Posted on | April 18, 2014 | 129 Comments
Amanda Marcotte is one of the most wicked people in America today. Her bloodthirsty enthusiasm for abortion is such that she does not hesitate to imagine aborting her own hypothetical offspring:
What kind of deformed personality could write such thing? The same kind of deformed personality who could become a campaign blogger for Democrat presidential candidate John Edwards — hired, evidently, on the recommendation of Edwards’ wife — then get unceremoniously dumped after her controversial record becomes an issue. And then, when it is exposed that the candidate who hired and dumped her was a shameless adulterer, well . . . crickets chirping.
Zero recognition on Marcotte’s part that her “progressive” values made her the dupe of a hypocritical charlatan. No second thoughts are possible, because her career as a Professional Feminist is so important to her that the slightest flinch — any mere overt hint of uncertainty about her commitment to The Sacred Progressive Cause — would impair the status and prestige she has striven so hard to attain.
Years of humiliating herself on behalf of The Cause have extinguished whatever spark of conscience Amanda Marcotte may ever have possessed and her career of public self-degradation seems, also, to have made her blind to her own contradictions. So it is that we find the bloodthirsty abortion fanatic pretending to have moral qualms about the death of a fictional TV character:
That is the genius of this episode [Sunday's episode of the HBO series Game of Thrones]. It serves up one example after another for you to judge of people sadistically enjoying the pain and suffering of others, and right when you’re in a full snit of self-righteousness, it puts you in a position to do exactly what you just spent the last hour judging others over.
You can argue until you’re blue in the face that it’s different, because Joffrey’s death is an objectively good thing, especially for the kingdom. But you’ll recall that Ned Stark advised his sons at the beginning of the series about the importance of not taking killing lightly. This, George R.R. Martin is arguing, is what war does to people: It makes them callous and petty and revenge-minded, which is why peace never lasts and violence begets more violence. Last night’s episode was a firm reminder of the fundamentally pacifist nature of the series.
Or, perhaps, “a firm reminder” of the ultimately amoral worldview that informs Game of Thrones. Not long ago, my friend Ali Akbar stayed a week at our house, during which I became temporarily addicted to Game of Thrones. I’d heard all the buzz about the series, but the professional necessity of having cable TV — not only to watch the news, but also because high-speed Internet service is part of the cable package — does not justify paying for HBO. Ali, however, has the “HBO Go” package, so that he could download all the episodes, and I watched the first two seasons in the span of a week.
The infamous “Red Wedding” scene that wiped out the Stark clan (except for Ned’s bastard son) was pretty much all the evidence you needed that there is really no “moral to the story.” One might argue that it is realistic to see the noble and courageous perish at the hands of the depraved and sadistic, but if the author had in mind some didactic purpose, the lesson taught is a very bad one.
Grant that Game of Thrones is eminently watchable, that the character development and plot twists are fascinating. Grant all this, and I still say the series is a poisoned confection, an invitation to the kind of puerile paganism that one might find among adolescent “goths” attending a Renaissance Fair or science-fiction convention.
A certain tolerance of moral ambiguity is necessary to film criticism, which is one reason why most evangelical Christian writing on the subject is so wretched. If your idea of film criticism is to count the cuss words and recoil in horror at any overt expression of sexuality, you should consider another line of work. It’s one thing to advocate wholesome, uplifting, family entertainment; it’s another thing to be permanently indignant that all movies are not wholesome, uplifting, family entertainment. For example, why wouldn’t pro-lifers embrace The Terminator as one of the most pro-life movies of all time?
The whole point of the story is that Sarah Connor, an otherwise unremarkable young woman from Los Angeles, must survive because she is destined to give birth to the future hero John Connor. And (spoiler alert) she becomes pregnant with John because of the time-traveling future soldier who has returned to the 1980s to save her. Spare me the Church Lady sermon about unmarried sex — how can a Christian possibly miss the pro-life theme here?
