Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Is the Lion and the Rose the ultimate critique on our modern society, our widespread apathy, and the tyrants we fear?

You may have heard of Megan Huntsman in the news. If you haven't, then this is all you need to know: she's a local (Utah) gal who was booked into the Utah County jail on suspicion of killing six of her newborn children over a 10-year period. Seven dead babies were found on April 12, 2014 in a garage at a Pleasant Grove home where Huntsman lived up until 2011.

Is there a lesson to any of this? Not really. Utah captured one monster and this sicko's name is Megan Huntsman. But anyone that thinks a change has happened is just fooling themselves. People saw Megan for years. They never interacted with her; they never said a word even if they thought something suspicious might be going on. It reminds me of stories of girls who get kidnapped and are held in backyards next door to neighbors who ignore what's happening on the other side of the fence.

This "stick your head in the sand and scream LA LA LA" part of our culture won't change because we live in a society that prizes its privacy. People have been raised to detest intrusion; even the American dream consists of a picket fence. This notion of building walls has a purpose: to hedge the "riff raff" out. I've noticed a trend among young people in this area. They are initially outgoing until they meet someone and get into a relationship. From that part forward its all about building walls, separation, and isolation to "couple-only" activities. The wishes of the couple are all filled with dichotomies like "I want to have access to all the things that a city has to offer, but I don't want any of the people around that might tell me what to do or influence my children or possibly covet my partner."

They don't even bother to ask: do any of the things I want run counter-intuitive to each other? Yes it's possible for isolation in a big city, but not without a lot of money to build a house on a double lot to ensure that the neighboring houses aren't staring into your windows, and then put a wall around that house to keep all the undesirables out. Ever drive into a gated community? It's kind of a surreal, sterile experience. It's like driving into a land ruled by the Borg from Star Trek where everyone thinks the same and all yards have one tree, accent lighting, and varying degrees of the same paint job. But most of them (if asked) will tell you how much better life is inside the wall than outside. Otherwise they wouldn't choose to live there, right? Life is better where you don't have to deal with commoners.

Game of Thrones has this same loathsome view that the rich have for the poor in spades. It's funny how access to money makes people think that they are better than other people who don't have money. As I watched the "Purple Wedding" episode of Game of Thrones on Sunday wherein King Joffrey dies, I thought to myself, how can George R.R. Martin's world be so ridiculously cruel yet so real to me? And suddenly I thought of Megan Huntsman, and it all became clear as glass. George is a master observer, and he's merely imbuing these characters with what I'm seeing every day. And most of that is how ugly, petty, and inhuman people are. This episode has so many examples of people being awful that it's hard to cover them all. But, like a good blogger, I'll give it my best shot.

There's Stannis Bartheon. This "would be" king watches as his witch/high priestess Melisandre burns three loyal supporters at the stake (one is his brother-in-law whose only crime is refusing to tear down his altars to the Seven Gods when Stannis orders it). And yes, just like Megan Huntsman, no one says a thing. Everyone just watches it all go down with a kind of "clueless" expression.

Then there's Reek. Reek, a.k.a. Theon Greyjoy, just watches as Ramsay Snow slaughters an innocent girl because she's pretty and made his girlfriend jealous. For the record, Ramsay shot the girl in the leg so that the dogs could rip her pretty face off. I guess she isn't so pretty anymore.

Oh and of course there's Joffrey. How can we not forget the most vile character in the series? Has there ever been anyone more hated and grotesque than this young king? Let's just concentrate on the wrongs that he visited upon everyone in this episode:

1) Joffrey makes a hideous spectacle by humiliating his uncle Tyrion and his wife, Sansa, over and over again. He insults him, pours wine on his head, and makes him his cup-bearer (which Tyrion tries to turn into a compliment) but it isn't. Joffrey makes him bend over to pick up his cup, kicks it under the table, and is just a complete ass. I suppose what may be most shocking is the fact that he's clueless that he's actually so awful. I know people who are exactly like this: completely unaware to the idea that they are chauvinist pigs, jerks, and ignorant. And these aren't old people but young, raised in households that stuck a silver spoon in their mouths and raised them to call "flight attendants" by the name "stewardess" even though that term hasn't been used in twenty years.

2) Joffrey pretends to take an interest in a book that Tyrion's given him for his wedding only to destroy it with his next gift, a Valyrian sword forged from Ned Stark's original weapon. Not only that, but he cracks jokes about beheading Ned Stark over and over again. I suppose cutting a book to ribbons isn't so far-fetched these days. There's plenty of people in our society now who view reading as a chore and would like nothing better than to see books burned.

3) Joffrey throws things at minstrels, gives people money to be cruel to his fool, and then hires five little people to impersonate himself and other kings to recreate the murder of Robb Stark. It's all calculated to insult Sansa and Tyrion to the max. This kind of behavior is called bullying, and I see it every day.

When Joffrey died, the internet the world over celebrated. In a way, it reminded me of how the world celebrated when Osama Bin Laden died. I think that's where George is at his most brilliant and his most real. George recognizes that the world is filled with tyrants and that there are very few people who ever stand up to these tyrants. Most of us are guilty of allowing them to go about their business, doing awful things, because our lives are too busy or too valuable to get involved in stopping so much evil. Maybe when Melisandre of Ashai said, "The world we live in now is the real hell" she was not just uttering a line, but taking a cue from the master himself and showing us what George R.R. Martin really thinks of this world. Perhaps The Lion and the Rose is the ultimate critique on our modern society, our widespread apathy, and the tyrants we fear.

20 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

The only way evil can triumph is for good people to do nothing.
Well said.
And while it was shocking, I all but cheered when Joffrey bit it.

Michael Abayomi said...

