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For parts one through three, click here John_Paul_II_1980_cropped Although we have covered some important aspects of Pope St. John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body,” one might wonder precisely how the sexual roles of men and women differ according to God’s original plan.

Essentially, the man is the “active” partner who makes a gift of himself from without, bringing with him the “seed of life”; the woman, meanwhile, is the “receptive” partner who welcomes the man into her “inner sanctuary,” from whence life can emerge.  But lest you think this diminishes the role of the woman, be aware that there is an active and passive component in the roles of both partners.  Each affirms and reinforces the other.

Unfortunately, as discussed in part two, human sexuality is affected by Original Sin.  In the man, the gift can easily become an intrusion; in the woman, the welcoming embrace can become a seductive form of entrapment. Daenerys_Targaryen_with_Dragon-Emilia_ClarkeDaenerys “Dany” Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), arguably the strongest and most iconic female character in Game of Thrones, becomes a victim of that first impulse early in the first season. khal drogoShe is given in an arranged marriage to Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa), the ruthless leader of the nomadic Dothraki people.  At first, he treats Dany as another one of his conquests.  Their marriage is consummated not in lovemaking, but in rape.

Eventually, this changes.  Dany and Drogo actually fall in love.  Drogo, for his part, learns tenderness, and becomes something of a gentler person.  He learns to treat Dany as someone to be treasured rather than something to be possessed.

How does this happen? Dany faceThe change begins in season 1, episode 2.  Drogo and Dany are in their private tent, and Drogo is about to proceed as per usual.  Dany turns to face him, looking him directly in the eye, and says:

“Tonight I would look upon your face.”

This is very important.  Of all the human body’s various members, the face is generally recognized as the one least affected by the Fall.  When we look at a human face, we see the person revealed — the unique, unrepeatable, and inestimably precious subject made in the image and likeness of Almighty God.  In being brought face-to-face with Dany, Drogo, along with all others who would perpetrate acts of violence and injustice upon their victims and “conquests,” is confronted with a kind of judgment.

Here it would be helpful to return to the thought of Pope John Paul II; referencing the great Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas and his “philosophy of the face,” he comments thus:

It is through his face that man speaks, and in particular, every man who has suffered a wrong speaks and says the words “Do not kill me!”  The human face and the commandment “Do not kill” are ingeniously enjoined in Levinas, and thus become a testimony for our age… (from the book Crossing the Threshold of Hope, ed. Vittorio Messori; italics included)

We can say the same for the Sixth and Ninth Commandments, which cover sexual conduct.

Okay — so the face reveals the person.  But the personal is never abstract.  What the face reveals is the human self in its masculinity or femininity, depending on whether the subject is a man or a woman.  Dany’s effect on Drogo shows the power of a peculiarly feminine way of responding mercifully to aggressors, and calls to mind such wonderful women in Church history as St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine.

That’s not to say that Dany is a saint.  One could spend a considerable length of time on her character and its evolution over the course of the series (one of these days I hope to return to the “Kingship and Power” series that I began, and abandoned, a couple years ago; that would be a good place to take a closer look at Dany).  But in this case, she does well.  Whether author George R.R. Martin knows it or not, her response to Drogo is pregnant with potential for spiritual significance.

So there are my thoughts on different aspects of how sex is used in Game of Thrones.  I am a firm believer that one cannot fairly criticize the vices of a TV show or movie without at the same time being prepared to acknowledge its virtues.  Charity, after all, rejoices in goodness wherever it can be found.

That said, I want to restate my belief that the sex in Game of Thrones is gratuitous and unnecessary.  It caters to a human preoccupation, for sure — not with sexuality, but with pornography.  Perhaps if they were aware of the statistics and studies on the real effects of pornographic material on the psychological and social well-being of individuals and families, they would showcase human skin and coitus with at least a little less ease. And now I’m done.  Thanks for reading :) *********************************************************************************************************************

Acknowledgements

1. “John Paul II 1980 cropped” by Fels_Papst.JPG: Nikolaus von Nathusiusderivative work: JJ Georges – This file was derived from: Fels Papst.JPG:. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:John_Paul_II_1980_cropped.JPG#/media/File:John_Paul_II_1980_cropped.JPG

2. “Daenerys Targaryen with Dragon-Emilia Clarke” by Uploaded by TAnthony. Via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Daenerys_Targaryen_with_Dragon-Emilia_Clarke.jpg#/media/File:Daenerys_Targaryen_with_Dragon-Emilia_Clarke.jpg

Remaining images obtained through a Google image search

I am saddened at the death of James Horner, one of my favorite film composers and undoubtedly one of the best.  Upon hearing the news, I promptly went to Youtube in hopes of finding a fitting tribute to his life’s work (or, more appropriately, his life’s passion).

