Hippoi Athanatoi

Purist and Proud

It appears that during the airing of the second season of Game of Thrones, “purist” has become a dirty word. Obviously, since I consider myself to be a purist—and since I am proud to be one—I am not an unbiased observer, but I still find this quite baffling.

Let’s start with the word itself. I think we can probably agree that “purist” describes someone who prefers the adaptation of, for example, a book into a TV show to be as faithful as possible. Of course, each purist out there probably has a different definition of what “as faithful as possible” means. Some purists may feel that “as faithful as possible” comes with the caveat of “budget allowing”, whereas others may insist on “perfection or nothing at all”. Similarly, those using the term in a derogatory fashion probably have different standards for when they apply it. Some may reserve the label for those who are particularly insistent on the show matching the books completely whereas some may label anyone who complains at all about the show as a purist.

For my own part, I consider myself to be a purist within reason. I lamented the size of the tourney in the first season, but I accepted that there are budget constraints. I lamented the lack of purple eyes for the Targaryens, but I accepted that coloured contacts were not a good solution for various reasons. I could give many, many examples of similar changes, cuts, etc that I accept as a necessary part of a TV adaptation. On the other hand, when changes are made that make characters or the story as a whole less challenging and less unique, I am not particularly inclined to accept explanations such as “we wanted to show more of this actor” or “we felt this sequence needed more action”. Cutting and compressing the material that is already there is one thing, adding new things because the existing storylines aren’t deemed commercial enough is something else entirely.

No doubt, this sort of purism is what some people are complaining about. But on what grounds? I see arguments put forward that its ungrateful towards the people involved in the production, as if fans are somehow so indebted to those working on the show that criticism is unacceptable. For me, that is not a point of view I can at all sympathize with.  This show would not have been made at all if it wasn’t for the fans of the books. If the books had not been a success, it would never have gone into development at all. The producers have certainly recognized this in the past and thanked the fans of the books for their support.

They—or anyone else—have no right to expect that support to be unconditional. They have stated in the past that they are aiming for a faithful adaptation and that is the claim that secured the support of many fans. It is absolutely true that some fans may not care much at all about how faithful the show is to the story in the books—indeed, they may even welcome changes as “cool surprises”—but those who feel that way have no right to deny that there’s undoubtedly a significant portion of fans out there who gave their support to the show because the producers said it was going to be faithful.

Faithful is, of course, a subjective term. The producers may still feel that they are being faithful. Many fans may still feel that they are being faithful. But many other fans do feel that at this stage the show is no longer living up to the claim of being a faithful adaptation. Some of them have unreasonable demands, some entirely reasonable. Either way, for other fans to label them “purists” in a derogatory fashion is definitely quite unreasonable. Without the fans, and that certainly includes all the “purist” fans, there likely would never have been a show at all. I am not saying the team behind the show owes fans anything in particular, but this is an undeniable fact: the following of the books is what made the show a possibility. But I prefer to avoid talking in terms of debts. However, since I have seen some argue that the fans are indebted to the team behind the show for giving them the show to watch, I do think that if you insist on talking about debts you have to say that it goes both ways. The fans are certainly no more indebted to the producers or actors or anyone else working on the show than those involved in the show are indebted to those fans.

Now, I expect that even with my stated reservations about talking about debts in the first place, the above paragraph in particular might catch the attention of those trolls out there who have been attacking GRRM for years for the wait between the later books since they have tried to argue in terms of debts. My answer to this is that I am not in any way supporting or considering it reasonable for fans of the show, no matter how purist, to harass any of those involved in the show. If all that the trolls attacking GRRM had been doing was to rip the books apart, that would have been entirely within their rights. But instead they have made and continue to make personal attacks on GRRM. That is unacceptable and the same goes for anyone who is upset about the show. I expect to make a very, very unhappy post when the final episode has aired as I feel that some elements of the second season are a complete and utter travesty that has nothing to do with A Song of Ice and Fire, but I am not going to drag the personal lives or appearance of the producers and writers into the matter. Attack the product all you want, but leave the person or persons behind the product out of it.

There are certainly “purists” out there who have behaved badly by taking their grievances directly to those involved and doing so in a rude fashion, and that is unreasonable. But I am not going to apologise for—and neither should anyone else—simply posting negative opinions—even very harsh negative opinions, as long as they focus on the show itself—in public. We are disappointed, we have a right to be disappointed and we have a right to publicise that disappointment.

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