“Game of Thrones,” Harvey Weinstein, and the Victims of Bad Ideas

A few weeks ago I had a very brief conversation with my pastor about the HBO series “Game of Thrones.”

“It’s amazing how committed people are to that program,” he observed. “What’s the attraction?”

I had to admit that I didn’t know much about the program. I don’t subscribe to HBO at home. When I travel I occasionally have access to HBO, but I watch very little TV on the road, so I knew nothing first-hand about the program.

However, when you’re supposed to know something about cultural matters, and when your pastor asks you something about a cultural phenomenon, you’d better say something. And I had read enough about the program to know that it was pushing the boundaries of sex and violence, even for HBO. So I glibly answered, “It’s a culturally acceptable way to watch pornography.”

As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I realized that I had made a scathing indictment and that I had precious little support for that indictment. So my words drove me to do a bit of research and the good news—and the bad news—is that I was right. Indeed, I was far from the first person to render this assessment, and most of those who have criticized “Game of Thrones” have not been Christian or conservative sources.

Consider, for example, a 2015 Atlantic article that took the show to task for its “sexual violence” against women, not to mention other forms of violence that included a graphic beheading. Even one of the actors in the series, Stephen Dillane, admitted that the series reminded him of “German porn from the 1970s.”

It is interesting to me that my objections to the show based on a Christian understanding of reality, human dignity, and sexuality sound similar to some feminist critiques of the program. Jezebel.com founder Anna Holmes wrote in the Washington Post that the “often outlandish” eroticism “often overshadows or distracts from the actual story.”  It is, in other words, ironic that the show’s goal of “hyper-realism” has become a cartoonish version of reality and has devolved into self-parody.

Which is not to say that the show has not been parodied in more conventional ways. Any show that rises to the level of cultural phenomenon as “Game of Thrones” has can expect a visit from the wits at “Saturday Night Live.”  SNL writers lampooned “Thrones” with a skit identifying a 13-year-old boy as a consultant to the program whose goal was to show as many breasts as possible.

I could go on, because in this era of episode-by-episode reviews of popular television programs, it is possible to get the gist of a program, even the details of individual scenes, without ever watching the program itself. And the Internet is full of criticism of the “violence porn” and real sexual porn in “Game of Thrones.”  My melancholy conclusion:  My original assessment of “Game of Thrones” as a “culturally acceptable way to watch porn” was not far from the mark.

But recent events raise another question:  Will the Harvey Weinstein scandal cause Hollywood and other content producers to look in the mirror and ask if the shows they produce and the worldview they propagate are not in some way responsible for bad sexual behavior?

My answer to that question is less definitive:  I do not know. It seems unlikely so long as people keep watching and such shows make money for the people producing them, which is why if you do your part, vote with your eyeballs and simply stop watching these programs. That’s a point – among many other excellent points — my Colson Center colleague Shane Morris makes with great clarity here.

I note, too, that others are asking whether there is a relationship between the worldview propagated by Hollywood and the sordid behavior we are now seeing from some of Hollywood’s elite. A recent article in WORLD “connects the dots” between the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse scandal and such shows as “Game of Thrones.”  I note, too, with a very small bit of satisfaction, the recent decision by director Ridley Scott to replace Kevin Spacey in a film due for release next month. Spacey is the object of sexual abuse accusations and had already been dropped from the NetFlix series “House of Cards.”  The decision will no doubt cost Scott and his backers millions of dollars, but it was the right thing to do.

As we often say at The Colson Center:  Ideas have consequences, and bad ideas have victims. It is tragic that the bad ideas of our entertainment culture have produced so many victims, with new ones courageously coming forward every day.

But it is also possible that their testimonies will play a role in calling us to better, redemptive ideas in the future.

Image courtesy of iStock and DavidCallan.

Warren Cole Smith is an investigative journalist and author as well as the Colson Center vice president for mission advancement.

