The fourth season of critically-acclaimed HBO series “Game of Thrones” just got underway, and stirred-up controversy here and overseas when ten minutes into the episode, the prince is shown stripping a group of prostitutes before selecting the one he will spend the night with.
The UK’s Daily Mail reports that even loyal fans of the program are complaining about how explicit the content has become. One Twitter user said, “I can’t watch Game of Thrones. There’s too much rape and murder.” Another posted, “I swear Game of Thrones is just a rape festival.”
Although Game of Thrones airs on a premium cable channel known for racy content there is good cause to be concerned about the trickle-down effect this kind of content may have on basic cable channels — which come into virtually every American home — and eventually the broadcast networks, too.
HBO has been putting greater emphasis on its taboo-breaking original series since the early ’90s . The Sopranos quickly became a favorite with critics because of the morally complex criminal protagonist and superior production values, but also earned notoriety for scenes set in a strip club and almost non-stop use of the F-word. Sex and the City was ground-breaking for its explicit sex scenes and frank talk about unconventional sex acts. But those programs eventually made their way to advertiser-supported basic cable, and even to broadcast.
Today, you can turn on the E! Network and watch a two hour Sex and the City marathon between the hours of 4 pm and 7 pm (times when high-school-aged children may be at home watching television unsupervised). And although the harshest language and most explicit content may have been edited out for basic cable, it’s virtually impossible to edit around the thematic elements that pervade entire episodes.
Likewise HBO’s Entourage and Curb Your Enthusiasm have also made the jump from premium to basic to broadcast.
But even if Game of Thrones never makes it to basic cable, there is still reason to be concerned about the influence it will have down the road on television content.
In an article for Time magazine, James Poniewozik quotes an anonymous producer of Game of Thrones who told the show’s director, “I represent the pervert side of the audience, and I’m saying I want full frontal nudity in this scene.”
Basic cable and broadcast executives view these premium cable series as their chief competition, even though top-rated HBO series generally garner fewer than 1 million viewers – small potatoes compared with even poorly-rated broadcast series, and have asserted their need to push the content envelope based on the supposedly stiff competition they’re getting from the anything-goes premium channels. It’s a bogus argument used to justify their own desire to obliterate any common-sense decency standards, yet it remains and its effects can be seen daily. There was a time when even bleeped uses of the “F-word” or “S-word” were rare and notable. Today they’re largely ignored because audiences have gotten used to them. Sexual content on both broadcast and basic cable has become more explicit. The violence seen on HBO is virtually indistinguishable from the violence on AMC, which is virtually indistinguishable from the violence on CBS.
So yes, we should be concerned about Game of Thrones, even if there’s a 0% chance your child will see it, because it’s influence will be felt throughout primetime in very short order.