Gutting Game of Thrones

At Scientific American, Zeynep Tufekci argues that “the real reason fans hate the last season of Game of Thrones is not just bad storytelling but the style change from sociological to psychological.”

A storyline moved by institutional forces and social pressures acting decisively upon characters was replaced by characters’ psychological impulses driving action and sociopolitical consequences.

Tufekci provides zero examples of this, merely positing that since some main characters were routinely killed off, the story was sustained by social pressures and plot movements rather than by psychological pressures and movements.

But was it? Isn’t it as equally likely that central characters were killed off by the adequately dramatized paranoid or deranged psychological impulses of other characters? And if so, the drop in quality of the last seasons could be explained by the rushed, nonsensical, and otherwise inadequate psychological dramatization of additional murders.

The two examples of murdered main characters that Tufekci provides don’t necessarily help his argument. Ned Stark was not murdered primarily for sociopolitical reason. He was killed because his murderer was a raving lunatic. Similarly, with the Red Wedding murders that Tufekci invokes. That murderer was also portrayed as immensely depraved and deranged. Yes, both lunatic murderers offered sociopolitical justifications for the murders, but these were mainly unhinged rationales, albeit with some tenuous connection to sociopolitical justification. It wasn’t much but it was there. By the last season, even mere tenuous connections to the sociopolitical were typically missing or entirely nonsensical.

So, Tufekci makes a reasonable point, but just because the sociopolitics fell apart utterly by the end doesn’t mean the psychological storylines of a small group of people were not the main drivers throughout for holding audience interest. The sociopolitical power struggles were more personal, private interest based, than grounded in popular sociopolitical issues and popular well-being, the content and context of peoples’ lives. Watching the show is sort of like watching a corporate-state elite contest (US election) being carried out with swords and dragonfire rather than with the advertisements of debates and media blasts. Somewhere, somehow are the people at large, and their problems, barely in the picture.

Furthermore, the sociopolitics were often greatly flawed and false in Game of Thrones all the way through, not least in the astoundingly racist portrayal of the Dothraki, and misogyny, widely commented upon. The character arc video clips cobbled together on Youtube made for as compelling or more compelling viewing them most of the seasonal episodes. Why? Because virtually throughout, the psychological journeys of the character arcs were more interesting (involved and revealing) than the sociopolitics. The primary driver for watching Game of Thrones remained the psychological story paths.

Additionally, the fact is that television is not exactly “a medium dominated by the psychological and the individual,” as Tufekci states. Rather, it is and it isn’t. Much TV is sociopolitical, and certainly purports to be – cop (and now military) shows, crime shoes – and the Wire also was a very problematic version of this – have been the main staple of TV for over half a century. Why? Because even more important than gutting sociopolitics from “entertainment” is falsifying the sociopolitics, for reasons of corporate (state) power, the owners of the medium. Thus the endless glorification of a de facto police state via cop and cop/military shows, which of course pour on a lot of psychodrama to both obscure and confuse and falsify the sociopolitics.

It’s what one would expect of corporate productions. The industry is extremely sociopolitically conscious, and engaged in much distortion, not only evisceration, perpetuating class warfare from the top down.

Thus by the end of Game of Thrones, at the latest, it would have been compelling to see the power elites and their personal narrative arcs completely obliterated by a sociopolitics of clear and vital substance, that is, of popular import. A pipe-dream of course in the corporate scheme of things but would fit, only moreso, with the early Game of Thrones structure of offing bigshots. The characters could have survived climate collapse (white walkers) only to be wiped out by nuclear destruction (dragon fire), self-imposed, both purposeful and accidental, as is the logic of ultimate weapons and psycho and sociopath aggrandizement (violent profiteering). Would have been great to see a wise “commoner” give an explicit summation of such cataclysmic events of civilization and its power-mad elites to a youth, perhaps, or a traveler, at the very end. Or a keen youth could have made the summation.

In fact the would-be greatest moment of the final episode was the most important sociopolitical moment objectively – Sam Tarly opining for democracy – and not the biggest sociopolitical moment of the story, the slaying of the queen, Jon killing Dany, which was done purely for sociopolitical reasons (against the psychological impulse). The show falsely presented the objectively most important sociopolitical moment as an amusing aside, passed over quickly, while foregrounding and dwelling on the poorly construed sociopolitical slaying of the Queen, which seemed almost irrelevant because the sociopolitical context leading up to the moment was, not missing but, ludicrous.

So it is that the content and context of the sociopolitics matter more than merely the fact that sociopolitics are the focus. That could be the continuation of Tufekci’s argument – but given that he praises David Simon’s highly problematic cop show The Wire as much as he does, such an exploration wouldn’t seem likely to be much revealing. Yes, Game of Thrones shifted more to the (absurd) psychological as it went on, but the sociopolitical was already threadbare from the beginning, apart from royal machinations. Game of Thrones, after all. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Or, rather, dragons. (No great loss, perhaps, since flawed sociopolitical shows often do more social and personal damage than the more purely psychological shows – good or bad – for a variety of reasons, though mainly because they have the capacity to affect more.)

