Sunday, August 24, 2014

Doctor Who, Deep Breath: Season Eight Premiere.

doctor who deep breath



Did you watch the Doctor Who season eight premiere, Deep Breath, today? It was simultaneously broadcast on television in the UK and Australia, screened in cinemas around the country, and if you still haven’t had the chance it’s available on iVew here

Deep Breath sees the Doctor, Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman), Madame Vastra (Neve McIntosh), and Jenny (Catrin Stewart) reunited - even if the Doctor doesn't properly remember any of them. At first it seems like they’re going to be fighting a Tyrannosaurus Rex on the Victorian London streets – but soon a more nefarious clockwork, Frankenstein-like villain reveals itself (himself? Robot rights are hard).

The episode is an introduction to Peter Capaldi as the new doctor, and it’s an incarnation that fans (of the ‘new’ seasons especially) might find unfamiliar. Capaldi is a throwback to the doctors of old, and not just because he’s closer to 60-years-old than 20-years-old. This Doctor is far removed from Matt Smith’s flirtatious, bow tie wearing dandy.

He’s Scottish, he’s decided he has a right to complain, and his eyebrows are so angry they want to form a state independent of his face. He’s not into hugging and we’re unlikely to see any handholding with his companions anytime soon.

As Madame Vastra tells Clara at the beginning of the episode, “You might as well flirt with a mountain range”.

Deep Breath is an introduction for both Clara and the audience to the Doctor, and when a secret cameo actor pleads with Clara, “He’s scared. He needs you. Look after him” – it’s equally a plea to the audience to embrace the new manifestation of the much-beloved character. 

There are a few pacing problems in the first episode of the new season – but there’s the promise of a darker edge in episodes to come. It was about time for a change.


 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Don't be a dick about the Ice Bucket Challenge.

This video of Queensland newsreader Lincoln Humphries has been circulating online for the past few days, to a fair amount of praise.



Pedestrian, for example, published the video with the headline: “Newsreader beautifully shuts down ice bucket challenge.”

Because a viral campaign that has raised millions of dollars for research into a total bitch of a disease needs to be ‘shut down’, clearly.

Humphries suggests that, rather than pouring a bucket of ice over one’s head, people should donate to a whole bunch of other charitable causes. He acknowledges that the #IceBucketChallenge has raised over $30 million dollars (now $50 million) for the ALS Foundation, before saying: “I’m not saying it isn’t a worthy cause…. but let’s spread the love.”

As a general rule if you ever find yourself using ‘but’ in that context (i.e. “I’m not… but….), you should maybe rephrase (or even entirely rethink) what you are about to say.

Rather than suggesting that people donate money to ALS instead of pouring ice over their heads, which is what you might expect – or even using the opportunity to highlight the Australian charitable equivalent, MND Australia - Humphries lists a number of unrelated charities. Perhaps he is not explicitly suggesting that people donate to these charities instead of research into ALS/MND, but he is certainly disparaging of the Ice Bucket Challenge in general.

At the end of his video, he explains that people should give what they can “because that’s what charity is about, not putting yourself through mild discomfort with a bucket of water”.

Well, yeah, that’s not the definition of ‘charity’. It is, however, coming close to being the definition for ‘one of the most successful and viral campaigns for a good cause in recent memory, which has made people aware of a fairly unsexy disease that hasn’t received this kind of attention since Lou Gehrig was diagnosed in 1939’.

I have seen a lot of criticism of the Ice Bucket Challenge over the past few days, and frankly, the general sentiment just seems to be that people want to prove that they’re not going to be ‘sucked in’ by something ‘trendy’. 

How dare a charitable cause actually be successful in asking people for money, right?

According to the critics, the Ice Bucket Challenge has nothing to do with ALS, and is just a cheap gimmick designed to go viral (well no fucking shit it’s designed to go viral). It’s unfair because it’s ‘taking money away’ from other charitable causes (yes, I have read a few people online making this argument). It’s pointless because the message is getting lost. Let’s have a look at these arguments, shall we?

The Ice Bucket Challenge has nothing to do with ALS.

