Art by its very nature moves the soul of man. How it moves man is up to each one of us. It can move us down, or it can move us up. It can move us closer or further from our Creator and God. We decide what we will view and what images we will send through the windows of the soul. It is no small responsibility that we exercise in this regard. We must be vigilant and careful.
It came to my attention some time ago that “Game of Thrones” (“GoT”) was a form of art that many of good repute and reportedly wise character were sending up the ladder of pixels through their eyes and into their soul. This was and is disturbing to me.
I will seek to be fair and honest in these words. It profits me not to build a strawman and then destroy it to claim a hollow victory. I wish to give GoT every defense that it deserves (slim though it seems to me). I should also come forward and establish that I do not speak from ignorance on the topic at hand (though indeed I wish I did) because I watched the first three seasons of GoT with remote in hand and enjoyed them enormously.
Why the change?
It was after I had finished the third season that I started to really think about what kind of message I was sending to people who had not seen the show by watching it myself. What kind of endorsement was I giving it by dignifying each new episode with my private viewership? Let us start with some thoughts from the Church herself.
The Catholic Church says that we should avoid all occasions of sin, full stop. With that established we need to recognize that there is nuance in the world and in the situations that face us in life and especially in the arts. What we can definitively say about GoT in the regard of near occasion of sin is that it provides a veritable killing ground for those who struggle with sins of the flesh.
The first objection that many people raise when you posit that the nudity and sex which pervades GoT is problematic is that it is accidental (philosophically speaking) to the story and the essence of the show itself. Even if we accept that argument, we are still left with some problems. The first one of which is the actors and actresses (as mentioned above). These men and women are objectified in being paid to simulate acts reserved exclusively for married people (if licit at all). None of these activities are things that Catholics can voluntarily watch! Anyone who asserts the contrary does not understand the Church’s position on such matters.
In response, some people will say, “Okay, we get that the sex on the screen is bad. I don’t watch those scenes myself but I love the story and the characters etc. Can’t I enjoy the show without the sex and still get good things out of it?” My question back is: “How poisoned is the well?”
To answer my own question: to deadly degrees.
We can see this first by examining how our attempts to fast forward through sex scenes play out the first time we watch an episode. We don’t know what is coming next and so we must react in a timely manner if we are to avoid the evils in the show that we want to. In a show such as GoT we might be able to get it right many times but we will see images that we wish we had not.
When we put images into our mind they never leave. We might think they leave for a time but they really don’t. What man who has seen “tame” sex scenes from “Mad Men,” “Walking Dead,” “Kingdom of Heaven,” and many others doesn’t have images pop into his mind from time to time while he is trying to sleep or focus on something else? It happens all the time. How much more are we obligated to avoid the scenes depicted in GoT?
To press the point home even further – when we as Catholics watch GoT even privately we are endorsing the content of the whole show to some degree. Try and explain to a totally secular person why you watch “Game of Thrones” but think that porn is a scourge that must be purged from the world. Try.
In the digital age we live in, clicks, shares and comments are everything. We must begin (this goes for all consumption of media) to see ourselves as a datapoint when we are online. When we click on an article we are telling the publisher: “I want to see more of this.” When we comment on a video we are telling the website that posted it: “I want to see more of this.” We must apply this same logic to shows and movies we consume. When we click on a GoT video on YouTube we are telling HBO “I like this!” And “I want to see more of this.” Do you see? There is no way to tell YouTube: “I only want flashy fight scenes.” Or “No sex from GoT” please. But even if there were a way to filter out sex videos from your GoT YouTube habit, HBO only sees the clicks and shares that it’s getting. Do Catholic men and women wish to communicate to HBO that they want to see “more of this” when it comes to GoT?
Lastly, regardless of one’s reactions to the sex scenes in GoT, watching it is still a source of tremendous scandal to those around you, especially those who do not understand the Church’s teaching on the matter.