Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Game of Groans

Apparently, in the last few months the world has gone bananas over a TV show called "Game of Thrones". It's the televised adaptation of the "A Song of Ice and Fire" series of epic fantasy novels by American novelist and screenwriter George R. R. Martin and it's everything nerds love: fantasy kingdoms, barbarians, made-up languages and odd jargon, gore, tits and some dragons thrown in for good measure. It's unfortunate then that it just not that good.

"I'm Sean Bean and I'm here to convince you you needn't be embarrassed for watching a show about dragons".

Oh, I get its appeal: it looks amazing, the sets are fantastic and the visuals are striking. It also has the scope of such epics as "The Lord of The Rings", which also makes it more appealing to a mainstream audience.

But the story is boring, the entire first season crawls trying to set up the plot and wasting time on politics and power struggles, it juggles far too many characters (which is encouraged in a book, but problematic in a visual medium with a different pacing) and... there's a lot of violence and nudity. That last part is my biggest problem with it.

It's not a bad show and much worse stuff have survived on TV. But this show is an HBO show, the network that likes to remind us that "it's not (just) TV". That practically means that the censors seldom apply to them and this allows them to push limits that national networks can't (also see: "True Blood", "Sex & The City" to a lesser extend).

I don't have a puritanical or moral problem with violence and sex, but I do have a creative one. The one and only reason to use them in excess is if you want to be raw. It's a perfectly valid creative outlook and one I enjoy myself. Instead of cutting away from that beheading, let the head roll and instead of dressing a couple in those special L-Shaped Hollywood sheets after having sex, let them be half (or entirely) naked. Fair enough.

But "Game of Thrones" isn't raw; it lingers. It wants to show you how violent it is over anything else on TV and gross you out and it wants to show you that it's not afraid to show as much nudity as it can without being classified as outright porn-- that is, show everything except cocks and cunts. You know; like SOFTCORE porn does!

The crowning moment of stupidity was in a scene toward the later episodes of the first season, when one of the characters who runs a brothel clumsily drops exposition about his character like Wily Coyote drops an anvil at the Road Runner, while instructing two hookers how to please their customers. It looks fun at first, because it's not something you can see anywhere else on TV, but once its novelty wears off you realise that it's a really, really stupid scene. Exposition is a dubious technique in a visual medium to begin with, but couple it with two naked girls fingering each other and moaning over said monologue and whatever dramatic weight the scene could've had is gone.

Drama has to be realistic, insofar as it connects with its audience. You can toy with the setting and subject material; you can make it about a flying man, or dragons or unicorns or whatever, but the characters will have to act as human as possible. They don't need to relate, but they have to be recognisable as human, with whatever that entails-- and so do their behavioural patterns, actions and -most of all- their passions. Even insane parodies with characters that are unreal have to uphold this rule: Charlie Sheen's character in the "Hot Shots!" series acts unlike anyone you've ever met, but his driving force is that he's in love, so he connects even on an subconscious level.

Dude that explains why he should connect while in a situation that ends up being outright funny does not work.

This type of thing bothers me for another reason; it instantly makes the show "nerd bait" and a burning fire in me tells me I should hate it the same way I hate the yearly "Oscar baits" (such as the, otherwise competent, "The King's Speech"). There is nothing wrong with a product trying to appeal to an audience, but it irks me when it bends over backwards to please and compromise its own artistic or creative integrity just to be liked.

Hey, I think I had a girlfriend that did this!

This reflects badly not so much on "Game of Thrones", but rather on its audience and especially the audience of the "nerd persuasion". We've seen this thing happen many times before; comics suffered in the '90s because of it, as did videogames in the early-to-mid '00s. People who enjoy hobbies usually suited to the "geek" type grow up and suddenly crave the blood and the violence; it's partly because they need to feel like their hobbies accommodate them and partly a self-centered desire of validation by the mainstream that mocks their hobbies as childish. After all, you can't call something childish when in every other page or scene there is a blood-bath!

But it seems to me that this is missing the point of these hobbies and dilutes their importance and uniqueness. If you read stories about a flying man when you were a kid and you needed the blood and the sex in those same stories once you grew up, it simply means you outgrew those stories; which is fine. If you like those same stories, you don't need that. If you like dragons and fantasy kingdoms, you like them because dragons are cool and fantasy kingdoms capture your imagination, not because a hooker blows a dragon in a live sex show in some bootlegged medieval version of Kevin Smith's "Clerks II".

It's perfectly fine to enjoy some violence and sex with your comic book or show; I can understand the appeal. But it sets a dangerous precedent trying to elevate those over others of similar subject material based solely on the fact that they linger on the risqué visuals. Just think about it the next time you think you need to see your favorite Power Ranger slitting Rita Repulsa's throat with their Blade-Blaster.

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