(Spoiler warning: This post contains massive, “The Wall”-sized spoilers for Game of Thrones. This is a show that deserves not to be spoiled, so proceed at your own peril.)
Game of Thrones is incredibly violent. Amazingly violent. It’s more unusual for episode to not contain some act of violence. But connecting this show, philosophically, to our site isn’t easy. Outside of a pat “violence sucks” message, there usually isn’t anything else to say. (This happens with a lot of favorite pieces of art. They’re violent, but we can’t shoehorn them onto the blog.)
But a few years ago, after reading about the audience’s reactions to Jaime Lannister raping his sister Cersei in the fifth episode of the fourth season, I found my angle: Game of Thrones proves the world is getting safer, which we posted about two weeks ago. We had so much material, including our responses to potential rebuttals to our argument, that we had to have a second post to hit it all.
Rebuttal 1: Who says this? Who really believes this?
Basically, I can imagine some people, in response to our piece, saying, “Of course the world today is safer than 600 years ago.” I mean, you couldn’t tell by the rhetoric of politicians--which we’ve quoted multiple times--who scream about how unsafe the world is today. Hell, the Republicans just made it the central talking point of their convention.
If you need quantitative proof, Slate published a piece trying to find the worst year in human history. The poll results at the bottom show 9% of people--on a liberal website--voted for 2016. Another 5% voted 2003, which is insane.
Rebuttal 2: No seriously, who is actually saying this?
A number of neo-racist groups--like the new white supremacy movement, the “alt-right” or the “neo-reactionaries” that have spread online--base their very existence on claiming that democracy has fundamentally made the world a more dangerous place. The solution--for this very fringe movement--is a return to monarchy with heaping doses of racism. I (Eric C) accidentally stumbled onto all this (in a post on TechCrunch) a day before Vox wrote a big piece on it.
Basically, the idea that the world is falling apart undergirds a new, burgeoning anti-democratic, racist ideology. Again, proving that the world is safer matters.
Rebuttal 3: Some outlets are (finally) reporting that the world is getting safer.
In a way. Sometimes. Kind of.
Fact-checking Trump’s acceptance speech, many news outlets reported that America is actually statistically safer than it was 8 years ago (when Obama took office) or 38 years ago (when the country apparently fell apart in 1968). Perhaps this is becoming the new norm for critics and reporters on the left? Or is it just a temporary response to a candidate most on the left abhor?
I‘d guess the latter. Take this headline from Slate two weeks ago: “More of the same: Gun Violence/Terrorism Edition”. On the Fivethirtyeight podcast, one of the reporters said, “Yes, the world is a dangerous place”. On Vox’s The Weeds, Ezra Klein described the world in similar terms. (We still love both of these shows.) So no, this idea hasn’t taken hold yet.
Rebuttal 4: Game of Thrones shouldn’t have depicted rape period.
We first wrote yesterday’s post two years ago after the Jaime/Cersei rape debacle. Since then, there was the Sansa rape by Ramsay Bolton that caused a sitting U.S. Senator to stop watching the series.
But as distasteful and opposed to rape as we are, if you want to depict the past realistically, you have to include rape. (But you don’t have to show it, and Game of Thrones had the rapes occur off camera.) As our post lays out, rape was a part of life in the past, especially during war. Game of Thrones made this clear in the first episode, when Daenerys was raped by Khal Drogo.
It wasn’t just the rape that was bad in the Middle Ages. Back then, women were property. A huge cultural shift occurred over the 20th century when the idea that women were independent agents, not marital property or birthing vehicles, came into being. In Game of Thrones’ world, women don’t decide who they can marry or who they can divorce. (Though, in fairness, Game of Thrones depicts powerful women leading behind the scenes.)
In other words, Sansa’s rape wasn’t a crime. It was daily life for women. More people should know this.
Rebuttal 5: What about modern instances of slavery, torture, homicide, and so on?
I can already hear readers pushing back against each example in our post, asking, “What about modern day slavery? Or sexual assault on college campuses? Or the Charlie Hebdo shooting? Or Guantanamo Bay and waterboarding? Don’t those show society hasn’t improved at all?”
Pinker debunks that criticism on his website:
“There is an enormous difference between a clandestine, illegal, and universally decried practice in a few parts of the world and an open, institutionalized, and universally approved practice everywhere in the world.”
Torture, rape, slavery and other modern horrors were accepted and even celebrated in the past. Today, only criminals engage in them. Take slavery. Some people will point out that there are more slaves today than in the 1800s. But the highest estimates--which are almost surely over-estimates by interest groups--estimate that the modern world has 29 million slaves. Divided by the global population, that’s .003% of the population. So yeah, huge improvement.
We actually left off numerous improvements in the modern world, including religious fanaticism, entrenched racism and sexism, or the general improvements in healthcare or technology.
The world is so much better today.
Rebuttal 6: But this is a fantasy show...
This complaint comes from my dad who didn’t understand the point of our guest post. In short, Game of Thrones has dragons. Why look at it realistically?
Because George R. R. Martin based his series on the past. He made it realistic...then added dragons and zombies. If you can’t get past the fantasy elements of Game of Thrones, I’d recommend watching Rome, HBO’s less-fictional, historical predecessor to Game of Thrones. All of the same instances of violence occur. Slavery? Check. Torture? Check. Rape? Check.