Unlike make-up free selfie campaigns raising money for breast cancer (which I’m also not going to criticize, because again - good for them at figuring out how to hook people in), the Ice Bucket Challenge actually is linked to the disease it is raising money for.

While numbness isn’t strictly a symptom of ALS (if you can feel numbness, that might be a sign of MS), the disease slowly degenerates muscles. People might start noticing they have clumsy fingers, a weak grip, or difficulty turning doorknobs.

A way to replicate this feeling in a recognisable way for the masses, is through numbness. Numbness like you experience when you pour a bucket of icy water over your head.

It’s unfair because it’s ‘taking money away’ from other charitable campaigns.

The argument being that people only set aside so much money that they donate to charity each month, and now the ALS is receiving more than it’s fair share.

By this logic, every single awareness rising and fundraising campaign EVER would have been ‘taking money away’ from some other cause. Make-up free selfies for breast cancer is taking money from the RSPCA, the RSPCA’s million paws walk is taking money away from the Red Cross, World Red Cross day is taking money away from… ad infinitum.

The message is getting lost.

If you think this, you’re not entirely wrong. But you’re not entirely right, either. The message clearly isn’t completely lost, as people are still donating. (Can we not just be happy that the campaign has raised over $50 million dollars for a seriously good cause?)

This argument mostly seems to be directed at celebrities who have done the Ice Bucket Challenge, and then barely mentioned the ALS Foundation. As Steve-O from Jackass wrote when he posted his video… 

“Since the ice bucket challenge began, over 15 million dollars has been raised for ALS research. I think that’s great, but when you consider the countless A-list celebrities who have actively gotten behind this cause by posting videos — the fact that not more than fifteen million dollars has been raised is a tragedy," he wrote

“It’s tragic because I don’t think many of those celebrities even bothered to mention how or where to donate money for ALS research. Most of them just poured water over their heads and named three random people, without including any “call to action” which actually benefits victims of ALS at all. Had all those celebrities given this cause any thought, hundreds of millions of dollars might have been raised, and a whole lot more awareness.”

Preach. However, that’s not really an argument for ‘shutting down’ the Ice Bucket Challenge. It’s not an argument for people to stop donating to ALS/MND charities. It’s an argument for celebrities to do better, dammnit.

What it comes down to is this. 

The Ice Bucket Challenge has been hugely effective in raising money for the ALS Foundation.  As a society (and by this I mean, as privileged mostly-Arts graduates), is our ability - nay, our hankering - to critically analyse pop culture and politicians’ faux pas really so under-stimulated that we have to turn to tearing charities down?

Pour a bucket of ice over your head. Don’t pour a bucket of ice over your head. Donate to ALS/MND research. Or don’t and pick another charity that speaks to you instead.

But don’t be a dick about a campaign that is raising money for research into a disease that causes muscles to slowly degenerate, resulting in a loss of ability to move, speak, breathe and swallow.

A disease that kills people. 

What are you hoping to accomplish?

If you want to contribute, visit the MND Australia website
 

Monday, July 14, 2014

A visit to the Blue Mountains.

There's nothing quite like getting away for the weekend and immersing yourself in nature, to feel rejuvenated and refocussed.

Also, to feel anew how unbelievably shortsighted it is for human beings to continue destroying our natural environment.

Just like in Narnia. 

There's a reason they call them blue. 

50 shades of green. 

Crossing the bridge. 



We ate lunch in front of this waterfall. We were this close, too. 

Three immoveable sisters. 

Next time I want to trek to the bottom of the waterfall. 

 

19th Biennale of Sydney at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

The 19th Biennale of Sydney at the Museum of Contemporary Art was promoted with the tagline, "You imagine what you desire."

Juliana Engberg provided the artistic direction, and the two-floor exhibition at the MCA showcased the works of over 20 artists. The exhibition "celebrates the imagination as a spirited exploration of the world, seeking splendour and rapture in works that remain true to a greater, even sublime, visuality."

Washi tape floor. I want one. 

Madness is like gravity. All it takes is a little push. 

See the faces in the world around you. 

Immerse yourself. 




 

Yoko Ono at the Museum of Contemporary Art. #SummerOfYoko

I loved the Yoko Ono exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, over the summer months.

