Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Game of Thrones

This show gets a lot of talk. I read a bit about it because we have enjoyed dark TV series like Breaking Bad, 24, Downton Abbey, etc. What I found strange about Game of Thrones is that Catholics seem so confused by it. Many people who claim to be faithful Catholics watch it and recommend it. Yet nobody debates the basic facts. That is that it contains very explicit sex. There is a lot of it. That much of it is gratuitous. That is it does not serve the plot or character development in any way.  

The fact that it is so popular and so well reviewed is a frightening commentary on today's society. Yet you would expect at least serious Catholics to get it right. I mean we have bishops that talk about the dangers of pornography. Even the USCCB has a document on pornography. They must be talking about something. Why are they not talking about Game of Thrones? 

That is a hard question because nobody says there is any moral line Game of Thrones somehow fails to cross. That there is something they don't show that prevents it from being considered porn. They include a wide array of sexual perversions. They shoot the scenes leaving nothing to the imagination. If this is not porn then what is? Yet Catholics, including not a few priests, seem to feel they are somehow above being influenced by such material. Like we can somehow be immune to the deadly sin of lust. 

You often hear rationalizations referencing Theology of the Body. It is true that St John Paul II did say art involving the nude body can be glorifying to God. Fundamentalists respond to this by saying if you open the door a little it is a slippery slope. The trouble is that Catholics are proving the fundamentalists right by being dishonest in their discernment. They assume if any nudity in art is OK then all of it is OK. That was not St John Paul's point. A little knowledge is dangerous. 

John Paul said pornography showed too little of a woman rather than too much. Electronic images have the problem worse than paintings and sculpture. That is they copy the physical image so quickly and so accurately that they miss the spiritual and emotional essence of a woman that art like that must capture. He also does not approve of showing men and/or women engaged in sexual acts which is what Game of Thrones is has a lot of. The catechism makes this rather obvious point:
2354 Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and distribution of pornographic materials.
Then people point out that Game of Thrones gets high marks from many critics. So what? First of all, you should not assume critics are less influenced by their baser instincts. They are human. They will rationalize bad behavior just like we will. Are there interesting characters and compelling stories? Some for sure. I remember when Playboy was the porn of choice. They always had some articles in that magazine. Some were pretty good. Nobody was fooled. If you said you bought Playboy for the articles people would laugh. I guess society is less aware of the human power of self-deception now. 

The last argument is always the biggest self-deception. It does not effect me. When I was a teen you would hear this about sexual music. People were not brazen enough to claim watching sexual videos was not impacting them but they did say it about a constant stream of impure music they would choose to listen to. It just is not true. Our subconscious is a huge part of who we are. We don't understand how it gets formed but the more garbage you put in the system the more you are likely to get out. 

The choices about what art to consume and what art to reject as porn is a hard one. Still it needs to start somewhere. Game of Thrones is the easy part. It is so offensive, so frequently and so predictably that if we can't say No to this then what can we say No to? The fact that so many seem to be having such a hard time rejecting even the most perverse material is quite scary. 


  1. I read the first 20 pages for free as a Kindle preview, got to explicit profanity and sexual rape/incest stuff and deleted it. NO THANKS.

    1. Not even talking about the book here. That probably has some issues to. From everything I have read the TV series is much worse. Plus the medium is more visual and so any porn issue is going to be more serious.

    2. I just wanted to say great post Randy.


  2. Hi, Randy, thanks for writing this. I was talking to a woman friend who mentioned the
    Hi, Randy, thanks for writing this. I (female) was talking to a woman friend about the programme, and I said frankly, "I watched some of the first series, but I stopped when I realized that I was being sexually aroused by the explicit scenes." "Oh!" she said, quickly, "It doesn't have that effect on ME." So Christians who speak up are liable just to get tarred as immature killjoys.

    I don't know how we'll ever find our way back from blindness and denial, except maybe through the hard path of complete cultural/civilisational collapse. God be with us in that day.

    I do wish, for myself, though, that I'd been more awake to the trends when Sex and the City showed here - I had no idea how bad it was until much later, and have reason to regret that.

    Best from New Zealand.

    1. Thanks for reading. |I do think porn is always that way. We need to admit that it impacts us. We want to believe we are so mature and sophisticated that it does not effect us. This is porn aimed at those immersed in such intellectual pride. it is quite strange. You here a lot of people talk about how good the story is yet when you survey social media almost all the chatter is about the sex and not about the story at all. There is a highlight reel of all the nude scenes. There is no highlight reel of these allegedly great dramatic scenes. Yet people still claim that is the real attraction.

  3. Agreed. Of course, the more complex conversation to have is why exactly it is wrong to allow one's passions to be inflamed. I suspect that many people would claim that the act of lusting is existentially life-affirming, and hence good.

    It's a long road to make the natural law arguments for the place of sexual stimuli as being strictly mutual, for the strengthening of the marriage bond. It's an even harder case to make, that it is in fact possible to misuse the passions even inside marriage. And the hardest and longest road of all is to do what we can to reverse the current misunderstanding of sexuality, by the patient witness of many long faithful marriages.

    I don't know where to start, except by suggesting to people, that, dammit, it's plain undignified to allow one's imagination to be colonized by porn masquerading as drama. But then, of course, it's equally hard to know where to stop, as da Volterra, the breeches painter who covered Michaelangelo's nudes, demonstrates. Thoughts?

    1. It is a complex conversation. We need to start with basic principles. Like the idea that some things are out of bounds. Where exactly the boundaries should be we can disagree on. The fact that there should be boundaries is clear enough from the catechism and the bishop's statements. A show like this one which crosses any possible line one can imagine should then become a simpler conversation but somehow it is not.

      Personally I don't want to focus to much on where the line is. We are not called to go right up to the line without crossing it. We are called to flee from evil.