I am still struggling to come to terms with the outcome of Sunday's episode. I didn't know whether to feel joy or shock at the sheer horror of it.

Suz Korb said...

Heard about this psycho woman on the news all the way over here in the UK. Disgusting.

There weren't any gated communities in Utah, that I knew of, when I moved away from Provo to the UK in 2001. The last time I visited Utah County though, years ago, there were all these gated communities that had sprung up. I was like, how pretentious a person do you have to be to want to live on the inside of one of those? A quietly competitive environment. Let's see who can build a bigger house than the neighbour, all while not talking to our neighbours at all.

I knew Joffrey's death was coming. Actually, it was the only way I was going to watch this new season of GoT. After the Red Wedding I was so distraught, I didn't think Martin was capable of writing anything with a happy ending. And yes that means I'm saying Joffrey's death was a happy ending, for at least one episode. They really made him go out with a bang, he was at his worst/best until the well deserved end.

Pat Dilloway said...

There's a lot to think about there. In cities like Detroit it's especially hard to break through that "no snitching" code. They've tried bribery and now they have billboards featuring clergymen guaranteeing people can report a crime in secret. In some ways I can't blame people because who wants to spend hours getting grilled by the cops? And then risk retaliation from the accused or even becoming a suspect yourself? It's easier to just keep your mouth shut than stick your neck out. Ned Stark would have lived if he'd just minded his business and stayed in Winterfell.

On an unrelated note, have you ever wondered what happens when Reek needs to piss now? I assume there's still some kind of hole there or else his kidneys would probably shut down. There's probably a lot of dribbling though. Yuck.

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

@Pat: anatomically there's just a hole. So no, I've not wondered at all as I knew that. Having everything cut off down there doesn't mean you've lost the ability to use the bathroom.

Ted Cross said...

I don't like people.

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

@Ted: If you don't like people then you're in the wrong line of business, my friend.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

The world does so seem like a messed up place. I found it so difficult to understand the insanity of the hatred and violence. Where will it take us all?

Stephen Hayes said...

This is the best post I've read in a long time. It made me think of the final speech in Charlie Chaplin's "The Great Dictator." If you haven't heard it, or haven't heard it lately, I recommend you revisit it on U-tube. I think you'll be awestruck.

Rachna Chhabria said...

What kind of a monster kills six of her new born children. What a messed up creature!

David P. King said...

You would probably be annoyed with me as a neighbor. I check in on them frequently, especially the elderly fellow who lives alone across the street. Sometimes to return his cat to him. Yes, I too have saved the cat. :)

As for that story ... well, I wouldn't be surprised if there is a mental health concern there. And I work mental health.

L.G. Smith said...

I had to stop watching GOT after season two because of the cruelty. I just couldn't take seeing the bad guys get away with their antics over and over again. It raised my blood pressure too much. BUT I did watch that last episode so I could see how Joffrey died. Vile, vile character.

Liz A. said...

Maybe that's why I couldn't get into GoT. Too much like real life...

M Pax said...

It is a reflection on us, which I suppose I wish George would lighten up a little now and then.

Joffrey was vile. That was one scene that made me cheer in the books.

Susan Kane said...

Joffrey was the most vile character in any book or miniseries in recent memory. We did not see Joffrey's demise.

I hope he died a vile death in keeping with his life.

Danette Baltzer said...

It's the politics and intrigue that really draw me to GoT. I don't care for the "fantasy" piece of it. It just doesn't seem very fantastical to me (sorry!!!). So, having said that I think that I agree with you that it's like watching how real people act in a less threatening environment maybe? I mean if I were watching some video- or a documentary of George Bush sitting in a board room speculating how it wouldn't be a terrible thing if a plane (or planes) crashed in cities like New York and Washington D.C. with Dick Cheney- then my head might explode with the sheer magnitude of the horror. Even though I know how abominably both men behaved when New Orleans was nearly destroyed by Katrina. You just don't expect it. Most of us don't expect people to behave worse (or better) than what we ourselves do. And yet they do. Sometimes it can be attributed to mental illness and other times it can be attributed to being raised thinking you're better than other people and can do what you want without regard to the consequences.

(Now did GW do that? I don't know- I don't really think so... But there are plenty of bad people out there who do things that are as bad or worse. That was just an example that sprang to mind of things that would make my mind boggle and that remind of me GoT intrigue.)

Good post.

Helena said...

I wish (in vain, I know) that a psychologist or just a very perceptive person would now go into that monster woman's neighborhood and ask the people there a lot of hard questions. And then I want to hear the woman's children be carefully, thoroughly interviewed, along with her husband and other relatives. Repeatedly hiding that many full-term pregnancies is impossible. Clearly, the woman was surrounded by either idiots or people in a state of denial so intense their brains were warped.

But that said, I also have to concede that too many people these days are painfully unobservant of the world around them. They're wearing earbuds and lost in music or they're staring at their cells -- anything but noticing other people. I don't think the issue here is excessive privacy, Michael. I think it's stupidity.

L.G. Keltner said...

I felt bad for Sansa and Tyrion in this episode, because Joffrey was a complete #%&*%$#^@ to them the entire time. Still, that helped make Joffrey's death that much more satisfying in the end (although it would have been satisfying either way).

J.L. Campbell said...

Hmmm. This makes me wonder if nobody ever wondered about the fact that there were no toddlers or young children around Ms. Huntsman who must have been pregnant for a great deal of those years. Sad, the way we decide to ignore some things.

Jay Noel said...

It's groupthink on a bigger scale. The mob is very apathetic...and stupid. An individual might be pretty intelligent, but put him in with a mob, suddenly common sense and IQ drops pretty quickly.