Complex vs. Busy

Never let it be said that I don’t give the people what they want — I’ve got plenty of half-assed takes on pop culture stuff I vaguely remember.  Here’s one on Game of Thrones:

[Disclaimers first, so everyone knows where I stand.  I read the first….three? I think…. books.  Up to whenever he magically resurrected Caitlyn Stark, at which point I threw the stupid thing across the room.  Having seen a few pairs of breasts in my time, I feel no need to watch the tv show (plus, the naked dragon chick is obviously about 4’10”, which gives it a weird pedo vibe).  I’m not really much of a fantasy reader, anyway; Tolkien bores my tits off.  So again, we’ll do this Jon Stewart style: If you agree with me I’m serious; if you don’t, I’m kidding].

People tell me A Song of Ice and Fire’s plot is complex.  It’s not.  It’s just busy.  A competent historian could knock out a pretty good summary of the major events in five pages (see e.g. this Infogalactic summary of Martin’s inspiration, the Wars of the Roses).  Martin likes to pad his page counts by delivering small nuggets of information via viewpoint characters that get killed at the end of their chapters.  Instead of simply reproducing a one-paragraph dispatch from a commander to his lackey, we have to read all about Ser Josaph Sixpacke, his hopes and dreams and the girl he left behind him, his journey through the mud and the blood, what he had for dinner, what he’s wearing, the sixteen different positions he used to rape the serving wench at the last tavern, all before he hands over two lines of actual information and gets broadsworded in the face.

By about the seventh time this happens, one begins to suspect that Martin is just stalling — he has no idea what to do with his story; he’s hoping to string it along until the HBO guys figure it out for him, and hoping nobody notices.

I’m sure he’s mostly doing it for the money (do we all appreciate the irony of a minor-league nobody such as myself giving writing advice to a guy who can probably build a complete medieval castle entirely out of stacks of money?  If not, I’ll pause for a second to let y’all get that sorted out.  Everyone back? Ok, as I was saying…) But I also think his much-publicized SJWism has something to do with it.

Faux-complexity is one of the most reliable ways liberals convince themselves they’re Smarter Than You.  The ivory tower’s impenetrable jargon, for instance, isn’t only, or even primarily, to snow you, the consumer.  It’s for them.  By “arguing” with each other in a bizarre idiom which takes fifty two syllables of neologism to express a simple idea like “all women should be lesbians” (“the social construction of the gender binary within the heterosexual matrix;” read ’em and weep), they convince themselves they are very, very, very Smart.  Who but a towering intellect could ever even conceive such a barmy idea, much less phrase it that way?

George R.R. Martin obviously thinks he’s brilliantly “deconstructing” the tropes of your standard High Fantasy sword-n-sandal epic.  By making everyone in Westeros a vicious, nihilistic, amoral scumbag, he thinks he’s mocking the pretensions of the 1%.  In Martin’s world, anyone who thinks he’s a hero — or even aspires to be anything other than a vicious, nihilistic, amoral scumbag — is either a fraud or a fool.  The only “sympathetic” character left standing (for a very loose value of “sympathetic”) is Tyrion Lannister, a malformed, hideously scarred dwarf.  That’s some subtle fucking symbolism right there, ain’t it?

But that’s the thing.  The more grimy details he packs in  — the more rapes, gaping wounds, tortures, degradations, rapes, betrayals, double-crosses, rapes, triple-crosses, rapes, incest, rapes, etc. he shows — the more he reinforces his own pretensions.  Like the professor inventing ever more arcane jargon, Martin thinks that by rubbing our faces in it yet again, he’s really putting one over on us.  In reality, of course, there’s no “there” there, and there hasn’t been for about 2200 pages.

This is not to say one must be a conservative to write epic fantasy.  But again, as with Conan (my interpretation, anyway), even a thorough deconstruction of a trope must acknowledge the trope’s conventions.  A hero has a tragic flaw that brings him down.  Martin has no heroes, only viewpoint characters, and they’re nothing but flaws.  The world is interesting and the writing is intermittently good, but without a moral center, epic fantasy — even a deconstruction of epic fantasy — is just one damn thing after another.  Plus rape.


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12 thoughts on “Complex vs. Busy

  1. Recusant

    Agree with everything you say. But I still enjoy the show. Must be all the cash they threw at it.

    But…………..when I went overboard on the ‘doubles’ it was to say I like all your commentary: pop culture rarely makes me more than lukewarm. Big ‘C’ culture, politics, history, etc., on the other hand…….

    Basically, keep writing and keep posting.

    Yours, appreciatively, from London


    1. Severian Post author

      Cheers! And maybe you can answer a question that’s been bugging me for a long time: How do British people feel about all these shows going all-in on British accents?

