I don’t know much about fantasy novelist George R.R. Martin, but this New York Times review of the HBO adaptation of Game of Thrones intrigued me—not because I need more pseudo-mediaevalia in my life, but because all the bed-hopping in the TV series drove the Times critic to unsheathe one remarkably blunt assumption:
The true perversion, though, is the sense you get that all of this illicitness has been tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise. While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first. “Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.
Via Facebook, a friend of mine chimed in: “Admittedly, with all its rather graphic sex and violence and other nastiness, I’d guess GoT has a lower female readership percentage than, say, The Lord of the Rings.” He’s right to be wary of contrary generalizations. Male and female SF/fantasy fans don’t have identical tastes, and some authors’ readerships likely skew either more male or more female.
That said, the Times television critic is wielding yesterday’s oxidized ignorance. Women have long driven the expansion of the SF/fantasy universe: Starting from small but not insignificant numbers in the 1940s and 1950s, women were already one-third of Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction readers by 1965 and are nearly 40 percent today.
As of three years ago, women were 43 percent of the Sci Fi Channel audience.
As of two years ago, women were 40 percent of Comic-Con attendees.
A comment on this this 2008 post about SF fandom suggests that around 50 percent of serious fans are women:
While I have no empirical data on science fiction readers in general, I can claim a bit of expertise, derived from inter alia having chaired the World Science Fiction Convention, on the narrower subject of SF “fandom”, the hard core who attend conventions, publish zines, etc. Among that group, women are as numerous as men, and a sex-specific SF vs. fantasy split is just barely discernible.
While we’re at it: 40 percent of U.S. gamers are women, too.
And although I can’t find good statistics to support the rumors, I hear women also drive cars, do math, and vote.
Regular readers know (I hope) that Quid Plura? isn’t a venue for snarking at easy targets—but shouldn’t a newspaper critic know where the culture’s at these days? Has no one at the Times read these books? The print edition of the Sunday New York Times has a circulation of 1.4 million copies (and dropping). George R.R. Martin has sold more than 2.2 million fantasy novels. Which of them, really, is increasingly mainstream, and which is increasingly “niche”?
* * *
There’s another weird swipe in this review: “The show has been elaborately made to the point that producers turned to a professional at something called the Language Creation Society.” Yes, “something called” the Language Creation Society—I like that deniable hint of disdain for a worldwide organization of scholars who study constructed languages.
The reviewer concludes:
If you are not averse to the Dungeons & Dragons aesthetic, the series might be worth the effort. If you are nearly anyone else, you will hunger for HBO to get back to the business of languages for which we already have a dictionary.
Bloggers gleefully flay the New York Times for its politics, or the phrasematronic predictability of its columnists, or because the paper juxtaposes dire warnings about poverty with adverts for indoor lap pools. For me, the issue is sadder and more simple: With this review, the Times continues the trend of general-interest publications talking down to some hypothetical idiot and sneering at the intellectuals they assume aren’t among their readership. (Similarly, the Washington Post recently spent as many articles mocking one elderly National Humanities Medal recipient than it did covering all of this year’s honorees combined.)
Reader-starved newspapers don’t get that they’re alienating people with brains, people who pursue intellectual interests without regard for social approbation—in other words, people who actually read.
* * *
UPDATE: Annalee Newitz, who’s read Martin’s books, cheekily asks: Why would men want to watch this?