Monday, July 22, 2013

My Game of Thrones Fascination

I am quite sick of all the nonsense coming out of our government on the issues of the economy and PRISM et. al. for example the Spiegel (English article for once) reported about the usage of XKeyscore by both the external and internal German "intelligence" services, who then answered a) gibberish in case of the BND, as they denied something nobody actually said, and b) the Bundesamt for Verfassungsschutz said they only tested it, but did not use the spy software (the internal secret service is called "Constitution protection" in what must be considered an inside joke). A story almost as believable as the tale of the two PRISMs.

Schäuble visited Greece last week and applauded the country specifically for the 30 % reduction in unit labor costs, achieved for the most part through lower wages. The same week he published an op-ed which included the following statement:

This is why the adjustment plans for countries that are receiving financial support call for fundamental structural reforms that aim to put them back on track towards long-term growth and thus secure sustainable prosperity for all.
 Prosperity for all is achieved through lower wages? And when if the South recovers the euro would be strengthened, which would make Germany less competitive, and therefore wages would have to fall again? Thus ensuring that sustainable prosperity is nothing but a never ending race to the bottom and actually means poverty for all? So that's the plan?

All this fiction to hide selling out the German citizens, and to excuse inflicting pain on millions of Europeans is just making me angry, so today nothing more on prosperity through poverty, or ever-lasting test phases for spy-software. On to something completely different: actual fiction.

Yves Smith asked yesterday:

If you’ve stuck with Game of Thrones despite the pain factor, to what do you attribute the personal and cultural appeal?

Well, it kind of is the pain factor that makes the show  so special in my opinion. (I avoid reading the books, since that did not work out so well for me in the case of Lord of the Rings, since my annoying brain forced me to think about what was missing from the books, preventing me from enjoying the excellent first movie.) The high fantasy story about about intrigues, and wars in a medieval like world, with an even greater evil lurking beyond the wall, feels plausible mainly due to the realistic character motivations. Of course, we are watching a world descent into chaos, but it is not like we haven't been warned:
Winter is coming!
Like Game of Thrones, many of the currently successful and highly rated shows have torn main characters, and a story arc that spans the whole series. Sons of Anarchy tells the story of a father/murder/torturer who wants to transform his club into something good. Homeland is another good example. I do fully understand Yves Smith though, I had to stop watching Breaking Bad for similar reasons. The act of doing nothing - the willful destruction of hope - even though the the last remnants of humanity left told Mr. White to do something, made it impossible for me to keep on watching.

But, I think there is hope left in Game of Thrones.  Arya, the Mother of Dragons, Tyrion, Bran, the Viking (though she is "only" on a quest to save her brother), the easily scared fat kid, even the pirate and the sell sword all have the potential to fight the good fight. Now, after the Red Wedding (a world changing event and the end to several main characters), I fully expect that some of those will be killed and others will become monsters. The world will further descent into madness, but somebody will be there at least trying to stop it.

Also, many people like high fantasy settings, but I do believe, that I am not the only one who has become quite sick of always seeing the same plot: an unlikely group forms to go on an epic quest to fight against pure evil (thanks Tolkien). Game of Thrones is so different. The motivations are far more plausible than the usual "being good". In Game of Thrones there is no predefined good: we see people. Their actions have varying and often unintended, and for the person watching, unexpected , but until now never implausible consequences. World wise there is basically nothing that can be done, we know for a fact that things will get much worse before things can get better. There will most likely be a small ice-age. Most of the people in the series have not realized that, yet, but it is coming and it is bringing an ancient evil with it. I want to know, who will rise to the occasion and who remains caught in their schemes for power in what will probably be a dying land.

George R.R. Martin calls his series epic fantasy. I think dystopian fantasy is a bit more fitting. The world is changing for the worse. We know that the zombie hordes are already there. But again, he breaks the rules of a genre. Typically, we witness world destruction only for the first few pages and we then follow the few survivors of the zombies/disease/nuclear war or we just get thrown into a destroyed world. I don't think I have read, played or watched something showing you a functional but damaged world and then very slowly tearing it, the convictions of the people in it, and the characters themselves, apart. People are fighting seemingly futile wars, while they should actually band together, and prepare for the inevitable horrors to come.

Many started watching the show because it promised something we have not seen before. Gritty adult fantasy. No childish good versus evil. No supreme benevolence. Of course, we all got more than we bargained for. We did not believe Martin when he told us that Winter is coming (we thought that that was a fun slogan to tell other)! Or at least we thought that it would only affect the others - those that we don't care about. People should be careful about interpreting to much into why it has become a mass phenomenon. The great success was already the case at the beginning of the second season. Of course, parallels between the real world and Westeros can all to easily drawn so it is probably unavoidable that Game of Thrones' fame will be attributed to that. Yves wrote:

But Game of Thrones also resonates a bit too closely for comfort to what I see in my day job: how people who are simply power-hungry can prevail over those who constrain themselves by trying to do the right thing (however difficult that might be to define), how lousy leaders can do a remarkable amount of damage in a short time, how the noble classes can insulate themselves from economic and physical wreckage [..] (the rest of the paragraph is about book four which I am not familiar with).

I started the article with two the German secret services, who did try to get their hands on everything they could, not caring about the constitution or the citizens. They believed that they are the only ones  truly protecting us and became monstrosities acting completely without any meaningful oversight, and meanwhile achieving next to nothing. Schäuble is very much believing in the idea that cutting wages and destroying the welfare states in Europe is the only way forward. Schäuble genuinely believes he is acting for the greater good, and once the structural issues have been resolved, everything will be fine. The German matriarch Mutti (mom) Merkel is stunningly similar to the Lanister patriarch, as in both seem completely void of a believe system and only interested in cementing power; he for his family and she for Germany her party: the CDU. Game of Thrones is - as Yves Smith mentioned - eerily similar to the real world. Merkel will be reelected, Schäuble will watch the suffering of the South while receiving a high pension, and the BND will keep on plotting until there are no basic rights left. In the meantime everybody knows that Greece most definitely needs another hair-cut, and since the same might be true for Italy, it seems quite possible that here in the real world an economic ice-age is what we have to expect in the future.

Che Guevara wanted to free the workers from capitalism; and brought show trials, mass executions, and a dictatorship to Cuba where workers are only marginally more free than slaves. Obama wanted transparency, close down the torture camp, and end the wars; and brought a ever increasing secret surveillance state, changed nothing about the torture camp, and has teenagers killed with hell fire (missiles) for the crime of having the wrong father, or eating with the kid, who had the wrong father. I think it is really good that Martin has tricked us all into reading/watching his series by first showing us a pretty beautiful model of a fantasy world only to use the hammer - he had hidden behind his back - to crush it before our eyes and hopefully also our silly concept of good and evil, which just does not exist in the real world.

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