Game of Thrones could be a compelling watch to many people, but the basic sociopolitical misses and mistakes that it makes throughout are often as enormous as its limited and ludicrous psychological falsifications. It would be very difficult to argue that character was not almost always foremost to the social or political in the show. From the start, the story compels the audience to root for Dickensian type underdogs, from scene to scene, until by the end of the show there are, long since, no underdogs left, merely a collection of victors intent on fighting for a seat of conquest to almost no real point other than personal aggrandizement. There was no great sociopolitical planning or reforms or movements explored beginning, middle, or end of Game of Thrones. The show was almost a domestic comedy/tragedy of royals. The fundamental sociopolitics were basically camp, from the start, and by the end so was everything else.

Thus, it would have made satisfying sense and viewing for the Sam Tarly democracy-opining scene to morph into side-splitting Monte Python farce. Nothing made sense by the end. Not the sociopolitics, not the psychologies, and it wasn’t basically because “the storytelling style changed from sociopolitical to psychological,” but equally – or more – because the sociopolitics (and psychologies) were all along both greatly eviscerated and purposefully chaotic, in content and context.

Does Game of Thrones have compelling sociopolitical and psychological moments? Yes, of course, but the show is geared toward spectacle above all, rather than toward, say, sociopolitical revelation and significant movement on either basic or grand levels, despite portentous pretensions and some genuine efforts. And why is that? Game of Thrones novelist Martin stated that his modus operandi was relying on characters who make wrong decisions. Well, okay, that’s a curious falsification of life that can provide great spectacle, in passing, but the basic sociopolitics of the story are then going to suffer in falsity every bit as much as the basic psychologies of the story. Movement via such a mechanism will cultivate and end in a circus and chaos of increasingly tedious magnitude – whether sociopolitical or psychological or both. And so it was.

There were sociopolitical fixes that could have been made all along, also psychological ones, but the authors themselves made the wrong decision in choosing ongoing mechanistic spectacle over vital focus and revelations, both sociopolitical and psychological (of course the two are intertwined). The fundamental problem wasn’t the prioritizing of a psychological “style” over sociopolitical style as the thing went on (though that was a problem), rather the mechanistic and eviscerated approach to storytelling and life that gutted both the psychological and the sociopolitical from the outset.

Fatalistic spectacle become chaotic con, the characters’ (author-determined) need to make wrong choices. Going that narrative route, or any narrative route, needs to result in some vision ultimately. What’s revelatory about Game of Thrones? Don’t love your sociopathic CEOs, murder them, in impossible context? Dragon-nuke the seat of power? As it was in the beginning, of the story, so it is in the end? Nothing changes? Characters making bad decisions after bad decisions? No other pattern or revelation? Even for the bad, let alone for the good?

In reality, things do change. People don’t always make decisively wrong decisions. Wouldn’t know that from watching Game of Thrones, fundamentally. Very convenient to power. Sociopolitically convenient. In Game of Thrones, the psychology was distorted all along, and there was no sociopolitical vision to begin with, other than fatalistic chaos. The sociopolitical was a kind of historical happenstance that the operating psychological device necessarily distorted and played with for the thrill of medieval spectacle. When the medieval sociopolitical vision (actually, fixation) is used up and worn out and the novelty is gone, what is left but psychological twists and turns to nowhere that further cement the severe limits of the sociopolitical vision?

Corporate power HBO wanted to keep funding Game of Thrones for years to come, certainly not to any revelatory end. It loves the medieval! Very profitable. Possibly HBO’s love of the medieval became in no way inspiring to the creators. Truly, the authors should have burned all the power elites with the city to the ground in the final season. That after all fits the logic of continuously making key wrong decisions – call it, the Corporate Way: psychopathic and sociopathic profiteering chaos and conquest that destroys everyone and all in the end. By then, apparently nobody, not even creator Martin, had the courage of the story’s fundamental conviction. The “style” might have changed marginally in the final season, but Game of Thrones was deeply and fatally flawed – sociopolitically and psychologically gutted and distorted – from the start.

The Death of Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones was somewhat interesting for the bit of socio-political scope and heft that it sometimes explored. All in all it’s more an example of how very weak is political fiction in the culture industries (not to mention how very racist, sexist, white supremacist it remains). The imagination and analysis and normative emphasis utterly lacking. Implications of the white walkers of climate collapse and the dragon of nuclear war barely explored. 

