Is George R.R. Martin Telling a Rape Joke, Because Come On

Hey, the new season of Game of Thrones is coming out! I like the Game of Thrones tv show, it’s like the books but some of the stupid taken out! And with pretty things to look at instead of endless poorly done descriptive prose! All hail the televisual format!

So let’s celebrate with a new chapter from the inferior source material! Guess what, Arya is almost all grown up and that means lots and lots of rape! Seriously, from stage rape to kid rape to prostitute rape, this one has all the rape scenarios. If you like your sex without consent or adults, this is one for you.

It’s not as shocking as it sounds, of course. Martin loves rape as background color, but he doesn’t like it for his main characters—viewpoint characters tend to get threatened by rapists and saved at the last minute by some seedy-yet-redeemable character. Arya’s a viewpoint character, she’s superpowered, and she’s still not actually through puberty—yes, Martin makes this part explicit, in case you weren’t grossed out enough by an eleven-year-old tricking—so she’s not in any real danger of intense physical harm, at least by the rules of the Martinverse. However, every damn thing Arya does in her “incarnation” involves weird, coercive sex. She’s playing at being part of a company of actors, so of course when she thinks of her fellow actresses, she thinks of them as stupid girls who will end up in the worst, rapiest whorehouse in the world. She’s playing at being a stagehand, so of course the prop she’s handling is a giant dick. And she’s playing at being an actress, so of course the entirety of her part is getting raped onstage with said giant dick. 

Guess they don’t do a lot of speech work in Faceless Man school.

At this point, I’m wondering if Martin is parodying himself. Maybe he has a deeper awareness of his own ridiculous emphasis on grimdark fucking than I thought? And maybe the stabbing of a potential rapist is Arya’s (and the author’s) way of turning the tables on all the jerks and douchebags of Arya’s world. I’m going to give Martin the tiniest, most theoretical benefit of the doubt ever here. Who doesn’t want to read about some grimdark revenge?

But wait a second. Arya’s story isn’t a revenge tale. Some of the characters on Arya’s famous kill list are already dead (Joffrey, a bunch of minor characters that I can’t be bothered to care about at this point), and most of the others are lined up to meet non-Arya related demises. (Jaime’s going to kill Cersei, Ser Gregor is already technically dead but he’s going to be killed the second time round by Sandor.) Assuming that Martin can maneuver Arya back into interacting with the other main characters, Arya’s character arc will probably lead to her confronting a main character—perhaps a member of her family, like Jon Snow or Sansa—that she’s required to kill. Either she gives up completely on her humanity and kills that person, or the “Stark” in her wins out and she doesn’t straight-up murder a loving relative.

Nothing happens in this chapter to get us closer to that point in the story We already know that Arya is in Braavos. We already know that Arya is a stone-cold killer. We already know that there are certain people she wants to kill, and that some of them are already dead.

We’re how many pages into this epic and all we’re getting out of this chapter is some rather repetitive worldbuilding, some Character GPS (“Ser Blabla of the lands of Idunt Giffafuc is in the kingdom, my lord!”), the death of a very minor character, and a whole lotta potential child sex and rape threat. The story is standing still because Martin wants to linger on nonconsensual, offputting sexual encounters.

Oh, and dwarf rape. I forgot the dwarf rape. Jesus.

Where is all this going?

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“Are we ready for ugly women on television?”

That’s what the Guardian is asking, at least. To illustrate the question, they use a picture of Brian Taylor, who is a Scottish journalist and also apparently the rightful cutoff of sexual unattractiveness. In other words, women now have to be as attractive as Fiona Bruce to appear on TV, but the bar should be lowered so that anyone above the female equivalent of Brian Taylor should go on.

It’ll never work, of course. Even in the super right-on Guardian, articles about or by women are usually related to clothes, babies, sex, or getting raped or killed for being in a situation that might involve sex (clubbing, being Oscar Pistorius’s girlfriend). These articles are useful because they either can be illustrated with a stock photo of an attractive woman or they are about things happening to an attractive woman or have to do with things that you can buy to make yourself into more of an attractive woman. The formula passes liberal muster because the Guardian frames it as all part of the a feminist discourse, just like the Daily Mail frames its discussion of Eastern European issues through the hot Ukrainian prosecutor.* “BLI-MEA!”

