We’re three weeks into Season Seven of Game of Thrones, and a significant portion of the Catholic blogosphere has made its opinion known: it doesn’t like the show. I mean, these bloggers really don’t like the show. If anyone has used the word “hate,” I’ve missed it. But some of the bloggers I’ve read are undeniably playing footsie with the concept.
The One Mad Mom blogger, in an “I’m-mad’as-hell” piece, insists the show is porn. Plain and simple. And she adds, “I’ve really just become sick of the kitschy Catholics trying to rationalize this one away.” Honestly, I don’t know what a “kitschy Catholic” is, particularly in relation to GoT, but it’s her blog, she gets to say whatever she likes.
Early on in the show’s run, all the way back in 2013, the author of the Australian blog, Being Catholic, objected to GoT because “its depictions of sexuality and human intimacy do not conform to the truth of human sexuality as an exclusive gift by which spouses make a mutual self-donative gift of love in harmony with the self-giving essence of the Trinity.” A trifle theological, and we can discuss whether one makes one’s viewing choices based on a program’s theological content, but again, his blog, his choice.
Meanwhile, this past week, a nun who writes a media blog with the memorable name of Hell Burns, expands the definition of porn to include graphic violence. She deplores “the egregious, graphic desecration of the human body — the sacred image of God — in visual storytelling today.” GoT has some nasty graphic violence — there’s no denying that. But in terms of the acts of violence depicted in the series, I think egregious is the wrong word.
Screaming “Porn!” is exactly like screaming “Racist!” It slams the breaks on any discussion. And it is unanswerable, aside from the “Is not!” “Is, too!” debate typical of a second-grade schoolyard. It’s a rhetorical cheap shot.
That said, let me ’fess up: I like Game of Thrones. I mean, I really like Game of Thrones. It is ridiculously well-written (I have never attempted to write dialogue, and now, after watching six and a half seasons of GoT, I’ll never try). The acting is stellar. Love the twists and turns of the plot. Okay, the scenes of Arya in the temple of the Many-faced God were dull, surpassed only by her brother Bran’s transformation into the Three-Eyed Raven — when those scenes pop up, I head to the kitchen to make a sandwich; I do not hit the Pause button on the remote. Character development is strong, although we could talk about this season’s inexplicable makeover of Sansa from pathetic perpetual victim to decisive, politically savvy virago. How did that happen?
GoT is said to be the most popular program worldwide. HBO broadcasts it in 173 countries. Yet, in spite of such easy accessibility, for the past five years GoT has stood at the top of the charts as the most pirated show ever.
Which led GQ to ask, “Is Game of Thrones More Popular Than Porn?” The answer is, “Yes!” According to GQ, Pornhub, which I am led to believe is a popular adult entertainment site, saw it’s viewership drop by 4.5 percent during the premiere a few weeks back of Episode 1 of Season Seven. It was worse last year when the finale of Season Six aired — Pornhub’s traffic plummeted by 5.2 percent. I expect for some of our blogging friends that statistic is an “Ah ha! I told you so!” moment. I have no stats to back this up, but my hunch is people who watch porn probably watch other things as well. Maybe I’m being Jesuitical, but if GoT lures them away from Pornhub for an hour, isn’t that a step in the right direction?
Is there nudity in GoT? Yes, but not much. Is there violence? Oh, hell yeah. Is there sex? Yup — ranging from praiseworthy down to cringeworthy. So, truly, I do understand why some Catholic bloggers are offended by GoT. But I think it is a mistake to view the series through a Catholic lens.
The society in GoT is not Catholic. It is a pagan world — granted, it’s an imaginary pagan world, but it is most decidedly a pagan one. Nonetheless, the script does not hold up the most cruel, the most depraved characters as the ones to admire. Even in pagan Westeros — as there were in pagan Greece and Rome — there are some characters who are noble, or complicated, or at the very least works-in-progress.
Speaking of ancient Greece, Greek mythology is as gruesome as any episode of GoT. Slaughter on an epic scale. Fathers devouring their children. Children mudering their parents. Incestuous gods. Adulterous royals. Randy centaurs. You name it.
This observation is unlikely to win me friends in certain circles, but nudity and graphic violence have been known to appear in religious art. Covering the entire wall above the high altar of the Sistine Chapel is Michelangelo’s huge fresco of the Last Judgment. All the figures in the painting are nude with one exception — the Blessed Virgin Mary is fully clothed. Then there’s St. Sebastian, always depicted as nearly naked and shot through with arrows. And paintings of the mutilation of St. Agatha or of St. Bartholomew being flayed alive I find disturbing. Finally, for inventive sadism, it’s hard to surpass medieval depictions of tormented souls in Hell.
The Song of Bernadette and The Bells of St. Mary’s and The Keys of the Kingdom are uplifting, well-written well-acted, and well-produced. I love watching them, but not all the time.
My problem with the critiques of GoT from some of my fellow Catholics comes down to this: once we start measuring a book, a painting, a screenplay by the standards of a specific moral theology — any faith’s moral theology — we’re not sliding down a slippery slope, we’ve walked off the edge of a cliff. Kiss an awful lot of Shakespeare good-bye. Expunge “The Miller’s Tale” from the complete works of Chaucer. Toss Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina into the dumpster. And brace yourself, because Psycho and Jaws are in serious trouble. Which is why in his preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde — Catholicism’s most famous last-minute, deathbed, better-late-than-never convert — said, “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all.” I think Wilde’s principle applies whether we’re talking about books or an HBO series.