"Violence isn't always evil. What's evil is the infatuation with violence."
"I'm HBO, see? And I can show breasts, see? And I can say 'fuck' as many times as I fuck-well please, see?"
When I was a junior in college, I took a class on American Naturalism Literature, a genre that deals exclusively with The Little Guy getting screwed over by The System (technically known as "Environmental Determinism" for those who actually care). It's far from my favorite genre of literature, but the class was fabulous and the professor formatted the material in a much more generally applicable way than most literature classes can manage. Plus, he introduced me to the wonder that is Bruce Springsteen's album "Nebraska", and that album's perfection can't be overstated.
One of the topics we covered at length was a growing tendency in literature to feature violence in a pornographic way--that is, allowing the reader to experience the pleasure of it without having any of the first-hand guilt or responsibility that would accompany it in real life. We discussed it in relation to Truman Capote's 1966 novel In Cold Blood, an ostensibly non-fiction account of a series of brutal murders in Kansas--just goes to show you, once again, that nothing good happens in Kansas--but I think it has relevance to a lot of modern entertainment. How often is the violence we're shown actually necessary, and how often is it simply a way to satiate our inner desire to be violent ourselves?
Now, don't get me wrong--I'm not saying that everyone reading In Cold Blood or watching Game of Thrones and enjoying them is getting some vicarious thrill out of the experience, but it must be subconsciously gratifying on some level, or we wouldn't waste our time on it. Is it the reassurance that no matter what might be wrong with us, at least we're not that fucked up? Does it say something about me that it took a pretty nasty level of torture to finally offend my delicate sensibilities? Are we supposed to believe that there's some purpose for this character arc other than HBO firmly characterizing the torturer as a giant bag of dicks? How many rhetorical questions is too many rhetorical questions?
The answer, if you're wondering, is probably yes. And also three.
This brings us to the age-old debate about the potential effects of pornography (a subject in which I am MOST well-versed, in case you have the audacity to question my credentials): Is pornography a way of flaming sexual urges or a way of venting them, like steam from a pressure cooker? This a pretty critical question when you really stop to think about it, and it's obvious that it can be applied to pornographic-type violence too. Depending on the answer, we might be better off watching The Brady Bunch and reading childrens' books so we don't all become murderous, torturing psychopaths. Unfortunately, I don't think it's quite that black and white. Even if it were, violence is such an every-day presence in modern entertainment that it's all-but-impossible to get away from.
And, let's be honest--me and Game of Thrones are already bros, torture and all. Ain't no use denyin' it.
The real question here, then, is the question we started out with: What's the point, HBO? By making someone like me--someone who's fairly desensitized to violence in the name of entertainment--cringe at what they're putting this character through, are they forcing me to become even more desensitized? Or are they just doing their best to remind me that I'm still not quite fucked up enough to enjoy it yet?
Perhaps that question will be answered next week on the season finale. One can only hope. Lord knows I'd love closure for something in that show.