To me, Yoko Ono is perhaps more of a curator than an artist. She has a way of brining together ideas, and concepts, and interactive displays and telling a story with them. I don't think we should look at her individual artworks is insolation; it's how they work as a whole that's important.


Essence of Virginia Woolf. 

We're all being pulled somewhere, by something. 

In this artwork, visitors were encouraged to write a letter to their mother and stick it on the wall. I cried reading it. 


A puddle of the sky. 

Where are we all from. 

Visitors were told to leave a note saying where they wanted to travel, in Louis Vuitton luggage. Very Darjeeling Limited.  

Kicking free. 


 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Album Review: Miley Cyrus, Bangerz (Deluxe Version), track-by-track.


I decided to take one for the team and review Miley Cyrus’s fourth album, Bangerz. Bangerz with a ‘z’, because she’s edgy and appropriating ghetto culture now. (In other news, Miley Cyrus has released three other albums?! Overachiever.)

The overall album rating will be determined by how many of the songs I find myself enjoying and/or unable to get out of my head. And it’ll be a star rating out of 16, because I downloaded the ‘Deluxe Version’, bitches. Sorry – bitchez.

Let’s do this, track by track.

Adore You

Miley cleverly opens with a track that will make you feel sorry for her. It’s a romantic ballad of sorts, and one that is clearly about ex-fiance Liam Hemsworth. “I could do this for eternity, you and me,” Miley croons. “We're meant to be in holy matrimony.” Until that Wrecking Ball came along, clearly.

I’m a giant sucker and found myself getting QUITE EMOTIONAL when Liam and Miley called it quits, and putting aside the autotune (heads up: it’s a major player on this album), I found this song is quite lovely. Thumbs up.

We Can’t Stop

I cannot listen to this goddamn song one more time, so I am skipping. Thumbs down.

Instead, you might like to listen to this version:



Or this one:



SMS (Bangerz)

Miley Cyrus feat. Britney Spears – sampling Salt-n-Pepa’s Push It. SRSLY GURL, if you’re going to sample Salt-n-Pepa you better make your song worthwhile. 

Most of this song is incomprehensible, and I’m an old person, so that turned me right off. People who like to do young people activities like dancing in clubs may enjoy this. I don’t know, go ask one of them.

Thumbs down.

4x4

Holy shit, Nelly is in this song! Holy shit, Nelly still exists!

This is the kind of song one might expect to hear played at a hoedown. And if that sounds like a slur, it’s not –it’s hand-clappin’ foot-stompin’ rootin’-tootin’ fun. Miley gives us a taste of Tennessee, and leaves you wanting more. I predict a big future for Miley in county music, once she tires of licking sledgehammers.

Strange, but delightful at the same time. Thumbs up.

My Darlin’

Another ‘feat’, with time with Future. The first time I listened to My Darlin’ I thought it was pretty tedious and kind of glossed over it, but it’s grown on me. You know what they say, familiarity breeds a comforting type of contempt. Basically it’s just a lot of the "Oh, my darlin'/ Stand by me" from the Ben E. King tune repeated over and over again, but it’s nice and repetitive like a lullaby.

That sounds harsh, but thumbs up. Really.

Wrecking Ball

I became a bit obsessed with this song when it was first released. I would even defend the artistry of the film clip, if I had to. And it goes without saying that I would defend to the death Miley Cyrus’ right to not wear a bar, because how about we stop dictating what young women can and cannot wear, amiright?!

Wrecking Ball is a clear standout on the album. Vulnerable and emotionally raw. Thumbs up.



Love Money Party (feat. Big Sean)

This one is a bit country-meets-hip-hop, and it sucks balls. Or ballz. Or bangerz, whatever your derogatory slur about sucking of choice is. Honestly, there’s just too much of Miley trying to rap.

It’s basically just the same themes seen previously in “We Can’t Stop”, but MORE. MILEY WANTS MORE. "Love, money, party/ Love, money, party/ We want love, money, party,” Miley awkwardly sings/raps.

I do not dig. Thumbs down.

