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The Fantasy Genre and Sexism: Analytical Essay

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Background:

The rise in popularity of fantasy and historical genres in film and television such as Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings and Handmaid’s Tale while performing well with audiences and popular culture have continually portrayed women in ways that perpetuate gender norms and stereotypes. Historical fantasy’s use of female subordinance or the portrayal of sexual dominance is often looked over or accepted by the masses, as the basis of its inspiration gained from the real European Middle Ages where sexism was the status quo. However, the scenes that have women, both central and side characters, have them mistreated and consistently taken advantage of by the more dominant male characters and used as visual stimulation.

This use of visual stimulation directly ties into Laura Mulvey’s theory of the male gaze (Mulvey, 1991). Mulvey’s theory discusses the selective representation of women, where the male character controls action and plot in the film and reinforces male privilege and the ideology of patriarchy. Mulvey states that this selective portrayal denies women human identity, relegating them to the status of objects to be admired for physical appearance. And is furthered to audiences as the theory suggests women can more often than not only watch a film from a secondary perspective and only view themselves from a male’s perspective.

Based on the fantasy novel series by George RR Martin, Game of Thrones is an American drama television series created by David Benioff and D. B. Weisse for HBO. The show follows the political struggle, socio-environment and mythologies circulating the mythical land of Westeros and Esteros. Mainly focusing on the Seven noble families who fight for control of the mythical land of Westeros and their endeavours to secure the throne. The HBO adaption has developed a model of humiliation, torture, objectification and hyper sexualization of their female characters more than any other male character on the screen. As one of the biggest TV shows, one has to wonder what message it sends to its audience when the majority of its female characters are subjected to some form of abuse for shock value.

Aims:

This research will explore the influence and perception of the TV Show Game of Thrones on its target audience in regard to female degradation and violence. Where there has been research into the sexualization of female characters in fantasy media, there has been a lack of direct audience opinion and hence this research will add more data on the topic through investigating the Game of Thrones core viewers. Questions this research is seeking to answer is whether the male gaze is relevant to media that is not immediately representing current society and the experiences viewers have during the series as well as their reasoning for enjoying the particularly degrading or visceral scenes.

Literature review:

In conjunction to Mulvey’s research, Erving Goffman is an important addition that will further the gender systems seen in media. Goffman explores the manner in which advertising serves as a social function, effectively convincing us that depictions seen in media is how people want to behave, or should behave, for themselves in relation to other people. The expression of masculinity and femininity is to behave ritualistically in terms of sex (Goffman, 1979). The behaviour chosen is an indication of alignment the person proposes to take (or accepts) in the activity to immediately follow. Overall Goffman’s study analyses that the behaviour of characters does not merely express subordination but constitutes it. The analysis of these gender role stereotypes reveals the impact of these advertising or in the case of this research popular television shows. Because of the underlying messages seen in all media, audiences may attain social cues or accept ‘commercial realism’ where distorted reality and crafted concepts are portrayed as normal in media where is should be seen as a false narrative.

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Valerie Estelle Frankel’s book Women in Game of Thrones: Power, Conformity and Resistance explores the analyses the women and their portrayals, along with their historical inspirations. Accompanying issues in television studies also appear, from the male gaze to depiction of race (Mulvey, 1989). How these characters are treated is explored in depth and the question of whether the characters break out of their traditional roles and become multifaceted is discussed throughout. While the research is highly specific, it provides insight into the individual characterization and plot points of the series and whether the displays of sexism is countered with development of storyline and feminist ideals.

In the journal ‘Film Bodies: Gender, Genre, and Excess,’ Linda William criticizes the genres of films including the fundamental elements of sex, violence, and emotion. The analysis of these cultures of past and present, is then said to lead to the use of these sexual and voyeuristic tropes in films that came from the pleasures and values of the society. The paper then continues to highlight that these types of films become successful based on how extreme that audience sensation imitates on what is being seen on the screen (Williams, 1991). Where the success of these genres can be measured by the bodily response. This study in particular is critical to determine how audiences are more drawn to visceral and outlandish displays, where the simple use of hyper sexualized scene is accepted for its shock value as it can be written off as unrealistic.

Theoretical frame:

The theoretical framework that deals with this research topic is the Male Gaze. As mentioned in the background Laura Mulvey’s Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema and the theory of male gaze will be the main focus and theory that this research will centre around. The male gaze theory revolves around the idea that cinema eroticizes the object it looks at, stemming from the response to a deep-seated drive known as “scopophilia”: the sexual pleasure involved in looking. Mulvey argued that most popular movies are filmed in ways that satisfy masculine scopophilia. Her research into this subjugation of women would aid this research as it outlines the underlying patriarchal order seen in media as well reflecting psychology behind power asymmetry. Contradicting Hall’s theory about encoding and decoding, which assumes that media contents encoded with the preferred meanings need to be decoded appropriately by viewers, Mulvey argues that meanings are produced by audiences in their interactions with media texts. Therefore, texts only become popular if they provide suitable meanings for audiences to build on their own interpretations (Fiske 1991, cited in Hodkinson 2017). Furthermore, the media messages can be generated into ranges of interpretations to various groups of consumers (Hodkinson 2017)

Method:

The research method that would be used here would be qualitative interviews with focus group. To obtain the best results a broad range of media users (Game of Thrones fans and non-Game of Thrones fans) would need to be selected, as the ways in which individuals participate would vary across age, gender and level of usage. In all, there should be an aim to have six focus groups: 16-22yrs, 32-40yrs and 56-60yrs, with separate male and female groups. These selections would hopefully provide a holistic idea of whether the portrayal of women is an issue in fantasy series on television for viewers.

The following questions would be asked to gain an insight into the participants personal issues and concerns and indicate whether Game of Thrones affects viewers perception of women.

  • What characters do you feel are the most sexualized? Why?
  • How often do you choose to watch Game of Thrones over another TV program or film?
  • After watching an episode, do you discuss issues with other fans?
  • How often do you look into characters you feel personally invested in when they are affected in show?

These questions, combined with others, and perhaps a quantitative survey asking similar close-ended questions, would provide an indication of whether Game of Thrones is directly affecting viewers and whether sexual domination is an overly used trope in this genre.

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The Fantasy Genre and Sexism: Analytical Essay. (2022, August 12). Edubirdie. Retrieved November 26, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-fantasy-genre-and-sexism-analytical-essay/
“The Fantasy Genre and Sexism: Analytical Essay.” Edubirdie, 12 Aug. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/the-fantasy-genre-and-sexism-analytical-essay/
The Fantasy Genre and Sexism: Analytical Essay. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-fantasy-genre-and-sexism-analytical-essay/> [Accessed 26 Nov. 2022].
The Fantasy Genre and Sexism: Analytical Essay [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Aug 12 [cited 2022 Nov 26]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-fantasy-genre-and-sexism-analytical-essay/
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