So Bored with Sex
July 24, 2014 Comments Off on So Bored with Sex
I’m reading A Song of Ice and Fire right now, which is very fun and clever and I love the politics and I can’t put them down and so on, but I find them very lazy. Martin has bricked himself into a stupid medieval rut that seems to bore even him, but dutifully slogs through soul-sucking tournaments and genealogies only one step removed from “Jaseth begat Horren begat Prian begat…” It’s so much effort even to skim a new set of names and a new family history (going much further back than necessary and complete with coat of arms presented in real heraldic jiggamababble) that every time a new narrator is introduced I want to cry. He names half his characters by misspelling normal names like a 12-year-old writing his first story, and the other half are tragically plagued by ys and aes and qs with no us. The characters mostly fit into neat little slots—tomboy, sadist, succubus, square, outcast, drunk, greedy—even if those slots are sometimes up a notch or two from caricature. The characters who do not fit into slots are exciting, but there really are a only a couple.
But mostly, I am SO BORED with sex and rape. They’re two of the dumbest shortcuts that exist in fiction. The problem is that in stories like this sex and rape are not used to comment on or depict someone’s character, but are a magic plot device with a pre-determined outcome. (Priapus ex machina?) It’s like if you chopped up onions and carrots and waved a magic wand and suddenly the pot was full of steaming ready-to-eat stew. If you wave your sex-wand (ha), suddenly a noble, intelligent man is effectively disabled by his need to get with a lady. (Never a man, obviously.) If you wave your rape-wand, suddenly a strong woman is broken into little pieces and can be led around by the nose. Martin uses sex and rape to cut his characters to the desired shape instead of showing how sex and rape caused them to grow into that shape.
And the most irritating thing is the rape culture of his world, and yes, I understand that medieval times were sexist and a terrible place for women and so on. Aside from the irrationality of using the social-realism defense in swords-and-sorcery fantasy, it’s clear that Martin is doing it out of laziness and a really thick-headed understanding of sexism. A short story that describes the main character’s day by giving equal weight to everything he does would be dull as dirt. By the same token, just because uncouth guardsmen’s first reaction to a woman with a sword might really be to make a crack about how their sword is bigger and they’d like to show her doesn’t mean that you should include it every time. If it’s a joke, it better be funny. If the point is to be “realistic,” maybe instead of actually quoting the idiot you could tell how the woman ignored the guards’ hilarious suggestions and commanded them to move aside. If the point is to demonstrate sexism by have a talking penis throw around the word “wench” and meditate aloud on how much he would like to get laid, then Martin has totally missed how sexism really works. He puts in these glaring stupid scenes where blackguard mercenaries leer at the serving wench and put their hands down her giggling bodice until they finally suddenly gang-rape her on the table and it makes me want to scream. These scenes do not advance the story I care about, nor do they convincingly portray the men’s villainy or do anything at all for the character of the serving girl—if she were ever important. There are other ways to be evil besides raping serving girls. There are other ways to be sexist and privileged besides using the word “wench.” There are other ways to be traumatized besides being raped. There are other ways to rape someone besides violently, in a big happy group. It’s shockingly, actively un-creative. It was fun when Martin answered that he writes strong female characters “because [he’s] always considered women to be people,” but it would be nice if he considered all his characters people, instead of NPCs he can puppet around and make hump each other.
Sex is supposed to be some great motivator, but it is almost always a shortcut around having to actually create a character or imagine an interaction. Every good story ostensibly about sex is about a relationship so finely shaded it has tides. Sex is not a replacement for competent character creation. The better the writer, the sadder this is. There is some breathtaking writing in these books, and it makes me wish he’d written a story that he was really interested in, all of it, instead of creating something where he delivers exposition in toneless monologues and defaults to HBO tricks like blood and boobies to give his characters raisons d’être. If he ever bothers to care about something he writes, I’ll line right up. In the meantime… I’m off to read a scene where a girl gets raped. (Guess which book I’m on!)
(Hint: It’s a trick question.)