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23 May, 2019 12:44

Lesson to learn from GoT: Stories are powerful, be careful which ones you believe

Lesson to learn from GoT: Stories are powerful, be careful which ones you believe

Hidden under all the outrage and the drama about the final season of ‘Game of Thrones’ is a hard lesson about power and how it is shaped by perceptions and stories, but only for those who are willing to learn.

HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’ has come a long way since its premiere in 2011, in what now seems like a different era. In its recently-aired final installment, we not only find out what happens to the Iron Throne and the Seven Kingdoms, but also circle back to one of the running themes of the show, and George R.R. Martin’s books it was based on: power and its sources.

Daenerys Targaryen laying waste to cities with dragonfire came as a plot twist only to people who did not pay attention, blindsided by worship of their beloved “khaleesi.” Martin’s readers, and even seasoned HBO watchers, have always known that unlike most fantasy, ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ was not about heroes and dragons and magic, but about human nature.

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This is spelled out quite early on, in both the books and the show, when spymaster Varys tells a riddle about power, asking who would prevail in a power struggle between a king, a priest and a wealthy man – and shooting down the obvious answers as wrong, because “power lies where we think it lies.”

Years later, showing that he paid attention, Tyrion Lannister proposes a bold solution to the fate of the Seven Kingdoms, arguing that power comes from narratives:

There’s nothing in the world more powerful than a good story.

There is something ironic in a television show, often attacked for its narrative choices, lampshading the power of storytelling like this – and again later, when Tyrion finds himself written out of the in-universe history of events in which he undeniably played a major part.

Yet, as ‘Game of Thrones’ became a cultural phenomenon and people around the world read into it their own beliefs, preferences and prejudices, it is worth keeping in mind its meta-message about the power of narratives.

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If you doubt this power, consider George Orwell’s ‘1984’, in which the totalitarian state controls the present by constantly rewriting the past, and manipulates thought itself by engineering a severely-limited language.

Orwell’s dystopia takes to its logical extreme the old adage that “history is written by the victors,” but it’s not too far off. Much of Western history about WWII, for example, came from the pen of Winston Churchill, who naturally made sure he was the hero by scrubbing out inconvenient facts like the 1943 Bengal famine or the betrayal of Yugoslavia, for instance.

These narratives were then taken up and amplified by Hollywood, which has from its very beginning manufactured institutional memory for most Americans. As a result of blockbusters like ‘Saving Private Ryan,’ and ‘Band of Brothers’ (another HBO show), the US contribution to defeating Hitler has become grossly inflated in the public mind, not just at home, but abroad as well. Meanwhile, the massive Soviet role in the war has been minimized or erased entirely.

This narrative violation of history made it possible for US President Donald Trump to argue that America single-handedly defeated Nazism and Communism, without a peep from his critics and legions of fact-checkers normally eager to seize every opportunity.

To paraphrase Varys, power is all about perception management.

Which brings to mind another saying: “History is made by the victors, but written by the loudest.” And while that may have always been the case to some extent, it is upon those who have lived the facts to stop the “loudest” from writing us out of our own story; to challenge those who tell us every day that a banana is an apple, or seek to somehow change the territory by redrawing the map.

They don’t get to choose,” the Dragon Queen argues in her moment of absolute power. Moments later, she finds out she was mistaken, because yes, they do. We do – every time we choose not to believe what we’re told, but read, watch and listen for ourselves; every time we question more.

Nebojsa Malic, for RT

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.