The Taste with Vir Sanghvi: Why Game of Thrones might outlast Superman
Although the Game of Thrones TV show will end in another month, prepare yourself for many prequels and sequels. If they play it right, Game of Thrones will outlast even Superman.Updated: May 03, 2019 08:16 IST
I have to say that I had never heard of George RR Martin and A Song of Fire and Ice till the Game of Thrones TV show started. But even if I had, I doubt if I would have read the books. I had no interest in fantasy (science fiction bores me out of my skull), and even a tale based on the historical War of the Roses did not seem appealing.
In the years when I was at University, everybody read JR Tolkien. The Lord Of The Rings was considered trendy and graffiti on the walls read “Tolkien is Hobbit-forming”. (Ha, Ha. Geddit? It took me a while to get the joke.)
What I did read were comics - an indication perhaps of how stunted my brain is compared to all the Tolkien fans— and my big moment in the Seventies was when the first (and still the best) Superman movie was released. The big moment in the Eighties was when the first Tim Burton Batman picture came out.
There were always comic book adaptations on TV: Wonder Woman, Spiderman and The Hulk had their own low-budget TV series. But these seemed directed at children (as the Batman TV show had been in the late Sixties) and were rarely worth watching.
So a proper Superman picture was a big deal. A grown up Batman film was an event.
I never dreamed that I would live in a world where super-heroes and comic book characters would dominate popular culture or where the biggest grossing movies of all time would be comic book pictures.Today super heroes have taken over the entertainment industry.
I was reminded of all this by two events. The first was the long awaited release of the final season of Game of Thrones a fortnight or so ago. Despite my earlier hatred of historical fantasy I am now a GoT addict and can spend hours discussing who will finally sit on the Iron Throne. (My money is on Arya Stark but knowing how this show works they may well kill her off in a couple of weeks.)
I could give you a million reasons why I like the show (the budgets, the acting, the special effects etc.) but the real reason is the writing. Not only is it gripping and unpredictable, but it makes you care about characters.
This week also marked the release of the final installment of The Avengers film franchise. Given that I had grown up reading Thor and Captain America, this should have been the movie to really do it for me.
Certainly, it had the rest of the world leaping up and down in excitement. It was expected to have the biggest opening week end in box office history (I don’t know if it did but even if it didn’t, the numbers must have come close). Shows were so heavily booked that cinemas added more showings to accommodate the crazed and eager fans.
So here’s the thing. Even though I had never heard of George RR Martin and hated the genre, Game of Thrones got me hooked. The Avengers, on the other hand, left me cold. I don’t really care about this version of the characters. I loathe The Guardians of the Galaxy jokers who have been pitchforked into the movie. And the only time I felt a surge of emotion during the film was when the wonderful Black Widow sacrificed herself instead of Hawkeye. It is not just that I like Scarlett Johansson more than I like Jeremy Renner (who doesn’t?) but why would you kill off a real star to keep same buffoon who does inter-galactic warfare with a bow and arrow alive?
The rest of the movie bored me. Even when Robert Downey Jr. was allowed several minutes for his death scene (there would no Avengers movies without the success of Downey’s Iron Man pictures), I was understanding of the producers’ decision to give the old ham his moment rather than moved by his death.
So what happened to me along the way? How did I give up on the superheroes I had grown up on and embrace historical fantasy instead ?
It could just be that Game of Thrones is more intelligently made than The Avengers movie. This is my preferred explanation but I am aware that it will satisfy nobody. Yes GoT is far more adult (in terms of sex and violence, at least) but then, lots of adults seem to love The Avengers too.
And I am not even sure if I am over all super-hero movies. I liked many of the Marvel films especially the first Captain America. I think that Wonder Woman is the best super-hero film ever made. I believed that Ben Affleck did a great job as an older, more cynical Batman.
It is just The Avengers movies that I find very tedious - especially the last two. But nobody else seems to. So I guess we will put it down to some quirk in my personality.
But watching the new Avengers movie end, I was struck by how much notions of what a hero should be had changed since the days when I started reading the comics.
We Indians didn’t get the cultural significance then but comic book heroes were generally white and male. With the exception of Wonder Woman, all the female super heroes struggled to survive. DC killed off Batwoman, Batgirl, Supergirl and other female characters because fans had no interest in them.
When male super-heroes came to our world they were usually white. Judging by Superman, Krypton was populated entirely by white people. Thor is so white that Hitler would have kissed him on both cheeks. The comic book Aquaman may live under the sea but he looks like a California lifeguard. And so on.
We know now that these Waspy super-heroes were not created by American Wasps but by Jews. Nearly all of the big names in the comic world from Bob Kane to Stan Lee to Siegel and Shuster (who created Superman) were Jews looking for success in Christian America. Their super-heroes were idealized versions of the kinds of people they thought white kids would look up to. There wasn’t a Jew in sight: it would always be Clark Kent not Clark Klein and Bruce Wayne, not Bruce Weinstein.
The new movies suggest that the world of the Wasp superhero is ending. Wonder Woman is DC’s most successful movie. Captain Marvel received the kind of build up that few superhero movies have ever got. More female and black characters have been added to all the franchises. At the end of the final Avengers movie Thor gives up the kingdom of Asgard to a black woman. The new Captain America is a black man. And so on.
I guess it was the success of Black Panther (where nearly everyone is black) that convinced Marvel that the world has changed and white males are no longer the most dominant people in the super-hero world. Years ago, Shekhar Kapur predicted that there would be an East Asian Spiderman one day because Asia had become such a big market for superhero pictures. It hasn’t happened yet; but who knows?
Which takes us back to Game of Thrones. Is it my favourite TV show of the moment? Do I think it is a million times better than anything Marvel has ever put on the screen?
It is a lot better than Star Wars too. And though the TV series will end in another month, prepare yourself for many prequels and sequels.
If they play it right, Game of Thrones will outlast even Superman.
And that’s the view of a guy who has been a Superman fan for fifty years!
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First Published: May 01, 2019 12:45 IST