The Game of Thrones and Andy Rooney Criticism

There's a lot that can be said about the intensely stupid review of The Game of Thrones TV show that recently appeared in the New York Times. The three closing paragraphs highlight the problem pretty succinctly:

The true perversion, though, is the sense you get that all of this illicitness [meaning the hot sex -- ER] has been tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise. While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first. “Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.

Since the arrival of “The Sopranos” more than a decade ago, HBO has distinguished itself as a corporate auteur committed, when it is as its most intelligent and dazzling, to examining the way that institutions are made and how they are upheld or fall apart: the Mafia, municipal government (“The Wire”), the Roman empire (“Rome”), the American West (“Deadwood”), religious fundamentalism (“Big Love”).

When the network ventures away from its instincts for real-world sociology, as it has with the vampire saga “True Blood,” things start to feel cheap, and we feel as though we have been placed in the hands of cheaters. “Game of Thrones” serves up a lot of confusion in the name of no larger or really relevant idea beyond sketchily fleshed-out notions that war is ugly, families are insidious and power is hot. If you are not averse to the Dungeons & Dragons aesthetic, the series might be worth the effort. If you are nearly anyone else, you will hunger for HBO to get back to the business of languages for which we already have a dictionary.

There's a lot to unpack there; the sexism in the notion that girls don't like Tolkein and epic fantasy (I've met lots of girls who love that stuff, but I guess they're not in this author's book clubs), the weirdness in suggesting that boys don't like sex in their fiction so it must have been "tossed in" for the ladies (what?), and, of course, the epic genre snobbery in the notion that anything that isn't set in the "real" world is cheap. Because fantasy can't be, you know, good.

The important thing to note here, and the thing that a lot of people are, I think, missing, is that this is a perfect example of what I was talking about when I said mainstream reviewers had "long since abrogated their role as arbiters of taste by hewing to anachronistic and snobbish notions of literary worth that have relatively little relationship to what people actually look for and value in their fiction." The only difference is that here it's in television rather than prose. What we have here is an Andy Rooney style of criticism, a criticism that says "I don't get what these kids are into these days, I don't understand all this stuff and it obviously has no value." It's out-of-touch, snobbish and condescending, and reads like it's geared primarily to people past retirement age, clinging oh-so-desperately to their last-century, upper-middle-class bourgeois values.

And this is why it doesn't bother me one lick that the NYT put up a paywall recently. Why would I want to read that crap anyway? (For news, I'd rather go to BBC news and NPR.)

Carol Emshwiller Project website and 90th Birthday Extravaganza

The Carol Emshwiller Project website, made by Wet Asphalt favorite Matt Cheney, is now live. It includes loads of information and retrospectives on author Carol Emshwiller, who is wonderful and fabulous and was writing feminist science fiction before there ever was such a thing as Feminist Science Fiction.

On a related note, I'm participating in a two-part Carol Emshwiller 90th Birthday Celebration. The first event will be at the SOHO Gallery for Digital Art and presented by the New York Review of Science Fiction on Tuesday, April 12th, and the second event will be at WORD Bookstore as part of my own Wold Newton Reading Extravaganza at which event Cheney himself will interview our favorite newly nonagenarian author, and there will be birthday magic from Magic Brian.

Full details here.

Me on Comixology's It Came Out on Wednesday Podcast

I'm on Comixology's It Came Out on Wednesday podcast this week, talking with Jake about the latest comics, including Alan Moore's Neonomicon, Red Sonja, Stephen King's Gunslinger prequel, Green Lantern and much more.

Normally, Comixology pays me to write code, but every once in a while I get to do cool stuff like this too. Go listen!

War is a Meaning That Gives Us Force

If you haven't read Chris Hedges's book War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning you should do so. It chronicles Hedges's experiences as a journalist in the former Yugoslavia during the NATO action to protect the Kosovar and Bosnian populations against Slobodan Milosevic's genocide against them after the fall of the Soviet Block. That conflict was clearly a war. Although I'm not sure it is at all clear that every state actor in that conflict was at War with the Serbian State. Today, as a coalition of state actors including the United States moves to impose a no-fly zone over Libya and cripple Moammar Ghaddafi's ability to carry on his civil war with the rebels seeking to overthrow his regime, it is only natural for USAmericans to be asking whether we are now at war with Libya. It is a question that seems simple. Simple it is not. A brief resume of the last 70 years of warfare shows that the task of determining when the United States is at war is fraught with arbitrary distinctions and political posturing.

The Constitution of the United States of America gives Congress the power to raise and sustain an Army and a Navy. The power to declare war on another nation belongs to Congress and Congress alone. At the same time, the President of the United States is named Commander-in-Chief of the United States Armed Forces. This bifurcation of the war powers of the Federal Government, separating military policy from command and control, serves an important role in the system of limited powers given to the Federal Government in that document. It prevents the President from using the military in whatever way he sees fit, and prevents Congress from micromanaging the most urgent affairs of national defense. However, it also makes it difficult to determine whether or not the United States is at war at any given time.