A difference may be made in people’s lives in many different ways.  Let us not forget or belittle the contribution of those who, through dedication to aesthetic excellence, give voice to the echoes of the soul.

May James Horner rest in peace.  I pray that he has found the One from whose Voice the aforementioned echoes come.

Fair warning: There is one line spoken in this tribute, and there is one profanity in it.

Emanuel_African_Methodist_Episcopal_(AME)_ChurchIn the wake of the terrible tragedy that occurred recently at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, Bishop Robert Guglielmone is inviting people to pray a Novena (nine-day prayer) for the victims and their families.

Here is a suggested prayer for anyone interested in participating (say it once a day over the next nine days):

Lord, we pray for those who have been devastated by
recent tragedies. We remember those who have lost
their lives so suddenly. We hold in our hearts the
families forever changed by grief and loss. Bring them
consolation and comfort. Surround them with our
prayers for strength. Bless those who have survived and
heal their memories of trauma and devastation. May
they have the courage to face the days ahead. Help us
to respond with generosity in prayer, in assistance, and
in comfort to the best of our abilities. Keep our hearts
focused on the needs of all the community. We ask this
in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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Image from Wikipedia — full citation:

“Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church” by Cal Sr from Newport, NC, US – Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Emanuel_African_Methodist_Episcopal_(AME)_Church.jpg#/media/File:Emanuel_African_Methodist_Episcopal_(AME)_Church.jpg

Episode 6 scene 15

Episode 6 scene 15

For parts one and two, click here

If you love Game of Thrones, chances are you love Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage).  But let’s face it: His popularity doesn’t do much to foster a healthy sense of morality in our society.

Take Tyrion, a whoring, cussing, imbibing, lustful dwarf who is at the same time charming and compassionate, and put him against the background of a bunch of  lying, scheming, murdering, brutal scoundrels (his own father, Tywin Lannister, among them), and people will naturally prefer Tyrion.  Not only that, his sins will seem excusable, minor, or even non-existent by comparison.

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage  Mandatory Credit: Photo by HBO/Everett/REX_Shutterstock (4705667g)  Peter Dinklage, 'The Wars To Come', (Season 5, ep. 01)  Game of Thrones - 2015

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage
Mandatory Credit: Photo by HBO/Everett/REX_Shutterstock (4705667g)
Peter Dinklage, ‘The Wars To Come’, (Season 5, ep. 01)
Game of Thrones – 2015

Okay…there’s a lot we can say about Tyrion.  He is witty.  He is charming.  He has a gentler heart by far than 99% of the show’s many characters.  But he is, for a good portion of the show, a man of lust.

It would be useful, however, to ask why he seeks happiness in sex with sundry women.  Is it simply shameless self-indulgence, or is there something else going on here?

Tyrion-Bronn-ShaeThink back to season one, episode nine — specifically, the scene in which Tyrion drinks and swaps stories with the sellsword Bronn (Jerome Flynn) and the prostitute Shae (Sibel Kikilli).  In the course of their interactions, Tyrion reveals that he was married at age 16 to a woman with whom, in the naivete of youth, he had fallen in love (or so he thought).  But not long after, he learned that it was all a setup.  The woman was a hired prostitute. Tyrion’s father even forced him to watch as Lannister guardsmen had sex with her.

LannistersAnd this is only the tip of the iceberg.  Eventually, we learn that Tyrion’s mother died giving birth to him; for that reason, and because he was a stunted dwarf from birth, he has incurred the lifelong ire of his family (with the exception of his brother, Jaime).  His own father flatly tells him that he wanted to throw him into the sea as a baby, but spared his life only…

(. . .) because you’re a Lannister.

