Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Uncritical fans: A liability for the quality of GAME OF THRONES the HBO series?
Now, in this little piece I will be referring to the Star Wars movies as well as A Song of Ice and Fire, but bear with me. There are similarities I need to explain to shed the proper light on what I am trying to say – that the forumites of Westeros.org, the so-called ‘premier’ website for A Song of Ice and Fire are endangering the quality of the remaining seasons of HBO’s Game of Thrones series. The following thoughts occurred to me while sitting with my seven year old son, who is turning into something of a Star Wars fan and wanted me to draw pictures of Star Destroyers, Boba Fett and Yavin IV with him. As I was doodling I began to wonder (once again) what the upcoming Star Wars trilogy has in store. My son is anxiously looking forward to the new films while his dad can only hope it is going to get better than the prequel trilogy, which, in the words of those who defend the second trilogy, ‘raped my childhood’.
All right, let’s see if I can present this in a readable manner. As a child, I became a fan of Star Wars, sometime between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. In the years that followed I played with my toys and made up my own stories and wondered about the backstory like most other fans of the original trilogy. There were many references to this backstory in the original films, most obviously in lines such as Princess Leia’s “General Kenobi, years ago you served my father in the Clone Wars”, or Obi-Wan Kenobi’s “For a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic” (taking this out of my head so apologies if the quotes aren’t entirely correct).
When the news hit – hard in the gut – that Lucas was making the prequel story a reality, I became very excited (putting it mildly); as the years went by and news of the production began to trickle in, I became more and more hyped, pumped, and even though I had outgrown my toys I began buying toys again – and everything else Star Wars I came across. At that time, the mid-nineties, I was rather uncritical and expected gold. I became a member of theforce.net’s forums. Now, theforce.net is to Star Wars what westeros.org is to A Song of Ice and Fire. There, I found a home where I could meet up with other fanatics discussing the finer points of the original movies and speculate about what was to come. I became obsessed. And then, in May 1999, Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace hit the theaters. To make a very long story and thousands of posts at theforce.net short, I couldn’t find it in me to like much of the film. Others at theforce.net also showed their dislike. Points were made, discussions flared into flame wars, and from then on, the Star Wars fan base became divided between the “gushers” (those who ‘defended’ the prequel movies) and “bashers” (those who ‘attacked’ the prequels). This led to the establishment of the infamous “Basher’s Sanctuary” threads, in which “bashers” were allowed to vent their frustration, anger, disappointment, what-have-you over the prequel movies, safely out of sight for the “gushers”. If you, as a basher, ventured out of the virtual prison that was one thread to comment on other threads you were warned, given a timeout, or banned. Myself, I was banned after 5000+ posts when some person made a post about the original Star Wars movie not being all that. I couldn’t resist and put up a post countering that person’s observations with my own – and bam! Banned for defending the original, the very original Star Wars (all right, I may have peed a little bit on the prequels while doing so). One after another, “bashers” were banned so as to be driven away from theforce.net, presumably because showing a divided fanbase wasn’t good for the franchise (I remember a heated discussion as to whether theforce.net had been contacted by Lucasfilm).
Now, why all this nerdy history? Because it happened again, at westeros.org. A Feast for Crows is published, and many readers (myself included) aren’t all that happy with it, begin discussing its flaws as well as its merits, and what happens? As if by magic, dissenting opinion is first removed quietly (deleted posts and threads), then people are given timeouts, and finally people are banned – driven away from the premier site. Dissent not tolerated, because well, it won’t look good to newcomers if people are complaining instead of praising the book. Interestingly, when A Dance with Dragons was published, the first week or so the boards over there were flooded with mild “bashing”, before any and all threads with a negative slant were automagically gone.
There’s a reason we folks over at Is Winter Coming? call the ‘premier’ website Censoros.
So here we have two examples of divided fanbases, with one side not being allowed to speak up (until they skulk off to make their own website – which happened in both cases). So even though the majority of the geek world agree that the Star Wars prequels are crap, and that A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons likewise are subpar, the two prime forums for these two franchises pretend as if nothing’s wrong.
And that’s where my thoughts led me while I was drawing with my son. I was thinking of Star Wars: Episode Seven, and first I thought “it can’t be worse than the prequels” and THEN I thought – wait a minute, if they go check out what fans think at theforce.net, they’ll be thinking that the prequels are actually well-liked! There are people claiming that Jar Jar Binks was a good idea. There are people who actually want Hayden Christensen to return as ghost-Anakin in Episode VII (my apologies if you are one of them). I mean, art is subjective and all that, but sometimes bad is bad. There is a lot of delusion out there. I believed myself, after the first viewing or two of The Phantom Menace, that it wasn’t all that bad. Little did I know that the next film in the series would be even worse (another similarity: I had the exact same feelings with regards to books four and five of Ice and Fire). When all negative opinion has been erased, there is no balance to the Force. If J.J. Abrams checks out theforce.net – and why should he not – it is the largest gathering of star-nerds on the web), he’ll scratch his head and think that maybe the prequels were loved by all Star Wars fans. Recently they hired, among others, Doug Chiang for Episode VII. Chiang was the lead designer for the disastrous prequels. That’s a pretty bad omen for a hardcore warbasher like myself. Of the countless things that went wrong with the prequels, surely the design was one of the biggest culprits. Compare the interiors of the two trilogies’ main starships (as an example). Which one looks real, feels real, seems lived in?
