Monday, April 2, 2012

Game Of Thrones Review: Response To Neil Genzlinger

To be respected, I learned in school, a person had to be educated. Everyone who became something in life did so through education, by improving themselves, learning and growing, achieving lofty dreams and succeeding. Being an intellectual was my goal from earliest memory. I wanted to be smart, maybe because in all other facets of my life, I saw only limits and no possibility to matter.

Poor kids think of escape. Poor kids think of respect.

I understood the stigma of poverty, the crushing weight of shame, the embarrassment, the feeling of being less than your classmates. The message was taught in subtle ways but crystallized when I was in third grade when a teacher sent me home with a check for twenty dollars so that I could buy boots. Without boots I couldn’t play at recess in the snow with everyone else but my feet were growing too fast and with three siblings it was either sneakers or boots, not both.

I never asked for that check, never once spoke my disappointment as I stood on the shovelled pavement and watched my friends run unfettered but there it was, a check that screamed, “You’re poor!”

I returned the check the next day, smaller inside, determined to not allow that kind of hurt affect me in the same way. I was smart and people would see that instead of the run down clothes, the re-used school supplies most kids threw out, the much repaired backpack.

Poor kids know about fear. Poor kids know about ridicule.

Being caught out as dumb was a constant fear, a condition avoided above all else. An A- was reason to cry before exhaustion took me to sleep. I didn’t want to be average, couldn’t afford to be average, and to me, anything less than perfection was a crack that could be exploited.

Writing was something I did to step out of a life that often was full of expectations and failures and unspoken fears. Creating worlds where the intent of hearts actually mattered, where heroes were judged on deeds, not wealth, worlds of triumphs affected by hard work and merit. I created worlds where having boots meant less than how far you could walk with your head held high, proud in the knowledge that your actions mattered more than anything else in life.

Poor kids keep secrets. Poor kids share everything except who they are.

I wrote mostly fantasy and sci-fi. I knew how destructive to my goal of being considered an intellectual my preferred genres represented. I knew to hide what I wrote from everyone, to downplay my interest. Scribble in notebooks, random scraps of paper, but mostly keep the stories where they were safest, inside my head.

My parents would have been horrified, I think, to know how I felt. They were supportive, loving and hard-working. At the time I felt trapped by that singular thought of being an intellectual and so I kept my secrets. Years crushed predecessors until hiding away was no longer a thought but a way to live, as if no options existed. I grew to love literature, to embrace what is considered sophisticated, to attempt to embody the intellectual ideal as I saw it to be.

Poor kids grow up. Poor kids learn what’s important.

Approaching my forties, getting married, letting go of the poor kid stigma, learning to say ‘fuck you’ to doubters and pompous intellectuals elites, finally finding comfort in who I am, allows me to understand how wrong I was to believe I had to pretend to be different than who I was at birth.

I’m proud of me and saying so, I announce that I like fantasy, I like sci-fi, I enjoy a beer on a weeknight on occasion; I swear, split-infinitives, misspell words (caring not a damn) and actively enjoy many other low-class pursuits with hardly a twinge of the shame I formerly felt.

New York Times columnist Neil Genzlinger wrote a review of season two of HBO’s Game Of Thrones and it represents everything that I struggled my entire life to overcome; the fear, the shame, the sense of not being good enough, not being able to escape to something better because deep down I was too uncultured, too unintelligent, too low-class. I would never be one of the favored, one of the elite, or so I always thought.

But of course that’s bullshit.

Genzlinger writes, “What Game of Thrones needs if it is to expand its fan base beyond Dungeons & Dragons types”. It’s a flashback from childhood, the insults from the privileged who so casually demean others without seeming injury to themselves, not caring about the damage they cause others.

Liking fantasy is not a measure of intellect Mr. Genzlinger. It’s okay not to be a fan, to think it’s silly because hey, it’s your right to have an opinion but remember that this is our playground and on our playground we outnumber you and bullies, Mr. Genzlinger, bullies are not welcome whether they be physical bullies or intellectual snobs who try to make others feel bad just to make themselves feel good.

Try hard Mr. Genzlinger to understand that you don’t have to put down a group of people to express how you feel and you certainly don’t have to go out of your way to target or demean a group of people who have had to deal with your type of smug superiority for far too long. Watch something else, sir, or judge Game of Thrones on the merits as you would any other show and not on your imagined view (and limitations) of the fans.

I, for one, have had enough.


laurathewise said...

If you had just delivered a speech I would have given you a standing ovation. Because, holy fuck, I get so frustrated with these intellectual elitist types. I literally just had a conversation with a professor about The Hunger Games movie. He hadn't read the book or seen the movie yet, and he had already reached a judgment about it. You can guess what that judgment was.

What really irks me is that Game of Thrones is very atypical for a fantasy series, in that the focus isn't on the "dungeons and dragons types" but on the politics, the human story, characters etc. instead of the magic. People think, "oh, fantasy is just formulaic stories with some flashy magic to appease the lowest common denominator." Not. True. Actually, when you started off your review talking about the stigma of being looked down on, belittled, and trying to use your intellect as armor, I totally thought you were working up to a Tyrion analogy. :)

MT Nickerson said...

Thank you Laura. I like your thought on the Tyrion analogy, which now that you mention it, would have been an apt tie-in. Sorry that I missed the opportunity in hindsight.

The careless stereotyping is what bothers me so often and like you, I've run into my fair share of people just like the professor you mentioned who pass judgement without any real knowledge to back up their prejudice. (Enjoyed book 1 & 2 of the Hunger Games trilogy, but number 3... not as much)

I respect folks who don't like fantasy, but not folks who don't first afford fans a little respect in turn.

GriffinsRoost said...

Wow! Thank you for that. You just made my day. When I read Neil's "review" it really brought me down. Reading your reply has lifted my spirits completely. Thank you sir.

MT Nickerson said...

Thanks for the comment, GriffinsRoost. I was disappointed by the review, as well. It seems to me that in this great big world that there should be room for everyone.

Laura W. said...

@MT: I always wonder what exactly people are trying to accomplish by careless stereotyping. Some people like the professor and Neil Genzlinger have their "image" to maintain, I suppose, but how do they decide what that image is? Who are they trying to please? What it comes down to is trying to look better than other people for whatever reason. After all, there's a huge difference between a review that says "X, Y, and Z might like it but it's not for me" and one that's just insulting.

MT Nickerson said...

Laura- all good points you make. It increasingly seems as if the only remaining socially acceptable insult is referring to others as dumb. Of course, entertainment choices are a poor barometer for intelligence.

Bret Simmons said...

I love Game of Thrones! If you can kill Eddard Stark in season 1, no telling what can happen in season 2.

MT Nickerson said...

Fantastic series, no doubt about it, Bret. Won't spoil anything for you, but the rest of the series is just as good as the first season (at least as far as the books go and I'm hoping the tv series will continue to hold to a high standard).

Thanks for the comment!

Putrid Pundits said...

I went over to MetaCritic to see what Genzlinger thought of other shows and I now understand his view of GoT. He's a moron with terrible taste. He gives a low-brow formulaic reality shows like "Storage Wars" and "Fashion Star" an 80% rating which is way above what anyone with taste would give.

MT Nickerson said...

Putrid Pundits, thanks for the comment. Your response explains a great deal about Mr. Genzlinger. He can watch all the storage wars he wants while the rest of us enjoy watching a show with intelligence and substance.