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.