The television show “Game of Thrones,” which has remained wildly popular since its debut in 2011, continues to attract audiences with its dramatic–and tragic–storylines. One of the biggest controversies that has arisen from this show is its use of excessive sexual violence.
Christopher Orr, principal film critic at “The Atlantic,” has suggested that this is a strategic choice to get better ratings. Creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are not the first to take this route. In shows like “24” and games like “Grand Theft Auto,” we see a modern fixation on themes of violence and torture. While this has attracted audiences, it has also been encouraged an unhealthy lack of empathy in the American public towards violence.
I myself have never seen “Game of Thrones.” While my friends claim that I am too innocent to handle its gore, I beg to differ. Even though I am not a fan of overtly violent media, that does not mean that I have not been exposed to content of that nature through the media and, unexpectedly, in school.
Recently, my humanities class has been discussing torture in war. The texts we have read since the beginning of the year have depicted excessive death and creative, arguably disgusting ways of killing people.
When my TA asked our discussion if all of this disturbed us, I was the first to say, “No.”
Recent research shows that my indifference is not exactly surprising. In 2005, a study at the University of Missouri-Columbia found that there is a causative link between exposure to violent games and people becoming desensitized to scenes of violence. Scientists found that those who had played violent games were less likely to display the P300 response in the brain when exposed to violent images. This response is a signal sent through the brain when humans are exposed to new images, and the signal is larger when we are more shocked or surprised by the image. The study found that while subjects’ reactions to other negatively connotated images were normal, they showed significant passivity when shown violent ones.
I’m not trying to back the age old adage that videogame players turn out to be killers. However, studies like the one above suggest that videogame players and participants in our innately violent culture lack the capacity to look at violence with concern.
In fact, in looking at the success of shows like “Game of Thrones,” there is a sort of fascination with what has been called “torture-tainment.” In everyday life — in the shows and movies we choose to watch, in the games we choose to play, in the reactions we have towards the images of violence presented to us — we still lack the empathy needed to actually eliminate violence from our society. We try to justify our violent culture with our founding, bloody though successful fight for independence, and we struggle to decide whether or not guns should be allowed in our society. Such ideas are unique to America and hard to find in other societies.
But in light of so many recent tragedies, aided by new technology and disseminated with faster communication, should we still be upholding such values? If we can’t stop people from seeing violence apathetically, then how do we even begin to stop people who are committing violence intentionally?
I still haven’t seen “Game of Thrones,” and I’m starting to think that I’m better off that way. However, there is no stopping the media from exposing me to similar violence, or my classes from teaching me about it. The fact that my professors think I must learn about violence to be cognizant of it suggests that I, like many people in our country, lack the ability to recognize its horror and alarming prevalence in western media.
Michelle Bui is a first-year biological sciences major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.