of real experience, real sadness and real wonders of life.

To separate Game of Thrones, or any work of a ‘lower’ genre from good taste is like setting up social conventions that only seems appropriate and fit to a certain audience. That audience encapsulates certain standards, reality and in many cases simply preferences. To march such ‘taste’ as higher without even looking at what goes on at the ‘lower’ end seems like an old act of imperialism.


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