Must we politicize everything?
For a long time, I’ve been more interested in what “regular” folks think about things than professionals. I always read the letters to the editors in the newspaper. Ditto for the letters sections of magazines, be it Keyboard or Four Four Two. So, as you’d expect, I love sifting through blog comments, if only for the entertainment value.
One of the things that depresses me about blog comments, though, is how any discussion can turn political. I’ve seen sports stories on USA Today followed by a lengthy set of comments that winds up as a shouting match between those who think Obama is a Muslim atheist Kenyan from outer space and those who think the Koch Brothers run the world from Dr. Evil’s old mountain hideout. What the fuck does any of that do with who won the NCAA tournament?!?
So it disappoints me to see folks try to dragoon Game of Thrones into the political realm, as Adam Serwer did at The American Prospect (via). He argues that Game of Thrones and the books on which it is based is a “liberal” version of fantasy because it deal in shades of grey and the heavy consequences of one’s actions. By comparison, the “conservative” Lord of the Rings films (which National Review put on an equally stupid list of best “conservative movies”) is all about the struggle between good and evil, it’s easy to tell which side is which, and the good guys prevail in the end.
I don’t know if that’s an accurate description of Lord of the Rings – I’ve never been a huge Tolkien fan and only recall bits of the films – but even if it is, so what? Does everything have to be read through a lens of politics? Outside of something like Atlas Shrugged or Animal Farm I’m loathe to try and line up works of fiction on a political map. It seems like a pointless exercise in trying to claim what you like best for your “team.”
I’m all for discussing subtext and analyzing the political or philosophical underpinnings of fiction, but can we all agree that few authors or filmmakers spend that much time figuring out whether Gandalf would have voted for Ronald Reagan or Jimmy Carter? Please.
The “Read the Book” Defense
Speaking of Atlas Shrugged . . . Game of Thrones wasn’t the only grim fantasy to hit screens this weekend. The first of a threatened three-part adaptation of Rand’s prized doorstop hit screens last Friday with a dreadful thud. As of right now, only 8% of critics gave the movie a positive review, with most top critics completely savaging it (see, e.g.).
But, according to the same source, 85% of viewers like it. A huge disconnect caused by the bias of them liberal elite media critic folk? Not really. More likely that the film opened wide enough to attract critical attention, but without sufficient advertising to attract any but devoted Rand fans to see it. I only knew about it because I skim the libertarian blogosphere on a regular basis. A comment on the Volokh Conspiracy post about the movie illustrated things perfectly:
I just saw the movie at the Kendall Square Cinema in Cambridge, Mass. I thought the movie was better than was suggested by any of the reviews I’ve yet seen, with the caveat that it will seem incoherent and overwrought to anyone unfamiliar with the general plot of Atlas Shrugged.In other words, if you’ve read the book, the movie will work. Talk about damning with faint praise.
Oddly enough, I’ve seen similar statements about Game of Thrones, particularly in response to one recurring criticism of the opening episode, that the women involve are little more than pawns and objects of sex or abuse (sometimes both). Those critics aren’t wrong. But fans of the books also correctly point out that lots of the women in the Thrones world grown into rich, interesting, and (at times) maddening characters in spite of the misogynistic world around them. In other words, it gets better on that score.
But that’s not much of a defense. Just as Atlas Shrugged, Part 1 has to stand on its own, without support from Rand’s novel, so too must Game of Thrones work its own way into the world (although, to be fair, one episode does not a season make). If the your best defense of something on screen starts off “well, if you’ve read the book . . .,” that’s pretty telling.