Portrayal of Women in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones - Rose LeslieI’ve never read any of George R R Martin’s novels. I only know him from the television series, Game of Thrones. And now, I am half way through the third season — far further than I ever thought I would make it. But once you get involved in these things, it is kind of hard to break away. There’s always just one more episode to watch. I can well see how people get addicted to soap operas. But there is one thing that really stands out to me in my recent viewing: its portrayal of women.

There are many aspects of this, of course. But I’m primarily interested in two. The first is the use of naked women. In one way, I really like this. I’m as keen to see beautiful naked women as anyone. But it bothers me that we don’t see more naked men. It makes me feel guilty, as though the filmmakers are pandering to men. And it leaves me with the impression, which I harbor anyway, that women really are better than men. This isn’t to say there isn’t any eye candy for women and others who appreciate male beauty. But the men are always facing away from the camera. Is this because no one actually wants to look at the penis? That’s probably true. But the fact remains that there are at least five times as many naked women as men — and that includes a lot of the female leads.

The other aspect of this is not specific to the television series. I think it relates to Martin himself, who, very much like myself, has a preference for women. It is kind of a naive preference — one that in me dates back to grammar school when all the girls seemed (because they were) so much more mature and worldly than us boys. The men in Game of Thrones fit broadly into two categories: decent and evil. A lot of those decent men are still total jerks. Tywin Lannister is a good example of a decent guy who is still awful. But then there are men who are simply evil such as King Joffrey and Ramsay Snow. There is also a fair amount of cowardice among the evil.

The situation is rather different for the women. I can’t think of any character who isn’t sympathetic to one extent or another. Again, as with the men, that doesn’t mean that they are exactly good. Cersei Lannister, for example, is not easy to love. In fact, at the beginning of the series, I hated her. But over time, I’ve become very sympathetic toward her. There are other characters, like Osha, who are difficult but ultimately of pure heart. And who does one not love Arya Stark — the live action version of that girl in Brave.

But I’m especially taken with Ygritte — currently Jon Snow’s girlfriend, I guess. She provides a kind of positive take on Lady Macbeth. The original has always bothered me in its misogyny. But here, Ygritte isn’t looking for status or power. She’s just really smart — and in love. And she’s trying to keep the two of them alive. Jon Snow has never shown himself to be particularly smart — from the very first episode. So I think Ygritte is a good example of Martin’s generally positive take on womankind.

Now if you will forgive me, I’m going to watch another episode. As I said, it’s very addictive.

Syriza Isn’t Extremist — the Austerians Are

Mark WeisbrotWho are the extremists here? Is it the European authorities, which some identify with the Germans but it’s more than them? Or is it Syriza? Back in May of 2010 when they signed their first agreement with the IMF, the debt was 115% of GDP. Then the IMF and the European Commission said, “Okay, you do what we want and you’ll recover and your debt will be sustainable.” So now that that debt is over 170% of GDP — they’ve had six years of recession; they’ve lost a quarter of their GDP; 26% of their labor force is unemployed (double that for youth) — it’s clear who’s been wrong here.

Now if you want to say that they should do more, they’ve already paid a huge unnecessary price. Clearly, there was some adjustment that had to take place. The purpose of any kinds of loans or aid should be to make that adjustment easier, not to make it ten or fifty times worse than it has to be. That’s what they’ve done. So now they’ve adjusted. They’ve had one of the biggest adjustments in imports in the world — 36%. And they have now a primary budget surplus and they have a current account surplus. And the question is, when do they get the recovery after six years of this? And that’s what this fight is about. And Syriza is saying, “Look: we’ve paid too much of a price, we’ve enacted a lot of policies that were really regressive — like a big cut in minimum wage, 40% cut in healthcare spending, change in labor law that weakens the bargaining power of labor, laying off 20% of the national government workers — and we’re going to reverse some of these because we want the economy to grow. We don’t want 16% unemployment in 2018, which is what the IMF is projecting if everything goes well according to their program.”

So I think if you’re looking at it from a more neutral point of view, it’s clear that Syriza is the voice of reason as compared to the extremists that have destroyed not only the Greek economy, but have brought 11.5% unemployment in the Eurozone — which is more than twice what we have in the United States.