Evil does not subsist in itself.  Evil is to good what the cavity is to the tooth.  It’s existence is entirely parasitic.  Therefore, every form of evil depends on a particular form of good, and every sin  is a misdirected desire for something good.

Tyrion_ShaeSo what good is Tyrion looking for, consciously or unconsciously?  I think it’s safe to say he is looking for love.  Except he’s not going about it the right way, because no one has ever shown him how.

He finally finds love during a brief and secret romance with Shae, which he is forced to end in order to protect the latter’s life.  Unaware of Tyrion’s motives and deeply hurt, Shae turns against him.  During a trial (presided over by none other than Tywin Lannister) in which Tyrion is charged with a crime he didn’t commit, she stands witness against him.  Later, when Tyrion breaks out of his prison cell on the eve of his scheduled execution, he discovers that she is sleeping with his father.

And he kills her.  Hardly the act of a genuine lover, but no doubt he had experienced something with her that, of all of his experiences, most closely approximated the “real thing.”

Tyrion in VolantisOkay — fast forward a bit: Tyrion has fled to the vast eastern continent of Essos and ended up at a brothel in the city of Volantis.  He approaches an attractive young prostitute, strikes up a conversation, gains her interest, and is about to go with her to a secluded room.

But at just that moment, he is surprised to discover that he can’t do it.  He does not appear to be upset about it — it is simply a new fact of life for him.

What can we make of this, precisely?  In order to explore the possibilities suggested by this question, I turn once more to Pope St. John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body.”

John_Paul_II_1980_cropped

In the address titled “Dominion over the Other in the Interpersonal Relation,” the late Holy Father expressed a profound insight that I will try my best to summarize.

In forfeiting their relationship with God, our first parents also seriously compromised their relationship with one another.  No longer could they enjoy that same deep, intense, personal, self-giving union that they enjoyed in Eden, because sin has introduced the element of selfishness into their relations.  Hence we have the phenomenon of lust, which is “insatiable” because the genuine goal of human sexuality by nature eludes it.  Seeking pleasure in the indulgence of sexual appetite for its own sake, as Tyrion does for most of his adult life, is much like seeking relief from an itch by constantly scratching at it: It provides momentary relief from — one might even substitute the word “forgetfulness of” — the problem, but does nothing to solve it; in fact, it only makes the problem worse.

Tyrion on trial I think it’s safe to say that Tyrion has finally realized this.  The experience of true love has shed light on a void within him that he now realizes cannot possibly be filled by random sex.

Sorry, but I was wrong again.  I’ll need four posts rather than three.  We’ll cover Dany next time.

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Top image of Tyrion and image of Pope John Paul II from wikipedia — full citations:

1. “Tyrion Lannister-Peter Dinklage” by Uploaded by TAnthony. Via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tyrion_Lannister-Peter_Dinklage.jpg#/media/File:Tyrion_Lannister-Peter_Dinklage.jpg

2. “John Paul II 1980 cropped” by Fels_Papst.JPG: Nikolaus von Nathusiusderivative work: JJ Georges – This file was derived from: Fels Papst.JPG:. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:John_Paul_II_1980_cropped.JPG#/media/File:John_Paul_II_1980_cropped.JPG

Remaining images obtained through a Google image search

Jaime-Cersei-jaime-lannister-23339624-1226-816

Just for the heck of it, I’ll be both unoriginal and narcissistic and start by quoting myself (the following is from part one of this series):

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, (. . .) has nothing like [Game of Thrones‘] candid material.  But leaving that aside for the moment, let us note another key difference between the two: Tolkien drew his inspiration primarily from myth; George R.R. Martin, author of the novel series on which Game of Thrones is based, draws his inspiration primarily from history.

You may be thinking, “There you go.  Martin’s work is realistic; Tolkien — along with all you other religious crackpots — have your heads stuck in an airy-fairy world where everything is just the way you think it should be.”

As you may have guessed, I look at the distinction a little bit differently.  In order for this discussion to be fruitful, we must broaden our understanding of the term “myth”:

M. Eliade discovers in myth the structure of the reality that is inaccessible to rational and empirical investigation. Myth transforms the event into a category, and makes us capable of perceiving the transcendental reality

(. . .)