And the formula works–these types of stories sell papers and drive page clicks, and far be it from me to call for the destruction of what’s left of ad-supported journalism.

However–it does bring up a question. Why aren’t men’s stories told in the same way? Does the formula not work for them? I mean, look at Brian Taylor. As far as I can tell, at some point in time he used to be handsome, but in recent years he’s blown up like a Big Boy balloon.

Image

 

Like this, only Scottish.

His clothes don’t fit very well, and presumably he’d be easier on the eye if he could dress better for his body type (which he really should have to come out and defend—Jesus, he’s fat).It really doesn’t send the right message to young men who might want to be broadcasters—are we telling them that that it’s all right to be unhealthy?**

I demand a story where Brian Taylor talks about his weight gain and how it made him feel insecure as a broadcaster and the unfairness of it all, then he is made over and tells the reader how he now dresses to look slightly less like Moby Dick. And then there would be an advertorial about men’s girdles or something. (“Not since Beau Brummel…”) Of course, it wouldn’t be mean, like I’m being—it would be perfectly nicey-nice but the whole point of it would be that it is very, very important what Brian Taylor wears. In fact, that might be the most important thing about him, that he is showing the future generation of Scottish men that you can be fat and not very good looking and still be on television (doing what on television isn’t that important, just that he’s fit to be seen). He’s a… er, masculinist… hero! You go just by being, Brian Taylor!

Alternatively, they could put handsomer men on television. Your choice.

* Go ahead and click, it turns out that when you read the Mail you help to destroy it. No, really, Popbitch says so.

** Teenage girls are particularly vulnerable to copying everything they see and hear and therefore falling prey to all sorts of psychological perversions that do lasting damage, so whatever a woman does—any woman—has a moral implication on the next generation of females. See this article about semi-famous vomiting artist Millie Brown, which ignores the real questions–such as, the hell? and how does she get the colors not to mix into sludge?–in favor of stoking over her possible bulimic impact upon younger women. However, teenage boys are their own special creations and remain unaffected by older men’s actions (unless said teenage boys are American black children with absent fathers, but then that whole stereotype involves the absence of a man, not his actions). If the vomiting artist had a penis, she could splash his puke wherever she liked without fear of corrupting the youth.

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I Watched This for Free on the Internet: Cat Dancers

New York City was no place to raise a black leopard.—Roy Holiday

HBO documentary Cat Dancers is your basic tale of show business and deadly animal attacks. Ron and Joy Holiday were professional adagio dancers who decided to incorporate big cats into their act as they got too old to do lifts and poses. They toured the country in tight, teensy costumes, while the cats leapt, sat, and growled to audiences’ delight. As the act grew, they accumulated leopards, tigers, ocelots, and a younger man, former ringmaster Chuck Lizza, who became part of the act as well as their live-in lover. The human ménage is less interesting in and of itself than for how it fell apart. One day, Chuck was unfortunate enough to trip backwards while one of the tigers was out of its cage. Apparently the tiger saw Chuck as prey and lunged for his neck; Chuck bled to death.

After Chuck died, Joy became suicidal, and Ron decided to cheer her up by taking her to visit the tiger cage. Whereupon the same tiger bit her in the neck and that was the end of Joy and, once the cops got to the scene, the end of the tiger, too. Roy lived on, to teach teenage dancers and aspiring animal trainers (possibly the scariest part of the documentary—Ron drones on about tiger penises to a bunch of gaping students at an exotic animal preserve, who presumably went on to “handle” cougars and tigers during petting zoo hours).

