Sunday 24 March 2019

Nerd Church - The Dilemma of Morally Dubious Media (Ft. American Psycho, Game of Thrones and Harry Potter)

Warning: this post discusses morally dubious media, including but not limited to: rape, murder, incest, general violence.

'First learn the rules then break them' written on a chalk board
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

American Psycho is about a serial killer that takes pleasure in raping and killing women in the most horrible ways, and the narrative goes into gratuitous detail about it.

Do I have your attention? Buckle up, dearest nerdlets!

No matter what, there is always gonna be media - books, films, TV series, whatever - that is kinda dubious on the ol' morality front.

Is that ok? Is that something we should be consuming? Is that something that people should be creating?

And if it isn't, is that something that we should be supressing?

Should we be, to put it bluntly, censoring it?

(This is one of those posts where even the answers I do have are subject to change. I apologise for any and all existential crises.)

Now, obviously, the world is rarely one thing or the other. It's a simple, complicated, weird-a** place.

Some stuff is gonna be on the line of acceptable, some stuff is gonna be fine, some stuff is gonna be point-blank unacceptable, and some stuff we just won't know how to categorise.

There's some things that I really wouldn't recommend to anyone - except The Bestie cos I know she likes twisted stuff and she knows me enough to know what parts are not approved of - but I still enjoy it.

Take something like American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, which I audiobooked a li'l while back.

Nothing about this book is morally upstanding. In short, it's horrendous.

When I recommended it to The Bestie, I said, 'This book is horrible and awful. You'll love it. Don't audiobook it unless you have headphones.'

American Psycho is about a serial killer that takes pleasure in raping and killing women in the most horrible ways, and the narrative goes into gratuitous detail about it.

(It also plays fast and loose with mental health stigma, as you can probably tell from the title. And has a butt-tonne of every type of prejudice you can imagine.)

I hated it. And I thought it was great. I think it was worth audiobooking.

Christian Bale in American Psycho: 'I need to engage in homicidal behavior on a massive scale.'
Via Giphy

Because as much as I never want anyone to ever copy this. EVER. ...It was interesting.

It's one of those books that is either eternally deep or utter superficial garbage, and I don't feel like I'm qualified to say which one.

It certainly had stuff to say about society and the nature of reality - and it certainly made me think.

It also nearly made me throw up more than once.

And I repeatedly had Fall Out Boy's American Beauty/American Psycho stuck in my head. So, y'know, there's that!

(I haven't seen the movie version of American Psycho, but The Bestie informs me it sticks closer to the 'holy sh**!' aspects of the book than you'd expect.)

If we take a look at something a little less out-right disturbing, like Game of Thrones, we can see an example of everyone doing the wrong thing.

Nobody in Game of Thrones is free of mistakes, or of doing shi**y things. And no-one is safe either.

Game of Thrones, quite frankly, f**ks with your head. 


By this current, and last, series of GoT, we've normalised incest and turned around to, at least on occasion, root for the guy who threw a little kid out a window in episode 1.

The sex and the violence - especially the violence - never lets up, and our 'heroes' (i.e. the characters who the least people hate,) have killed and slaughtered left, right, and centre.

One of them even ordered the execution of a child.


But people love it.

It is, arguably, the biggest show on the goddamn planet.

The Red Priestess from Game of Thrones: The night is dark and full of terrors.
Via Giphy

Is that ok? Is it ok to support a show that has basically no morals? That basically says that to be human is to be a jerk?

Or is there more to it? Are there questions about difficult choices, and when and why we sacrifice our humanity?

Is it a reminder that people are fallible, but that even the most horrendous 'monsters' can try and do some good, or show some mercy?

Related Reading: Nerd Church - Winter Is Here

Is media like this OK if it's aimed at adults rather than kids? Or does it not make any difference?

If American Psycho was aimed at kids, would it... 

- OK, yeah, not even gonna finish that thought. American Psycho aimed at kids is too disturbing! That book is def. 18+ only!

Looking at kids books and Young Adult books, instead then, do they have a duty to be moral simply because they're aimed at a younger audience?

Looking at a slightly less full-on series than Game of Thrones or American Psycho, what about Harry Potter?

If Harry Potter himself had randomly decided to stab Dobby in book 5, there would have been outcry.

But is it because he's the hero, or because the book's aimed at kids?

Snape (Alan Rickman): Control your emotions!
Via Giphy

And does that make Snape's redemption arc ok? A situation where a character is actually becoming more moral, not less?

(Oh yeah, I went there. This girl is throwing down all the matches! #BookishRebel)

Are we more picky when it comes to books with clear morals, where the right/wrong dichotomy is clearer?

Because Harry Potter sets itself up as Good Vs Evil, are we more critical when it comes to possible issues with the series?

