Sunday, 7 August 2016

Why I Don't Watch "Game Of Thrones"

(A bit of a followup on my last post...) On Friday night someone was talking about Game Of Thrones and, seeing as I'm a D&D fan and generally enthusiastic about faux-medieval fantasy, I felt obliged to explain why I don't watch it. Not wanting to sound sanctimonious or self-righteous, I explained "I've heard it has more sex and violence than I can handle" ... an answer hopefully winsome but quite true!

A few clarifications for the record... Most of my Christian friends watch it and I don't judge them over it. I know my favourite pastor watches it! It may be fine for them. In this matter I'm probably the weaker brother that Paul talks about in Romans 14.

One thing that turned me off it was an on-set report I read, where the director made it clear the sex was aimed to titillate. I fear I'd end up watching it for the wrong reasons.

If I really cared to participate in the pop-culture phenomenon, I'd read the books. Turns out I don't. (Yes, I know the books are full of sex and violence too, but to some extent they're limited by one's own imagination.) I probably will read the books anyway, because I've heard they're good, but I have a long reading list. Also I prefer to invest my time in long sagas only if I'm confident they end satisfactorily (X-Files, I'm looking at you!) so I should probably hold out until George R. R. Martin gets it done.


  1. Don't feel too bad about it. I think it reflects on a particular lack of skill of the creators

    As a D&D fan, you might recall Tracy Hickman's criticism of this style in "The Annotated Legends: War of The Twins" p. 671.

    "[...] A picture may be worth a thousand words, but imagination beats them both a thousand fold. Gratuitous description detracts from the experience [...]"

    Hence the popularity of books over newer media, and the fond memories older people have with classic radio shows like The Green Hornet".

    For Horror movie buffs, the "Hook Scene" of Texas Chainsaw Massacre where what took place was only against the shadow of the wall instead of in gratuity.

  2. That report doesn't surprise me. When things reach the point that someone coins the portmanteau "sexposition" (sex/exposition) to describe scenes, and when Saturday Night Live parodies its filming to highlight the tactic, sex is clearly abundant and deliberate. HBO is notorious for this; Game of Thrones following suit is well-reported. So at least careful viewers should know what they're getting.

    In Game of Thrones particularly, sometimes the sex/violence were in the books and couldn't really be excised. The aim is to establish a medieval world that's often all too realistic. That means events proceed with an element of chaos uncommon in fantasy novels, "good" and "bad" people aren't always clearly identified nor act consistently, and some established and/or accepted practices and behaviors will horrify. Pan-away camera tactics or similar might be a workable, partial improvement. But some of it is fundamentally irreducible, if clashes among royalty and their foot soldiers are presented in such a world at all.

    Sometimes, HBO adds sex/violence to in-book scenes, or to non-book scenes that offer different takes on the story arc. Usually there's a clear story-advancing purpose, but not always. For a vague-but-concrete example, S1E1 ends with a book scene, that's either exaggerated or twisted from the book's presentation (viewer-readers lean both ways). Even six seasons in, I don't understand why deviation was desirable. Or there's a purpose -- but was the advancement truly necessary? For another vague example, I think viewers/readers would generally describe two characters as "most evil". Both have book- and non-book scenes with extensively-developed sex/violence. The book scenes are by design not easy reading, but text-only description affords a modicum of distance. In contrast particular TV scenes are "lovingly" developed, and they...linger...and occur anew or afresh, well past the point at which malignance was established. I truly don't understand the purpose of these done-to-excess scenes.

    (And there are rare cases where the show underplays sex/violence. For example, one book setting is a city where custom is for women to dress as if wearing a toga with chest half-uncovered -- matter-of-factly, without appeal to the "prurient interest", in the way National Geographic made notorious in its coverage of various indigenous peoples. The show omits the custom -- a fine change, even if it was possibly/probably motivated by the difficulty of organizing scenes of extras so dressed, not by eliminating gratuitous sex. But it was a glaring change.)

