Friday, August 17, 2012

Game of Thrones

on pop theology, philosophy, theology, culture, pop culture, christianityby Jonathan Harrison

Jonathan here. After my last post, I decided to take a meditation retreat in the Rocky Mountains where I learned, from my mentor, that although I cannot control the inanity of reality shows on TLC, I can control my reaction to them. Since my enjoyment of life directly correlates to the way I react to things, if I want to find peace, I must first seek peace with Honey Boo Boo, TLC, and minute long trailers that glorify ATV accidents, and know that only love can answer all my problems.

Or something like that.

Anyways, all that meditation gave me plenty of free time for my recent guilty pleasure: George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire which you know as Game of Thrones.

Since you don't have much time, and the series takes up a couple thousand pages, I'm going to condense the first book and a half into a few sentence fragments: A midget. A wall. War. The Others. Knights. Kings. And lots and lots of hookers.

Yes. Lots and lots of sex. Granted, the first book never gets too gratuitous, so I don't feel guilty when "the Martin" writes something to the effect of, "And then yonder boy went off to visit wenches," (NOT AN ACTUAL SENTENCE IN BOOK) because I don't view the mention of sex as sinful.

But the HBO drama. Good Lord. Wow. 

The series sort of lulls you into complacency and then *BAM* girls start taking off their clothes and before you know it you're checking to see if you need to close the blinds behind your computer lest you get cited for breaking some sort of indecency ordinance.

In fact just this past Sunday I was having a conversation with a friend from church that went something like this:
"I'm currently reading Game of Thrones"
"Do you like the T.V. show?"
"Yea. I think it does a good job of eliminating minor characters and humanizing the more evil charictures in the book"
"Yea. I just wish it wasn't basically a porno"
So is Game of Thrones sinful?

I'm going to go out on a limb here, and maybe tick off some people in the process, and say yes.  Yes it is

In my life, I've often struggled with the cognitive dissonance of good art versus my morality. In our daily lives, we'd like to believe that if something has artistic merit, then the artistry offsets any sinful complications. I struggle with this notion. I struggle with it a lot.

The major problem, to me, is that as American Christians we've all but ignored this difficult question. We like our ability to enjoy good art, and because we do, very few people (usually only fundamentalists) ask if watching X show is worth the risk.

Consequently, we'll also come up with reasons why watching X show or reading X book is worth it. Isn't this funny? As Christians, shouldn't we willingly ditch anything that has even a modicum of sinfulness, no matter how great its artistic merit?

I realize I'm raising all sorts of difficult questions on the nature of sin and what dictates whether something is sinful or not. Different people struggle with different things, but I personally don't need to see 15 pairs of breasts on a daily basis. I just don't. I'm as hetero as hetero can be and I plan on being married some day, but as a Non-Medical Professional Christian American Male (NMPCAM) that number shouldn't be that high.

Wait, Ben, how many people read this blog on a daily basis?

Anyways. Most of you probably pick up what I'm putting down. I'm also extremely hypocritical on this one, but I wanted to ask the question since it's a question that almost no one asks. Is good art worth the risk if it might cause us to stumble? Am I totally off base? Am I letting my right-wing, fanatic evangelical upbringing taint my viewpoint of reality and Jesus? Or am I trying to gain the whole world at the risk of losing my soul? Um. Leave your opinions in the comment section?

Jonathan Harrison has a bee in his kitchen and he can't get the darn thing out of the house.  If you know anyone that wants a bee, please let him know by commenting on his blog that he hasn't updated since late July over at Dried Humor.  Also read Libranding if you want to.

Update: Bee has been moved out of the house and is rather ticked but will eventually figure out how to get out of the gladware container with the stick under it.

Update to the update: Bee figured it out.


  1. Okay, so I'm going to disagree with Jonathan about this topic. Kind of.

    First, I disagree with the concept of labeling specific acts/items sinful. Sin is a much more dynamic thing, and I don't think evangelical discussions of "sinful things" have done much to enhance our understanding of sin.

