Game of Thrones and how the things that we watch reveal something about who we are and what we’ve become

Yesterday, my substantive Bookworm Room work was limited to a single post in which I linked to David Swindle’s article about Game of Thrones.  Having read David’s writing, one of my friends sent me his take on Game of Thrones.  I’d like to share parts of it with you, as well as my response.

My friend watched the first two seasons because there was a story there about good versus evil.  I agree.  That I didn’t like the ugly violence of the show (and I found the underlying books dull) doesn’t change the fact that it was simply an R-rated version of an age-old fable of good versus evil.  It was in the third season that the show changed and that my friend, whose life is built around a solid core of Jude0-Christian morality, had enough:

What concerns me is the way the show is written the scum bags are more intriguing characters than the honorable ones. Even scarier is seeing comments of fans on line who brush off the “good guys” in the show as naive idiots (mostly because they get killed off) and the slime balls as compelling heroes of the show. What? Recently there was someone on FB who after one episode wrote: “Jamie Lannister is a class act.” Jaime leaped into a pit with a bear to save another character and now all the fans love him. I reminded my FB friend Jamie was a class act except for the fact he pushed a kid out of a window to kill him, commits incest with his sister, rapes women, murders innocents, and is generally a selfish dirt bag. How everyone sees this one act as some kind of redemption is beyond me. The characters who do the right thing, keep their word, etc, are all murdered and betrayed by the “smarter” cool characters.

I’ve enjoyed GoT for 2 seasons but this season seemed to drag. Then the Stark family (honorable, noble, keep their word types) were betrayed and nearly assassinated to a man. At this point I can count the characters with any nobility left to them on one hand. Plus I’ve always hated shows portraying where the noble characters are somehow the most flawed and the slime balls are the ones we are to sympathize with. GoT does this very well.

I couldn’t agree more. What I wrote back to my friend is that I’ve always felt that, if I’m going to give time in my life to a show, I want to spend it with people with whom I’d want to spend time in real life. I don’t like spending time with sociopaths or psychopaths, so why would I want to spend umpteen hours getting close to Jamie Lannister or Tony Soprano?

I understand the need for dramatic tension. A show that’s just about good guys being good tends to lack plot movement. For centuries, we resolved this by having good guys defeat bad guys — and we identified with the good guys. Kids were Superman, Batman, Dick Tracy, etc. Somewhere along the line, that changed, and we started being expected to identify with the bad guys. (Was it The Godfather that did this or the 1950s James Dean antiheroes?)

We’ve now moved beyond having sympathetic bad guys face off against one-dimensional good guys, and, for the most part, done away with good guys altogether. They’re just so dull. But keep in mind that their dullness is not their fault:  The good guys in modern drama became dull because no one knows how to write interesting or charming characters anymore.  A witty, brilliant Lord Peter Wimsey, or a sparkling Elizabeth Bennett, or a bewildered, striving Pip, or whatever other good character you admire, both because the character is good and because the character is interesting — those people (and they are real to me) seem to be impossible for modern writers to create.

I was actually thinking this same thought last night when I finally got around to watching Skyfall this weekend. I was bored out of my mind, and for a very specific reason. James Bond used to be charming. Now he’s thuggish. That’s actually a bit truer to the books, which were noir-style, but it’s not true to the spirit that’s animated the Bond movies since 1963. In the old days, women wanted to meet the raffish Bond and men wanted to be him. Nowadays, with the psychopathic, possibly bisexual Bond, you want to run screaming from the room. So again, why would I want to spend two hours of my life sitting in the dark watching this so-called “hero”?

Some people I know raved about Big Bang Theory, shown on FX.  It was about a school teacher turned insane drug dealer. They marveled that I didn’t want to watch it. And I couldn’t understand why they wanted me to abandon Pride & Prejudice (always an uplifting, amusing book about charming, personable characters learning how to behave correctly, not badly) to spend hours and hours watching this guy sink constantly lower.

If you want an insight into our lost culture, just watch what serves for comedy, drama, or documentary on HBO or FX or any of the other cable challenges that stream into our homes and our children’s brains.  Seeing these shows is like an intellectual gathering place for all that’s bad about Leftist thought.

And here’s another thought while I’m (finally) on a roll.  Last night, our TiVo captured a dreary (but award-winning) Spanish-language movie called Pan’s Labyrinth.  It’s about an imaginative little girl in Spain in 1944, whose widowed mother has married a psychopathic fascist captain during the Spanish Civil War.  Naturally, the Communists are portrayed sympathetically.

