Sunday, June 25, 2017

Rape in Game of Thrones and ISIS -- realistic medievalism?

Jeff Sypec examines in his blog the idea that rape in Game of Thrones is a positive element in George R.R. Martin's fictional version of the Middle Ages -- more realistic because more brutal. At the same time some ISIS supporters claim Islamic authenticity for their mistreatment of non-ISIS women and girls. Is there any truth to this?
Jeff, who is quite an intelligent guy, looks at this question from a number of different angles. For instance:
Even though [Amy S.]Kaufman [author of "Muscular Medievalism" in the 2016 issue of The Year’s Work in Medievalism,] isn’t blaming Game of Thrones viewers for ISIS, her article won’t sit easily with many fantasy fans. I appreciate that she isn’t just sniping on Twitter; she’s drawing a sober, thought-provoking analogy. I like her strident contrarianism, and I think she’s right to wonder what the pop-culture ubiquity of Game of Thrones actually means. Even if you’re certain the answer is “not much,” why not ponder it further anyway? As I write this, my TV is advertising “Game of Thrones Night” at Nationals Park in D.C., complete with t-shirts and a chance to “visit an authentic Iron Throne.” If someone mugs for a selfie with a TV-show prop on a fun night at the ballpark, what is it they’re trying to be a part of? Why do they need to believe so badly that fictional violence gets us closer to the “real” Middle Ages?
“The medieval era is the dumping ground of the contemporary imagination,” Kaufman writes, “rife with torture, refuse in the streets, rape, slavery, superstition, casual slaughter, and every other human vice we supposedly stopped indulging in once we became ‘enlightened.'” It’s worth asking what we miss seeing in the Middle Ages if we’re invested in only this view. Despite what George R. R. Martin believes, his dark, despairing fantasy isn’t any more “authentic” than the Disney-princess version, nor is it less harmful. Observations like Kaufman’s always bring me back around to a blunt conclusion by medievalist and Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey: “There are . . . many medievalisms in the world, and some of them are as safe as William Morris wallpaper: but not all of them.”
It might be worth reminding both Jeff and Amy that the idea of the Middle Ages was invented specifically to serve as a background for recent progress. A very large number (if not all) the depictions of the Middle Ages will always be negative in many respects.
I am pleased by the excellence of Jeff's blog post. He's a survivor of what us (habitual classifiers) will probably call the Golden Age of Blogging. (There is no Golden Age of Twitter, sorry.) Nice to have such a meaty discussion.
Image: Jeff's from Maryland, and the state flag is a welcome reminder of an earlier age of medievalism.  Jousting is, or has been, the state sport.

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