My week in Pop Culture – week 22 & 23
Posted by Hedwig on June 10, 2012
I was away all day last Sunday, so I’m afraid my weekly post slipped through the cracks. Here, then, a post for not just last week but the week before that. It was heavy on film, with 4 cinema visits (COSMOPOLIS, PROMETHEUS, MOONRISE KINGDOM and SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN), 3 of them interesting and one of them charming (that would be MK), listened to some new music for the first time in a while (new albums by Regina Spektor, Metric, The Hives), and read quite a bit (finished COSMOPOLIS the book and the stories included with I AM LEGEND, read TARZAN OF THE APES by Edgar Rice Burroughs and THE HEDGE KNIGHT by George R.R. Martin.
What I really want to talk about, however, is the final two episodes of this season of GAME OF THRONES. This afternoon, I listened to an interview with the director of episode 2.9, Neil Marshall*, and was disappointed but not particularly surprised to find out he’d been urged by an executive producer to up the pointless nudity. “You can do full frontal, you know!”, the man apparently said, adding that he represented the “pervert” side of the audience.
Look – I have nothing against nudity. The main reason HBO goes so over the top with it (and with swearing, too) is because the rest of American TV is so ridiculously prudish. I don’t even necessarily see a problem with people finding the nudity an incentive to watch something (the reason I’m going to see MAGIC MIKE in the cinema has little to do with plot or characterization), or with producers adding nudity with the express purpose of appealing to the “pervert side”. But GAME OF THRONES is taking it to a rather ridiculous level, and the nudity in that specific episode felt even more tacked on that usual, especially since the girl was a non-entity, never seen before and probably never to be seen again.
Still, I can’t help but wonder: maybe there’s a sneakier plan at work here. I’m probably being too optimistic, but maybe the nudity functions as a Trojan horse, a way to get the men who would watch a show just for the boobs and nothing else** to care about and empathize with some great female characters.
Note: of course it’s ridiculous that men can just discard stories about women as “not for them” while woman are routinely expected to identify with male protagonists. I definitely don’t advocate just accepting that as a reality – but meanwhile, navigating around that fact might not be a bad idea.
GAME OF THRONES isn’t flawless, of course, and not just because of the nudity: the show has a tendency of taking agency away from female characters, even when the books (apparently) didn’t. But it’s notable for the sheer number of female characters, especially in this second season, and it’s not afraid at all to delve into how difficult it is to be a woman in this society.
Take that episode, for instance: Blackwater, which is focused on a siege, and – unusually for the show – takes place in only one location. Since there are only men fighting, and only men on the battlements, it would have been very easy to restrict the episode further, ignoring all the female characters. Instead, we spend a big chunk of the episode in the bunker-like structure where the women stay, seeing how Cersei, Sansa and Shae (+ a number of noblewomen) navigate this situation. Not only that, but a progressively drunker and drunker Cersei tells Sansa that when she was little, she looked exactly like her brother Jaime and couldn’t understand why they were treated differently, why he was taught to fight and she was taught to curtsy. She talks about what will happen to the women if the city falls. And she tells Sansa*** her most powerful weapon is between her legs – while we know that it is not (her wits and perseverance have served her well, until now), we can see how embittered Cersei is due to being reduced to just a body.
The show is guilty of objectification, sure. And there’s definitely a big imbalance between male and female nudity. However, it shows us how damaging objectification can be, too, and not in a particularly subtle way. It’s hard to imagine anyone not noticing that these women – and the many others in the show – are fully-rounded characters, clearly damaged and limited by the fact that their role is meant to be purely decorative. If anything, the fact that there is an exec representing the “pervert side” shows that while we’ve come far, there’s still a ways to go.
*CENTURION, THE DESCENT
**Though you can wonder if those really exist, what with the abundance of boobs on the web.
*** I am, at some point, going to write the post I’ve been thinking about for weeks about how Sansa is the more interesting character from a feminist perspective than Arya, I swear.