      Checking google… yep, the first few Ice and Fire books were released in the mid-1990s, and nobody cared, as fantasy books were for nerds. But in the mid-00s, HBO discovered that, for American audiences at least, “tits + British accent = goldmine,” and now the kind of people who would’ve shoved Martin’s readers into a locker back in the 90s are going gaga over the show.

      Do y’all tire of that over there? “Sigh, another American show where the villain butchers a Beeb accent.”

      1. Recusant

        Well, in GoT, all the actors ARE Brits, except the dwarf and the Dane who plays the incestuous brother. So nothing, except some dodgy regional accents, is being butchered.

        The more prominent thing from this side of the pond is the reverse: Brits playing Americans. It’s becoming hard to find a US TV series that doesn’t have a chunk of Brits playing you guys. Examples, and I could go on for ever, include The Wire, House, Homeland, The Walking Dead, Greys Anatomy, etc., etc.

        I have my theory as to why that is. British actors enunciate, too many American actors mumble. Drama school is still a big thing over here and elocution and diction are a big part of what they teach, plus British actors will, in the main, have spent a lot more time treading the boards and that will have confirmed the need to project their voices.

        So as to avoid you thinking this is a Yank bashing exercise, you lot beat us hands down in the script and production department. Embarrassingly so. It just seems that Hollywood has a predilection for hiring looks and hoping they can act. Mostly, they can’t.

        As for being pissed off at being the villain. Well, it is a cliche well noted over here, but I can’t say that it particularly annoys. Who would you rather be, the saccharine hero or the super-smart and sophisticated villain?

        On a completely different, but related point, that old GBS quote about us being two peoples separated by a common language is pretty apt. Most English people, less so for the Scots or Welsh (and no-one over here refers to themselves as a Brit), don’t really get how different we are from Americans. The reality is that, like Argentinians are Italians who speak Spanish and the Dutch are Germans who think they are English, the Americans are Germans who speak English and have adopted Common Law.

        In many ways – and I’ll advice you to sit down at this point – you have more in common with the French than you do with us; both of you are revolutionary nations who believe you have a global mission to enlighten. There’s very little that separates the tastes, behaviours and beliefs of your blue collar class and you both seem to enjoy strip development in your towns. Hey, there’s a reason that MacDonald’s most profitable country after the US is France. Just don’t confuse Paris with France: it would be the same as confusing Washington with the US.

        That’s enough or I’ll witter on for ever and make myself lots of enemies.

  2. Ganderson

    I agree with recusant- your points are all well taken and I still like the show. Things I don’t like: Lady Stoneheart, the annoying habit of slightly misspelling everything, Eddard, Waldur, and especially the ‘Ser’ business. I have to say I enjoy the boobs, though.

  3. Bill Peschel

    Damn, and here I thought it was a brilliant refutation of the Democratic Party and its power-at-all-costs and the Consitution-is-just-a-piece-of-paper and “I didn’t know it was bad to get a BJ in the White House by an intern” policy.

    Because G0T shows pretty vividly what happens when people act according to personal hatreds without a shred of principle or philosophy.

    1. Severian Post author

      Ha! That’s one of the many other things wrong with GoT — the sheer tediousness of the family feuds. The War of the Roses was about a few more things than just Lord So-and-So’s claim to the throne. It had to be; otherwise, nobody would fight for Lord So-and-So.

      To be fair to Martin, he seemed to be trying in the first two books. Cersei Lannister had a good arc; she was well characterized as a schemer who thinks she’s a lot cleverer than she actually is. By book three (or however far I got), she’s just dumb, full stop.

    1. Severian Post author

      You’re right, I should have — since he’s a “Ser” and rapes a lot, it sounds like he’s going to be a major character! I should’ve said “Josaph Sixpacke, a really nice guy with a sense of honor” — that way, you’d know immediately he’s worm food. Sorry. 🙁

  4. philmon

    I’ve never watched it, nor had any desire to. And I’m not one of those people who says things like that to brag about how un-mainstream I am, thus proving my intellectual superiority. I like fantasy, I like action-adventure… this show just truly never appealed to me.

    That being said, what Sev here is describing here as becoming more and more common in the general theme of entertainment — which reflects the culture — I think is the primary answer to why mass shootings are on the rise.

    There is no such thing as a hero. Life is pointless, then you die. So you might as well, for the less ambitious, spend your life in your room watching internet porn, or for those who have more energy, go around deceiving and raping and taking what you can from others, or for the really ambitious, gain as much power as you can and just go around destroying, even literally slaughtering people you don’t like — which is almost everybody because you see them all as just other pointless versions of yourself, whom you hate anyway. Because there’s no such thing as heroes, so you can never be one.

    There’s a post in there somewhere…. I’m just afraid it’ll be long and tedious by the time I sit and spell out my entire unified field theory of WTF has gone wrong.

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