Television and Cultural Degradation

The series finale of “Game of Thrones” airs tonight on HBO, a premium cable network. Some thirty million are expected to watch, and there are even reports that work absences are expected to spike tomorrow morning.

HBO stands for “Home Box Office”; the network began in the early 1970s as a subscription service for viewing relatively recently released theatrical movies on the “small screen.” With the growth of cable, the concept became very successful and HBO soon had several competitors, including Starz, Showtime, and Cinemax.

In the 1990s, HBO began developing its own original content; in 1998, the network had a smash hit with “The Sopranos” a show about Italian-American mafiosi in New Jersey. In the show’s initial season, the widowed mother of the lead character, Tony Soprano, was conspiring with his uncle to have Tony “whacked”—no wonder that Tony felt the need for psychotherapy!

Not all of HBO’s shows have been successes on the order of “The Sopranos”; some, like the recent “Westworld”, have been expensive failures and others were so costly to produce—like “Rome” and “Deadwood”—that even though they were popular they were canceled after a couple of seasons. But self-produced content has become an entrenched idea, imitated by HBO’s competitors on premium cable as well as by streaming services, “Netflix,” “Amazon Prime,” and “Hulu.”

What most of these shows have in common is extreme R-rated content, bordering on x-rated. “Deadwood” featured a constant stream of vile profanity that would have made a sailor blush. “The Sopranos” pushed the violence envelope, depicting numerous mob “hits.” But “Game of Thrones” has pushed both the sex and violence envelopes to extremes never seen before. These ultra-violent and sexual premium cable shows, showered with Emmy awards and other recognition, are causing standards to drop in broadcast television across the board.

I saw the first episode of Game of Thrones, which featured incredible violence. Two men are destroyed in grisly fashion by an abominable snow man-type of monster; another is beheaded; a child is pushed out of an upper story window after inconveniently witnessing an incestuous sexual coupling between a brother and sister. “Well, that’s gross,” I said to myself. “I won’t be watching that again.”

But over the years, “Game of Thrones” became a big hit, even a cultural phenomenon on the order of “The Sopranos.” So I figured I’d watch the first season. More depraved behavior depicted in every episode. In the final episode of season one, one of the few decent people in the show is beheaded. The first episode of season 2 features grisly, bloody violence against children, and I’ve finally had enough. Whatever value there might be in being up to speed on a pop culture phenomenon is not worth subjecting myself to this soul-destroying garbage.

It is frightening that a show like “Game of Thrones” can become popular in this country. Many professed Christians are watching it, and are even enthusiastic fans. Obviously, this content is not suitable for Christians, or anyone else. It fails utterly the test given us in Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”

How much cultural degradation can America take and still function as a free republic? “Our Constitution,” said John Adams shortly after it was written, “was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

How can Americans watch a show that depicts constant atrocities committed in the quest for a throne, for political power, and still be expected to honor the rights and liberties of their fellow men? The boon of ordered liberty, the liberty that we enjoy in America, is the product of the Savior's teaching of the dignity of man, all of whom are made in God’s image. Jesus Christ’s act of self-sacrifice on Calvary declared the infinite preciousness of every human soul.

Our rights come from God, not from any earthly throne. Our fellow men are valuable in themselves because they are made in God’s image and were redeemed at infinite cost; they are not pawns to be destroyed and climbed over in our quest for wealth and power.

Shows like “Game of Thrones” are a threat not only to the Christian religion, but also to the American Republic.