#GETITRIGHT

It has a fairly prominent hashtag title, just like all those #THICKEs seen in Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines – which makes sense, as Pharrell produced both these ditties. While #GETITRIGHT deals less with questioning the consent of a woman, it’s still not great.

It’s a summery, 70s throwback, with hand clapping and whistling to boot – but I feel like it lacks substance.

Because I assume people will be interested in knowing this, this is also the song where Miley sings: “Would you believe I’m dancing in the mirror?/I feel like I got no panties on.” And, “I feel the thirst pouring out of me.”

Thumbs down – not for the lyrics, just for the blandness and no wackness.

Drive

Allegedly the song that Cyrus wrote on Valentine’s Day, when she realised her relationship with Liam Hemsworth was no longer working. OoooOOOoooohhhh!

The track starts with edgy, sad synth stuff going on – and I’m already hooked. This song feels personal and not at all forced (unlike, you know, whenever Miley tries to rap). The production is a bit zig-zaggy, but I like the anger and emotion. “You told me that you wanted this/ I told you it was all yours/ If you're done with it/ Then what you say forever for?”

Thumbs up, Miley. Take a note from Taylor’s playbook and write more break-up songs – they suit you.

FU feat. French Montana

In another unexpected stylistic departure (first country, then hip-hop, now THIS) Miley does a cabaret, Broadway, Lady Gaga-esque number. It’s another track where instead of just singing about dancing and lines and money, Miley lets a little real emotion through. “I got two letters for you/ One of them is F/ And the other one is U,” Miley snarls.

Thumbs up, big time.

Do My Thang

And after just saying that I like it when Miley doesn’t sing about dancing and lines and money and doing whatever the hells she likes ‘cause  she’s so grown-up now – this song centres entirely around those themes. Plus, there’s more awkward rapping from Miley.

“Every single night and every single day/ I'mma do my thing, I'mma do my thing/ So don't you worry about me I'll be okay/ I'mma do my thing, cause I'mma do my thing,” Miley sings. Yawn, I get it already.

Thumbs down.

Maybe You’re Right

This is definitely the most lyrically interesting song on the album, in that Miley actually uses her words to tell a story – and even admits that she’s not perfect. Which is fairly refreshing, for a break-up song. "You might think I'm crazy/ That I'm lost and foolish/ Leaving you behind/ Maybe you're right."

There’s a bit of a gospel influence going on, and this song shows that Miley can sing. Like for real real, not for play play. HOWEVER, it’s all a bit too paint-by-numbers and predictable. I’m mostly on the fence, but will have to go with a thumbs down for fear of getting splinters on my behind.

Someone Else

I shouldn’t be so excited about someone else’s suffering, but: another break-up song! Hooray!

“If you’re looking for love/ Know that love don’t live here anymore/ He left with my heart/ They both walked through that door without me,” Miley sings.  

There’s still that shimmering synth-pop and hip-hop, but I can actually forgive it this time around. Thumbs up.

Extra Tracks

Rooting For My Baby

A husky voiced Miley sings about being there for the person you love. It’s a bit Fleetwood Mac-esque – but I don’t feel the need to tell her that she should be doing better in honour of their memory (see: my feelings regarding Salt-n-Pepa on SMS).

Nice and chilled. Thumbs up.

On My Own

Miley Cyrus does Michael Jackson. Another sort of dance floor anthem. It’s not offensive, but it’s not memorable in any particular way. Thumbs… down?

Hands In The Air

Miley raps, and I think we’ve established that I don’t like it when she does that. Thumbs down.

Overall

9 out of 16 ain’t bad. It’s more than 50 per cent anyway, and as my favorite adage throughout undergraduate university advised: Ps make degrees.

Bangerz doesn’t really give Miley a chance to show off the fact that she can actually sing, the tracks are teasingly diverse – but also irritatingly inconsistent – and the whole Miley-is-ghetto-now thing feels seriously forced. Or seriouzly forzed.

It’s sporadic and schizophrenic but occasionally damn catchy – so I’m not going to call it the worst album of 2013.

HIGH PRAISE INDEED. 

And now, for the song that should've been on the album: 


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Game of Thrones and feminism.