Or is it just that Harry Potter has more attention on it than most forms of media? Everyone knows about it, so everyone has an opinion.

But if that's the case... what about Game of Thrones?

Why isn't GoT igniting the same levels of passionate argument? Is it because we knew what we were getting into from the first episode - because it never set itself up as morally superior or wise?

Or does it come back to the audience age?

And when it comes to something extremely objectionable, like white supremacist a**holes, are we right to de-platform them?

I think so. I personally don't think it's censorship to tell them to clean the sh** off their shoes somewhere else, and kick them the hell off YouTube and Twitter.

As far as I'm concerned, there's no place for hatred.

But am I right?

Or is something like American Psycho just as objectionable?

Related Reading: #BannedBooksWeek | Nerd Church - F**k It, Let's Talk Censorship (Ft. Thirteen Reasons Why)

Is it the context or the intent that makes these things different? Or are they the same?

Should something that glories in the murder and abuse of women, for all its layers of social critique and complex ethical questions, be de-platformed in the same way?

I personally think that American Psycho is framed in such a way that, actually, despite the gratuitousness, the reader wants the killer to be caught. Badly.

For all the morbid fascination, you also want him to be stopped, and spend a very long time in jail.

But it's something nebulous - something that's never specifically set out. And someone else may have an entirely different take on it.

And to somebody - such as an online moderator or a judge in a court of law - asked to make a decision on these things, how can they justify one morally dubious piece of media over another?

I perceive a difference, certainly, but how do you set a standard for that?

Nothing in this beautiful, complex, simple, horrible, world will make those decisions any easier, or provide us with definitive answers.

Any thoughts, dearest nerdlets?
Is morality something that can be decided on?
Should we support morally dubious media?
Do you need a break after this post? (I think I do!)
Talk to me! 😇😈💬

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Last updated: 31st March 2019


  1. I think that if we didn’t support morally dubious media, then there would barely be any media left! Basically characters in every television show, no matter a comedy or drama, make mistakes. It just comes with being a fictionalized tv show. They do some messed up things! It doesn’t mean that we endorse it.

    1. Ha, I get that! Does that mean they always have to have a come-uppance/have consequences for their actions? Is there a line where we're like - too much! ...? (Sorry, I just bombarded you with even more questions!)

    2. Lol, I think anyone who has ever watched Game of Thrones knows that not every character receives consequences for their actions. I think the limit really depends on the medium. For example, when a tv show aimed at teens shows graphic depictions of suicide, the line is too far. But a fantasy tv show aimed at adults, and on HBO no less, can't really have barriers on it. The warnings are there, it's up to personal decision whether or not we want to watch that.

    3. I think you're right - it all comes down to context! :)

  2. I consider morally dubious media to be some of my favorite types of art. That said, there's a definite difference between that and outright advocation for fascism, etc. (fiction vs. nonfiction). To be a bit dark about it, I don't think the a-hole/murderer in New Zealand referenced Game of Thrones as his inspiration, but rather something else. Should that something else be banned? I'm glad I am not in charge of making those types of decisions.
    ~Litha Nelle

    1. He also referenced a lot of random pop culture things on his weapons and during the attack (I don't think GoT was among them, but I honestly didn't look at the whole list - I know he referenced video games.) Does that make those things responsible? I don't think so. But other people might disagree.

      I think it's also possible for something like fiction to be framed in such a way as to promote fascism and/or hatred, not least through stereotypes and the presentation of these views as being somehow 'in the right.'

      I definitely agree that non-fiction should be held to a higher standard though! It should be true, to start. And not advocate violence, hatred, etc.

      Technically speaking, hate speech *is* banned here in the UK, but the implementation of that ban is where things get tricksy!

  3. It's a hugely difficult question because also people react to different media in their own way. One person's revulsion is another's entertainment is another's inspiration. A TV programme that encourages hatred should absolutely be suppressed, I think, but another which 'explores' questionable morals might not be so clearly problematic. Personally I wish factual programmes/books/etc were actually obliged to be balanced and true. I've heard so much unchecked rubbish spouted and then repeated as truth over the past couple of years!

    1. Sure, I think there's a problem if facts point-blank aren't factual! That's actually fraud, as far as I'm concerned! There's also the ishy-squishy problem of opinion presented as fact, though.

  4. I think a lot of it has to do with audience age. As adults, we're supposed to know right from wrong and reality from fiction. But it's still a gray area because, on the one hand, we are affected by what we take in via books/shows/etc. and some people sadly don't get the whole right/wrong/reality/fiction thing very well. But on the other hand, fiction gives us a way to explore things in a safe way, things that are just morbidly interesting and all that. I also think there's a diff between hatred and a fictional exploration of a character, but yeah, again, lots of gray areas here when it comes to defining and policing this stuff!

    1. Grey areas everywhere! (Pretty much sums it up.) Lol. :)


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