Race, Gender and Nation in ‘Game Of Thrones’ (2011)

Mostly garlanded by images poached from Winter Is Coming, Bitches. Also, *spoiler alert*. And now subject to discussion in a critical post by Charli Carpenter over at Duck Of Minerva.

At first sight, Game Of Thrones offers something rather different to the standard fantasy fare. Where Lord Of The Rings and its ilk deal in arch dialogue and grand quests, it provides a more gritty and twisted landscape, peopled with dwarves, bastards, spoilt brats, noblewomen who still breast-feed their near-pubescent sons, eunuchs, exiled criminals and incestuous twins. In one conversation, Baelish and Varys even discuss a Lord who enjoys sex with beautiful cadavers (fresh ones only). A fantasy not only of palaces and mystical objects, but also of the gutter.

There is a near-scandalous thrill to this aesthetic realism, especially when measured alongside the allegoral formality of The Chronicles Of Narnia or the cinematic marathons derived from Tolkien’s high Toryism. Where those source materials and corporate cinema required that sexuality be wrapped in chaste folds and circumvented as the higher union of pure love, Game Of Thrones can indulge lust, rutting and the explicit mention of rape. There’s even talk of homosexuality (although not for any of the linchpin characters with whom we are expected to identify). Bared breasts are the order of the day. Childhood tales filtered by HBO.

But this apparent radicality doesn’t go very deep, and in significant ways covers for a narrative saturated with race-thought and misogyny. Continue reading

The Anti-Feminist Backlash in an Age of Austerity

I suppose, in a way, British men are like white people were in Nineties South Africa or young Germans after the Second World War. We are expected to go through a period of atonement for the sins of our fathers. To be treated worse than we merit because of crimes previously committed in our name: in this case the crime of feeding, protecting, loving and nurturing women in accordance with our biological imperative. They don’t want that any more. They want to be linesmen. And so we have to let them tell us endlessly how they wish we were all dead.

Thus spake a gourmand and professional waffler last week, a child-of-privilege educated at Westminster and Oxford, who, despite these handicaps, manages to articulate for us the crisis of contemporary masculinity. Apparently two compatriots got caught up in some garden-variety lechery of the career-halting kind. Their trials and tribulations, although obviously upsetting for them on a personal level, at least had the merit for many of acting as a flashpoint for opposition. That is, a common-sense opposition to the political correctness surrounding the damages wrought on men by feminism and feminists. Finally, people can begin to speak out.

It is rather tempting to pursue the bizarre line of metaphorical reason here (if ‘sexist crimes’ are merely love expressed biologically, and if British men today are like post-fascist South Africans and Germans, does that make apartheid and Nazi rule the equivalents of a natural and benevolent stewardship? Did they even involve ‘real’ crimes?). But we should resist that. Coren is but a symptom, and should not detain us overlong in picking the low-hanging fruit. The triggering events are themselves already old news, the detritus of the news cycle now rendered especially vulgar and tattling by some actual struggles for justice.

The tropes at play have been with us for some time, inflecting what are essentially public relations SNAFUs with the full force of mythological sex wars. But these themes do seem to be becoming increasingly familiar. Those who grumbled about the rise of such minimal concessions as equal pay legislation in the halcyon days of economic vibrancy now have the pressures of austerity with which to buttress their case. Outrage at the redundancy of a favourite sports broadcaster spirals rather quickly into a diagnosis of women’s ‘special treatment’ in our society and the counter-sexism of a gender settlement in which men are no longer authorised to authentically, organically, just be themselves. Castrated. Emasculated. Prostrated.

Continue reading