Some interesting stuff here in this Myles McNutt post about Game of Thrones and the way pre-air reactions from fans – both to the material and to female critics writing negative reviews of the material – may reinforce “gendered” ideas about the fantasy genre and who it appeals to.
As noted in comments, Game of Thrones may become the TV equivalent of Christopher Nolan’s films in terms of the very passionate reaction toward negative reviews. (I liked Inception, but didn’t cotton to The Dark Knight and was really disappointed not to get any angry reactions to my review back in 2008.) Because these are very serious, very ambitious takes on genres that are frequently dismissed as juvenile boy fantasies, fans become very sensitive to the impression that the reviewer is dismissing the genre out of hand or, worse, dismissing them for taking it seriously. A lot of the angry reactions to negative Dark Knight reviews were like this. Fans pushed back against any reviewer who seemed to be unwilling to take it seriously or dismissed it as just a silly comic-book movie.
So Nancy Dewolf Smith of the Wall Street Journal was inevitably, and I suspect, intentionally, going to enrage fans because she phrased her negative review in such a way as to show that she didn’t think this show was worth serious attention: She wrote that it was full of “the familiar favorites of the infantile:, e.g., spurting blood and gore, bastard sons, evil vixens, blond nymphets, quasilesbian action, crude talk among men about their private parts, incest, rough couplings and more random bare breasts than any other contender in the adolescent-boy-action-show contest this month.” All of that is more a description than a dismissal, and some of the things fans write about the show seem to imply the same thing, that the show is going to be cool because it has so much violence and nudity. (Side note: does it seem like with Boardwalk Empire, True Blood, and this show the amount of gratuitous female nudity on HBO has increased? It’s one thing they can do that AMC and other rivals can’t, so I guess it makes sense to play that up.) But fans can say that; when a non-fan describes these things and calls them “infantile,” she’s saying that fans consider the show art but actually it’s just plain trash. Of course fans get enraged; that kind of review is designed to enrage them.
Not that this excuses fans making asses of themselves, but I’m not sure how widespread it really is. There are always some fans who fall into that strangest of categories, the populist snob – people who consider themselves “some terribly marginalized and oppressed minority” for what are essentially popular tastes. But how many of them are there, really? 7 million people have bought books in the Song of Ice and Fire series. All seven million of those people are definitely not storming internet message boards and comments sections. The Dark Knight was a huge worldwide hit, and most of the people who saw it weren’t on the internet berating those who didn’t accept its importance. I don’t know how Game of Thrones will do, but I’m sure there will be a distinction to be made between the people who watch it, as a group, and Some Guy On The Internet Somewhere.