Ron’s surprise over the tiger’s attacks is hilarious in a very dark way—“You’re inbred, Jupiter!” And Jupiter’s also a tiger. However, the Cat Dancers obviously felt very close to their animals, in a way that other people might feel for their pets, except they decided to choose very large, very deadly animals as opposed to domestic cats or dogs. The flamboyant Ron (check out his wig game, it is astonishing) obviously loved his life with the big cats and tells a tale of glittering stardom and perfect happiness between animals and humans, but you can’t get any other perspective, what with the other two principals in the Cat Dancers act being dead. I especially wanted to hear Joy’s perspective—she had been Roy’s dance partner since the age of seven and couldn’t decide whether to become a dancer or a nun. Ron designed her wedding dress!

An interesting look into a vanished and dangerous world, where acrobatic dance teams could make it big at Radio City Music Hall, big cat shows traveled the land without a care for animal welfare, and a man’s wife could pose with him in a muscle magazine. Available for free on snagfilms.com and highly recommended.

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Let’s Kill Uncle, Rohan O’Grady

In this gothic-ish tale, two children spend an idyllic summer on a little island in British Columbia. Christie is a city child sent to the island to get some fresh air; Barnaby is waiting on the island until his uncle comes to take charge of him. Barnaby is also heir to a $10 million fortune.

The island is a child’s paradise, with its mountains and fields and forests and beaches. The animals are wild yet friendly, even the legendary mankilling cougar, One-Ear, “three hundred pounds of pain-ridden, steel-muscled, hate-filled beige murder.” When the children are tired, they sleep in cozy beds, and when they’re hungry, there are berries and apples outside and inside there are lovely big breakfasts with eggs and ham and jam and fresh-baked bread (American readers will be reminded of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House of the Prairie books). The adults are uniformly pleasant, except for the few meanies who exist to be teased by high-spirited children. There’s even a heroic Mountie!

Into this paradise comes Satan, otherwise known as Barnaby’s uncle. Barnaby knows that his uncle is wicked, and that his uncle will murder him. So he and Christie make a pact; they’ll murder Uncle first. How they go about it—and how wicked Uncle tries to thwart them—makes up the rest of the book. It’s a real tale of good and evil, with the mischievous yet fundamentally good children pitted against Uncle, who is pure murder and who may very well be a werewolf.

Reading Let’s Kill Uncle, I didn’t realize how strong the British influence was on Canada, even into the 1960s. The island is a child’s paradise because all the young men have died in the two world wars, and the women and children have left for the cities. Sergeant Coulter, the stalwart Mountie, was an enlistee and a prisoner of war, and Uncle is an officer from a British public school background. Colonial good vs the motherland’s evil?

The original, hardback edition of Let’s Kill Uncle had illustrations by Edward Gorey, which of course aren’t in the ebook. I am tempted to buy a copy just to see what the illustrations are like!

I was inspired to read this by Books I’ve Read‘s review. Thanks, Jenny!

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You’re Never Going to Sleep With Her, So Give Up Already

“Your Kid is a Little Asshole. And guess what: it’s all your fault.”

Odd title, isn’t it? Especially because I don’t have a kid. Why is this author on fine essay-writing site (well, it has serif fonts, so I guess it’s good) Medium telling me that my kid is an asshole? But I’m still drawn to the story, of course, because the title is so abrasive—hey, wait, this guy is calling children names! I want to agree or disagree with him!

But I’m not going to do that right now. I want to tell you a different story than the one the author told, using the same events, but looking at them in a different way. Interpreting this differently, I can make you a whole new story—one that tells you nothing about the child but everything about the author himself.

Let’s start off with some odd things that I noticed about Your Asshole Kid, the Essay.

  • The author’s friend, Sarah, and her nemesis Becky are portrayed as complete opposites in character. However, these supposedly innate differences don’t seem to have affected the progress of their lives. Becky and Sarah have about the same levels of education, live in the same general area, and send their daughters to the same schools. Becky is described as having moved to some “godforsaken state or another, bought into a gated community in some Stepford subdivision full of soulless McMansions,” but she’s moved that the exact same godforsaken state that Sarah lives in. Sarah thinks of Becky as privileged because Becky doesn’t work outside the house.
  •  If the child Hannah is a monster, why is she invited to the party? The birthday girl wanted Hannah at the party, or the mother is willing to invite a kid over that both she and her kid despise, or the author is exaggerating the mom’s hatred of Hannah for story purposes.
  •  The author slaps several pop-psychology labels onto Becky, Becky’s husband, and Hannah. But he later says that he met the entire family once—long enough to shake the father’s hand and accept the mother’s apology. His entire image of this family is founded upon observing the kids, a lot of secondhand knowledge, and an encounter that lasted, at the most, five minutes.

