Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Straight-faced thoughts on sex and violence in Game of Thrones. With, like, citations. YAWN.

George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones series has consumed me. I spend evenings reading and nights dreaming of banners depicting Lannister lions and Stark direwolves. Last Friday, I asked some friends what they think of the series. One of the guys wrinkled his nose and said, "It's too rapey." A lady friend smirked. "Men always say that!" she laughed. Really? Really?! I'd never had that conversation before, but her comment made me think.

Waste your entire lunch break.
I like the series for the shiny armor, rising and falling empires, magical ladies clad in scarlet robes, family secrets, hidden identities, direwolves, and baby dragons. Especially the baby dragons. Not for the violence. But each 1,000-or-so-page novel does have a handful of pages that refer to rape. The books aren't about rape, though, and it's usually mentioned to identify the bad guys and separate them from the good guys. Bad guys rape and pillage. Because RAPE IS BAD. THANK YOU CAPTAIN OBVIOUS.

Early this year, censored versions of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn were published and widely derided. Remember that? The n-word had been removed from the text and replaced with the word "slave," even though Twain had used the offending language to criticize racism, not to endorse it. Many thought it was wrong to publish the book in a historically inaccurate way.

Likewise, most people who defend the poor treatment of women in Game of Thrones argue that rape scenes are okay because the characters' behavior is historically accurate. But I think that arguing about historical accuracy in a book with witches and dragons is silly. Instead, I say if that stuff is historically accurate, and if those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it, then let's not forget. Here are some icky old cultural norms and laws to consider, ganked from Wikipedia due to time-crunch. I wanna finish writing this AND have time to do my hair, y'all:

"In some cultures, rape was seen less as a crime against a particular girl or woman than as a crime against the head of the household or against chastity. As a consequence, the rape of a virgin was often a more serious crime than of a non-virgin, even a wife or widow, and the rape of a prostitute or other unchaste woman was, in some laws, not a crime because her chastity could not be harmed (Source)."

"Until the late twentieth century, spousal rape was not considered a true rape case because the woman was traditionally viewed as the property of her husband (Source)."

Sucked to be a lady, huh? And these concepts are clearly seen in the Game of Thrones books: Brienne of Tarth isn't raped by her captors because it would reduce her value when her father pays her ransom. And Daenarys Targaryen's wedding night isn't exactly consensual, but no one in the books calls it rape. Even though I don't especially enjoy reading those pages, I'm all for including them so that we can all cringe, and feel uncomfortable, and make sure that stuff doesn't ever become normal again.

What do you think? Should violence and rape and the n-word and all kinds of other bad stuff be kept out of literature because it makes us feel weird? Or should it be kept in because it's so obviously bad, and that keeps it from being normalized?

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P.S. All trolls will be fed to the bookworms.