Popular issues, human needs worldwide, or anywhere, were almost entirely invisible. The production was in the vein of William Shakespeare of the court intrigues rather than Victor Hugo of Les Miserables, or say Octavia Butler of Parable of the Sower. The identity politics, so-called, often butchered. The latter episodes were one nostalgic set-piece after another. 

The only way to salvage something of import from the show in the end would have been for a mix of purposeful and accidental death of all the remaining royal/elite characters in the city, with the dragon accidentally torching Dany also, as the last of these – obvious connection to nuclear war. And then the final scenes of the so-called common survivors attempting to pick of the pieces amid the ashes. Instead, we were left with the descent into nostalgic farce.   

There was one more-or-less subliminally funny moment in Tarly suggesting democracy and being met with wholesale if understated contempt, ridicule, and hilarity for being such an idiot. That moment could have been played up to a Monty Python height, seemed to be aching to go there, and was the poorer for not. That would have been fantastic, and could have added to what amounts to Game of Thrones prestige in ending in Tarly’s immediate demise and dismal from thought and any lasting impact on the scene. 

The genuinely farcical and incidental slaying of Tarly and Democracy would have been more notable than anything that happened in the final episode, or much before. Lack of democracy in the creation of Game of Thrones itself entirely doomed the basic and central quality of the production.  

america isn’t america

what they don’t tell you growing up in america

is that america isn’t america
it’s the united states of america
the usa
and the usa is not south america
is not north america
is not the americas
the usa is the 50 states
plus scattered territories plus embassies
plus gunships and aircraft carries and submarines
and attack planes on the seas under the seas in the skies
the usa is military installations and weapons in 100 plus countries
and territories and in space
the usa is the bankers the financiers who own the country
and who call the shots
they despise democracy
and they despise people
because they love money and power and control
the usa is not america
america is not the usa
they tell you it is but it’s not
america is bigger than that
and better than that
and the usa is not

Iraq War Fiction

The good and the bad, and the in-between – an incomplete list of Iraq and Afghanistan War fiction, 2003 – 2009:


Story of the Sand – Mark B. Pickering
Lost Boys – James Miller

Zubaida’s Window – Iqbal Al-Qazwini
The Ghost – Robert Harris
Like No Other – Robert Mercer Nairne
A Desert Called Peace – Tom Kratman
Operation Supergoose – William Hart
Hocus Potus – Malcolm MacPherson
The Sirens of Baghdad – Yasmina Khadra
Last One In – Nicholas Kulish
Homefront – Tony Christini
The Conquest of Oila – Tony Christini
Still the Monkey – Alivia C. Tagliaferri
The Scorpion’s Gate – Richard A. Clarke
The Human War – Noah Cicero
Homeland – Paul William Roberts
Outsourced – R. J. Hillhouse
Body of Lies – David Ignatius
The Contractor – Charles Holdefer
Bowl of Cherries – Millard Kaufman
Jasmine’s Tortoise – Corinne Souza
Ever After – Karen Kingsbury
Refresh, Refresh – Benjamin Percy
The L. P. – David Walks-As-Bear
Checkpoint – Nicholson Baker
A Medic in Iraq – Cole Bolchoz
The Chameleon’s Shadow – Minette Walters
Ammi: Letter To A Democratic Mother – Saeed Mirza
We Are Now Beginning Our Descent – James Meek
Mojave Winds – Mark Biskeborn
Sufi’s Ghost – Mark Biskeborn
No Space for Further Burials – Feryal Ali Gauhar
Queen of Hearts & Black Hands – Daniel Homan
Blind Fall – Christopher Rice
One of Us – Melissa Benn
Sunrise Over Fallujah – Walter Dean Myers
Concealed…Inside the Enemy – Barbara Kline
100 Days and 99 Nights – Alan Madison
A Thousand Veils – D. J. Murphy
You Leader Will Control Your Fire – Roy William Scranton
The Reluctant Fundamentalist – Mohsin Hamid
Linger – M. E. Kerr
Homefront – Kristen Tsetsi
Nothing to Lose – Lee Child
A Dangerous Age – Ellen Gilchrist
One Weekend a Month – Craig Trebilcock
No Time for Ribbons – Craig Trebilcock
The Third River – Nisreen Ghandourah
One September Morning – Rosalind Noonan
Wrongful Death – Robert Dugoni
When You Come Home – Nora Eisenberg
Castle – J. Robert Lennon

Army@Love – Rick Veitch
Shooting War – Lappe and Goldman
“Greendale” as graphic novelNeil Young & Joshua Dysart
Pride of Baghdad – Vaughan and Henrichon
Iraq: Operation Corporate Takeover – Wilson and O’Connor
DMZ – Brian Wood
To Afghanistan and Back – Ted Rall
The War Within – Gary Trudeau

