The creator of the HBO series Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin, recently gave an interview in which he decried the criticism of the sexual content of the show – or at least relative to the criticism of the graphic violence that is everywhere.
I’m always astonished that there’s always so much more controversy about the sex than about the violence.
I can write a scene and describe in detail a penis entering a vagina, and there will be a portion of the audience who get very upset about that. But I can write a scene about an axe entering a human skull and nobody will complain about that.
“Generally speaking I’m much more in favour of penises entering vaginas than of axes entering heads.
People seem to accept the violence much easier than they accept the sex.
This is a very peculiar statement indeed, particularly given the very graphic instances of both types of content that consistently appear in the show. In fact, the reality is that many fans as well as some media observers have been sharply critical of Game of Thrones’ bloody, gratuitous violence. For example, Mediaite’s Joe Concha declared he canceled his HBO subscription after the infamous “Red Wedding” episode, which he describes like this:
…as some of you know, the last ten minutes of Sunday’s episode was as shocking as anything seen in television history as far as fictional drama goes (Fonzie clearing the shark in a leather jacket despite zero waterskiing experience and J.R. taking a bullet being others that come to mind). The noble and honorable Starks, Robb and his mother Catelyn, betrayed and ambushed in what became a red wedding massacre, their throats slit from ear to ear.
But it was the brutal killing of the pregnant Talisa –Robb’s wife—by a soldier who repeatedly stabbed her in the stomach that took the feeling well beyond shock.
Sorry HBO, that was far too brutal, far too much.
And it wasn’t just a quick shot and cutaway of Talisa and her unborn child’s savagely violent death. Viewers got to see a wounded Robb Stark touch her bloody womb, knowing his child and wife had just been murdered, before he was given the aforementioned final sendoff.”
Perhaps Mr. Martin missed this as well as the hundreds of other articles, blog posts, and other fan reactions that were posted after this episode alone. But I doubt it.
The reality is that parents and families have every reason to be concerned about graphically violent programming as they are about explicit sexual content, and Game of Thrones offers both in spades.
Now before you start to think to yourself “well, I don’t get HBO, so I don’t have to worry about this,” think again: many other HBO/premium cable shows, like Sex and the City, the Sopranos, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Entourage have all migrated onto advertiser-supported basic cable and some on broadcast stations in syndication. In other words, once the genie is out of the bottle, it’s very difficult to put it back in.
But take note of the free market solution that Concha took advantage of: he canceled his subscription. Why is it that consumers, parents and families can pick up the phone and unsubscribe from HBO, but have no ability to do so with any network included in the giant bundle of cable networks that is presented as the only option?
Naturally, I don’t begrudge anyone who wishes to pay individually for the type of content prevalent on Game of Thrones or on HBO and other premium channels generally, because the issue here is not the censorship of content, it’s who pays for what.
Imagine if all cable programming, not just so-called premium networks, were distributed in this way. There would finally be a free market for programming that simply doesn’t exist today. The downside of bundled cable business model is that millions of subscribers are forced to pay billions per year for content they simply don’t want and all too often find offensive or even harmful – whether that’s sex or violence.
It’s time for that to change.
Dan Isett is the director of communications and policy for the Parents Television Council, a nonpartisan education organization advocating responsible entertainment. Read more of his writing at the PTC’s TV Watchdog Blog: www.parentstv.org/blog.