    How do I react to all this? Let's start a new comment, since I'm ranging a bit far now. :-)

  3. Personally, I "own" almost the entire series on Amazon streaming. I refuse to subscribe to HBO to watch live because of the show's gratuitous elements: I want to give them the least money I legally can without begging the show off friends. Because of its gratuitous elements, I've watched the series only once. I buy seasons "just in case" (and they aren't always rentable), and to refer to particular scenes in the future to see originally-unrecognized significance. But I don't plan to watch a second time.

    As to why I watch/read, when the content is often objectionable?

    One: the story is very, very good. Good stories, almost unavoidably, have bad people and things in them, so some of this comes with the terrain. But some of the instances in book and show are particularly bad. So this could be an excuse.

    To respond to this concern, two: I don't believe the overall story exists to (or really tries to) glorify these elements. (I concede that show specifics verge far closer to this line than the books.) When characters do bad things or bad events happen, the story presents the events matter-of-factly. Characters involved may not, and characters observing do not. But I see the story as expecting the reader to draw his own conclusions. It's up to the reader/viewer to choose to cheer for a faction -- or to not cheer at all. It's not necessary to appreciate the story, to view and choose among indistinguishable Machiavellian power plays. There are personal stories, dilemmas, triumphs and tragedies, presenting questions: what's the ideal thing to do, even if practically it might break down within the system? what's the right thing to do, given the constraints of the system? how close did the characters come to these possibilities? how and why were their decisions right and wrong? I see this as the real value of show and book. And this value exists largely independent of the extent to which either book or show overplays the sex, violence, language, or barbarity of the various societies and practices in the world.

    Three, and dovetailing with this point: Acts 17:16-34 and Matthew 10:16-20. (I'm inclined to add Luke 16:1-13 as well, but I may be overreading it, so I'll set it aside.)

    (I'm hitting comment length limits, so I'll finish this in a reply.)

    1. In the Acts passage, Paul preaches in Athens to the council, informing them that their altar inscribed "To an Unknown God", is the Christian God. Paul engages with the culture of the time, on its own terms, to wrestle it toward God. This requires some understanding of that culture. As verse 1 notes, Paul traveled through the city and observed many idols. He didn't remain cloistered among the Christian community; he didn't avert his eyes to the extent of idolatry. In the same way, it seems important to me that Christians engage at some level with Game of Thrones, in order to use it to connect with the unchurched. Not that all must so engage -- but Christians of a fantasy-minded bent should seriously consider it, because of its cultural prominence and potential as a fresh avenue for conversation.

      In the Matthew passage, Jesus sends out the disciples, telling them they will be sheep among wolves -- and that they should be shrewd as snakes, and to beware. One strong theme I draw from Game of Thrones, particularly from Martin's books, is that people good and bad make mistakes. There aren't many characters we might consider solidly good in the series -- or even overwhelmingly good, but for one or two significant lapses. But a few such characters come to mind. And sometimes, because of that basic goodness, those characters are stunningly naive about how the rest of the world might take advantage of them. To return to point two, I do not believe the message is these characters should just behave like everyone else. I think GRRM respects his readers too much to beat his readers over the head with a message. But to have a world we would wish to live in, I think the message to draw in such dangerous grounds, is to act rightly, but always be wary that others might stab you in the back. As Jesus says, the disciples should expect to be arrested, flogged, and put on trial. I think the message to be "shrewd", even while acting rightly, that runs through Game of Thrones if you have the eyes to see it, is consistent with the sense of Christ's Biblical imperative.

      I'm not trying to convince anyone to adopt this logic against their own judgment, precisely because of Romans 14 that you cite (and also 1 Corinthians 8:12 in similar vein). It's also possible there's some element of self-deception to this, which is part of why I've only viewed the show once and plan to minimize future viewing. In any event it's good to set these thoughts down concretely, so that it's not just half-thought-out ideas tumbling around in my head. I present it mostly as information, not as argument intended to sway anyone. And finally: iron sharpens iron, and I might perhaps receive useful criticism of these conclusions. :-) Comments appreciated from anyone who takes the time to read these 1400+ words.