That’s the question posed by a fascinating article over at the Evangelical Channel at Patheos. It’s a question that actually has salience for everyone, not just Christians. Everyone who consumes media – books, TV, music, whatever — is engaging not just in an act of entertainment but also, to at least some extent, in act of soulcraft. What will this show, this album, etc., leave behind in the consumer’s heart? Of course, it would be wrong to make heavy weather of every such choice, but it’s good to reflect on this issue from time to time.
I have a confession to make about Game of Thrones: I watched the first couple of episodes, and then stopped completely, chiefly because the show gave me (literal, sleeping-time) nightmares. I found this very puzzling, because in my 50 years I have seen more than my share of media sex and violence, ranging from non-graphic to ultra-graphic, and it’s never had much of a palpable effect on me. But somehow Game of Thrones got to me at a level that made my subconscious rise up in protest. I think it’s because Game of Thrones doesn’t just portray cruelty with great vividness — it actually creates a convincing world in which cruelty is the fundamental fact: a world that combines the harshest insights of Hobbes and Machiavelli, totally unleavened with a more-optimistic view of human potential. My faith in God, and my faith in Man, are frankly not strong enough to bear up emotionally against such a worldview, asserted for some 80 hours. The interesting corollary here is that someone of much stronger faith than I could get a great deal out of Game of Thrones – the acting, the special effects, etc. – without any spiritual harm, and should therefore watch it. So the answer might be that only Christians – or, more accurately, only people who have a strong, life-affirming faith, whatever their religion happens to be – should watch Game of Thrones.
So the answer to the question of whether someone should watch Game of Thrones or not is: It depends entirely on the specific person. If someone were to ask, should people watch Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, the answer would be the same: If your interest in the film is motivated chiefly by a desire to enjoy the spectacle of people getting mutilated by machine-gun fire, then no, you shouldn’t watch it; it will not help you grow in a positive direction. But if you are interested in it because you want to be ennobled and encouraged by the acts of bravery of young men who gave their lives to defend our country, then you should watch it. I could envision, e.g., someone of a deep Christian faith viewing Game of Thrones as an excellent drama that expresses a fundamental Christian insight into the state of mankind in the absence of divine grace – and being grateful to God that humanity does not, in actuality, live in such a world.
I envy all of my many friends who love that show; I recognize its excellence on many levels. It’s just not for me. (And this fact makes me more understanding of folks who dislike, for example, Mad Men. I love Mad Men precisely because I realize that Don Draper is not a hero or a role model; but I also know that the show has presented some of his harmful actions in a way that risks glamorizing them – and thus troubles people I respect.)