This is the edited version of a paper/rant I delivered at the panel 'Damned Whores and Fame Monsters' at Critical Animals in 2013, as a part of the This Is Not Art festival. Mega thanks to the other smart and hilarious ladies on the panel - Clare Muston and Tara Cartland - and to Eleanor Zeichner for chairing the panel. 

Game of Thrones and Feminism


Game of Thrones – a fantasy drama television series created for HBO by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, and based on a series of intimidating-ly long novels by George R. R. Martin – could easily be called one of the biggest television events of the past few years.

The second season of the show was the most pirated television series in 2012. The finale episode of season three, which aired earlier this year, was downloaded by more than a million people from the morally ambiguous website BitTorrent less than 24 hours after the show aired.

Basically, a lot of people have watched Game of Thrones. And a warning now for those who haven’t watched it:



The series is set in the fictional continent of Westeros, and features a society that pretty much mirrors Anglo-Saxon medieval society, as fantasy fiction is wont to do.

The story interweaves several plot lines, the most significant of which features the members of several noble houses as they fight and scheme to put a member of their family on the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms. Using an impressive and confusingly large ensemble cast of people whose names it takes at least three episodes to remember – the show explores themes of crime and punishment, corruption and civil war, sexuality and religion, loyalty and family. The style of the show itself is ultra-violent and often sexualised.



Over the course of this rant, I’ll be discussing the representation of women in Game of Thrones, with occasional reference to the series of books written by George R R Martin. I’ll first be analysing the female characters within the world of Westeros, and arguing that Game of Thrones manages to avoid the female stereotypes of the fantasy genre – including the ‘damned whore’ and the ‘fame monster’ (a.k.a power-hungry bitch) tropes. Secondly, I will analyse the representation of women on screen, and some of the more controversial elements of the show: including extraneous use female nudity, so-called ‘sexposition’, and depictions of physical and sexual violence against women. 

Stereotypes and tropes are popular – and, I dare say it – useful in literature and film for obvious reasons. They provide a shortcut to character development. There’s the ‘Beautiful All Along’ stereotype frequently seen in teen comedies, where a nerdy girl with a heart of gold takes off her glasses and is suddenly more aesthetically-pleasing, and therefore acceptable, to her peers. 


She's All That (1999)
There’s the Evil Matriarch.


Arrested Development (2003 - 2013)
There’s the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.


Zooey Deschanel... In basically everything. 
Both ‘damned whore’ and ‘fame monster’ are female archetypes that likely feel familiar – because we’ve seen them in fiction a million times before.

A 'damned whore', as I define it, is the woman who is punished for having sex and/or wanting sex and/or having a sexy body with sexy lady boobs. This could be any character from Eve (of Adam and Eve fame) to The First Girl To Get Killed Off in a Horror Film Because She Had Sex Last Summer.


Damned Whores.
The ‘fame monster’ a.k.a. power-hungry bitch, is any woman who expresses a desire to wrest back control of her life, or career, or love life – and turns into what filmmakers and writers want us to see psycho bitch in the process. These characters usually learn an important moral lesson – i.e. family, love, or friendship is more important than fame, power, or the corporate ladder – by the end of the film.

Fame Monster.
Game of Thrones features an ensemble cast with a large percentage of women, where women are provided with roughly half the screen time – but it is the characters themselves and how they defy stereotypes and tropes that helps explain why a search for “Game of Thrones and feminism” brings up approximately 552,000 search results in Google.



Game of Thrones has a huge of cast strong female characters. Not ‘strong’ in the sense that they are physically imposing, or especially empowered women – although many of them are that too – but strong in the sense that they are deftly written, complex characters with their own flaws and foibles. You have reasons to hate them and reasons to root for them at the same time.

Typically fantasy writers – perhaps writers from any genre – are inclined to paint women as either angels or demons. George R R Martin does not. His very best characters are flawed; his very worst bear psychological scars that lend them sympathy.

In an interview with Jessica Salter in the UK Telegraph, Martin responded to a question about how he manages to write female characters by saying, “'Yes, you're right I've never been an eight year old girl … I've also never been an exiled princess, or a dwarf or bastard. What I have been is human. I just write human characters.”

