This weekend some of the most unsavory aspects of humankind were put on display for the entire world to see. As the Charlottesville protest has dominated both the news cycle and our social media feeds for several days now, there is no need to rehash the details. Suffice it to say that the events of this weekend furthered the divisions that have been growing in this country for far too long.
While some might opine that these divides originated solely from the “era of Trump,” the truth is that the country has been growing apart for decades, if not longer.
With the Obama Administration, we had the Tea Party movement opposed to big government and high taxes. When Johnson was in power, hippie counterculture developed as an opposition to forced conscription and state-sponsored violence in Vietnam. During the Nixon Administration, “law and order” movements grew as conservatives saw the “lackadaisical” free-loving hippies as a threat to the American way of life.
No matter who is in power or what ideology is currently dictating the laws of the land, divisions have always existed and always will. It is one of the consequences of having a society comprised of individuals. No matter what happens, differences of opinion will always occur.
However, while our news feeds have continued to be filled with hatred deriving from a failure to communicate with each other, there was a brief moment of calm that occurred on Sunday evening.
Everybody Hates Cersei
Despite how fervently I disagree with many of my friends on either side of the political aisle, there is one topic that seems to unite even my most worthy ideological opponents: Game of Thrones.
As someone with too many opinions and an affinity for words, I am constantly spouting my viewpoints publicly throughout the week. And while I am working on becoming a more amicable and empathetic debater, all too often my emotions get the best of me and things have a tendency of turning ugly quickly before I have even realized it.
However, while political divides keep us isolated in our preferred brand of echo chamber, Game of Thrones has demolished political and ideological divides and allowed individuals to come together on social media, if only for one night a week.
In everyday life, the nature of power and the potential harm it creates for all those who live under it are often missed on a large portion of the population. And justifiably so. For most people, day to day concerns take precedence over the need to constantly analyze the shifting balance of power between governments and the people. And unlike those of us who have made discussing such things our profession, “normal” people are preoccupied with more pressing and immediate concerns.
But for an hour each week, and without even realizing it, habitual viewers of Game of Thrones are exposed to storylines that reinforce the themes I spend my week arguing about on social media. While my own emotional rants may not always be the most effective means of changing hearts and minds, Game of Thrones somehow manages to succeed where I so often fail.
The show features a plethora of clear-cut villains. Anyone with a soul knows that Cersei is a bad person because she is a caricature of an authoritarian. Even Daenerys’ shortcomings highlight the corrupting nature of power, as I have written about previously. And while many cannot pick out these themes when they are present in our own political sphere, Game of Thrones gives an entry point to open discourse and civil conversation.
At any given point throughout the week, I could post something either negative or positive about Donald Trump only to be met with a fury of opposing and often hateful opinions. But when I voice my opinion on the latest episode of Game of Thrones, my page is suddenly filled with comments from those who usually go out of their way to avoid interacting with me lest they be bombarded by my “crazy” libertarianism.
Miraculously enough, when Game of Thrones presents these themes in what is arguably a better and more expensive platform than I have, people listen. From there, I can chime in and connect these themes to real life in a way that resonates with even my most combative critics.
It may sound absurd, to assert that a television series is breaking down the social and political constructs we have built around ourselves, but each week this point is further demonstrated.
Pop Culture and Bridging the Gap
Bridging political and ideological gaps is not exclusive to Game of Thrones. This can happen through a variety of cultural mediums. While personally, I prefer a good dragon battle to a game of football, sporting events also serve as a great unifier across party lines.
Individuals who are opposed to each other on every other level somehow manage to put their differences aside in order to root for whichever team they are supporting. Likewise, there is camaraderie in viewing the same thing together at the same time. It reminds us that while we are all individual entities, we are all still part of the same universe and, at the very least, have “walk on” roles in each other’s lives that impact the people we are and will become.
Ideas divide, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Ideas and the formulations of such help us build our individual identities and with it, our core principles. But life need not always be so serious. There is beauty in putting differences aside in order to enjoy art or recreation together as human beings.
As we have seen this weekend, both in real life and in Westeros, there is evil afoot. We can best guard against it when we can at least find common ground and an axiom of which we can build civil discourse.
This column originally appeared at The Foundation for Economic Education, and is reprinted by permission.