Well, we have wandered far afield from the topic of Amanda Marcotte’s tone-deaf reaction to the death of Evil King Joffrey. The point of that digression, however, is that effective criticism must be able to perceive in a dramatic work themes that are embedded in the subtext. Marcotte says she has read the books on which Game of Thrones is based, and if what she sees as most important is a pacifist message, I’ll take her word for it that this is the authorial purpose — and ultimately, a bad lesson.
Yes, war is a terrible thing that everyone should strive to avoid. However, as history as amply demonstrated, the pursuit of peace at any price — a cowardly refusal to risk war on behalf of principle — can lead to awful consequences. “Peace through strength” is not merely a slogan, but the only way that war can be deterred. But contra Marcotte, I think the author of Game of Thrones sees this.
One notices in Game of Thrones echoes of Sun-Tzu and Machiavelli, both insightful scholars of statecraft. And there is, certainly, a sort of moral framework evident: Characters who become obsessed with revenge ultimately destroy themselves. Yet weakness toward an enemy — a failure to utterly destroy a rival, and also to destroy any of his allies who might avenge him — always exposes a character to sudden and unexpected destruction. So a viewer can extract useful lessons from Game of Thrones, even while acknowledging that (a) it’s chiefly enjoyable as escapist fantasy entertainment, and (b) the series is ultimately a moral cesspool, where all the characters are fundamentally bad people in one way or another.
Here I think of film noir, my favorite movie genre.
You can’t be one of those League of Christian Decency types and a film noir fan, because the protagonist is invariably a deeply flawed man — “Oh, no, Mildred! He’s smoking a cigarette!” — who finds himself in a moral dilemma, usually involving a Woman of Questionable Virtue. The protagonist in film noir finds himself in a position where there are no “good” options, where survival requires him to do things that are unethical or illegal, because his own weakness or stupidity has led him into a situation where he is hopelessly trapped by evil.
Game of Thrones could be seen as a kind of medieval film noir, I suppose, but that’s about the best you could say for it, and Amanda Marcotte’s reading of King Joffrey’s death as a moral indictment of the viewer’s hypocrisy is . . . well, it’s weird:
The audience at home is made to endure Joffrey’s ugly and mean-spirited play where a bunch of little people do a comical re-enactment of the War of the Five Kings. Joffrey and his supporters chortle horribly at the deaths of their enemies for many long minutes, many more minutes than you would ever have to endure in most TV shows. After awhile, you start to squirm and actually feel the discomfort of Tyrion, Sansa, and the Tyrells at this unseemly display of pleasure in the deaths of [their] enemies. You can’t wait for it to end. It’s really terrible, all this gloating over death.
A few minutes later, half the people who were squirming over Joffrey’s unseemly pleasure in the deaths of his enemies are running to Twitter to celebrate Joffrey’s pathetic and painful death.
One can only view this criticism as evidence that Marcotte is one of those whose conscience has been seared with a hot iron. Can’t she see Joffrey’s death as a fate that he brought upon himself through his own sadistic cruelty? I haven’t seen the episode in question, so I don’t know if I would be gleefully cheering Joffrey’s death, but no one could dispute that the world of Game of Thrones would have been better off if Joffrey had been killed much sooner. But Marcotte’s reading of the “discomfort” at the way Joffrey & Co. relish the deaths of their enemies seems to miss the fundamental question: Who has done wrong to whom?
In what sense has Joffrey ever been a victim of wrongdoing? Hasn’t Joffrey been a reliable perpetrator of wrongdoing? Why then should anyone wonder that we would be uncomfortable at watching him “chortle horribly” at the re-enactment of his wrongs? And why should we feel guilt at our enjoyment of seeing Joffrey finally receive the kind of violent death he has inflicted on so many good and innocent people?
We need not be surprised, however, by Amanda Marcotte’s inability to make obvious moral distinctions, her blindness to the difference between sadism and justice. Marcotte’s lack of moral insight begins with herself: How can such a murderously fanatical advocate of abortion be expected to discern Good from Evil?
It never even occurs to Amanda Marcotte that there is anything ironic in her position. “Then again, I could see how she could be in simpatico with an 18 year old psychopath.” Indeed, indeed.