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On ‘Game Of Thrones’ And Why Our Female Heroes Become Supervillains

The villain is how we get into the story

by Helena Fitzgerald / Aug. 31, 2017

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on Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Holmes, Ivanka Trump & Kellyanne Conway. theories of villainry (reminds me of david graeber's Superposition essay)

Fitzgerald, H. (2017, August 31). On ‘Game Of Thrones’ And Why Our Female Heroes Become Supervillains. NYLON. https://nylon.com/articles/game-of-thrones-ivanka-trump-female-villains-hillary-clinton

[...] Game of Thrones has always been interesting because it is determinedly a story without heroes; the one character who might have been described as a classic hero was killed off in the first season, and everyone who came after him is logically more villain than hero, no matter what cause they claim to be fighting for. Everyone is ruthless, and everyone has blood on their hands.

That this villains-only narrative currently centers on women perhaps says less about female empowerment, and more about the way women are allowed to be seen in mainstream narratives. We are more comfortable with female monsters, it seems, than female heroes. Being the supervillain has historically been a way for people with marginalized identities to come in from the margins, to enter action movies, comic books, and even the journey epics of the Western canon. Where the hero is alway a straight white dude, the person matching the demographic being courted by producers, the supervillain is often “the other,” playing on the expectation that anything outside of this traditionally dominant category will somehow inherently carry with it a whiff of fear and violence. [...] Villains’ origin stories are frequently darker, stranger, and more moving than those of heroes in stories—the trauma must pile up high enough to justify this person’s sadism and bloodlust, even if these traumas are only gestured at and never fully explained. Villainy becomes a sideways mechanism by which to examine the basically traumatic nature of living outside of the single dominantly approved identity in a racist and patriarchal society. Being the villain is a way into the central narrative without actually having to be granted centrality, to move in and assume power in the unmarked spaces while remaining a marked category. Villains are often far more compelling than heroes and are often the point of identification for many of us who, also, do not see ourselves in heroes. The villain is how we get into the story, how we recognize a person who has been warped by trauma and driven by desire, a human who wants and who fails and who lives outside of neat, upstanding categories.

by Helena Fitzgerald 5 years, 7 months ago

[...] Game of Thrones has always been interesting because it is determinedly a story without heroes; the one character who might have been described as a classic hero was killed off in the first season, and everyone who came after him is logically more villain than hero, no matter what cause they claim to be fighting for. Everyone is ruthless, and everyone has blood on their hands.

That this villains-only narrative currently centers on women perhaps says less about female empowerment, and more about the way women are allowed to be seen in mainstream narratives. We are more comfortable with female monsters, it seems, than female heroes. Being the supervillain has historically been a way for people with marginalized identities to come in from the margins, to enter action movies, comic books, and even the journey epics of the Western canon. Where the hero is alway a straight white dude, the person matching the demographic being courted by producers, the supervillain is often “the other,” playing on the expectation that anything outside of this traditionally dominant category will somehow inherently carry with it a whiff of fear and violence. [...] Villains’ origin stories are frequently darker, stranger, and more moving than those of heroes in stories—the trauma must pile up high enough to justify this person’s sadism and bloodlust, even if these traumas are only gestured at and never fully explained. Villainy becomes a sideways mechanism by which to examine the basically traumatic nature of living outside of the single dominantly approved identity in a racist and patriarchal society. Being the villain is a way into the central narrative without actually having to be granted centrality, to move in and assume power in the unmarked spaces while remaining a marked category. Villains are often far more compelling than heroes and are often the point of identification for many of us who, also, do not see ourselves in heroes. The villain is how we get into the story, how we recognize a person who has been warped by trauma and driven by desire, a human who wants and who fails and who lives outside of neat, upstanding categories.

by Helena Fitzgerald 5 years, 7 months ago

Powerful men are always monsters, so much that monster isn’t a marked category for men. We create heroes out of powerful men, the story disguising the villainy beneath. But no powerful woman is a happy warrior; she’s a trauma monster. The depictions of female villains in both fiction and reality are a reminder that female-ness itself is scary, shrill, and hysterical, either oversexualized or monstrous for its failure to be invitingly sexual. To put women in power without changing our whole society means raising them up as fantasy villains. To have a TV show for a male audience in which female characters dominate the landscape, the female characters must be murderers and psychopaths; everybody can be comfortable with that.

[...]

If men can be accepted as powerful warriors, as complex figures capable of fighting for power without losing sight of integrity, capable of seeking glory without that seeking turning into a bloodbath of betrayal, then the hope is that women, in fiction, in life, and in the places somewhere in between the two, might one day be allowed the same consideration. Female heroes—the proverbial “strong female characters”—exist, but in both fiction and life, they are portrayed as one-dimensional, or fail to rouse any real belief or excitement, falling quickly back into what reads as villainy, such as Game of Thrones’ mostly botched attempts to write Daenerys, the closest thing they have to strong female character who isn’t evil, as an inspiring leader. Their flaws quickly disqualify them from heroism, rather than offering the complexity we seek out in male characters. Flawed male heroes are still heroes, but a flawed female character immediately becomes a villain. Villains are often more fascinating and more honest characters than heroes, but in consigning female characters to these roles, women are once again asked to bear the burden of the ugly truths of both heroism and villainy.

by Helena Fitzgerald 5 years, 7 months ago

Powerful men are always monsters, so much that monster isn’t a marked category for men. We create heroes out of powerful men, the story disguising the villainy beneath. But no powerful woman is a happy warrior; she’s a trauma monster. The depictions of female villains in both fiction and reality are a reminder that female-ness itself is scary, shrill, and hysterical, either oversexualized or monstrous for its failure to be invitingly sexual. To put women in power without changing our whole society means raising them up as fantasy villains. To have a TV show for a male audience in which female characters dominate the landscape, the female characters must be murderers and psychopaths; everybody can be comfortable with that.

[...]

If men can be accepted as powerful warriors, as complex figures capable of fighting for power without losing sight of integrity, capable of seeking glory without that seeking turning into a bloodbath of betrayal, then the hope is that women, in fiction, in life, and in the places somewhere in between the two, might one day be allowed the same consideration. Female heroes—the proverbial “strong female characters”—exist, but in both fiction and life, they are portrayed as one-dimensional, or fail to rouse any real belief or excitement, falling quickly back into what reads as villainy, such as Game of Thrones’ mostly botched attempts to write Daenerys, the closest thing they have to strong female character who isn’t evil, as an inspiring leader. Their flaws quickly disqualify them from heroism, rather than offering the complexity we seek out in male characters. Flawed male heroes are still heroes, but a flawed female character immediately becomes a villain. Villains are often more fascinating and more honest characters than heroes, but in consigning female characters to these roles, women are once again asked to bear the burden of the ugly truths of both heroism and villainy.

by Helena Fitzgerald 5 years, 7 months ago