Game of Thrones and the Revolution

Every now and then, a film or television series comes along that sparks a slew of papers  and intensive discussion at academic conferences because of what it says about politics and our own world. Game of Thrones is one such cultural phenomenon. Writing in The Guardian recently, journalist Paul Mason – who has famously referred to the uprisings of 2011 as ‘global revolutions’ – asks whether Marxist theory could predict the end of George R.R Martin’s fantasy blockbuster. Mason sees a parallel between the debt incurred by the realm of Westeros during the war in the saga and the current eurozone crisis. In Season Four, Tywin admits that no gold has come from the mines for three years, and the Lannisters are deeply in debt to the Iron Bank. ‘You can’t run from them, you can’t cheat them and you can’t sway the with excuses. If you owe them money, and you don’t want to crumble, you pay it back’, laments the family patriarch. In Mason’s view, this sounds a lot like Greece and the European Central Bank ‘because their current standoff replicates the essential power shift that happened towards the end of feudalism: debts accumulated under a corrupt patronage system, whose sources of wealth dried up, destroyed the system in the end’. The plots of upcoming seasons of Game of Thrones will thus be possible to predict, if you apply historical materialism to Westeros. The continent should expect, not an invasion of werewolves, but the arrival of new creatures: the capitalists. It is they who will start the revolution. Mason’s prediction is that the the Lannisters, will fall, ‘unless they discover some previously unknown territory, full of gold and easily killable people, just as the Spanish monarchy did during the real-world crisis of feudalism’. Among those who looked askance at the journalist’s analysis is University of Sussex graduate student Sam Kris. In a recent blog, Kris argues that Mason misunderstands both fantasy and Marxism. What Mason is describing is not a crisis of feudalism, but of capitalism. Moreover, no historical analysis is complete without mention of class struggle. Feudalism found itself in crisis when Europe’s population was decimated by the plague: workers could suddenly demand to be paid, and when denied recompense for their labour had the confidence to revolt. It is a moot point and interesting that Mason – who has himself chronicled the revolts of 2011 – does not make it. Kriss concludes, as do many others, that we enjoy medieval fantasy not because of its convoluted storylines – ‘reading the finance pages in any newspaper is a far more baffling experience than delving into the most arcane of ancient grimoires’ – but because it help explain our own ‘demon-haunted world’. The analyses of both Mason and Kriss can be found online. Which is the most convincing?

 

Photo by Elliot Brown, Karl Marx – Easy Row Subway – Fletchers Walk – Birmingham, via www.flickr.com.

 

Read more: Mason’s piece/critique by Sam Kriss

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