Oversampling the Darkness

Game of Thrones iron throne

A week ago, an 18-year-old Somali immigrant named Abdul Razak Ali Artan rammed his car into a crowd at Ohio State University, then attacked bystanders with a knife before being shot dead by campus police. As investigators dig into his motivates, it is clear that Artan’s understanding of his faith helped to motivate the attack, as he left behind a Facebook post praising the al Qaeda-aligned cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and warning that lone-wolf attacks by Muslims would continue unless the US made peace with ISIS. But it appears that Artan was motivated by more than allegiance to the Islamic State.

Artan believed that his attack was justified because he and his fellow Muslims were persecuted and oppressed by Americans. He wrote, “I am sick and tired of seeing my fellow Muslim Brothers and Sisters being killed and tortured EVERYWHERE.” Bizarrely, the only example he cited was Burma, where persecution of Muslims is real and appalling, but also somewhat more directly linked to the nation’s Buddhist majority than to anyone associated with Ohio State University. However, Artan appeared to feel persecuted at his school as well. He was quoted in the OSU campus newspaper in August saying he was afraid to pray in public because, “If people look at me, a Muslim praying, I don’t know what they’re going to think, what’s going to happen.”

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The almost-realism of “Game of Thrones”

The internet informs me that, on the most recent episode of Game of Thrones, an outmatched Good Guy fought a Bad Guy. The gallant and nimble Oberyn dueled the massive and seemingly invincible “Mountain,” flurrying spear strokes and shouting accusations of past rape and murder against his heavily-armed opponent. Despite the odds, Oberyn fought his way to unlikely victory, wounding and then stabbing The Mountain through the chest. The exhausted victor turned away, vengeance secured, and then The Mountain lurched from the ground, smashed Oberyn’s face with a punch, then grabbed the smaller man and forced his fists into his head until it exploded.

Game of Thrones is widely praised for its gritty realism.

In fact, that’s among the most consistent and loudest of the critical plaudits for Game of Thrones, which is currently HBO’s second most popular show ever, with around five million weekly viewers. Unlike other shows, we’re told, in which the good guys are always good and the bad guys are always bad and the good guy wins and rides off into the sunset, Game of Thrones paints a more complex picture where nobody’s really good and the bad guy usually wins. The last time the show was in the news, a few months ago, was when a once-unlikable character who had been slowly redeemed and humanized unexpectedly committed an attack sufficiently vile that there’s really no way to describe it without nausea. Because realism, you see. (Also hundreds of pages of free advertising for Game of Thrones, but let’s not be cynical.) In the world of Game of Thrones, the page is black and the whites are chalk outlines waiting to be smudged or brushed away.

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