In fact, if one reads about the Spanish Civil War, it was a war much like that taking place in Syria:  moral, decent people would want both sides to lose.  If I remember correctly, it emerged in the 1990s or so that the Communist leaders systematically slaughtered those starry-eyed idealists who had come from America and England to help the Communists fight the Fascists.  The fundamental truth was that both sides were socialist totalitarian bodies that simply wanted dibs on creating dictatorships in Spain.

What I thought as I watched the movie is that, even though the Fascists won, the Communists wrote the history.  And indeed, the second half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century is characterized by that phenomenon:  no matter who wins or loses on the ground, the Communists write the history.  It used to be that the victor got to own the past, which enabled the victor to keep a tight grip on the present.  Can you think of another place or time in which one side to the ideological battle, whether it wins or loses, always retains control over the narrative?

Here at home, we fought a fifty-year Cold War and, technically, we won.  Except our students all read Howard Zinn’s ultra Leftist People’s History of the United States.  Which means we lost, because even though the Soviet Union is gone, its ideology lives on in the hearts and minds of our children, as well as in the halls of our White House.

I’ve been depressed for the last few days, making it hard to write.  Having read what I’ve just written, I’m still depressed.

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  • lee

    it’s “Breaking Bad.” I don’t watch it. For pretty much the same reason.

  • Ron19

    The James Bond film phenomena started when I was in high school, and within a few years I had quickly read all of the books.
    About a year or so ago, I started reading all the Ian Fleming James Bond books again, in order.  I quit about halfway through the list, because I had come to the conclusion that:
    1.  Fleming’s Bond wasn’t as cool, competent, manly, or sophisticated as the Connery/Broccoli Bond; the only one comparable was the George Lazenby version.
    2.  Ian Fleming and his alter ego spy were both sadomasochists; Bond was a thug.
    3.  The books were mediocre; the movies were dazzling, but more and more cartoonish as time went on.
    4. Speaking of cartoonish, I think Woody Allen’s Casino Royale was one of the best Bond movies.
    Fortunately, I was buying the books one-at-a-time.

  • lee

    I wonder where screenwriters get their education. I majored in theater thirty odd years ago. A few of my classmates have gone on to write for tv, But we’re in our fifties now. The young blood fresh out of school has probably not read nearly the amount of Shakespeare (who was great at developing complex characters) that we did. I looked up the current requirments for some of California’s college theater departments, and there is an embarassing number of them from which one can recieve a BA (or BFA) without taking one class in which a play by Shakespeare is read. It’s also possible to get away without studying any of the Greeks. (Also some great character development. Which, btw, i have always found it highly disturbing that that Code Pink crazy calls herself “Medea.” Really? Medea?)
    And speaking of which… Most really good drama does not seem to have very likable main characters. Hedda Gabler is a manipulater who gets out manipulated. Hamlet is too indecisive. Medea murdered her children. But you are not hooked into rooting for them or identifying with them, as you are in some of these current series. I mean, Dexter is a SERIAL KILLER.  The dude from Breaking Bad is a ruthless drug dealer. 
    Give me Raymond Burr’s Perry Mason anyday. He may not have been as complex as an Ibsen male, but he was honorable, and principaled, and intelligent. And a gentleman.

  • lee

    Principled! Argh! 

  • Charles Martel

    I think the James Dean-type anti-heroes began the softening up of our ideas about who and what heroes are. The years after the war were incredibly prosperous, and a nation that had once spent all of it psychic energy fighting poverty and totalitarians now had the luxury of addressing its own navel. So pouty youths like James Dean’s brooding pubescent in “Rebel Without a Cause” and Marlon Brando’s sneering bike rider in “The Wild Ones” were unconscious attempts to deal with what it meant to be masculine in a country where the older generation had pretty much emptied the shelves of any traditionally meaningful ways to be so.
    No real harm or foul. I think the line was crossed with “Bonnie and Clyde.” It was a master stroke to pair the gorgeous Faye Dunaway and Warren Beaty as the sociopaths at the heart of the story. Their indifference to the suffering they caused was muted or disguised by making it a populist road picture about two pretty proto-hippies careening through redneck country, givin’ them toothless, incestuous country dwellers some righteous hell. (In a way, too, it prefigured the arrogance of “What’s Wrong With Kansas,” where an all-knowing eye laughs at the rubes who don’t realize that the Democratic Party [Bonnie and Clyde] are the joyous, uninhibited deliverers of true salvation.)
    I sensed something weird about the movie right away. First, I was repulsed by the two main characters and dismayed by the laughing delight of the audience whenever the pair would commit some felonious or murderous shenanigan. But more tellingly, my unease increased when my best friend broke down and cried after watching the ambush that riddled Bonnie and Clyde with dozens of bullets. I thought he was reacting to the horror of those moments, of watching people die a terrible slo-mo death. It was partly that, but I soon learned that he was also horrified that the movie’s heroes had been done in so awfully. That was the word he used: heroes.
    That’s when I knew some sort of line had been crossed.
    (PS: My friend went on to become a Communist.)

