Game of Thrones is part of a genre of television that I roughly dub “Machiavellian porn.” We watch it not because we really find the acts so disturbing and despicable but because we want to see powerful men and a few select women outsmart, humiliate, hurt, and impose their will on others. Hence the rape scenes of Game of Thrones are a feature, not a bug. We watch men spend hours cruelly imposing their will and humiliating other men, and then they do so to women in another setting. And this is not exclusive to Game of Thrones by any means. Frank Underwood, for example, humiliates, hurts, and mistreats both his mistress and many of his political allies. Like competence porn, Game of Thrones no doubt fills some deep, sublimated need. Why everyone from the Reddit bro set to Oberlin Critical Studies majors delight in such a spectacle is beyond me, but I don’t imagine it is too different from how our supposedly uncivilized ancestors enjoyed bear-baiting, public executions, gladiator fights, and other similar spectacles.
I have never really be a fan of Neil Postman. But Game of Thrones is amusing the Internet to death. That amusement comes in the grotesque celebration of sadism, cruelty, and power politics inherent in the show’s appeal, the way in which such cruelty becomes social media fodder, the way in which it deprives us of the ability to describe and understand real evil and cruelty as something that exists outside Game of Thrones and its fan meta-language, and the manner in which it turns viewers into animalistic consumers while deluding them about the purportedly highbrow nature of the show’s content.