prodigy: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones, scruffy, bleeding, and grinning. (no men like me)
the late, or rather, later Henrik Egerman ([personal profile] prodigy) wrote2012-10-16 07:22 pm

A Song of Ice and Fandom

So I've seen it before, but I was recently re-linked to ThinkGeek's $30,000 Iron Throne -- made of fiberglass, really, but honest advertising never got anyone anywhere. It's mindbogglingly expensive for a site that mostly sells novelty pens and mugs, of course, and kind of cutesily packaged with well-meaning joking malapropisms for flavor text (I'm not sure they remember what the iron price actually is, but okay). But I laughed, it was ridiculous enough. Oh, ThinkGeek, what a card, that sort of thing.

Then I'm like: wow, geek culture has gotten commercialized. The "Iron Throne" is a good example of that, but so is all of ThinkGeek honestly, and San Diego Comic-Con, and io9, and... everything, really. This is a really obvious yesterday observation that lots of people have made so I am not trying to make a new observation here, just pondering my own personal experience with it in the form of A Song of Ice and Fire fandom and how the experience of being a "fan" has changed since the advent of GoT.

I was about 13 when I first read A Game of Thrones. At the time it was kind of a game-of-thrones-changer, both for me and for the fantasy genre: not in terms of "grimdark" which is not actually as new as a lot of fantasy fans and commentators would posit (hello 90s comics!) but in terms of being a popular fantasy series that was heavily political and largely rooted in storytelling via a limited group of POVs, where the storyline was mostly character-driven rather than outside-force-driven like The Lord of the Rings. Basically, it was a fantasy adaptation of the Wars of the Roses/the Tudor dynasty which brought all the tropes of Tudor intrigue and bastards and marriages and backstabbing to the fantasy table, as opposed to the various sets of tropes that were already old hat to SFF: the high fantasy quest, the sword & sorcery adventure, all of that. Kind of like a lot of Philip K. Dick sci-fi noir did, it merged genres in a way that was novel and appealing to readers at the time, self included.

I found it writing-inspirational in terms of its usage of limited POVs and information-reveal and communication delays and other things that I found really fun and exciting and suspenseful, and still do: A Game of Thrones and A Storm of Swords are still excellent and tight intrigue yarns in my opinion. I found it frustrating for other reasons -- the spareness and/or obviousness of the writing at times, the lengthiness, the POV characters I didn't care for (Bran) (Bran) (Bran). It didn't and still doesn't seem that shockingly grim and dark to me, but bear in mind I was comparing it to the kind of historical fiction I'm talking about, not just fantasy as a whole; what is grim and gritty to SFF readers is not quite as startling to other readers. Anyway, I liked it for a host of reasons, and I thought the characterization of a few people was pretty excellent -- Sansa Stark and Brienne of Tarth in particular were personality types that weren't often treated with serious dignity in fantasy, and Jaime Lannister was an excellent and unforgivingly examined antihero.

So, that was me and ASoIaF. A book series I liked a lot and enjoyed making in-jokes about with other people who liked it, like many other things. And then there was Game of Thrones. I was really excited about GoT. I still am, though maybe not as excited as I was in 2010. Don't get me wrong, I still think the existence of GoT is fundamentally a good thing: it brought a lot of money to GRRM's doorstep, which I say less out of personal concern for his bank account and more because this will hopefully facilitate him finishing the damn series faster, it paved the way for high-budget screen adaptations of genre fiction in general, and it was shiny and entertaining. I'm not anti-GoT, I enjoy it and the funnies and fandom and criticism that have come of it.

But it's definitely made liking ASoIaF a lot more complicated. I know that sounds silly -- why do you care about what people think, says the immediate voice, how ridiculous, it's a book series! -- but that immediate voice is pretty naive. In culture, in geek culture in particular, what you say you like does immediately label you in the eyes of people you meet. Pop culture is a really big deal to people who spend most of their times with pop culture. When previously it was possible to just be an ASoIaF fan and have this only mean things to people who (a) read and liked the series or (b) read and didn't care for the series, either way not really referencing a huge subculture of people.

Now if you like ASoIaF, you like everything about it, and you like GoT, too, with all the violence-exploitation and furthering-of-ASoIaF's-flaws it has! And you think more fantasy should be like it! (Seriously, I hate Joe Abercrombie, and there is nothing good about ASoIaF his writing is remotely "like," sigh.) Now there is a huge host of people who think they know what it means to be a "Game of Thrones fan" because GoT marketing and GoT jokes are everywhere now -- and to a certain extent, there IS that big fandom and the assumptions are valid.

However, it's also a big fandom that's been plundered to all hell by business, and continues to be plundered. It's become fashionable to spend money on items that proclaim you're a fan of something "unfashionable" -- IE, it's not unfashionable at all, it's quite fashionable, but GoT fans still lulzily self-deprecate as geeks because this no longer means anything. It's also a fandom that carries a lot of subcultural cachet in money and hipness and with-it-ness; it's not just about books and a TV adaptation of books, it's about a hit TV series on an expensive pay network and SNL skits and lots and lots and lots of merchandise. Books you had to pay for in the first place definitely weren't perfectly accessible, to be sure, and were a monied enterprise, but a subculture formed around an HBO series has all kinds of $$$ and yuppie demographics all over it. I guess I'm really wigged by some books I used to wave my happy little joking flag about turning into a huge status symbol, and thus my flag becoming a pro-status-symbol thing by proxy whether I like it or not. It's weird.

Anyway, this isn't a unique experience, I believe it is very common to people who like things that hit the big time in some way. But it's mine, and in my case I'm less murky-feeling on the fact that it's now popular and more that it's now so commercialized. I own a Damn It Feels Good To Be A Lannister shirt from SnorgTees. It's funny. But, uh, why does that shirt exist? And what am I contributing to when I wear it? I don't know. I really wonder sometimes.