Those aspects are all odd, but they’re just leading us to the real heart of the real story. Which is:

Why is this dude at a kid’s birthday party?

He makes no mention of a kid of his own, which is the usual reason why a guy would be attending a kid’s birthday party. He’s not related to Sarah, and he’s not hanging out with the parents while the kids are parked in front Space Bud Licks His Ass 2 because that’s the absolute only night he can be in town and visit his grownup friends. He’s riding herd on these little girls’ birthday parties, and he’s done it before. Why is he supervising these weeping, fighting, bratty little kids for his friend?

At first I assumed that the author was Sarah’s gay best friend, because he seems really into this lady in an emotional but nonsexual way. However, later on he mentions how girlfriends act, and he talks about beta males and boys’ breaking girls’ hearts, so while that doesn’t prove anything, because of this use of language I’m now reading him as heterosexual. So why is a heterosexual man hanging out with his female friend and her husband at their kid’s birthday party?

OK, here’s the real story. I’m about to reveal everything about Nils Parker to you.

The author is hopelessly in love with this girl Sarah, and she’s using him as a kind of Manny Poppins. Meanwhile, the author is displacing his anger onto some random chick and her husband. Maybe if Becky and bitches like her hadn’t messed Sarah up so bad, she’d be with him and they could be together forever on a tropical island with only the white people that they liked. Part of him also knows that Sarah isn’t the woman for him—one, she’s married, and two, he tells us that she’s witty and competent but her main conversation topics seem to be how much she hates children and this one bitch from high school and she can’t even deal with a crying child. So he displaces the selfish, unhappy attitudes that Sarah has onto Becky to keep his love pure and reasonable, and Becky’s husband is spineless because the author is really a spineless man in love with a suburban housefrau. But he can’t admit that to himself, so hey, Becky is the bad one and her kid is a brat. Hey, is Sarah’s kid getting in the way of your moldering fantasy? Move on, you’re whipped! Pussy.

Do you agree with me about the author’s problem? Are you nodding your head and thinking that now I am telling the truth? I’ve discovered the super-secret of the author’s life, and now he’s been cast down. He has his own problems, he’s weak like the rest of them. Now he’s the asshole.

The thing is, I don’t know anything about Nils Parker. Maybe he is gay, or maybe he is straight but just friends with Sarah, or maybe secretly Sarah and he are having an affair, or maybe Sarah and her husband and the author live happily together in a ménage. Or maybe his name is a pseudonym and he is really a woman or multiple people. Or maybe he is an asexual who lives in a cave and Sarah and Becky and Hannah are figments of his imagination. MAYBE HE LIVES ON THE MOON, YOU GUYS.

Or maybe none of this matters, because what I’m trying to do and what the author is trying to do is feed you a prepackaged narrative. The one thing I really know about Nils Parker is that Nils Parker is involved with two content companies. These companies provide people with services that will make their writing more marketable and appealing. I don’t know if these companies are successful either in drawing attention or making money, but they’re how Nils Parker chooses to define Nils Parker, so I’ll go with it.

Why would my narrative work or not work? Why does Parker’s story work? (And it does, because hey, I’m writing about it and you’re reading it.) What is so appealing about Parker’s images of these people he has hardly met? And  how could Nils Parker turn this story into a business? What’s Nils Parker selling? What exactly is in a packaged story?