  • 11B40

    Since the federally-mandated analog-to-digital TV signal conversion, I’ve been watching a fair amount of Asian TV, mostly South Korean, some Chinese, and a bit of Japanese. The [South] Korean Broadcasting System’s KBS World channel has a lot of subtitled programming and I enjoy its serial dramas, especially the pseudo-historical ones. After 40+ years of American TV, the change is appreciated. Seeing a much different culture and geography especially wrapped in hoppy-choppy, slicey-dicey, with a smattering of Dragon Ladies is a good bit of fun. I especially appreciate the ways romance and love are handled with a Confucian culture. 
    I currently watch a couple of Korean dramas on San Francisco Bay area’s channel 26.3. I get the Chinese stuff on 26.4 and a Japanese drama on 38.4.
    I have pretty much totally divorced my self from American TVs endless cop dramas and reality shows. I will not submit.  

  • Libby

    Yes, it seems that we’re now supposed to empathize with monsters, deviants, and criminals because they’re more complex than a regular good guy: Sopranos (mafia), Dexter (serial killer), Weeds (pot dealer), drug addict (Nurse Jackie). Who decided being good and moral was easier than indulging in ones darker urges and personal enrichment? A decent description of how recent literature such GoT has embraced moral ambiguity over moral complexity:

  • Ymarsakar

    I’ve seen Japanese drama series (soap operas without the soap) that 11B mentioned. I got the same impression, even though the emotional twists were as I expected.
    I prefer life and death drama about duty, honor, justice, idealism, and boy growing into man sort of stories

  • Ymarsakar

    Part of changing yourself for the better is getting rid of environmental toxins. So long as people are connected to the Left or Hollywood propaganda, they will find it hard to de-tox themselves. But refusing all connections and doing nothing else, is pointless and nihilistic in itself. Humans desire things and if you won’t get it from Hollywood, somebody else will find a way to service that craving.
    Enter Japanese culture and mainstream media.

  • Katja

    I think there are a couple of things going on here that play into this:
    Lack of sympathy
    This was 25 years ago or so, but my aunt was teaching an English class at a state university and as a treat for the class, she brought in the movie “Gone with the Wind”.  At the part (spoiler alert!) when Bonnie falls off the horse and dies (remember, Bonnie’s only about 6), the class burst out laughing.  From what I understand, my aunt turned the movie off and really let the class have it (and gave them an extra written assignment).  But it seems to me that this kind of reaction is pretty much the norm.  On one hand, you have young people who feel overwhelmed with almost any kind of pain on their own behalf, but are almost sociopathic in their disregard for the pain of others.
    The struggle to do good
    In popular culture, we have this idea that there are people who are just “good” or do good things because that is the way they are, and the rest fall short of that ideal so why even bother to try (see point 3).  There is very little acknowledgement that even those whom most would consider saints go through a continual struggle to do good, and that it is no little feat (and hardly boring).  Yes, it becomes easier to walk that road, in some ways, with practice, but it’s never like you can turn on cruise control and just go to sleep.  Furthermore, there seems to be less and less of an understanding that there are people who can be pretty messed up who do end up doing what is right in certain situations.  
    Sinfulness as identity
    Since people are either “good” or “bad”, one may as well not even try to do better.  Furthermore, if we do sinful things, a) no one should “judge” someone else and b) we should do our utmost to remove any stigma from said sin, because “everyone does it” and continuing on in this behavior “just cannot be helped”.  
    I have very little time for reading or watching garbage these days, and so, instead of fiction, I’ve been doing more reading of history and religion.  At the very least, it helps provide some perspective, but also has helped lend hope even to the darkest of times.