The Wolf – Sean Huze
1984 – Tim Robbins
Peace Mom – Dario Fo
Stuff Happens – David Hare
The Vertical Hour – David Hare
9 Parts of Desire – Heather Raffomore info
Flags – Jane Martin
Black Watch – Gregory Burke1 | 2
Ward 57 – Jessica Goldberg
March On, Dream Normal – Jeanette Scherrer
Betrayed – George Packer (additional)
Get Your War On – Shawn Sides / David Rees
One Shot, One Kill – Richard Vetere
Palace of the End – Judith Thompson
Beast – Michael Weller
In Conflict – Yvonne Latty/students
The Warrior – Jake Gilhooley
Only We Who Guard the Mystery Shall be Unhappy – Tony Kushner
Prayer For My Enemy – Craig Lucas
Iraq War, The Musical! – Paul Cross
The Eyes of Babylon – Jeff Key
Prophecy – Karen Malpede
Bring the King, Bring Him – Haider Munathar
Welcome Home, Jenny Sutter – Julie Marie Myatt
How Many Miles to Basra? – Colin Teevan
The Lonely Soldier Monologues – Helen Benedict
Old Glory – Brett Neveu
Baghdad Wedding – Hassan Abdulrazzak
The Women of… – Edgecombe, Harrison, Pollack, cast
Soldiers Circle – Russell Vandenbroucke

Lions for Lambs
Over There
Valley of the Wolves Iraq
The Tiger and the Snow
The Situation
G.I. Jesus
A Mighty Heart
Home of the Brave
Grace is Gone
In the Valley of Elah
Body of Lies
The Kingdom
Battle for HadithaWalsh review
War, Inc.
A Journal for Jordan
Against All Enemies
Shooting War
Charlie Wilson’s War
“Green Zone”
Day Zero
Turtles Can Fly
Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay
The Lucky Ones
Diary of the Dead
The Hurt Locker
Army Wives
Saving Jessica Lynch
Generation Kill
Taking Chance
In the Loop
The Messenger

COMMENTARY (on Iraq war fiction):
Hollywood’s New Censors – John Pilger
Hollywood Goes to War – Andrew Gumbel
Hollywood Always at War – Response to “Hollywood Goes to War”- Christini / (Pilger)
Too Soon for Iraq Dramas?
Don’t Mention the War – Eddie Cockrell
Footnotes to the Conquest: Iraq War Novels and Movies
Antiwar Novels Are “Belligerent”? – Tony Christini
The Iraq war movie: Military hopes to shape genre – Julian E. Barnes

War No More: The Antiwar Impulse in American Literature, 1861-1914 byCynthia Wachtell

See also:

Cover for 'Fiction Gutted: The Establishment and the Novel'

Iraq War Documentary Films and Video:

Done Dimslow Done Lost His Mind

No one but Glinda and Abel remember where they were when John Doe Dimslow first climbed the decorative rock in the middle of the town triangle – the hollow being too narrow to afford a town square, and the mountain rising too steeply at the base of the triangle to have any construction other than steep lawn and flower beds. Upon the town rock John Doe Dimslow preached to the mountain.

Dimslow preached to the empty rising lawn and flowers, he preached to the forest blooming above and the blue sky dappled white beyond, he preached to Swift Run Creek on his left and Cold Run Creek on his right. He preached to the empty picnic tables around the rock.

He preached to the fat spring robins and the flickety chicka-dee-dee-dees. And late that morning old lady Glinda Harrison trooped out of her pancake restaurant and strolled off to the side of old man Dimslow talking to the mountains, and she pronounced what has gone to history in the time intervening and all at once, she said most clearly for old man Abel Forthwright to hear as he stepped out from the barbershop and his late morning shave, “Done Dimslow done lost his mind.”

“You’re raped, America. You’re raped and torn and murdered and slaughtered.”

“Done Dimslow done gone lost his daggone mind, his goddog mental capacity.” Glinda Harrison reserved her approval and disapproval, both ways, and nodded to confirm it. Continue reading Done Dimslow Done Lost His Mind

War Inc. Reviewed

Joanne Laurier:
“Once War, Inc. makes its points about the outsourcing of war with all the attendant grotesqueries, it largely runs out of steam and a sloppy melodrama takes over.

“For all of its foibles, the film does tap into the deep feelings of large numbers of people, furious about American corporations that ruthlessly throw their weight around all over the world, and the demise of the US Constitution and open advocacy of torture by the political elite. It also testifies to the failings of the left-liberal milieu, which despite certain misgivings and criticisms, always finds itself running with the political pack of wolves who abet those they so despise. The pack we refer to is the Democratic Party and its apologists and hangers-on.

“In the end, War, Inc is a sometimes lacerating, but highly uneven, protest against the ever-expanding American war machine.”


John Cusack: Bypassing the Corporate Media by Joshua Holland: “Cusack’s anti-war polemic, War, Inc., continues to defy expectations, despite the traditional media’s dismissive reception.”

And MovieMix