Having miraculously survived the last eight years without being consumed by the popularity of “Game of Thrones” I suddenly found myself curious about the effects this and other fantasy stories have had on our social obsession with binge television. I am not immune to this phenomena myself, but have spent the last few years consumed with all things “Vikings” and “The Last Kingdom”. Apparently, to me Vikings are what Vampires were to people in the ’90’s.
After stalling the inevitable GOT experience, I succumbed to peer pressure and began my adventure into that world of pain, magic, lust and finally death. Of course the best part so far is the dragons. But while I’m cruising along in season two, I’m noticing a disturbing trend toward a preoccupation with the degradation of women, not only sexually (which is disturbing in and of itself) but socially, and religiously. I can’t say that I’m surprised, but I will say that I’m disappointed.
It occurred to me that this isn’t an historical fiction, a period piece, or any other variation of the two, it’s pure fantasy within the context of a version of Medieval England. So if you could make up any story you wanted, any rules, any Earth, any beings, why would anyone make up these? Essentially, aren’t there any new stories to tell, completely different stories, where honor, swords and virginity aren’t worshiped?
I can think of a few and that’s just right off the top of my head. And why are these afore mentioned stories still so popular and most importantly, so binge-worthy? Yes, it’s a relief to be transported to a different place and time, but no, it’s not a relief to watch women raped and killed and otherwise abused. It’s just not.
It’s not just that this isn’t my kind of thing; it’s that this shouldn’t really be a thing. I don’t care how good the story is.
GOT is really only binge-worthy because of the strength of the story and the exceptional acting. So why the emphasis on female dehumanization and destruction? Is it necessary to further the story with pornographic violence? By now you can probably tell what my answer will be. It’s pornographic violence, and it compels us to watch, like a car accident on the side of the road, like boxing or cage fighting, but without the distinct advantage of a weight requirement. There’s really no semblance of it being an even match.
And I suppose that’s the only real ethics of the show – That the story is strengthened by it’s refusal to pretend that life is, in any way fair, that kindness prevails, that the good guy wins in the end. We are quickly dissuaded of that fallacy and its relentless truth is both admirable and deplorable. It’s admirable because it does not flinch from its perspective. It’s deplorable because there are new stories to tell, and this story is taking up space, energy and attention.
For example, there is a scene in one of the episodes when, the owner of a ‘pleasure house’ is talking with two of the female prostitutes about the importance of making a male customer feel special, and apparently this can only be done well if the lie is based on some kind of truthful experience, like an orgasm. While all of this is being discussed the women are also engaged in, let’s just call it ‘sexual activity’ with each other while he tells them what to do. Not only does this scene lay bare (no pun intended) the imbalance of power, which it presumably meant to do, it seems like so much fodder for the male audience. Granted, it’s not violent but it is exploitative.
Not violent enough for you? How about when the crazy King Jofrey orders one prostitute to beat another with a giant scepter, just for his entertainment? Or when the King tortures and kills a prostitute by tying her up and sticking arrows through various points on her body? How about just the myriad of naked women roaming around for everyone to see, all the time? This is not television I want to watch! Why don’t I just change the channel? Because so much of what is on television is a variation on that theme. I can’t watch QVC 24/7!
According to the Media Education Foundation, research indicates that media violence has not just increased in quantity; it has also become more graphic, sexual, and sadistic. “GOT” features all of those categories.
And so we come to the question, “What else is out there? What new dramatic stories, sci fi stories, period pieces, fantasy stories would capture an audience and hold them, and make them miss their best friend’s wedding to binge watch the whole series?
If we’re talking about books of the sci fi genre, I can think of several sci fi stories written by Ursula LeGuin for one, and no woman is striped naked and marched through the streets in them. No one is raped or beaten. They’re just interesting stories with important things to say. HBO, make one of these!
What about “The Moon Maze Game” written by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes? That’s a fascinating, well written story that doesn’t involve a woman being treated badly. At least not the kind of badly we see in “GOT”. Or maybe something with elves and fairies…I know they’re out there.
If you’re looking for something to watch now try Amazon’s “The Expanse”. It’s amazing!
If we’re talking something of the swordplay and knights genre, I would refer you to the History Channel’s “Vikings” or Netflix’ “The Last Kingdom”. There’s plenty of gory violence but the stories focus on the relationships between the characters rather than obvious sexual exploitation.
So why do the studios continue to make shows like “GOT”? The answer most likely lies in profit. Gory, violent, sexual content tends to be a reliable source of income for the studios, so why replace it? Like all of the reboots and remakes of late, why produce something new that risks your investment when you can replay the old, add in some special effects, graphic violence and soft porn and you’ve got a cash cow. According to the website Quara, HBO has at any one time, 30-40 million subscribers at 10 dollars a month, that makes just the monthly income of HBO around $300 million to $400 million in subscriptions alone. Add in merchandise and DVD sales and you can spend as much as you want producing graphic violence and sexual exploitation. 6 million an episode is nothing!
Apparently having a reputation of producing shows with cutting edge sex and violence really pays off. But being satisfied with an old story made new with increased sex and violence shouldn’t be what entertainment strives for. Aren’t we smarter than that?
The only thing in our control is our own viewing habits. We must remember that our viewership commands the content. If we don’t watch them, studios won’t continue to make them. More female directors and writers wouldn’t hurt either. We’ve got to have better taste and higher standards.