Belmont Club

The Game of Drones

One sign that Democracy is struggling in the world is the runaway success of the HBO series The Game of Thrones. No longer do the public see the world as led by reverend statesmen, but on the contrary as being manipulated by amoral, bloodthirsty and power-mad conspirators. The Independent writes “the Game of Thrones universe is so rich with metaphors that it’s already been used to explain everything from American presidential candidates to English soccer teams”.

The newspaper then proceeds to analyze the Middle East in terms of the TV show. The House of Lannister is Saudi Arabia. House Stark represents the crushed liberals and democrats. House Baratheon is Arab autocrats. House Targaryan the United States. The White Walkers are ISIS. The Night’s Watch are the Kurds. You can make up your own correlatives. Why not?

The Washington Post naturally attempts a comparison with the District, “ever wonder what ‘Game of Thrones’ would look like if it were set in our own nation’s capital?”. Unfortunately the Washington Post comparison only goes as far as simulating the opening credits. It never tells us for example, who in the current roster of politicians ought to stand in for the loathesome King Joffrey, Cersei Lannister or that marvelous dwarf Tyrion, though some obvious candidates come to mind.

While our formal model of governance is still representative democracy, our mental cultural models have migrated to authoritarian elitism.  The world really does believe their betters run affairs along the lines portrayed in the series. Obama was eager to meet the Castros.  Netanyahu not so much. Putin is widely admired throughout the world, as is the dictator of China.  Even in America the wannabe dynasts are trying their luck.

Robert Tracinski, writing in the Federalist, says the fascination with the series is rooted in modern cynicism. “Which is disturbing, because the story line and view of life in “Game of Thrones” is unbelievably grim.”

The show is now entering its fourth season of unremitting murder, beheadings, rape, torture, and human sacrifice. (And you don’t even want to know what happens to Theon Greyjoy. I wish I didn’t.) There are only a few characters we can really like, and they tend not to last very long before they meet a horrible end. Most of the characters are unlikeable, and much of the pleasure of the show comes from watching them trade verbal barbs before they get around to dispatching each other in gruesome ways.

I am not a fan of the show, though I have spent some mostly unpleasant hours on YouTube figuring out what all the fuss is about. But you don’t need to rely on my impressions. An overview of the new season describes how the show is held together by “a baseline brutality.” …

The strangest part of this is that the creator of “Game of Thrones”—George R.R. Martin, who wrote the series of five massive novels (so far) on which the series is based—describes being conscientious objector during the Vietnam War who says he is opposed to war and wrote this story to show how ugly it is. …

No, I’m afraid that the opposite is true. “Game of Thrones” is torture porn dressed up as pseudo-historical drama.

“It’s as if our highbrow culture is trying to cultivate in us the aesthetic taste of a sociopath.” Actually they’ve been doing that for a long time. Today’s cultured people are not supposed to believe in anything but nothing. The highest form of morality is the absence of it. Emptiness is celebrated.

Sincerity is so rare that Nickolas Geranios of the Associated Press finds the story of a seventy year old florist who has chosen to go out of business rather than “provide flowers for a same-sex wedding” newsworthy.

Barronelle Stutzman of Arlene’s Flowers refused the couple in 2013, and her actions were among the first in what has become a nationwide quandary for bakers and others who believe same-sex marriage conflicts with their religious beliefs.

“I’m a little grain of sand,” Stutzman told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Richland, about 145 miles southwest of Spokane.

In a February ruling, Benton County Superior Court Judge Alexander Ekstrom found that Stutzman’s refusal to provide flowers because of sexual orientation violated Washington’s anti-discrimination and consumer protection laws. She has been fined $1,000, plus $1 in court costs and fees.

Stutzman probably comes from a generation that understood people believed in something definite. Maureen Mullarky, perhaps another survivor of that era, recalls how touched she was that Jewish engraver refused to put an inscription on her wedding ring because he considered the text too sacred from the purpose. And the weirdest thing was, she cherished the memory of that refusal with fondness all her life.

My heart set on a passage from the Book of Ruth that reads in full:

Ruth said: “Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee; for whither thou goest I will go, where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people and thy God my God.

Only the central portion (“whither thou goest . . .”) could fit around the ring but the entire antiphon is implicit in the fragment. Ruth’s pledge to Naomi is the purest and most stirring statement of friendship I have ever known. I ached to claim it for myself and wear it for the rest of my life.

Was one of us Jewish? The jeweler wanted to know. Was either of us leaving another religion to become Jewish? No, we were not. Well then, he was sorry but he would not give us that particular quotation. The point was non-negotiable.

The rebuff was a sore let-down but we did not press. We deferred to his prohibition because, in some unspoken way, we understood. The story of Ruth is one of conversion that affirms the Jewish nation. It testifies to peoplehood. The intensity of this man’s concern to honor the sacred core of the text moved us. Here was a man who had suffered the unspeakable for no other reason than he was part of the people Ruth pledged herself to.

There was grace in his refusal. Had he granted me the words I craved, he would, in conscience, have violated the grandeur of them. Ruth’s commitment was not simply to another person but to a covenanted community bound together since the call of Abraham. Her words were his inheritance; he was not free to extend them to us.

Maybe it was because words meant something then.  Today is it’s just scratches on metal dude. When young people find religion these days it is often similar to the grim ideologies of the Game of Thrones.  It’s easy to imagine ISIS or al-Qaeda setting up shop in that universe.  In fact, the Indpendent has suggested it already.

There are no happily ever afters in that universe.  There is only the time until the next betrayal.

Until relatively recently there was an unspoken aspiration toward a better nature. God, rights, “we the people”, freedom and truth were the foundation stones of the world. And in consequence there was about public places the air of a secular temple. We may not always have attained that ideal, but we did not give the ideal up. But times have changed and we no longer expect people to be governed by anything other than a desire for expediency or gain. We’ve become coarsened and without realizing it have become a good deal uglier in the process. It’s really our loss. And the saddest thing is we don’t even know what has happened.

A compilation of viewer reactions to the agonizing death of Joffrey.

[jwplayer mediaid=”42778″]

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