* This is an odd story “beat,” by the way—if I hadn’t read the title, I would have expected that the story would either be about Sarah changing her view of Becky and learning to be a “better” person or the introduction to a horror story about Becky that would show that yeah, Sarah was right all along, and all us readers could enjoy a five-minutes-hate of Becky the bitch. Instead, the focus of the hatefest shifts from a grown woman to a child. It’s really pretty creepy. I have to say that’s what unnerves me most, that I feel like this article is selling me something by telling me that a total stranger’s kids were a waste of sperm.

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How Much is a Life Story Worth?

I just finished Eva Illouz’s Oprah Winfrey and the Glamour of Misery, so I’m now obsessed with the idea of narrative as a tool of therapeutic healing. Illouz’s thesis is that Oprah’s stories create a way for her viewers to understand the universe. Suffering is linked to self-improvement. In addition, telling your story is a special act–you can heal your own life through examining your own actions, just as you could in a therapy session.

I’m not reading O: The Oprah Magazine anytime soon, because I think my doctor’s office has Redbook instead, but I’m still on my xoJane kick, into these stories of women’s suffering.  think that these stories are supposed to help heal the storytellers but they provide a model of existence to readers (conduct might be a strong word–a lot of these stories involve how to properly react to things, and “conduct” implies action). So, if you’re writing something like “I Can’t Have Sex With My Husband” or “I Was Raped by My Dentist” you’re providing a service to other readers, who will hopefully learn how to be OK with not having sex with their husbands or at least be a little kinder to them when they do have sex, or learn how to exist in a world in which injustices such as rape occur.

However, for all their supposed emotional value, these articles aren’t financially valuable. In this article about faking cancer (spoiler: faking cancer is bad), commenter “birdbrain” gets upset that her story has been stolen by the author. I want to concentrate not on “birdbrain”’s accusations, but about the amount of money involved. It’s $50. This girl—and all the other girls that write their healing, empathetic life stories—are getting paid $50 per 1,000 words for a site that shills $36 panties. That’s right, if you’re living the life you will be paid a panty-and-a-half for your work.

I know that freelance writing has never been a high-paying market and that the current American economic system depends upon people buying things based on identity and desire and not on need, but it disgusts me when the people shilling this stuff 1. post about how they’re going to make rent, a la Jen Polachek and 2. somehow think that they are participating in a liberating force when the system that they participate in is based on getting wildly underpaid workers to buy wildly overpriced consumables. If you want me to buy things, fine. If you want me to buy things because I want to construct some sort of identity, ok. If my participation is supposed to be based on selling personal information in a cleanly packaged narrative for very small amounts of money, which I am then supposed to spend on overpriced beauty products, then no. Perhaps somewhere out there a woman exists who can eat nail polish and turn her bra-and-panty set into a heated pup tent, but I’m not that woman.

The xoJane model fits into an ethos in which people, mostly women, are trying to earn a living “producing” themselves. Living up to this feminine ideal means that your life story is simultaneously the most important thing you can in produce—by telling it, you are healing yourself and setting a helpful example for other women—and the least important thing you can produce— by telling it, you are earning less than you could get working an 8-hour day at the American federal minimum wage. However, enough Obama voters believe that the minimum wage is unjust that the rates might rise; there’s a higher chance of nuclear war than anyone believing that the women who write these stories deserve more money. Hell, I just wrote all about it and emotionally, I can’t convince myself that these women’s stories are worth more cash.

These women don’t want money, the story is more important, it’s therapy where the patient gets paid. Even if the world shifted its axis and these women were getting paid the equivalent of an article pitched to a non-xoJane magazine, there’s something iffy about living your life as a prepackaged narrative.  It’s sort of like being a guide on a tour of your own life—here’s where I had a boyfriend, here’s where I got divorced, here’s where I was raped, here’s where I dyed my hair and it looked good, here’s where I dyed my hair and it didn’t look good. The readers/tourists come away with a little lesson and the guide gets paid.

However, repeating this life-tour gets boring if you’re just going to keep going over the same sites. Thus the phenomenon of women writers who are constantly reinventing themselves, wringing stories out of their lives for the reward of a bit of money and readers’ increasing scorn.* It’s a limited field—there are only so many stories you can create where you don’t act but are acted upon. At some point you will either run out of lessons or have to put those lessons into action, and then there may not be an easy moral at the end. But is there any other choice? Can you even write a narrative without it linking to her own “self story”? Do we have to live our lives as narratives in order to create narratives?

