Sunday 4 December 2016

Is 'Game of Thrones' bad for you?

An expert has claimed fantasy books and TV shows are harmful to kids. Nonsense, says former child nerd

Published 12/05/2016 | 02:30

'Frightening'?: A blind Arya Stark fends off an attacker in 'Game of Thrones' season 6.
'Frightening'?: A blind Arya Stark fends off an attacker in 'Game of Thrones' season 6.

If you've been glued to the latest season of Game of Thrones you may be alarmed by a warning this week that the swords and sorcery romp can damage your brain and distort your relationship with reality.

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Babies fed to dogs, teenagers skewered with spears and at least one confirmed case of resurrection are among the highlights of recent episodes. Such activities are generally frowned upon in polite company and should in no circumstances be attempted at a dinner party. How horrifying to imagine anyone could possibly mistake them for something that could plausibly happen beyond the bounds of the imagination?

Adults can be excused their GoT addiction on the grounds that it at least keeps us off the streets. Children are a different matter, according to comments that have sparked a debate over what our kids should or should not be watching. A respected British educationalist has lashed GoT, Harry Potter and their ilk for corrupting young minds, claiming such franchises are the pop culture equivalent of sugary treats.

"I want children to read literature that is conducive to their age and leave those mystical and frightening texts for when they can discern reality and when they have first learned to love beauty," said Graeme Whiting, head of top Acorn School in the UK, in a blog post that reverberated around the world.

Expose your kids to enough books and TV about wizards, warriors and small men with hairy feet - this is not a dig at the Healy-Raes, to be clear - and bad things will ensue, he suggests.

"Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games and Terry Pratchett, to mention only a few of the modern world's 'must-haves', contain deeply insensitive and addictive material which encourages difficult behaviour in children; yet they can be bought without a special licence and can damage the sensitive subconscious brains of young children, many of whom may be added to the current statistics of mentally ill young children."

This is obviously a ludicrous point of view. In the first instance, nobody under the age of 16 should be allowed near Game of Thrones or the novels from which it is adapted. Incest, torture and infanticide are among the favourite subjects of books and TV series alike. Exposing your kids to material of this nature surely counts as child neglect.

However, it is worth focusing, too, on Whiting's wider argument: that the sugar-rush escapism of Potter, LOTR and all those fantastical shows on which many of us were raised is fundamentally harmful to our development and antithetical to the nurturing of young minds. This logic, is a pathway to emotional impairment, apparently.

"Harry's world says that drinking dead animal blood gives power," warned Christian media company Jeremiah Films in its public information DVD Harry Potter: Witchcraft Repackaged, released at the height of Potter fever.

Then there was the notorious crusade against the Dungeons and Dragons fantasy game in the 80s. In D&D players cast spells, swing battle-axes and assume fantastical identities - a red flag to Christian fundamentalists in the US who hailed the game as a starter kit for "devil worship". "Beware the devil in the text! Choose beauty for young children!" they said.

Three decades on, it is clear that the D&D "satanic panic" was Bible-fuelled hysteria, with the Satanist population notably untroubled by grown-up nerds raised on D&D. In my adolescence I was addicted to D&D (actually, I still break out a 20-sided dice and Monster Manual when time allows) yet I have not, to the best of my memory, ever sacrificed a goat or etched a pentagram in blood - not even as a bored student living in a fridge-sized bedsit.

If Whiting has a low opinion of Potter, Tolkien etc, what must he think of the mass culture most of us grew up on? MacGyver and the A Team, if rarely stooping to feeding babies to the dogs (as [spoiler alert] GoT did last week), were no-brow with a vengeance.

Contrary to what MacGyver encouraged us to believe, it is not, for example, possible to rig up a serviceable flame-thrower with hair-clip and used bubblegum. Moreover, despite Knight Rider's claims to the contrary, cars do not experience human emotions, while scientists are in agreement that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles painted a generally misleading picture of marine-based reptile life.

Yet, miracle of miracles, today's 30 and 40-somethings do not dash around waving guns or solving mysteries on the fly. It's almost as if these TV shows had no impact on us whatsoever, apart from making our childhoods a little brighter and fun.

Furthermore, one can only assume that anti-GoT campaigners aghast at goings on in George RR Martin's imagined kingdom of Westeros, have never encountered a modern video game. GoT's Red Wedding has nothing on the average "first person shooter" which invites you to while away several hours pinging strangers in the face with semi-automatic weapons.

In other words, this new controversy is very old indeed. We should therefore feel free to enjoy GoT in the knowledge that critics are banging a dry and dusty drum. Surely the real lesson is not that over-the-top TV is bad for you but that educationalists and academics should spend less time in their ivory towers and more out among the rest of us in the real world.

They might be pleasantly surprised by what they find.

Irish Independent

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