The realm of Westeros might be considered an unlikely world to foster a feminist debate. Although some women in the show have power, as Elizabeth Mulhall writes for The Literati Collective, “none of the female characters demonstrate power that is not in some way mitigated by their gender.” The show has even been criticised from some corners for this – called sexist itself, because it depicts a feudalistic, patriarchal society.  In Game of Thrones women are routinely silenced, they are victims of sexual or other physical violence, and women who do have power are sneered at or demeaned.

I know what you’re thinking: How dare David Benioff and D. B. Weiss create a show that depicts women in this way! I’m so glad our version of the 21st century doesn’t have any shit like that!

Oh wait!
Basically, I think that anyone making this criticism is missing the point that the realm of science fiction and fantasy texts, has long been to highlight the inequalities in our own world.

Aside from Daenerys Targaryen, whose plotline up until the third season of the show continues to operate somewhat tangentially from the other characters, I would argue that the female characters with the most tangible power in Game of Thrones are Cersei Lannister and Catelyn Stark.  Both of these women are able to use and manipulate the little power their highly traditionalist, patriarchal society has afforded them, to achieve their ends. They rely upon their grasp of ladylike manners, their family names, and their understanding of court maneuverings, to get the job done. To paraphrase from the series: Courtesy is a lady’s armour.

Cersei Lannister
But while relying on tradition, they are not content to merely sit back and let the male characters rule. Before her husband’s, the King’s, death at the start of the first season, Cersei Lannister was setting the scene for her family to seize power of the Kingdom once he was gone. She is willful and ambitious, and displays real political cunning upon her husband’s death. Cersei later proves to be an ineffectual leader, but her pursuit of power is typical of the fame monster. She is relentless in her pursuit of power, and her relationships suffer because of it.

However, while this stereotype would usually paint a woman’s pursuit of power as unnatural and evil, Cersei has been written so that the viewer can still understand her motivations – and still sympathise with her. She resents the customs and conventions that have been put on her because of her gender, and in the third season accuses her father of not taking her seriously because she is a woman. She has been categorically overlooked as a key player in her father’s political games – seen merely as a piece to be strategically married off – while her twin brother Jaime gained their father’s favour.

Catelyn Stark
Catelyn Stark, just like Cersei Lannister, craves power – although not for the same reasons. After the members of her family are separated in the first season, she has to fight to bring them back together. Catelyn is the lady of a well-respected noble house, even after her husband’s beheading, and uses the deference that people have for her title to get what she wants. In one scene early on in the series, she comes face to face with Tyrion Lannister, who she believes has tried to murder her son. She captures him by calling on the commoners around them – not her guard, nor anyone bound to do her bidding – in the name of House Stark. Catelyn Stark makes a number of questionable decisions in her single-minded pursuit of protecting her family – including freeing her family’s enemy Jaime Lannister when he is briefly captured by their soldiers – but she is not wholly condemned for use – or misuse – of power. Again, I’d argue that her character motivations are complex enough to avoid stereotyping.

The damned whores of the series are just as interesting to examine.

Melisandre
Melisandre, a priestess of the God of Light, is a corrupting figure in the first three seasons of the show. She is immensely powerful, devastatingly beautiful, completely terrifying – and says she is a conduit with the God of Light, although many male characters dismiss her as a witch, or a sorceress, or a liar. She fits in with the damned whore trope fairly neatly, because her god is seen as the foreign, upstart god that nobody else worships (thus, she is damned); and because most of the religious rituals we’ve seen so far involve some form of seduction (thus, she is a whore, because she has used her breasts to gain power – how very dare she). 

Um, and she also gives birth to a shadow-demon which kills Renly Baratheon.

But Melisandre subverts the stereotype, which in many other fictions would basically equate to a predetermined plotline that says she is damned and must die. To start with, she may not necessarily be damned at all. Despite being dismissed as a sorceress or a charlatan, her God is the only one in the show that has shown any signs of actually existing. So in fact, instead of being damned, Melisandre may be one of the only characters with God on her side. Secondly, Melisandre is more in charge than other female characters – if not entirely in charge – of her sexual interactions with men. The damned whore stereotype usually depicts a woman being pursued and then used by men because of her sexy body, and because she reveals her sexy body to them she is punished. Melisandre uses her body for her own gains, and the only outcome of her revealing her naked form so far is that she’s been able to gain greater power.