With all dissenting opinion removed from westeros.org as quickly as it appears, Game of Thrones producers Weiss and Benioff face the same (invisible) problem. “Everybody” loves absolutely everything Martin puts out, and that seems to include things coming from his lower regions. Brienne of Tarth’s pointless journey in A Feast for Crows becomes a glorified epic full of hitherto unknown depth and quality; Jon Snow’s character arc in A Dance with Dragons isn’t about excitement it’s about the human condition – it’s lit, man.
In an interview last year D&D admitted they hadn’t been aware of the so-called “shadow sites” (I suppose that includes Is Winter Coming?) and that there were people angry with Martin for a variety of things. It means they have been focusing solely on the input at westeros.org entirely unaware that not everyone finds the developments in the last two books to be satisfying or even close to the quality of the first three. They might believe that season five or six will be best served by showing us Brienne farting around in the riverlands looking for Sansa in each episode (although they have the luxury of moving things around so that the new viewers actually don’t know where Sansa is at the time). They might think that the increasing violence and sexual awkwardness in the series is “inspired”, or “realistic”, and keep it that way, potentially scaring away viewers by sheer offense (suppose the Theon/Jeyne/Ramsay/dog scene was in the first season..)
All I can do is trust D&D to see and read the books for what they are. I cannot believe that they can be delusional about these books – there’s too much at stake – and they will have to see that there is much less material to work with (three pages of describing the food available in the Night’s Watch stores does not magically turn into good TV, nor does endless repetition, sidetreks without a point, people standing around for entire chapters etc.) I respect your right to claim you think the two last books are good, but I dare you to say the last two books are good fodder for TV adaptation. They just aren’t.
Ironically, one of the westeros.org gangleaders is quite vehemently bashing the TV series and for some reason that is not frowned upon over yonder – but say, jokingly, that Martin will need another century to finish a book, and you’re banned for life. There is a lot of hypocrisy going on, a lot of bullshit pure and simple, but this little rant isn’t about all the things that have gone wrong with Ice and Fire. I’m genuinely worried that by only heaping praise and glory on Martin and his two latest books, it may lessen the TV show as well because there’s nobody telling D&D that Brienne’s story in Feast should be condensed to one or two scenes, Varys is totally out of character in the Dance epilogue, or Daenerys lounging in Meereen is as interesting as reading Martin’s blog updates.
You’ve got to be intellectually honest about it. You can say that, yes, Pate’s prologue in Feast isn’t very interesting but I sure liked to see Oldtown – you don’t have to say that the prologue was exciting or well written just because it was Martin’s. You don’t have to go to amazon.com and throw in one-line “reviews” giving Dance five stars just because you feel bad for Martin. That’s not honest.
To wrap it all up, I still have hopes for the TV series. It seems D&D have some measure of control over things, but they’ll have to cut a lot of excess fat from books four and five (honestly – because you can’t have Dany talking to people with similar unpronounceable names for ten episodes, you just can’t) which in turn will lead to leaner seasons which in turn will lead to Martin getting behind with his writing which in turn will lead to the TV series wrapping up the saga before the author, which is a situation I’m sure none of us want. On the other hand, not allowing dissenting opinion on the biggest website dedicated to the story generates an unbalanced view of things.
Why not allow all opinions – Ramsay Bolton is a cute, misunderstood boy, Ramsay Bolton is the most interesting character, Ramsay Bolton is a perverted psycho, Ramsay Bolton is a projection of Martin’s inner wishes, Ramsay Bolton sounds like he’s from Bolton or somewhere, Ramsay Bolton better get his comeuppance…why can’t opinions clash? Because of the money these sites generate for the creator of the franchise? Is that it? Is it?
Will Star Wars Episode VII be more like the prequels than the originals? Will The Winds of Winter be more like the first three or more like the last two? Time will tell.
Be critical. Be skeptical.
Whew, now it’s time to do something useful. I just had to get this off my chest. I’m worried about both franchises’ futures (in case you couldn’t tell).
What if westeros.org allowed a forum section, perhaps hidden or password-protected, for those who think Darkstar isn’t the coolest character ever? For those who’d like to opine that the story has gotten away from George, or that the story has become bloated, or the increasing perversities present in the tale are lessening its quality? A place to be critical and skeptical? Not that I need it. It’s too late for that now, anyway, innit.
Posted by R.J. at 4:45 AM