So, I’ve FINALLY gotten on the Game of Thrones bandwagon and want to talk about it.
I’d heard all about how awesome it is from friends whose opinions I respect, so about six months ago, I gave it a whirl. I knew the show was violent, but figured I could handle it since I liked The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad.
Still, the pilot ended up being more than I could stomach. When a show starts off with frozen children, you know you’ve got a real challenge in store.
But I still wasn’t prepared for all the sexual exploitation and violence toward animals and kids. I don’t want to post spoilers, but trust me, it’s nothing pretty.
My husband and I decided to give it one more try, however, since people keep going on about it. This time we watched a few episodes and before we knew it, we were hooked.
Why? Because it’s a great story with well-developed characters in a fascinating make-believe world. Even if I have to occasionally avert my eyes while watching it.
Thing is, I’m far from the only one having a rough time with its content. The show has been repeatedly slammed for gratuitous sexual violence and its brutalization of women.
A friend of mine recently reacted to all this criticism by posting a long rant about it on Facebook. He’s a bright guy who isn’t shy about sharing opinions I don’t always agree with, but that always make me think…
Like this newest one. His counter-rant pointed out that while, yes, GoT undeniably includes loads of violence against female characters, there is EVEN MORE violence against men. Men are routinely tortured, humiliated, and killed in the goriest of ways… yet no one seems to care about that.
He makes an interesting point. One about which I have mixed feelings.
On the one hand, GOT‘s brutalization of men means women aren’t being singled out. The show depicts a world that is nasty in general. It’s not as if all the guys are all having a wonderful time while the women get crushed. It’s a dog-eat-dog place where “you win or you die” and female players just aren’t being handed a pass.
On the other, I don’t think it’s true that no one cares about tortured male characters. We’re upset by it too, especially when we like the guys being brutalized.
But I do think it’s fair to say there’s been more public uproar against female exploitation. The question then becomes, is that wrong?
Whether of not these attitudes are more sexist than fair, I can’t shake the sense that they’re natural. Even inborn.
Why? Because most people respect basic notions of fair play.
We all have the capacity for violence, however repressed. We HAVE to, out of our self-preserving instincts from a centuries-long race for survival, if nothing else. Few of us, if it came down to it, wouldn’t pull a trigger to save our own lives or those of the people we love.
But we call that self-defense, a form of violence we find acceptable. Even necessary and praise-worthy at times.
Most of us are okay with self-defense, but only sadists feel good about the unwarranted exploitation of defenseless innocents. That’s considered bullying, which violates the rules of the game.
So, violence is okay when the cause is just and the victim is fairly matched. We feel better, for example, about two guys squaring off than we do warriors beating up blind, unarmed children.
By this rationale, it makes sense to be less horrified by whatever happens to strong men, armed and warrior-trained, who have voluntarily stepped into battle. They hold most of the power, anyway, and seemingly have the most to gain.
Whether or not it’s fair, women seem relatively innocent and unfairly matched. Most women in the show aren’t fighters, aren’t armed, and are used as political pawns against their will (at least at first). Whereas the men fight other men in self-defense or to gain territory, they exploit women to appease their fetishes, a cause neither essential nor sympathetic.
Now, I’m not saying there aren’t evil female characters in the show. Far from it, but that doesn’t overrule our basic notions of fair play. We’re more horrified when women are hurt for the same reasons we’re more horrified when children and animals are hurt: there’s a sense they’re unlucky innocents, unfairly outmatched.
A telling comparison might be made with Tyrion the dwarf, a male character physically limited by his size. He’s such a likable guy, though, that it’s hard to decide whether his smallness earns him any extra sympathy points.
What do you think? Do you find the greater public uproar about female violence sexist, or do you think it’s natural?
It’s an interesting debate, either way.