* The xoJane audience complains when “It Happened to Me” articles are about women who have made choices. The ideal storyteller is passive, or at least can cast her actions as the result of some sort of interior compulsion caused by psychic trauma or addiction. However, somebody who pulls this sort of stunt too often runs the risk of being labelled damaged or attention-seeking and losing their audience–see Elizabeth Wurtzel and Cat Marnell.

 

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Summer Will Show, Sylvia Townsend Warner

“You have run away,” said Minna placidly. “You’ll never go back now, you know. I’ve encouraged a quantity of people to run away, but I have never seen any one so decisively escaped as you.”

Sylvia Townsend Warner’s 1936 novel about runaway 19th-century revolutionary Communist lesbians. What’s not to like?

Sophia Willoughby is the proprietress of a 19th-century estate. Sophia is very much the English lady, connected to her part of the land; as we join her at the beginning of the plot, her husband, who is a sort of aristocratic parasite on her holdings, has run off to be with his mistress. She spends her time cultivating her estate and her children, until smallpox carries off the latter. Sophia, drowning in grief and raging against the constraints of her life, joaurneys to Paris to find her husband and his despised mistress. She plans to demand another child of him, but when she meets the mistress, Minna Lemuel, she falls instantly in love and plunges into a completely new way of living.

Sophia is used to being her own master—under the law, her husband controls all her money, but Sophia is undoubtedly the true heiress. Her qualities don’t change in her new life—she is good at everything that is needed, from bargaining in the market to shooting pistols on a barricade, the Englishwoman character whose main characteristic is her competence in action. Minna is her opposite. She’s a storyteller, free with her emotions, left in her politics, older, and Jewish to boot.* Sophia’s growing obsession with Minna, and the way that her hatred of this enchanting woman transforms into love and freedom, is the strongest section of the book.

Sophia and Minna’s relationship develops in tandem with the revolutions of 1848, and Sophia’s newfound freedom includes the freedom to develop her own political views. In conjunction with her practicality, Sophia is attracted to the Communists, who seem the most likely to “do something.” I wonder if the unfashionable politics are what has buried this book as a depiction of gay lives. My grandfather was vaguely socialist; he died before I could form any memories of him, but he left behind a room full of books which reflected his political views. According to his collection, the 1930s were a time in which the main character’s commitment to socialism or communism was an appropriate ending for a novel, just like marriage or death. Summer Will Show was definitely not in his library, but it follows the same narrative pattern. Perhaps the ending—while not as didactic as, say, the endings of Upton Sinclair—is what keeps university students struggling through Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood as the “lesbian novel.”**

Warner’s most famous novel is Lolly Willowes, which is about a woman who turns into a witch, and on the basis of Summer Will Show I’ll have to read it as well.

Further reading:

An essay on Sylvia Townsend Warner’s life and politics from The Nation

A post on the outsider perspective and Summer Will Show from Transient

* Minna is constantly described as Jewish and as possessing Jewish traits, but since the reader sees from Sophia’s point of view, this isn’t very surprising. Minna uses her own Jewish identity to encourage her listeners towards her cause, intertwining her sufferings from anti-Semitic horrors and her desire for freedom. She’s a human character with a past, not just a sort of anti-Christian germ.

** I’m doing Nightwood an injustice—in my defense, I read it under a strict time constraint and with a purpose, that being to look for all the parts about sexuality because we were doing the queer texts part of class. Never mind that it’s a modernist novel and not supposed to reflect the exact, realist life-as-it-is-lived. It was like reading Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man to find the parts about oppressed Irish people. I should re-read it so I know whether I dislike it on its own terms. (Here’s a link to an Amazon review where somebody compares Djuna Barnes to Steven Segal; in case the reviewer ever stumbles on this, I have it on good authority that what T.S. Eliot was smoking was crack, because HE WAS A TIME TRAVELLER.)

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