According to P. Tillich myth is a symbol, constituted by the elements of reality to present the absolute and the transcendence of being, to which the religious act tends.

H. Schlier emphasizes that the myth does not know historical facts and has no need of them, inasmuch as it describes man’s cosmic destiny, which is always identical.

(Pope John Paul II, from the notes on his address titled “The Second Account of Creation: The Subjective Definition of Man”)

So what does this have to do with sex?  Quite simply, it tells us that there is meaning in sex.  And this meaning is older than and prior to history.

John_Paul_II_1980_cropped

It is primarily in light of Pope St. John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” that I want to treat this matter.  The late Holy Father contributed to the treasury of the Catholic Church’s teaching much wisdom and insight into the nature of human sexuality, noting that sex is not only something people do, but is in fact fundamental to the definition of the human person…

Albrecht_Dürer_-_Adam_and_Eve_(Prado)_2

…which brings us right back to the beginning, to the story of Adam and Eve (see Genesis 2) — which, as John Paul II said, tells us about man’s “theological pre-history.”  We should not get too caught up in the details of this story; what we are meant to gather from it is humankind in its original perfection, made in the image and likeness of the God who is love.  Man and woman, in their physical, psychological, and spiritual complementarity, image the Trinitarian God in total self-gift, expressed in a special way through their bodies.

And there we have the original, primordial, and always valid meaning of sex and sexuality.

Original Sin

But then comes the Fall.  Adam and Eve defy the Divine command and lose Eden.  With that, they cross the threshold into history — into the drama of sin and salvation.  “History” envelops all aspects of human life, and sexuality is so fundamental that it is impossible for it not to be included.

Game-Of-Thrones-Couples-image-game-of-thrones-couples-36783350-599-400The problem with Game of Thrones is not that it is honest about the place of sex in human life.  The problem is that it confines it to the vicissitudes of history — which, in this area as in many others, does not change all that much.  With regard to sex as well as other matters, the series seems to espouse a “that’s-just-the-way-it-is” philosophy, without any reference to transcendent standards or to the inherent dignity of the human person.

The Lord of the Rings, meanwhile, has almost no reference either to sex or to romance (except for a treatment of the Aragorn-Arwen romance in one of the appendices).  And no, this is not because sex and romance are evil or unimportant.  But sexuality itself, fundamental as it is, points beyond itself to a Higher Love, to which people’s hearts may be drawn by a wide variety of experiences (see my first post on the movie Frozen for more on this).  For that, myth tends to do the job better than history.

In order to flesh this out, I’d like to apply the Theology of the Body to two of Game of Thrones‘ most beloved characters: Tyrion Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen.  Stay tuned.

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Acknowledgements

Game of Thrones images obtained through a Google image search; remaining images from Wikipedia — full citations:

1. “John Paul II 1980 cropped” by Fels_Papst.JPG: Nikolaus von Nathusiusderivative work: JJ Georges – This file was derived from: Fels Papst.JPG:. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:John_Paul_II_1980_cropped.JPG#/media/File:John_Paul_II_1980_cropped.JPG

2. “Albrecht Dürer – Adam and Eve (Prado) 2″ by Albrecht Dürer – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Albrecht_D%C3%BCrer_-_Adam_and_Eve_(Prado)_2.jpg#/media/File:Albrecht_D%C3%BCrer_-_Adam_and_Eve_(Prado)_2.jpg

3. “Michelangelo Sündenfall” by Michelangelo Buonarroti – http://www.heiligenlexikon.de/Fotos/Eva2.jpgTransferred from de.wikipedia to Commons by Roberta F. using CommonsHelper., 9 September 2007 (original upload date), Original uploader was Nitramtrebla at de.wikipedia. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Michelangelo_S%C3%BCndenfall.jpg#/media/File:Michelangelo_S%C3%BCndenfall.jpg

logo-thrones-burning-game-hunt

I want to begin by referencing an article by a man with whom I am proud to share a first name: Daniel Stewart.  In “‘Why is that woman naked?': Sources of Objectification in Game of Thrones,” he argues that the HBO series portrays sex essentially as a tool of power:

In the world of Game of Thrones, power is the only thing that matters. Love is pointless at best. Honor is a joke. Virtue is an illusion.

