“More guts, more gore, increase the pain and triple the terrible torture!!” a ruffian of a boy cries as the crowd chants in drawling drones, “I love blood sport, I love blood sport.”
If something inside you wiggled uncomfortably at the child’s words, I think I am glad. So just what is this less-than-lovely activity? The term blood sport, though rarely used at a party or other place of convivial conversation, might be more popular than we’d all think. It basically means an activity that contributes to feelings of excitement when someone or something is being hurt, maimed, or killed. When describing such hideous practices, words like inhumane are employed. Most people know that, generally, if crowds get riled up while seeing animals and humans get torn apart, that society isn’t a good one.
Mostly, the term is associated with the coliseums of antiquity, and the idea is generally frowned on in most advanced societies. However, if we were to hear from someone that blood sport is not a part of our culture, we might only have to think of Game of Thrones. More than one respectable article—in the secular media, it should be added—has questioned the “excessive” violence in the show. Yet arguably it could be proven that the directors are merely acquiescing to the desires of the viewing audience. After all, this series is getting only more popular with each passing season.
When it comes to Game of Thrones and blood sport, we most likely have a specific image in mind. Here’s an idea, though: Do you think it’s possible to associate this contemptible exercise of violence against more than just the physical body? After all, if the primary ingredient is a crowd getting all riled up because it is witness to pain and agony, then I wonder if we might be even more accepting of blood sport in our “civilized” society than we previously thought!
If you have read or watched the series, you will probably have indelibly stamped on your mind that event when the once powerful Cerci, the queen mother, had her reputation—and likely personhood too—lacerated and mangled nearly beyond words in the “walk of atonement”—or “walk of shame,” as it has been dubbed. Readers will recall that Cerci’s “walk of atonement” in A Dance with Dragons was actually not the first time George R. R. Martin employed this type of torture to one of his characters. This ordeal hordes of people gathered to observe and participate in was arguably psychological blood sport. And it was largely accomplished through the employment of shame.
What fixated me most in this passage was not just Cerci being savagely degraded, but the killjoy religious order that lay behind the gruesome brutality. All of us who know the story are well aware that Cerci deserved worse, but there is something sinister behind a religious order that specifically specializes in dehumanizing the guilty. And so, as she stumbles defenceless and utterly unrobed through the street, feet bleeding and face adorned by flung filth, possibly the most despicable figure is not of Cerci herself, but rather the malevolent creature appearing as the head nun who is walking along behind, repeating with pitiless timed precision the words “shame [long pause] shame” all the while to draw specific attention and spectacle, pompously chiming her squawking bell. To creatively imagine the guilty Cerci stagger and lurch along as this hateful creature with face lit in a hellfire of scorn rings a bell and repeats “shame, [long pause] shame,” is something I will never forget as long as I live.
I remember my mother explaining to me when I was at a young age that shame is something terrible; in fact, she never once used that phrase “shame on you.” I am happy for it, and when I hear parents use it on their kids, it bothers me. Are some of the little roving villains possibly guilty of wanton destruction and in need of some correction? Sure, but shame isn’t cool.
What bothers me the most in “the walk of shame” is that, as Martin asserted himself, it is the Catholic Church that is being represented. This fact troubles me tremendously. Not because I feel it was underhanded of Martin to caricature the church thusly, but because, for way too many, I think, this is what Christianity has come to represent. That is truly terrible.
And if the average reader or viewer assumes Martin’s portrayal of Christianity is accurate—even loosely—then I really do feel a bell-ringing shame behind my own head.
A study once asked people what they thought when they heard the word church versus the word Jesus. Sad to say, the word church didn’t do well at all. The good thing is that the word Jesus did. But here is the trouble: Aren’t I supposed to represent Jesus? Am I doing that crummy of a job? I mean, so crummy as to have people think Martin’s portrayal was essentially correct? Oh, sure it would be easy to separate myself from the bad parts of Christianity, but then I don’t think Jesus would so easily let me off the hook. “Aren’t you part of my body?” I can hear him ask. “Didn’t I say my body is indivisible?”
Touché, Jesus, touché.
Anybody who watches much of how the media portrays Christianity will have further examples than just Game of Thrones. The church rarely looks anything but hypocritical or worse in the media. I keenly remember being hotly bothered while watching the movie Pan last year and seeing the drubbing religion got via the caricature of the obese, piggy-eyed, overindulging nuns meanly lording it over the frail, underfed orphans. (You might recall the head nun furiously stuffing her face with stolen doughnuts.) Christians are generally riddled with nastiness in the media. This, I will resolutely assert, is also a form of blood sport perpetuated by the media, but that is another topic.
Despite media unfairness, I feel it incumbent upon myself to make such representations impossible—no, better yet, funny. Can you imagine a joke that has as its punch line an angry, fist-swinging Dalai Lama? It couldn’t possibly work! Everybody would know it to be an untruth. Why? Because of a well-built reputation that makes for an impossible opposite claim.
The monumental literary giant T. S. Eliot said an interesting thing concerning insults. His basic point was that if a culture—say ours—still cares enough to offer insult toward some institution—say the church—there is still hope because that culture has not altogether jettisoned the institution in question.
So on the one hand I rejoice that we are still relevant enough to receive such attention, but I pray that we all may ardently desire to extinguish the powerfully nasty, stinging pain so many think we are guilty of doling out: shame.