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Is Game of Thrones* Racist?



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That’s the question asked with touching earnestness by Nina Shen Rastogi over at Slate:

One of the series’ plotlines centers on Daenerys, a young, silver-haired royal-in-exile (and yes, she has “violet eyes“) whose slimy brother yearns to recapture the family’s throne. Hoping to get an invading army in exchange, the brother sells his sister in marriage to a powerful Dothraki khal, or clan leader.

The Dothraki are dark, with long hair they wear in dreadlocks or in matted braids. They sport very little clothing, bedeck themselves in blue paint, and, as depicted in the premiere episode, their weddings are riotous affairs full of thumping drums, ululations, orgiastic public sex, passionate throat-slitting, and fly-ridden baskets full of delicious, bloody animal hearts. A man in a turban presents the new khaleesi with an inlaid box full of hissing snakes. After their nuptials, the immense Khal Drogo takes Daenerys to a seaside cliff at twilight and then, against her muted pleas, takes her. . . .

They are, in short, barbarians of the most stereotypical, un-PC sort. As I watched, I kept thinking, “Are they still allowed to do that?”

Here’s my brief answer: Of course Game of Thrones is racist. Rather, of course the show’s various ethnic groups and clans are differentiated by their appearance and behavior, and of course some end up looking and acting more barbarous than others as a result. I’ll go one further: All of the characters in Game of Thrones are racist as well, and few if any suffer even the slighest admonishment for it. But wouldn’t it be queer indeed if the residents of the Western part of an Iron Age fantasy world thought that distant (and often belligerent) cultures with strange, alien habits were to be celebrated for their uniqueness? As my friend put it, imagine the schoolkids in the capital city of Kings Landing making posters to commemorate Dothraki History Week. 

To be fair to Rastogi, she likes the show and her answer to her own question is ambivalent at best. But the fact that earnest liberals worry so much about stuff like this has always amazed me. Don’t they realize how utterly boring and bad most ideological art is? (See Socialist Realism and Green Day’s American Idiot, for starters). If the arbiter of an entertainment’s worth is how well it conforms to our cultural pieties, then our culture and its entertainments are doomed to failure.

*(In case you don’t know, Game of Thrones is a new HBO show based on a series of fantasy books by George R.R. Martin. Here’s an uncomplicated endorsement: Everybody should read the books and watch the show. I am not a big fantasy/medieval fan, and I couldn’t put the books down).



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