(…)

In this world where physical strength, monetary wealth, and political influence are the only qualities worth having, it is no wonder the women (especially poor women) are treated so poorly.  (. . .) [The typical female character] is left with two options; [sic] to suffer terribly at the hands of more powerful men or to use her shrewdness or sexual prowess to try to influence the men around her.

Erik_Erikson Upon reading this, I was reminded of Erik Erikson’s observations regarding sexuality’s roots in very early childhood, as well as the differences in how unhealthy approaches to sexuality — which is nothing more than the excitement of “being on the make” at that age (Erikson 255, parentheses included) — manifest themselves in boys and girls.  “In the boy,” says Erikson…

…the emphasis remains on phallic-intrusive modes; in the girl it turns to modes of “catching” (…) or (…) making oneself attractive and endearing.

(255, italics mine)

However people’s views on sexuality and gender relations may differ, this is clearly the way the “game of sex” is played in Game of Thrones.

GoT-Theon-crying-500x333Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) is forced to watch as his foster sister, Sansa Stark, is raped

Think of the prolonged portrayal (mostly via sound), in a recent episode, of the rape of eighteen-year-old Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) at the hands of a ruthless husband to whom she has been given in an arranged marriage.  Clearly, we have the peculiarly masculine form of sexual sin (at its worst) on display here.

Sex as a power tool should appall everyone but astonish no one.  If someone wants to dominate another person, what better way to do so than by rape?  After all, to dominate the body is to dominate the person (at least, as nearly as humanly possible).

As many will have no doubt noticed, the aforementioned scene has sparked outrage among the show’s fans.  While people are indeed right to decry the rape of a young woman (and even, perhaps, its insensitive portrayal in a TV show), part of me wants to cry out: “What did you expect?”  Create a world, populate it almost entirely with characters who are obsessed with power, and mix in the careless — not to mention tasteless — treatment and portrayal of sex, and the latter two are bound to “mate” before long.

MelisandreBut, as my reference to Erikson might suggest, there is a more “feminine” version of this as well.  Think of Melisandre (Carice Van Houten), the seductive “Red Priestess,” who uses her sexual desirability to manipulate powerful men for her purposes.  Here we have the peculiarly feminine form of the use of sex as a power tool.

And then of course we also get, as they say, “all sorts of strange animals in between.”

Which of the above examples has sparked more outrage?  That’s right, the first one.  Again, it should spark outrage — don’t misunderstand me.  But the assumption that only when it involves the aggressive violence of rape is pornographic material objectionable can blind us to the fact that human sexuality is very much like fire: Splendid, beautiful, powerful, and necessary…but also very dangerous, and in need of being “contained.”

Readers and viewers who espouse a more traditional morality will pine for what is often seen as Game of Thrones‘ counterpart in the fantasy/adventure world: J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, which has nothing like the former’s candid material.  But leaving that aside for the moment, let us note another key difference between the two: Tolkien drew his inspiration primarily from myth; George R.R. Martin, author of the novel series on which Game of Thrones is based, draws his inspiration primarily from history.

These two differences may have more to do with one another than one might think.  I’ll pick up with that in the next post.

Erikson photo from Wikipedia — full reference:

“Erik Erikson” by ?Original uploader was Waveformula at en.wikipedia – http://www.wpclipart.com/famous/psychology/Erik_Erikson_2.png.htmlTransferred from en.wikipediaImage comes from WP Clipart[1] which ONLY features public domain images and provides extensive source information on their “Legal” page: [2]. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Erik_Erikson.png#/media/File:Erik_Erikson.png

Remaining images obtained through a Google image search

Reference

Erikson, E.H.  Childhood and Society  2nd ed.  NY: Norton, 1963

This is a great demo for concerned parents and for anyone who likes to be careful about what media content they take in.  I have not used this technology myself (I recently learned of it from a nun, believe it or not), so I can’t speak to its efficacy myself.  But being a big film buff and a fan of certain TV programs, I may see about acquiring it for myself in the near future.

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