    Second, I think art is done in pursuit of truth, and therefore if it is necessary to convey the truth it pursues, it should not be censored. Granted, Game of Thrones has created what some critics refer to as "sexposition" where characters give expositional monologues while engaging prostitutes. So yeah, that's probably gratuitous.

  2. So is it not possible for sin to be caused by certain things? Is it something that we exist in and shouldn't try to avoid? We're delving into much deeper questions here.

    While I can understand what you're saying, I don't think bowdlerization is necessarily censorship. Casablanca, for example, is filled with sex, but it didn't need 15 sex scenes to portray that to viewer. Does it portray less of a truth because it doesn't have nudity? If Game of Thrones needs the sex to portray a truths, wouldn't Game of Thrones be closer to the truth if the characters in the show actually had sex instead of pretending to? I don't think half the sexposition is even necessary to the story, and most of it is gratuitous in the fullest sense of the word.

  3. I would say certain actions accentuate sin, or to put it in terms I like more, certain actions lead us to become less human by participating in them.

    Like I said, I think Game of Thrones usually utilizes sex for titillating purposes, not for plot (with the exception being some of Dany's scenes where the nudity is used to accentuate cultural differences).

    My concern is that we remove sex/language/violence from movies because we find the thing itself "objectionable" without regard to the context. Perhaps sometimes it is, but then sometimes the "objectionable" material may be necessary to highlight the deeper meaning of the art.

    Game of Thrones may utilize sexuality in ways I disagree with, but it is because of the way they use it, not the use itself.

  4. Comment from Hannah Smith on Facebook:

    "I appreciate the honest questions. Definitely questions worth considering. It did set off every Fundy bell in my head, however. I think the trouble comes when we start applying God's guidance to us personally regarding these matters to everyone, everywhere, in all circumstances. But I don't sense that Jonathan is suggesting anything like that. Thanks, Jonathan!"

  5. Yes. I would say my argument is more of should we participate in it as opposed to should it be created. I don't believe anything Christians can do will ever stop objectionable material from ever being created, but that doesn't mean that we should watch it or read it, etc. etc. And that also doesn't mean that we should let the artistic merit of something over shadow the fact that maybe it accentuates sin in such a way that watching is more or less a detriment to our faith. It's true that we're all different, but I don't think the guy who said "anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" would be ok with Christians watching a show that uses lesbian sex scenes as exposition. But that's just my personal opinion, and I believe it definitely applies to my life and my situation.

  6. Let me take a different approach. Is it possible for Christians to appreciate sexuality and nudity as a beautiful part of God's creation? Does nudity imply objectification and lust?

    I don't mean in terms of Game of Thrones. I think the use of sex in that show is clearly meant to be lust-inducing.

    But in the books it's often written with a gritty realism that doesn't exactly make it erotic or lustful, it's just part of life and it's presented that way.

    Does the realism of the nudity/sex involved change the equation?

  7. To your point, Ben, I don't believe nudity inherently creates objectification and lust. Certainly nudity can be part of stunning, much more innocent, true art (see: art of the Renaissance).

    However, the majority of the nudity in GOT (and I would argue much of Hollywood/TV's editing bay) is either fueled by objectification and lust (whether the motives of the characters or the show's producers) or it inevitably leads a huge percentage of its viewers (read: heterosexual male viewers) down a path that ends in objectification and lust.

    Typically, the attempt at "realism" often becomes a very subjective question of how detailed you have to be for the story or scene to feel "real". As Jonathan mentioned, there are plenty of movies that tell grim tales that deal with sex without sex scenes (Orson Welles' Touch of Evil comes to mind), and I would argue many of those works don't sacrifice realism.

    So my question would be, what drives the need/desire to show the nudity/sex? Is it the director's documentary-minded hopes for their film? Perhaps this inclusion is an earnest one among some creatives. My cynicism makes me wonder otherwise.