The recent HBO smash hit, Game of Thrones has come as something of a surprise to everyone. Right from the word go it has been a program of much speculation and these speculations have surfaced from a few basic assumptions made by some early reviews:
a) HBO does only high end, artistic and ground-breaking drama television shows such a Sex and the City or The Sopranos. Since Game of Thrones is strictly in the realm of the fantasy genre it’s surprising that HBO has produced it- since fantasy is apparently a low end genre
b) Game of Thrones is a game changer… a hugely budgeted fantasy costume drama that has garnered an enormous amount of popularity and attention. Who would have thought?
While these two thoughts thoughts surrounding Game of Thrones irritate me on a number of levels- they do raise some interesting questions surrounding genre, gender and of course taste. The first thing that fascinates me is the certain “cringe culture” surrounding the fantasy genre. I pitch that the cringe surrounding it has something strongly to do with the fan base. The classically alarming “Trekkies” who would follow program Star Trek to the ends of the universe have helped create a genre cringe for science fiction. Science fiction fans are steryotyped as creepy geeks who dress up in character, love computers, have fierce arguments about the specifics of the show and write somewhat strange fictional pieces involving homosexual and erotic romances between particular characters. The fear surrounding this fan culture is that the fans are too “close” to the text. The fan is too involved and invested- they cannot step back and observe the text from an analytical, academic or detatched perspective. Truth and reality are blurred as the fan obsesses deeply over the show. The fan lacks intelligence or depth as their proximity to the text implies their priorities and lifestyle choices are unnatural. Due to the nature of the fan base science fiction is viewed as a low end genre, it is bad taste because of the witless fans the genre attracts.
Genre reflects its audience and audience reflects its genre.
Although science fiction may be the strongest cliche for extreme fan bases- fantasy is not far behind. Fantasy games such as Dungeons and Dragons or World of Warcraft have ensured that fantasy for a long time has been considered a “nerdy”, low culture genre. Yet… something has happened to fantasy in the last decade. In my opinion, fantasy has definitely become cool. It’s not because of Game of Thrones either. The enormous Harry Potter book series and gigantic movie franchise ushered in a new age. J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books that may have once existed in the realm of fantasy cringe had a huge resurrection through the Peter Jackson movie franchise- soon to follow will be the three part movie adaption of The Hobbit which has tongues wagging everywhere. The teenage phenomenon Twilight gave vampires a sexy reboot and since then many hugely popular mainstream television shows have followed suite including the much-loved True Blood. With the cinema teeming with Super Hero films as well- one thing is clear… people are craving some escapism. The world is thirsting for fantasy. Even the recent book 50 Shades of Grey is a fantasy of the erotic kind and it’s recently outsold Harry Potter on amazon.
People: This is all in the mainstream- and in a big, big way. Fantasy is the new black.
So when people speculate as to why HBO chose to adapt the A Game of Thrones fantasy book series into the television show A Game of Thrones I’m surprised the main discussion is around the confusing choice of HBO to chose such a low culture genre. I argue most avidly that HBO are actually very discerning and couldn’t have picked a better genre- it’s a genre that is enjoying a huge amount of mainstream success. The fan base has changed to something much cooler- and Game of Thrones simply reaffirming this as it enjoys a huge amount of mainstream attention (it is now the most illegally downloaded television show of all time). While people are up in arms that Game of Thrones is a surprise smash- I couldn’t be any less surprised. Fantasy was a genre ripe for the picking. Throw in some famous actors, a exorbitant budget and lots of sexy women have lots of sexy sex and you have a show that was just waiting for success. Game of Thrones has achieved an impressive amount of status- but it is not a game changer. HBO should not be rewarded for their move to break the mould but for their ability to read what the audience wants at this moment. Hey, with the popularity that Dr. Who has at the moment, maybe it’s almost time for the Sci Fi genre to get some mainstream popularity and a higher reputation?
Live long and prosper.