  • Charles Martel

    Katja, in a way your observations about people being either good or bad hew to Islam’s take on human behavior. It seems that Allah predestines each of us to be either good or evil, with the grotesque addendum that our goodness or evil has utterly no effect on our fate: Allah decides before we are born whether we will go to Islam’s Whore Heaven or its Jew-filled hell. 
    So it doesn’t surprise me how sympathetic so many progressives are to Islam’s take on human nature. It certainly explains the dolts who like Dexter. What could be more soothing than the idea that not only can we not help ourselves, we also cannot judge ourselves.

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  • Ymarsakar

    Part of the grand Soviet strategic vision was that they would place these active and sleeper cells in the US, so that when WWIII’s Final Revolution came about, they would have a trump card.
    However, WWIII never started. The world just ended the Cold War. Now you had these Weapons of Mass Deception in the US, with no real central authority telling them what to do. So they became self aware weapons, refined their ideology and tactics, going from LSD sex slave raping torture bombing techniques to Ayers like “infiltration of the institutions”.
    Since their goal was always to destroy and transform America for foreign conquest, they still hold to that mission, consciously or unconsciously.
    The Soviets left WMD presents for America, and America refused to disarm them. So now is now, so to speak. Islam is making use of em. Power players and corrupt freaks are using them. Why not.
    Winning a war, while having all your women and children killed, tortured, and put on a spike when you return home…. is whose definition of a victory?

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  • David Foster

    Katja…”At the part (spoiler alert!) when Bonnie falls off the horse and dies (remember, Bonnie’s only about 6), the class burst out laughing.”
    Sounds pretty shocking…*but* is it possible that the reason for the laughter was not a lack of ability to feel empathy, but rather that the empathy could not survive being filtered through “ancient” film-making practices, forms of dialogue, etc?
    I’ve read that quite a few kids have difficulty in having an emotional reaction to old pictures (viz, of the Holocaust) which are in black & white, because they don’t seem “real.” Obviously, GWTW was shot in color, but maybe some similar perceptual phenomenon is going on?? I’m probably reaching here…
    Wasn’t it Oscar Wilde (google–yes Oscar Wilde) who said 
    “One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing.”
    Perhaps we have more people psychologically similar to OW today than there once were…

  • David Foster

    Is the increase in sympathetic portrayal of evil people in movies/tv/books possibly related to the (often-asserted and much-discussed) common female pattern of attraction to Bad Boys?

  • Gringo

    In fact, if one reads about the Spanish Civil War, it was a war much like that taking place in Syria:  moral, decent people would want both sides to lose.  If I remember correctly, it emerged in the 1990s or so that the Communist leaders systematically slaughtered those starry-eyed idealists who had come from America and England to help the Communists fight the Fascists.
    The truth about the Spanish Civil War emerged much earlier, courtesy of George Orwell, who wrote Homage to Catalonia, which explores in depth the Stalinist killing of Anarchists and others on the left. I recall my father reading the book some decades ago.  I read it last year. Homage to Catalonia
    What I thought as I watched the movie is that, even though the Fascists won, the Communists wrote the history.
    Which reminds me of  some lines from Tom Lehrer’s Folk Song Army.
    Remember the war against Franco?
    That’s the kind where each of us belongs.
    Though he may have won all the battles,
    We had all the good songs
    There was a good song- one which I  now appreciate more than I did when I was younger. The  Folk Son Army

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  • pst314

    14. David Foster “Is the increase in sympathetic portrayal of evil people in movies/tv/books possibly related to the (often-asserted and much-discussed) common female pattern of attraction to Bad Boys?”
    Interesting thought, but seems unlikely. Seems to me that it’s Gramscian damage–and perhaps decadence brought on by too much wealth and security in elites who never suffer the consequences of their own folly.

  • pst314

    George R. R. Martin supposedly wrote the Game of Thrones series with the explicit purpose of destroying the myth of the noble, chivalric Middle Ages. But if that were so, one book would have been enough. Why wallow in evil for book after book–how many thousand pages so far?

  • Katja

    David – I agree that some of it may be that people these days are used to better effects, but even if it were horribly put together, the death of a child is no laughing matter.  (Mind you, and like I said, this class of hers was at least 25 years ago, so although there were new film technologies by the mid 80’s, you didn’t have all the graphic CGI and stuff that you have now.)  
    As another example, I know people who love the “Three Stooges”.  I cannot stand them because I don’t see how the pain  – or watching the pain – of another is funny.  

