I remember when I was around twenty-three, and internet pornography was a nascent industry, and I’m afraid to say I was a fairly avid consumer. It hadn’t become the kajillion-dollar business it became (and then stopped being), it wasn’t filled with slick logos and cutting-edge technology. People were sticking up fairly crappy pictures of people naked or having sex, with the occasional novelty thrown in for good measure.
One evening, I was on a crappy website, looking at crappy pictures, and feeling fairly crappy about myself, and I saw a link. It was a link to photos of the Diana crash. And, instinctively, I found myself drawing the cursor over it, preparing to click.
And in that moment, I am relieved to say, something kicked in that overrode my initial instinct. I’d like to pretend it was some higher moral sense, but in truth, I think it was no more than mercenary self-protection. A voice inside me pointed out that I could never unsee what I was about to see…
So I didn’t click. And I have clicked on a lot of horrendous things. I have seen jarsquatter. Nobody needs to see that.
But by not clicking, I felt slightly less crappy about myself.
I started watching Game of Thrones, having sort-of embarrassedly enjoyed watching Showtime’s Spartacus series, and figuring an HBO foray into similar territory would be pretty compelling.
And, of course, it is. It’s brilliant. There are masterful performances, it’s visually stunning, and the world, as conceived in the original books, is fabulously (literally) imaginative. Recently there’s been a brouhaha about a rape scene, which wasn’t featured in the original books, but which has been defended by the author as being a reflection of atrocities committed during wars.
Absolutely right, of course. I can see, too, why many people have been upset by it.
Although, in a way, I can’t. If you watched Game of Thrones from the beginning, you watched one prostitute murder another prostitute for a King’s entertainment, you watched a guy get his dick chopped off and eaten, someone getting tortured with a rat burrowing through his stomach, and burned childrens’ corpses. Not to mention the rape of Cersei by her own brother.
I’m a little surprised by people’s shock at the rape of Sansa, inasmuch as there wasn’t much left they could do. They’ve poured boiling lead over a guy’s skull. They’re running out of options. All that’s left is to get a horse to rape a child while a midget gets inserted into a bull’s arsehole and the entire army of unsullied do a bukkake over the corpse of King Joffrey while loads of women die giving birth to babies off the edge of The Wall.
I mean, imagine the fucking script meetings for this show. People have to dream this shit up.
And here, I guess, is my point. We were all complicit in the rape of Sansa. We watched. We didn’t stop, while all that nastiness was going on. I was complicit, up to a point. I stopped watching when they abandoned a crying baby in the middle of some snowy woods at night. I know it’s not exactly the hugest misdemeanour, but it was the thing that made me question why the fuck I was watching this any more. It wasn’t pleasant. I didn’t enjoy it. There was some barbarous compulsion in me to watch. I have – finally – managed to override it.
Game of Thrones works because it is titillating. And we are lying to ourselves if we pretend it isn’t. We’re getting off on the savagery. And we get away with it because it’s on Sky Atlantic or HBO, so we can satisfy ourselves that it’s a nice, high-quality programme for middle-class people, who understand these things on a very sophisticated level. Don’t we. Pass the Cab Sauv.
The same people who vilified Dapper Laughs for his attitude to rape will still be watching Game of Thrones now. And I don’t see a massive difference. Why did we not vilify Jimmy Carr for touring a show with the title Rapier Wit? Because he appeals to the middle classes.
Game of Thrones is bread and circuses for the chattering classes. And I think it’s not ok at a time when ‘rape porn’ is one of the most popular search terms on the internet. If HBO hadn’t made it, if it was showing on Channel 5, Middle England would be up in arms. But because it all gets dolled up with high production values and a bit of sub-RSC posturing, it’s ok.
We are becoming more brutal as a society – it’s a noted effect of recession. We swing to the right, we get more selfish, we show less compassion. We see footage of atrocities committed by ISIS et al on the news. I accept that Game of Thrones is a symptom of that. But I think we must do some soul-searching about whether, by continuing to watch and support these shows, we want to tacitly endorse their content. And we are normalising horror. And kids are downloading and watching this stuff. They’re watching rape porn, too, but they know they’re not supposed to. And I think that’s an important distinction.
And please don’t tell me you put the rape scene in because you’re seeking to portray an accurate representation of medieval war when there are fucking dragons flying around. You can’t have your orc and eat it.