Friday, April 29, 2011

Fantasy Schmantasy

There’s been a huge kerfuffle on the interwebs recently about two reviews of HBO’s fantasy series Game of Thrones. One, by New York Times reviewer Ginia Bellafante, has caused the most outrage, as she pretty much dismisses the entire population of female fantasy fans as, well, fantasy, and implies that we girls would much rather read a book stamped by Oprah than a book with filled with swords and medieval political machinations. Whatever. I won’t try your patience; many folks out there in the interworld have very eloquently told Ms. Bellafante what for in that respect. What is stuck in my craw is that both she and Slate’s reviewer, Troy Patterson, dismiss the fantasy genre as not worth reviewing in a serious manner, while they’re reviewing it. Bellafante gets her facts shockingly wrong, and also says that the show, because of its content, does not belong on the venerated HBO. Patterson admits he dislikes the genre, and only kinda-sorta actually reviews the show.

Fortunately, we have Matt Zoller Seitz at to set them straight: all you fantasy geeks out there, just try not to fist punch the air as he takes these two on.

Times Review

Salon Review

The whole hurly-burly, however, has gotten me thinking, and I realize that I’ve encountered more than my fair share of disdain for liking speculative fiction as an adult.

I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I’m so not alone in this, and yet, when it comes up in conversation – Them: “What’s your favorite show?” Me: “Buffy.” I’ve gotten many blantant reactions of eye-rolling disbelief, from sneers to “Reallys?” Okay, right. Unlike Game of Thrones, Buffy the Vampire Slayer isn’t graced with a name that reeks of gravitas: so, those who haven’t seen it might lump it in a category with Sabrina the Teenage Witch, or, I don’t know, Small Wonder.

We’ve said it before on this blog, and we’ll say it again: Buffy is an incredibly well written, well acted, dramatic, creative and humorous show, full of characters who grow and change (okay, yes, sometimes into a werewolf, but still). And you know what? Some people just don’t like sci fi/fantasy, and that’s okay. I have a good friend who, because she loves me, watches episodes of Buffy with me. She generally only watches serious, realistic dramas, but she sticks with Buffy because A) There are moments of truly stellar drama in the series, and B) David Boreanaz is hot. That said, she could take or leave your standard “Monster of the Week” episodes, whereas for me, the Hellmouth is half the fun. The thing to note here is she’s not dismissive of the genre; it’s just not her favorite. Whereas many folks look upon we speculative fiction fans as childish, regressive, socially inept losers. Why is that? Really?

Another story: A coworker of mine blew the ending of the sixth Harry Potter book for me. I’m crazy about J.K. Rowling, and I think those books are brilliant – I believe they will go down in history as great classics. The coworker in question was talking about Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, a book, it should be noted, that he hadn’t himself read, nor had he read any of the series – but his wife had finished it over the weekend and told him what happened. After repeated requests for him to stop talking about it, as I hadn’t finished the book, he looked me straight in the eye with an irate look on his face, and blurted out the ending.

I was furious and hurt. I’d been waiting breathlessly for over a year for the book to come out, I was looking forward to going home and savoring a few more chapters that night, and although he didn’t ruin the book for me, he certainly stole away one of the biggest surprises of the series. When I confronted him, his response was, “I don’t know what the big deal is. It’s only a kids’ book.”

Interesting. There was almost envy in that statement, as though he didn’t, as a Grown Up, allow himself to go there - to a fantasyland of magic and monsters - and the fact that I and many others could extract childlike wonder from the experience made him spiteful and mean. I picture him now: a grounded child sitting in his living room, palms and nose pressed against the front picture window, as unicorns and fairies and elves and wizards frolic around his yard.

What’s very weird is the idea that sci fi/fantasy, comics, magic and swords are childish, and if someone continues to enjoy these things into adulthood, it’s because they’re somehow damaged: they’re geeks and dorks, living on the fringes of society, holed up in their basement playrooms with their pewter orc figurines and dungeon maps. (Okay, well, those people do exist, too: fair’s fair.) Yet, hmm. Superheroes. Elves. Dwarves. Vampires. Wizards. Giant robots. Aliens. These are the heroes and villains of some of the biggest movie blockbusters of the last 15 years.

Perhaps it is okay to love the unreal as long as you have a bag of popcorn in your lap. Mighty Odin forbid you get your fantasy kick from a book or any other lauded medium.


Brian Kelly said...

Well said, as ever.

What I love about Buffy is that, when it's at its best, its supernatural storyline is an analogy for something very human and universal (Classic example being, "I was seeing this guy, and he was so nice and once we 'did it' he turned into a total douche hat")

If you were to tell me a story about something that affected you personally, I can commiserate, I can think of a similar experience in my own life, but I can't actually FEEL your pain.

What's so perfect about the hyperbolic, epic-ness of Buffy is that sometimes you really do feel beset on all sides by forces that seek to take you down. Sometimes it really does feel like the world is going to end...In that way, Buffy is perhaps one of the most emotionally honest shows that ever aired.

Mark Teats said...

Nice post. Of course, I'm a fantasy-fiction reading Geek, so I'm biased.

A nice related quote on the subject:

"For me science fiction is a way of thinking, a way of logic that bypasses a lot of nonsense. It allows people to look directly at important subjects."

- Gene Roddenberry, creator of "Star Trek"

You should also check this out (Ursula K. LeGuin) on the Genre Zombie:

Finally the coworker who "spoiled" the Potter book ending? I'm imagining all sort of bad things happening to them--and as a fiction writer I can do that in spades. I had something similar happen with the season finale of Dexter not long ago. "Did you know that so-and-so-dies?" "No. I was going to watch the last episode tonight." Bastards.

Qlaudie said...

"Well said" rightbackattcha Mr. Kelly!
And yeah, what is it with people who can't stop themselves from vomiting out spoilers?

Jon said...

They're jerks, plain and simple, and they should be shunned.

Shawn Enderlin said...

LOL I almost blogged on this too! People say they don't like fantasy, but what exactly is fantasy? Where do you draw the line? Take, for example, a movie like the A-Team. What about that *isn't* fantasy? The storyline is so far-fetched and the action sequences so completely unbelievable that the movie isn't even remotely grounded in reality. And yet, there's no swords, or magic, or dragons, or fairies, and so it's OK. It's a ridiculous double standard. If you can suspend your disbelief for one, then why not the other?

Jon said...

Okay, first off... what exactly is so unbelievable about the A-team? Are you trying to say that no sane person would mistake Hannible Smith for a chinese man, no matter how authentic his wig? I beg to differ, because he fools them every time.

Secondly, I feel the same way about people who are like: "I am soooo tired of superhero movie trend." And yet they can't seem to get enough of action movies...