literature Societies

What Game of Thrones Tells Us About Modernity

It’s not often a work of fantasy breaks into the the mainstream.

I read tons of fantasy when I was a kid and with the exception of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, the whole genre was considered a niche market.

Thus the re-emergence of fantasy into the popular consciousness comes as a major landmark.
Why did this happen?

The first word that people use when they describe Game of Thrones is ‘realistic.’
There’s no clearly defined good or bad guys, plot twists break from established conventions.
The whole social world is defined by infidelity, incest, Machiavellian self interest, and betrayal.

The one classically moral character who refuses to adapt and insists on sticking to his values comes to a tragic end.
Not only is he killed, his best intentions lead only to strife and catastrophe.

I tried to read these books at the recommendations of some friends, but I didn’t get very far. The first thing I noticed was that I’d been introduced to about 20 different characters by page 50 and I struggled to keep them all straight in my head and remember their unremarkable Old English names.
Already the social relationships between these characters were becoming a web of petty backbiting.

In short: it was an awful lot like spending time on facebook; the kind of shallow social interaction I’d always gone to fantasy books to get away from!

Fantasy is a form of mythology; it tells larger than life stories about the experiences in our daily lives.

The huge success of Game of Thrones is a powerful indicator of how the popular consciousness has shifted.

The schemers win and the honorable men are naive fools who will only end up being taken advantage of. Worse, their good intentions will inevitably backfire within our modern order.

Why does this tragic outcome have such a deep appeal?
Members of the audience perhaps wish an Eddard Stark could have won the day but simultaneously have a cynical knowledge that this can never be.
In this moral dissonance, we perhaps find a certain catharsis that helps us resolve emotions we bottle up every day.

We know that asshole boss who played The Game of Thrones better than we did is going to be the winner over us, tomorrow, and the next day, and the next…

Perhaps before this Second Great Depression revealed beyond all doubt that a great game of selfish intrigue defines our society up to its highest ranks, we could tell ourselves that some how the good guys will win in the end.

Those who care about the future of this society would do well to take note that these ‘realistic’ attitudes have seeped into the wellsprings of our collective imagination.


Eddard Stark
Eddard Stark

By Giovanni Dannato

In 1547 I was burnt at the stake in Rome for my pernicious pamphlet proclaiming that the heavens were not filled with a profusion of aether, but rather an extensive vacuum.
Now, the phlogiston that composed my being has re-manifested centuries in the future so that I may continue the task that was inconveniently disrupted so long ago.
Now, I live in Rome on the very street where I (and others) were publicly burnt. To this day, the street is known as what I would translate as 'Heretic's Way'. My charming residence is number 6 on this old road. Please, do come inside and pay me a visit; I should be delighted to spew out endless pedagoguery to one and all...

4 replies on “What Game of Thrones Tells Us About Modernity”

Fine article. I don’t know why you get so few comments but it doesn’t reflect on your general quality. This blog is on my short list of regular reads.

This article has been the most popular today so I’m not too worried about the lack of comments. People seem to be interested. If they don’t have anything to add, I guess that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

I would like to expand this operation over time and eventually have something like an actual magazine.

I like a lot of your comments over at AD’s place. You could try making a guest submission here if you wanted.

Great post. I’d say that Game of Thrones is more a chick thing than a guy thing, guys still want to be a hero in the classical terms, that is respect and admiration from other men, success with a hot and worthy woman. That’s what the old stories are about.

I think we are at the cracking point of PC, the feminist racket, the rest. Its unsustainable and in the end, life is not the Game of Thrones. Rather, more like say the end of WWI. An uncertain and new future, one defined IMHO by those who can see farther, more accurately, and act with courage to shape the future.

George RR Martin is after all, a veteran TV writer. So he’s well versed in that mode (giving women readers what they want).

But, would you want to BE any of those guys? None of them are admirable or even memorable.

I’m speaking for myself here, but happen to fall in the demographic that watches this show.

It’s hard to explain but I think in the back of my mind/memory/consciousness there lies this understanding that anything under the guise of the ‘good guy’ persona is just the opposite.

good guy:priest= turned out to be a molester
good guy:leader= turned out to be corrupt
good guy:marriage= turned out to be a sham
good guy:police= beat innocent people
good guy:soldier= murders women & children
good guy:mother= abuses or kills her children
good guy:society= dysfunctional

So as much as I would like to believe in the altruistic person, it doesn’t seem to exist under current representations. With the only other player being the bad guy, no wonder this ‘anti’ theme gains so much favour.

Although, you might have a chance if you look like the evil guy, but do good things behind closed doors?

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