I am not a subscriber to HBO and had therefore never watched the epic and highly celebrated series Game of Thrones. I was aware of its existence, but only after listening to one of my patients exclaim about it, did I decide to watch it. He told me that it would be violent, have a lot of nudity, and be magical (dragons and castles). So I decided to ante up my money and watch the first episode of Season 1.
Well, my patient was certainly right in his description of the show. Interestingly, I finished the episode and realized that even though I am a guy who likes action stories with the best of them…something wasn’t quite right for me. I assumed that the odd “taste left in my mouth” was perhaps only because I had not seen the other episodes. Perhaps the story would get better as it went along?
Then just a few days later I watched the segment 60 Minutes did on the show. That convinced me there would be more of what I had just recently seen.
During the 60 Minutes piece, three people were interviewed who defended the violence and mistreatment of women. Their argument was that the program was simply a depiction of history. That is what happened and they didn’t want to pull any punches by glamorizing the opposite. That actually makes sense…if you are speaking out against such atrocities. Rather, this Emmy winning show appears to be glamorizing the power differential, big strong men who can do whatever they want to women and children…just because. It is not a commentary against abuse.
Frankly, there is a part of me who feels like a prudish “fuddy-duddy” (whatever that is) in writing this piece. It is not my intention to cast judgment in any moralistic way on the fan base. It is, however, my intention as a purveyor of mental health to have us consider what we take into our minds.
So what is the problem with rape, pillage, violence, murdering children, debauchery, and incest? We are all mature adults, right? It is just entertainment which has no effect upon our daily lives…or does it?
As a psychologist who works daily with people who suffer from all of the above…I hasten to suggest that it does make a difference. I do not believe there is a direct cause and effect response to us. I do not believe that because I watched the first episode of Game of Thrones I will cross the street and lop off my neighbor’s head or violently steal his wife or murder his child.
I do believe, however, that we slowly become desensitized to such acts. Why do we suggest that films are for “Mature Audiences”? Because “sensitized” children would be terrified. The more we watch, the less terrified or repulsed we become. We are becoming desensitized. So what?
The “so what” is that desensitization of such acts can have profound results upon people we come in contact with. One of the most sickening I heard lately was from an angry husband who asked his wife, who had been raped years before, if he (the husband) “was as good sexually as your rapist?” Only one who was highly desensitized could ask that kind of despicable question.
I believe our desensitization to other’s pain makes for a weaker society. When we are desensitized, rather than looking out for other community members, it is easy to walk by them undeterred, we have an agenda. We may not even start to feel their pain… “After all it’s not our problem”.
Finally, I find an interesting parallel between our current diet of entertainment to that of the ancient Romans. I think most of us would be nauseated at the thought of watching people be ripped apart and eviscerated by huge lions down on a football field while vendors are walking up and down the aisles shouting “popcorn, peanuts, cold beer”.
When we view atrocities as entertainment, we often get a “thrill”. But what happens if it is our child or sibling or parent or neighbor that was murdered or raped? How entertaining would it be if we discovered that our grandchild had been incested for 1-3-5-10 years by a close relative? Would we pay HBO fees to watch that?
Of course, we would not. Be clear that I am not on a tirade against HBO. I am, however, on a tirade against our mass cultural desensitization. This comes from many sources: the news we watch, the movies we view, and the books we read.
We often ask why is our society is more violent than others (i.e., crime rates and gun deaths). Perhaps it has something to do with desensitization.
So what does this have to do with donuts? Frankly, I have a long personal love affair with donuts. In the past, I had no problem whatsoever in downing a half-dozen or more in one sitting! However, as I got older it seemed that I somehow started taking on the physical nature of a donut! Oops. So frankly I can’t remember the last time I had a donut.
It’s not that I am morally opposed to eating a donut. Actually, I still like them. But the point is that they are not very good for me. So, if I do eat them, perhaps it is better for me to limit my exposure. I wonder if the same might be true of violence, rape, demeaning women, murdering children, and incest? Hum…I wonder?
Having heard several of my friends talk about this series, ( most of them watched only 1 or 2 episodes)I had decided I wasn’t interested—-now I am sure! You pointed out many of the things that are harming our society and the way we think about and treat others. What a disservice to the young people. If this continues, your “job” will be secure for many years to come.
Thank you, Tim…
A thoughtful and sensitive analysis concerning the dangers of desensitization on the social and mental health of our society.
Tim, I agree with your assessment. I haven’t watched any of the episodes because from what I read and hear about the series, it has no socially redeeming value.
and fake news
I absolutely agree .
I would love to share your thoughtful writing with my adult children. How do I do that
without sounding judgmental? I fear that the amount of screen time my grand kids get may be starting the desensitizing journey at a very young age.
You have brought up a challenging issue, dealing with our grandchildren. If they are our children we simply (or not so simply) limit their time, as we might with their sugar intake. In this case, I think it is about educating the parents. Of course, the worse thing we can do is moralize or preach at them. However, if we can get them in a discussion about “desensitization” they may be more open. Keeping in mind that the parents may have a similar addictive tendency.