Literary Douchebags – or – My Critique of the New York Times Review of Game of Thrones

I got home from work early today.  While I did check in on the various social sites at the office (sue me), I didn’t catch the hubbub over the New York Times’ review of Game of Thrones until just now.

Holy cow.

The internet, or at least Twitter, or at least a bunch of writers on Twitter, is PISSED because the NYT writer essentially said that the only reason writers put sex into fantasy is to draw in women, and that women wouldn’t read fantasy without the sex.  All sorts of folks are calling the review sexist, and some are even calling for the reviewer to be fired.  Fired!

Ok, I got it.  I totally see the slight to ladies, and ladies who like fantasy literature in particular.  I don’t care for it either.  But really….to call for the writer to be fired?  Methinks that’s going a bit off the deep end.

That said, I despise this review, and here’s why:

It really doesn’t have anything to do with the sexist comment.  Well, it sort of does, but it goes deeper than that.

This review completely reveals everything I hate about artsy fartsy people.  Everything that pissed me off in every English class, and really every art class in general, that I’ve ever taken.  Everything that made me never even consider getting a degree in liberal arts.  Everything that makes me gag whenever I hear or read some writer talking about how they want to go for an Master of Fine Arts.  Seriously, if you PAID me, and paid me really well, you still couldn’t get me within twenty miles of the office to even sign up for an MFA degree, let alone get me into a classroom to study for one.

This review reeks of pomposity, condescension, nose-in-the air snobbery, and the root of all those things: complete, all-encompassing insecurity on the part of the author, and a desperate desire to prove her own relevance, intellect, and value.

The first paragraph alone was almost enough to force me to stop reading.  Really?  A Game of Thrones is a vague Global Warming horror story?  Really????  Dear writer, are you really THAT desperate to turn everything into some grandly meaningful commentary on life, the universe, and everything?  Can’t a story just be a story?

The answer, of course, to a literary douchebag, is yes, the douchebag IS that desperate.  And no, a story can’t just be a story.

The writer goes on to talk about how HBO made a name for itself by going out of its way to make shows that provide commentary into how organizations rise and fall.  She went on to mention the Sopranos, Rome, and all the other great shows HBO has done in the past, then lamented how it all started going downhill with True Blood.  And, of course, Game of Thrones is just another symptom of that decline.

This goes to the heart of my disgust in English class.  I’m sure everyone else had this same experience: spending an entire freaking hour analyzing a single page of Shakespeare to death, trying to pull out every hidden meaning, the truth of every metaphor, the social commentary that lay so deep that you had to REALLY dig to uncover it.  Even back in grade school, I looked on in disbelief.  Seriously, I thought the guy was just trying to tell a story.  And of course, he was.

Here’s the heart of the matter.  All of these people who literary douchebags and academics try to analyze to death weren’t out to try to change or save the world.  Sure, they did some social commentary and some satire.  But what were they really after?  A paycheck, that’s what.  Shakespeare wasn’t concerned with overturning the injustices of the social order, or whatever douchebaggery gets assigned to him in snooty circles.  He was trying to fill the seats in his theater, to maximize his earnings.  How do you do that?  By poking fun at the nobility.  By putting on morality plays, comedies, shows with a bit of action.  So that’s what he did.  It’s the same with every other “great artist” throughout history.  We place FAR more weight on them, and on their work, than they ever meant, or imagined, they could, or should, get.

It’s the same with HBO.  The guy who made The Sopranos said he wanted to tell the tale of the fall of a Mafia family, but HBO wasn’t looking to make some high and mighty declaration with it.  People like mafia movies, so HBO made a mafia show.  Same with Rome.  People like fighting movies, and have always had a fascination with Rome.  In the aftermath of Gladiator, HBO made Rome.  Everyone likes a good western, hence Deadwood.  Then, after Twilight, everyone was into Vampires and Paranormal Romance.  Surprise, surprise, HBO came out with True Blood.  Gee, it’s hard to figure out why.  HBO is out to make money.  They do that by attracting and keeping an audience.  Give the audience a good story that they will probably like, make sure it’s well acted and well produced, and you’ll probably accomplish that.  It has little to nothing to do with any high-brow moralizing or some deeper meaning.  It’s entertainment.

But the sort of douchebag who hangs out with other effete (usually liberal) snobs at upscale Manhattan cocktail parties won’t see that, because it diminishes their own sense of importance as they write commentary on it.

I’m an Engineer.  I’ve also studied business and management.  I’m a Naval Officer, and thus a leader and manager of people.  You don’t see this kind of snobbery among Engineers, business types, military people, or hard scientists, by and large.  Sure, there are douchebags in every crowd, but the percentage is nowhere NEAR the percentage you find amongst “artsy” types.  I’m convinced this is at least partially because we are too busy ACTUALLY ACCOMPLISHING SOMETHING.  There’s no time for naval gazing and fretting over why your little dream of utopia is doomed to failure when you’re, say, building a bridge or a skyscraper, or coordinating big supply chains and production facilities to make the things that people need and want in their daily lives, or charging up a hill to take down the enemy.  That sort of squishy, wimpy, useless douchebaggery is only available to the soft people who are able to live cushy lives because of the heavy lifting the rest of us do.

Which is, I guess, why all those artsy fartsy types are so obviously insecure about every aspect of their lives.  And why they are seemingly compelled to hurl insults at the rest of us.

I can hear the comments now.  Wow, Mike, you’re really laying into the profession you’re trying to join, aren’t you?

Well no.  Not really.  Or at least, not entirely.  First of all, remember what I said in my “About Michael” tab above: I am NOT an artist.  I’m not doing this for any high purpose.  I’m trying to have fun telling cool stories, and make some money doing it.  Hopefully some people will think my stories are cool, and pay me for them.  But that’s it.  I have no lofty goal, no message I’m trying to send, no cause I’m trying to support (except the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society: hit up my donation page here, or through the banner link to the right, will you?).  It’s about fun and entertainment for me, and about running a business.

That said, there are a lot of grounded, confident, and useful people in publishing, and the other arts.  I just don’t like the snobs.  Those who Teddy Roosevelt called out in his “Man in the Arena” speech.  Those who can’t accomplish themselves, and thus put on airs and try to tear down their existential superiors.

Now, I don’t know the writer of this NYT piece from Eve.  She may be the nicest, smartest, most useful and secure person in the world.  She may love babies and puppies, treat old people with respect and kindness, volunteer at homeless shelters, donate 25% of her pay to the less fortunate, and adopt needy orphans.  She may be all these things and more.

But in this piece, at least, she comes off as a total douchebag.