A Solution to the Abortion Problem

I think that abortion opponents have been going about their desire to end abortions in entirely the wrong way. The real core of the problem of unwanted pregnancy is not that women are getting pregnant when they don't want to be, it's that men are getting women pregnant when they don't want to be fathers. As such, I would like to propose a new abortion law that will get at the heart of this problem: mandatory vasectomies for the male parents of aborted fetuses.

The Upside of The Coming American Disaster

Doom. That's what's on the way for us here in the fifty nifty United States. Doom doom doom. Big fucking Doom. That's right, I said it. The world is in fact coming to an end in a total cluster fuck of denial, false consciousness, and Machiavellian intrigue. Ten years from now, you will look around you and no longer recognize the world you live in. I do not say this lightly. I am no doomer. I genuinely believe that global warming and peak oil will most likely cause a crisis that will meet with some sort of solution. In the middle term, those are problems that I think humanity is more or less capable of dealing with. There will be problems, but those problems are not insurmountable. No, the people who see in the coming food crisis an end to all things are mistaken. They are mistaken for good reasons. They worry about the rise of unchecked economic power in the post-industrial world. They worry about the unsustainability of current modes of production. And these are real problems. But they fail to grasp the flip side of that coin. They make the same mistake that Ronald Reagan's conservative children make, and see only the supply side of the economy. This is the path we have been on in the United States and in much of Europe for a good 40 years now. So dominant is this view of the world that even in the thinking of an astute and critical mind like that of Chris Hedges, the coming dystopia is mistaken for something akin to the feudal dark ages of Europe. This is a historically conditioned vision of the world and it says more about the fears of those who have them than it does about what the world will look like in ten years. I am sympathetic to those fears, but fear is not a civilizing impulse and it is a severe impediment to rational thought.

The Obamanation of Escalation

I think I've figured out why it is that a certain segment of the left is so disappointed in the various mediocrities of the Obama administration. Clearly, there's a population of leftist democrats in the country who thought they were voting for Will Smith and were disappointed when President Obama turned out to be neither Bagger Vance nor Hancock.

That's right. I'm calling you all a bunch of racists. Deal with it.

Now, I know I've had my own beefs with Obama from time to time. I had high hopes. But I knew he was a centrist that I would disagree with a lot going in, and that's what makes the really outraged statements of disappointment sound so hollow to me. Yeah, it hasn't been as good as it might have been, and yes, I think some of that at least is Obama's fault. At the same time, some of the things people are surprised about (his view on gay marriage, the fact that he wasn't pushing harder on DADT, the issue with Gitmo, the failure of the public option) are things that were either unrealistic or things that he was upfront about being a centrist on.

Thing is, politics in America is always about numbers and noise. You can't just sit back on Nov. 5 and figure that your work is done. Movement leftists need to constantly nag, constantly push, constantly try to move the ball a few more inches in the right direction. When you get quiet you die. That's part of the reason Obama compromised as much as he did, and it's definitely the reason that the GOP took the House back last year.

So, yes, I'm sorry your "super duper magical negro" didn't fix everything with a bob of his massive afro, but maybe before you start scape-goating the best hope we have of keeping a disaster like Michelle Bachmann or Mike Huckabee out of the whitehouse, maybe take a good long look in the mirror and ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for you country.


Why I'm Not Worried About Academic Laurels or the Death of Mainstream Book Reviews

Back when I was Literary Fiction guy, I had a conversation about books with a girl I knew who was, if not exactly well-read, did certainly read books regularly. In the course of the conversation I mentioned Don Delillo and Dave Eggars, and she referred to them off-handedly as "people no one had ever heard of." It was at that point I realized how thoroughly we lived in different worlds.

I had a similar moment recently at my job at comiXology, when Jake, who does a weekly comics podcast, mentioned that he might have George RR Martin on as a guest and asked me if that was a big deal. There's this assumption that comics and science fiction are part of the same "geek" world (as if geeks are some monolithic entity), but Jake is extremely well-read in comics didn't have any sense of the scale of one of the best-selling authors in the world right now.

But then, I should hardly feel cocky for having heard of Delillo, Eggars and Martin. After all, according to Wikipedia, the top five bestselling fiction authors of all time are, in order, William Shakespeare, Agatha Christie, Barbara Cartland, Harold Robbins, and Georges Simenon. Shakespeare and Christie are recognizable enough, but before looking this up I could not have told you for the world who those last three names belonged to. Apparently, Cartland wrote romance novels, Robbins wrote adventure fiction, and Simenon wrote detective stories. How is it that I, someone for whom books are practically a lifestyle, has not even heard of three of the five best-selling writers of all time? Imagine how absurd it would be if I were a film buff who had not heard of three of the five top-grossing film directors of all time?