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  • Phoenix1977

    What the author of this article forgets is that “Game of Thrones” is not a stand-alone series. It finds it’s origin in the books by George R.R. Martin “The Song of Ice and Fire” And especially the first 2 seasons of the series is a 1-on-1 adaptation of Martin’s books. After that the producers of the show (of which George Martin is one, just as he has final say in any script and any adaptation of events and characters) started to change the storylines: small at first but small changes in season 3 created entire different storylines in season 6. But that was not really my point.
    Personally, I don’t see how you can have an opinion on a show like “Game of Thrones” if you haven’t seen it. Episode-by-episode reviews, no matter how graphic, are simply not the same as watching the show yourself. But even more importantly, pretty much every sexual or otherwise gruesome scene in the show was described by George Martin in one of the 5 books he has finished today. And trust me: as both a fan of the show AND the books the scenes in the books are more vivid and more gruesome than even HBO puts out there. And George Martin had three demands when HBO told him they wanted the rights to adapt his books: he would be one of the producers; he would have final say in any and all adaptations and HBO was not allowed to soften any of the gruesome acts of (sexual) violence Martin found to be essential to the story.
    So it wasn’t Hollywood who came up with the public beheading of Ned Stark or the people being burned alive by Melissandre to honor her god, the Lord of Light. HBO didn’t come up with the Red Wedding, the target practice by teenage king Joffrey on a prostitute he got from his uncle for his birthday or the incestuous relationship between queen Cersei and her brother Jamie. It was all George R.R. Martin. And with over 300 million views of each episode on first screening world wide apparently he’s giving the people something they want to see.

    • Steve

      “The public beheading of Ned Stark or the people being burned alive”; “the target practice by teenage king Joffrey on a prostitute he got from his uncle for his birthday” and “the incestuous relationship between Queen Cersei and her brother Jamie.”
      It doesn’t matter whether it comes from the author or HBO–not values that are exemplary.

      • Phoenix1977

        “It doesn’t matter whether it comes from the author or HBO–not values that are exemplary.”
        They don’t try to be. That’s not HBO’s task or George Martin’s. They provide entertainment, no life lessons.

        • 1among7000

          Ah. Hello Rome.

    • Jordan Smith

      As a person who is passionate about Fantasy Fiction, The Song of Ice and Fire was a great letdown for me. No matter how well written it was, how compelling the characters were, how Martin brutally exposes human nature (particularly our quest for money, sex, and power), how realistic it was, it was marred by intense, disturbing, and graphic sex all the way through.
      Consider the following points:
      1. The whole plot is driven by the fact that Cersei and Jamie are in an incestuous relationship (this causes Jamie to try to murder Bran, a point which will precipitate civil war, this causes Cersei to abort any child she thinks is Robert’s to keep her and Jamie’s children on the thrown, this finally leads her to have her husband killed and many good men executed in her power grab attempt)
      2. Most, if not all, of the relationships in the series are not healthy (to downright abusive), or at least marred by the sexual misconduct of one of the partners involved (Robert is a drunk who commits marital rape, Ned was unfaithful during the war, begetting a bastard, Cersei and Jamie are incestuous, Cersei uses sex to manipulate, control, and buy people to stay in power, Jorah pains after Daenerys who is much younger than him (and a minor btw), Daenerys becomes a slave to sexual pleasure… and I could go on)
      3. Rape is explicitly and graphically described (considering that any child could read this book, that is disturbing as there are no restrictions on the selling of this merchandise to children and teens, I bought my first copies at age 15 or so)
      4. The sex, while it does serve the plot of the book, needs not be so graphic as to have it explained in detail, consider other Fantasy books that do include sex, but not in a graphic way (Erikson, Esslemont, Sanderson…), it was unnecessary, and I frankly did not want to skip approximately 30% of the book by book 4 (when I said “no” to the series)
      People have a choice in what we chose to entertain themselves, but it does not stop some choices from being better than others… We know that what we watch and read affects the way we think, so being careful of what we let in in the first place is vital.
      Everyone must make their own choice, I for one know that keeping up with the books, much less watching the series, would be unwise for myself, so I cut it.
      The question is were does one draw the line in entertainment? Because the entertainment industry will give us what we ask for (which is a terrifying thought to me). Right now, it seems as a culture, we are asking for more out-of-control sexuality, and more violence. And the more graphic the better. Do we want to be a part of that, or can we do better and work for a change?

  • Jason Taylor

    From what I have heard of GoT the whole theme is, “Everyone is evil” which was arguable in the case of the real Wars of the Roses. But the fact that this evil happens to include fornication as well as atrocity and treachery is a questionable cause for additional distress.

  • jean74

    I watched this show for a while and mostly liked it. I stopped watching because it became so overtly sexual and disgusting it was impossible to watch. I recently watched “Babylon Berlin”, a German series in the period prior to Hitler. It was very well done and captured the ambience of the time. It was a very immoral time and so scenes were shown in a brothel a number of times. (I tend to fast forward through sex scenes)if I like the movie. In the case of this show it depicted the times. Some of the characters were endearing and were caught up in a lifestyle out of necessity in order to eat and have shelter. Game of Thrones, it seemed to me , was just showing this stuff for titillation. As a Christian I don’t know if I should watch some things but I really enjoy a good story, so I do if it is not outright porn. My thought is that it is better to suggest sexual and violent scenes rather than in your face pictures of it.