—Mark Weisbrot
Interviewed on CounterSpin

Jeb Bush Will Run as His Brother Did

Jeb BushNancy LeTourneau brought my attention to a short quote by Dennis Baxley, who was in the Florida state House while Jeb Bush was governor. Commenting on Bush’s unconscionable behavior in the Terri Schiavo case, Baxley said, “If you want to understand Jeb Bush, he’s guided by principle over convenience. He may be wrong about something, but he knows what he believes.” An act of extreme demagoguery aimed at Christian conservatives is an act of principle? It was what he really thought? That’s not believable. He was pandering and he knew that he was pandering. Like all the other conservatives who got caught up in that, he thought it would please the conservatives, and the rest just wouldn’t care. He was as wrong politically as he was morally.

LeTourneau sees it as a sign of Bush’s fundamentalism. She especially takes him to task for being a typical conservative Christian: all conservative, no Christian. In this regard, she refers to Mark 2.23-27 about Jesus’ belief that proscription of work on the Sabbath should not be used as an excuse to allow suffering:

And it happened that He was passing through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples began to make their way along while picking the heads of grain.

The Pharisees were saying to Him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”

And He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions became hungry;

How he entered the house of God in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the consecrated bread, which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests, and he also gave it to those who were with him?”

Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.

But I don’t think that our man Jeb is a fundamentalist. In fact, what Baxley said sounds very familiar, “He may be wrong about something, but he knows what he believes.” This was always the argument for George W Bush: he might be stupid and wrong about everything, but at least he knew what he believed in! As Stephen Colbert said at the 2006 White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, “The greatest thing about this man is he’s steady. You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday. Events can change; this man’s beliefs never will.”

It’s not surprising that Jeb Bush would want this kind of narrative floated about him. For one thing, it acts as an apologia for everything he ever did wrong. But it is strange that this tactic works. Beneath it is this: you may hate things he’s done before, but at least you can depend upon him to do the exact same things again. Really?! That’s a strange kind of logic that Americans really are prone to.

But even more than this, it says to Americans that he is a strong leader. He may lead us in the wrong direction, but he will be in front of us and he really will believe. The problem is that this is all part of the not so secret American desire for authoritarian leaders. What’s more, a lot of people seem to think that a president heartily doing what they don’t like is a better choice than a president meekly doing what they do like.

It reminds me of a segment of the This American Life episode Swing Set. It involves multiple interviews with James Hackett, a Cincinnati doctor who was a lifelong Republican, but who didn’t want to vote for George Bush in 2004. He did eventually vote for Bush — but it was despite the fact that he hated everything about the man and his policies. Hackett — like pretty much all Republicans — was just thrilled with Bill Clinton in retrospect. And we all know that one of the biggest concerns that conservatives brought up while he was president was that he wasn’t authentic — Slick Willy. So at one point in the segment, Ira Glass countered Hackett on his nonsense about how inauthentic Kerry was by referencing Clinton.

OK, so if that’s what Kerry turns out to be, he’ll look at the polls every day, whatever the majority wants, he’s going to give it to them. Well, eight more years of peace and prosperity.

Ira Glass summed up that segment, “In the end, he thinks the president will keep us safer, despite the debacle in Iraq, and despite the fact that he disagrees with them on almost every other issue.” We don’t need no stinking issues. We just need a candidate who will lead in the wrong direction just as boldly as he does the right direction. This is what Jeb Bush is hoping for. It’s a good thing the president has to have been born here. Otherwise, Vladimir Putin might be our next president.

See Also

Jeb Bush Is an Extremist Like All in GOP
Bush 2016: the Terri Schiavo Choice!
Jeb Bush Is No Moderate

Fat and Happy Is Better Than Beautiful

Eat, Drink, and Be MerryWhen a man like me who has been skinny his entire life, suddenly finds himself fat you are likely to see some serious work on him explaining why his new hefty size is really a great thing. Now I want to point out — I’m really only David Mitchell fat, not Chris Christie fat. And most people outside of Southern California don’t actually consider Mitchell fat. But the NIH thinks I’m just on the line of “overweight”; and at all times before, I was right on the line of “underweight.” You just can’t win with these people. Or more to the point, I just can’t win.

Truth be told, however, we probably shouldn’t consider people like me overweight. Or at least we shouldn’t when it comes to health. When it comes to nude extras on Game of Thrones, there is a different scale. But I’m afraid that such criteria have blinded our thinking in terms of health. Two years ago, a major synthesis of research involving three million people over decades found that overweight people (with a BMI between 25 and 30) were actually 6% less likely to die during the average period of the studies looked at. That isn’t that big a deal — it could be noise, although the result is statistically significant. What’s more, the effect could be due to better medical care.