  • Ymarsakar

    “But if that were so, one book would have been enough. Why wallow in evil for book after book–how many thousand pages so far?”
    It’s good money, so why not.
    One thing the Middle Ages didn’t have… you couldn’t make money producing books about how Kings should be executed. They would execute you first, you see. These days, the people can’t do much when their culture is destroyed. Because they pay for that destruction using dollars. But hey, you don’t have to watch it or read it, it’s a free market.
    Until it isn’t a free market, because they won. That’s what people don’t want to think about. It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye. It’s all about cursing politicians, until you realize that they aren’t your politicians but your slave masters.

  • Murray Lawrence

    Knowledge of Stalin’s treachery in the Spanish Civil War did not emerge in the ’90s but in the late 1930s themselves through eye-witness accounts by such writers as Simone Weil, George Orwell, and John Dos Passos. As Gringo notes, Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia exposed the wholesale murder of anarchist and other leftwing groups by Stalin’s agents. The ’90s did, however, see the corroboration through research into the newly opened files of Soviet state archives. Moreover, Orwell and his wife were on a communist death list and were lucky to escape before the list reached the Spanish border with France. In The Breaking Point, Stephen Koch describes in loving and painful detail the break between Dos Passos and Hemingway over communist subversion in Spain, and in Stalin: Czar of All the Russias (1940), the American journalist Eugene Lyons devoted many pages to Stalin’s long-range motives in destroying the social revolution that was occurring in Spain. Orwell’s work was smeared by the left, as was Dos Passos and anyone else who had eyes to see the true nature of the Soviet regime both at home and abroad. Howard Zinn takes his place in a long line of communist rewriting of American history, particularly as it applies to the years of Stalinist rule. I recommend for all readers of bookwormroom Diana West’s remarkable study of Soviet penetration of America’s political institutions during the four terms of FDR’s presidency and beyond, American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation’s Character (2013).

  • pst314

    “It’s good money, so why not.”
    Yes, but that does somewhat undermine the credibility of the professed aim. The series is 4000 pages in five volumes so far, with two more volumes forthcoming. But then, Martin seems to have always preferred horror and ugliness.

  • pst314

    Murray Lawrence: Thanks for the reading list.

  • Ymarsakar

    “Yes, but that does somewhat undermine the credibility of the professed aim.”
    No more than Leftists talking about liberty and human rights while supporting Islamic Jihad, at least.
    With enough money, power, and psychological warfare, I can make women think their own fathers raped them while they were kids.
    (Btw, this isn’t theory, it’s already been done, if only accidentally)
    People are more vulnerable to WMDs than they think. Especially when their minds, spirits, and souls are weak.

  • Ymarsakar

    Anyways, the Western equivalent of a good writer on human nobility is Brandon Sanderson. Who coincidentally finished Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. Or Wheel of foolish and irresponsible women/leaders, that is.

  • VaRight

    When Robb Stark married the woman he fell in love with instead of the woman he promised to marry, he betrayed his family honor. While the romantic side in all of us places love ahead of duty and honor, especially when it comes to arranged marriages, it wasn’t always that way. Refusing to marry a daughter of Walder Frey was as dishonorable as it gets. What fate would Robb have held if he had honored his promise to Frey?
    And Jon Snow, the bastard son of Eddard (Ned) Stark betrayed his oath to the Night’s Watch by sleeping with Ygritte, and then betrayed her by leaving. And she made him pay. At that point, he was either going to betray his own kind or his new adopted family and lover.
    (Note: I did not read the book and have only watched the movie – so my perspective is from the GoT TV production only.)
    So both Robb and Jon turned from the honorable thing for love only to see it go badly.
    The ordeal Jaime Lannister has been through has seen him turn from a pretty bad seed into a more honorable man (helping Brienne of Tarth) while his “little” brother Tyrion Lannister – brilliantly played by Peter Dinklage – has gone from a self loathing twit to a far better man than he used to be. Forced to marry Sansa Stark he refuses to sleep with her until she wants him. And Sansa and Arya, the Stark girls have had a really hard life and boyh are moving towards the dark side. Bran Stark may be the best of the bunch.
    So this is still a good vs. evil only they seem to be swapping roles.
    And as horrible as it was seeing a pregnant girl stabbed in the belly and the slaughter of the Rob and his Mother, in the end, Tywin Lannister probably saved hundreds or thousands of lives by killing Rob. It was actually the humane thing to do. But I suspect Tywin was more driven by logic than compassion.
    And not having read the books, I have no idea where the plot will go from here. But I am looking forward to finding out.

  • Ymarsakar

    I would sum up the plot of Game of Thrones as being “everyone dies in the end”.
    It’s very similar to a tv series actually, in the modern era. Or at least a more permanent version of Survivor.

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