From the article:
Woolfork and her students counter the notion that the class was easy, despite some recent media attention. “It was a lot of work. It was a lot of debate, a lot of conversation, a lot of disagreement,” said the professor. “This is the point of what we can do when we apply the skills of literary analysis to both a literary and televisual adaptation.”
“I can understand how people could see that, but it’s actually frustrating because a lot of my friends are saying, ‘Oh wow, easy class,’” said Snead. “I had to put in a lot of work and the same analytical work that I would if I were reading the text, and in some ways it was harder because we don’t normally watch TV shows like that. We just watch them for entertainment or something to do.”
At the end of the first book, Daenerys Targaryen emerges from the fire with her dragons, but without clothing or hair. In the show, she still has all of her hair. “Is that about female desirability?” asked Woolfork. “Does it make her less attractive to the traditional male viewer? Why make these choices?”
I always find myself fascinated by classes like these, although they tend to reflect the professors teaching them even more than most college courses do. Comparing and contrasting the original text source (ASOIAF by George R.R. Martin) versus the visuals and interaction presented to us on the TV show is an unparalleled opportunity to read as both a fan and as a exercise in active engagement.
I find myself extremely curious as to whether questions of race, casting, and some of Martin’s very questionable assumptions about both history and its relationship to what he has written made it into the academic arena above at any point. For example:
Well, Westeros is the fantasy analogue of the British Isles in its world, so it is a long long way from the Asia analogue. There weren’t a lot of Asians in Yorkish England either.
I don’t actually know which “Yorkish” England he means (I assume the one between 1460-80, but you never know), but I do know that (ironically :D)archaeological evidence shows that York, England at the very last gasp of the Roman Empire was about 20% citizens of African descent. In addition, physical evidence shows that hundreds, and perhaps thousands of North and Northwestern Africans, Near Easterners, and Central Asians were at Hadrian’s Wall during one of the last pushes of the empire to conquer Northern Europe. The Vikings traded with North Africa and the Middle and Near East for silks, beads, and other grave goods that can be analyzed and attributed not to “conquest” or “raids”, but trade.
Although the early Middle Ages in northern Europe tend to have a dearth of evidence that allows us to analyze this specific aspect of culture, historical periodization does not function as a “racial reset button”. Sadly, this knowledge has yet to be applied to popular culture, which is less than surprising considering that half the time, archaeological evidence has not even been seen or taken into account in art or history writing for the same period. Interdisciplinary projects in academia from this perspective are sorely needed, in my humble opinion, in order that educational materials can begin to reflect a more complete and nuanced view of the past, rather than one that serves current political agendas.
In other words, Martin seems to have fallen for regurgitating the same “Historical Accuracy” spiel that is based in assumptions, not fact. (Incidentally, or perhaps not so incidentally, I have in fact read every book in ASOIAF so far, as well as seen every episode of the Game of Thrones show. That doesn’t stop people who have done neither from telling me I’m being “too critical” of it!)
Once again, a concept like historical accuracy does not apply to fantasy writing, but is always invoked when a creator has been criticized for perpetuating the lack of diversity endemic to fantasy media, whether it’s of race, gender, sexuality, ability, or other aspect of human diversity, in what they have created.
And after all, if the creators themselves can’t seem to parse the difference between accountability to what they believe is history, and accountability to the present and the diversity of the audience, how can we help but be confused by it? I believe that the more we engage with the media we love, the better it can reflect those of us who love it.