What I find far more interesting is that much of the reporting on the study was dismissive. The focus was generally put on the finding that it was still bad to be obese. And indeed it is. And maybe it is good to focus on that in a country where over a third of the population is obese. But if the only finding of the study was that obese people had a higher mortality rate than thinner people, it wouldn’t have been reported in The New York Times. And it doesn’t even seem worth mentioning regarding a study that contradicts the linchpin of what most everyone thinks is required for good health.

I think it is all to do with what we find beautiful. We fetishize youth and thinness. And as a result, we try to justify claiming that being young and thin is healthy. It must be; it’s what is attractive! And this results in almost all advertisements that I see involving young and thin people. That’s even true when the ads are explicitly portraying “old” and “fat” people. According to Plus Model Magazine, ten years ago, plus size models ranged in sizes from 12 to 18; today, they are between 6 (!) and 14. The average American woman is a size 14.

Overall, the main thing is that people should just get on with their lives and accept who they are. The thing about me is that I like eating. And I cook far better than I ever did when I was my old skinny self. And I just can’t imagine starving myself in the name of living a bit longer — especially if those years (Months? Weeks? Hours?) were spent without the joy of my many signature dishes. And this leads me to my main point.

I cook with butter. Butter is wonderful. Butter tastes good. In fact, there are few things as wonderfully delicious as Basmati rice with just a little bit of butter. I could easily live on that. And I really don’t care about the health consequences of my love of fat. As I see it, what is considered “good nutrition” changes every couple of years anyway. And people running around desperately trying to avoid death has always struck me as a criminal act against the gift of life.

It just so happens that today, the good nutrition fad seems to line up with what I do, Pretty Much Everything We’ve Been Taught About Dangers of Eating Fat Is Wrong. I won’t go into all the details of the recent research because I don’t care. I’m going to eat the way I want. Yes, it would be bad to have an all-butter diet. But you wanna know a secret: an all butter diet would taste terrible. My advice: have a diverse and delicious diet, so even if it does kill you, you will have a good time along the way.

Oh, that reminds me: moderate alcohol consumption is good for you too. But again: I don’t actually care. Alcohol is a great drug in that it tells you very clearly how much you should consume. All this information — ideal body weight, fatty foods, alcohol — is the best argument I’ve ever heard in favor of a loving god.

Update 3 February 2015 3:27 pm

I just watched last night’s The Nightly Show and they were doing the episode about obesity. It isn’t much of a discussion, but it does seem that the issue is in the air.

The Politics of Norman Rockwell

Norman RockwellOn this day in 1894, the great painter Norman Rockwell was born. He is best known for his many covers for The Saturday Evening Post. I never thought much about him when I was younger. But over the years, I’ve come to really appreciate his cleverness and even subversion. Rockwell was a good old fashioned New Deal Democrat. You know: the kind of person who would be called a radical today.

A great example of his political orientation was found in his Four Freedoms series. It is a representation of Franklin D Roosevelt’s State of the Union address in 1941. And the four freedoms are radical by today’s standards. They include two “of” freedoms: freedom of speech and freedom of worship. Everyone agrees with those because they’ve been around for so long. But show me a Republican who would agree with the two “from” freedoms: freedom from want and freedom from fear. Even among so called liberals in this country, there is only modest support for the idea that there might be freedoms that would require any sacrifice from the power elite.

Four Freedoms - Norman Rockwell

Rockwell created those paintings for The Saturday Evening Post. But by 1963, he left the magazine because of the constraints it was putting on his work. He wanted to cover more overt political ground. It led to some brilliant works. The most affecting is probably Murder in Mississippi — a rendering of the murder of Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney. It’s a remarkable piece: half social realism and half neo-romanticism. It doesn’t look much like what people think of as his style:

Murder in Mississippi - Norman Rockwell

But he still did profound pieces that were clearly his style. One of my very favorites is, The Problem We All Live With. It renders the first day of school for Ruby Bridges at the once all-white William Frantz Elementary School. She is accompanies by four literally faceless deputy US marshals. Even today, I can’t see it without being affected by it.

The Problem We All Live With - Norman Rockwell

Happy birthday Norman Rockwell!