Ros and Amerca
Another character that is interesting to consider in light of the Damned Whore trope is Ros – whose character actually doesn’t exist in the books, and was created for the show. Ros is a sex worker, and has featured in almost every notable scene of needless nudity and sexual violence against women in Game of Thrones.

She is perhaps the literal embodiment of everything that is wrong with Game of Thrones – which I will discuss later – but her character is also shown to be more than just the ‘damned whore’ trope. She is smart, and compassionate, and becomes a key figure in the court’s secretive dealings. More importantly, although she does later die, her death is not represented as something inevitable, or expected or deserved. It’s presented as an outrage. Her death makes her a martyr to the audience, and makes her killer – King Joffrey – a monster.

It’s this key point – that the misogynistic attitudes of some characters in the show are actually presented in a negative light – that I want to address next. In Game of Thrones, sexism doesn’t just simmer unnoticed beneath the surface – sexism is actually used as a yardstick to determine how bad the bad guys are.

In Game of Thrones, he evilness of any male character is almost directly proportionate to how misogynistic he is. The male characters in the show who display the most respect for women, are the good sympathetic characters the audience is supposed to be rooting for. Tyrion Lannister, Jon Snow and Rob Stark spring to mind.

On the other hand, the male characters who are truly, horribly, or terrifyingly misogynistic are the characters who are also evil in every other way – in other words, the most hated characters on fan forums. King Joffrey, and Walder Frey, etc.

Jaime Lannister
It’s also interesting to note that how male characters treat women is often integral to their character arcs. Jaime Lannister starts the show as a cold and calculating – albeit charming and handsome – asshole; but by the end of third season his character is being redeemed. This character development is linked inextricably to his friendship with and treatment of Brienne of Tarth, the Lady Knight. The pair are forced to travel together throughout the third season, and to begin with Jaime treats Brienne of Tarth with contempt and mockery. But their friendship grows, and by the end of the third season he has put himself in grave danger to protect her. His character develops from appalling sexist to self-sacrificing champion – and this change is illustrated through his treatment of women.

Men also suffer because of their misogyny. The men who view Daenerys Targareyn as a “na├»ve little sex doll”, die in fairly horrible ways.  Her brother, who sells her into a marriage for his own political gain, succumbs to death by a hat of molten gold; and Daxos a powerful merchant established in the great city-state of Qarth, who steals dragons from Daenerys, ends up locked in a vault, presumably to starve to death.

Brienne of Tarth
But the fact that there so many critics and writers stridently DEFENDING Game of Thrones as a feminist show, already indicates that something may be awry. 

Despite its strong female characters, Game of Thrones has faced significant criticism for its (a) use of extraneous nudity, (b) use of sex as a plot device and (c) gratuitous depictions of sexual violence against women. xoJane’s executive editor Emily McCombs wrote a post titled “I think King Joffrey is activating my PTSD (referring to scenes of sexual violence that Joffrey carries out against women); critic Myles McNutt invented the word “sexposition” to explain a trend towards lengthy monologues in Game of Thrones being delivered with inexplicable nudity in the background; and Mary McNamara writing in the Los Angeles Times decided that “maybe it’s time to tone down the tits”.

Game of Thrones is filled with the male gaze; that is, the creators of the show seem to assume that the viewer of the program is a heterosexual man, who wants to see women presented as sexual objects. The term “the male gaze” can be traced back to academic Laura Mulvey in her essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (1975), in which she argues that women in film are typically presented as objects to be gazed upon, rather than the possessors of a gaze. The male gaze has developed, she argues, based on the assumption that heterosexual men are the target audience for most film genres.

This definition of the male gaze is fairly evident in Game of Thrones.  In a long, involved scene of exposition – where Little Finger explains that he used to love Catelyn Stark, which sets the scene for his later betrayal if her husband – there are two prostitutes pleasuring each other in the background under Little Finger’s instruction. The scene goes for five minutes.

