Monday, May 16, 2011

The problem with reviews and genre

One of my biggest pet peeves is people who profess a hatred for genre fiction without actually reading it. This was an issue over and over at uni, people complained about King, Le Guin, even Tolkien because of their 'second rate' work which didn't address the highfalutin values and themes in Literature. Their blind dislike always made them look stupid, because if they'd read any genre they'd know that there are (or can be) the kind of deep themes that they profess to love so much. However since the classes were full of genre-hating Literature lovers I was the only one who noticed this glaring stupidity and ignorance. Even the teachers joined in the rant against genre, leading debates about how they'd rather make no money as a Literature writer and only be read by 10 people than make thousands, be read by millions and write genre! Now don't get me wrong I'm not hating on Literture, I love it myself but I'm also a fan of genre and I personally see no reason to distinguish between them. They both have good and bad writers and both have blindspots, neither are perfect but neither are better than one another.

The main reason I'm bringing this to my blog is because this subject is being raised in the press because of the reviews that have been circulating about the new HBO show Game of Thornes. Based on a fantasy series by George R.R. Martin this series has an all-star cast and production crew and a huge budget that allowed them to film primarily on location over in Ireland and spare no expense on costume or the battle crowds of 1000s. Because of the high profile nature of this series reviews are being put out by papers like The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and unfortunately they're being reviewed by the ignorant journalists that are probably the older sisters and brothers of the kids in my classes.

The writer for The New York Times Gina Bellafante lamented that the money of this show hadn't gone towards extending the Mad Men series in the opening paragraph. Slate writer Troy Patterson denounced the series as 'quasi-medieval, dragon-ridden fantasy crap' (the title of his piece) but then goes on to say that it isn't necessarily due to the quality of the show, but he simply doesn't like genre and does not care. In one sense I'm glad he said this because it is no longer a review but an idiotic opinion piece on something he self-confessedly says he has no knowledge of. On the other hand I'm disappointed that Slate would hand this review to someone who knowingly hates the genre and was never going to give it a fair review.

It isn't just ignorant on their part but selfish. By not reviewing the show outside of their personal opinion of the genre they are eliminating the opportunity for potential fans to tune in and enjoy it. HBO sends them the early copies of the series so that they can get their show out to the public, and they deserve to be given a fair review by someone willing to put in the time. If it is bad then fine, say that in your review, but say that because the character development, storyline, writing or production quality is bad, not simply because you have it in for that genre. I may dislike Twilight and avoid that type of vampire romance which is popping up everywhere but I give substantiated reasons why I dislike it, it isn't just coming from a place of hate.

Luckily for every one of these blind reviewers there are people who know and understand the genre fighting back. I implore you all to read the pieces by John Birmingham, Alexis Bonari, and Ilana Teitelbaum who are speaking up for genre and for reviewers who understand genre or are at least open to it and happy to research rather than simply making grandiose statements.


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