McNutt’s explanation for this sexposition is that the creators of the show have underestimated the audience. He writes:  “Is it simply because we couldn’t be trusted to pay attention otherwise? … It’s as though they think having a prostitute appear and only talking, without actually having sex, would be some sort of cop-out. In my view, at least, it’s the other way around: it just feels lazy.”

Some pretty sultry staring into the distance going on here.
The other obvious example of the male gaze in Game of Thrones is… almost every scene that Daenerys Targaryen is in.  She is depicted in a state of undress fairly regularly, especially in the first season – and often with little reason.  On top of this, her nakedness is nearly always sensual and sexualised. Regardless of the purpose of any given scene, the camera lingers on her body. 

I'll give a textual example for this, with a passage from the books instead of still images. Cracked writer David Wong notes that even in scenes from Daenerys’ perspective, her breasts get a mention– as if women just walk around thinking about their boobs constantly.

As Denarys makes her way to a confrontation – not a sexy scene –  George Martin describes her as follows: “When she went to the stables, she wore faded sandsilk pants and woven grass sandals. Her small breasts moved freely beneath a painted Dothraki vest ..."

Wong argues that Martin has written the scene this way because, “when a male writes a female, he assumes that she spends every moment thinking about the size of her breasts and what they are doing…” While this is certainly not true for all male writers, it is true for parts of Game of Thrones – and true for how a number of the female characters are portrayed on the screen, too.

The other key criticism of Game of Thrones is related to the gratuitous depictions of sexual violence against women.

There are a few notable examples of sexual violence against women in the show that stand out, although they are fairly frequent. In the very first episode, the teenaged Daenerys is raped by her new husband. In one of the most triggering scenes in the show, King Joffrey forces one prostitute to beat another unconscious and brutalise her body. Another example is the depiction of Ros’ dead body, strung up and mutilated, after Joffrey has killed her at the end of a third season.

The show creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss tend to get quite defensive when the arguable excess of nudity, sex or violence in the show comes up. Weiss has said in the past: “I don’t know why sex and violence get highlighted so much … You don’t hear people talking about gratuitous punch lines and gratuitous politics: It’s all about what belongs in any given scene. We put in the show what we think belongs in the show.”

The question is whether these depictions of sexual violence in Game of Thrones are included for a purpose, and whether the gratuitousness of the scenes is actually necessary; or whether they are being filmed to create the most sensationalist portrayal possible, in order to titillate audiences. I’m actually not sure if a conclusion can be drawn either way – but for those of who you are fans of the show, I think it’s something worth keeping in mind when watching.

Game of Thrones isn't perfect, but...
The female characters in Game of Thrones are arguably some of the most complex, interesting and well-rounded on television at the moment. Martin, Benioff, and Weiss have created and adapted an ensemble cast of personalities that defy stereotyping. But conversely, the representation of these female characters on screen conforms to the stereotypical idea of what consumers of fantasy fiction want to see. Game of Thrones still conforms to the persistent idea that for fantasy fiction to be popular, it must feature sex and blood and boobs.

Ultimately, I think the point is in that in our consumption of the media, we decide for ourselves where we draw a line in what we are comfortable with. The representation of women in Game of Thrones is far from perfect – but it’s also better than a lot of shows on TV at the moment. And I really want to find out if Tyrion Lannister ever gets to sit on the Iron Throne, so I’m not going to stop watching anytime soon.


References: 


Elizabeth Mulhall, "The fans doth protest too much, methinks" on The Literati Collective

Joe McGuinness, "Feminism in Game of Thrones" on The MacGuffin

Kate Aurthur, "9 ways Game of Thrones is actually feminist" on BuzzFeed.

Katie, "Don't let genre fool you, Game of Thrones is full of feminist surprises" on About-Face. 

Luz Delfondo, "Why more feminists should watch Game of Thrones" on Disrupting Dinner Parties. 

Meghan Murphy, "Just because you like it, doesn't make it feminist" on Feminist Current

Jeanette, "A Song of Ice and Ire: Feminism and the world of Game of Thrones" on Book Riot

Emily Nussbaum, "The Aristocrats" in The New Yorker

What do you think about the representation of women in Game of Thrones? Is Game of Thrones a feminist show?