Which wildly popular Sunday night television show relies more heavily on fantasy: AMC’s Mad Men or HBO’s Game of Thrones?
In one, a three-eyed raven is linked to prophetic powers called “greensight” that offer a supernatural ability to experience past, future or somehow otherwise inaccessible events through dreams to a young, albeit usurped, noble child who is paralyzed by having been thrown from a crenelated balcony while witnessing the incestuous encounter between attractive twin siblings.
In the other, Jon Hamm enters my living room on a regular basis, smart women get to run companies and sit on boards (of directors, that is) and young people can find rent-stabilized apartments in Manhattan.
Which one is based more fully on fantasy? You decide.
There are dragons in both. In one, a small blonde controls the dragons. In the other, a big redhead shows mastery. In Game of Thrones, the dragons are outside. In Mad Men, the dragons are internalized. In GoT, you deal with dragons by telling “DRACARYS!” In MM, you deal with them by yelling “DAIQUIRIS!” Or “martinis,” as the case may be.
Both shows rely heavily on cleverly crafted illusion and deception as well as carefully constructed layers of appearance. Their scripts offer viewers a series of complex quests for emotional justice that are deftly paired with a self-indulgent delight in profane decadence.
Both include a lot of really, really heavy drinking and smoking (see dragons, above).
Both Mad Men and Game of Thrones have strong female leads battling against crumbling, poisonous and powerfully patriarchal structures. True, all these formidable women appear, at one point or another, either half-naked, fully naked, in armor, in nightgowns, in slips, in chains, in bed, on funeral pyres or with tears in their eyes in order to show they are vulnerable as well as fierce. So what if they are as Machiavellian, sexually manipulative and downright debauched as their male counterparts?
The plots of both shows rely heavily on the premise that a girl’s gotta make a living.
And we cheer these characters as they cheat, lie and lead others into battle because, when compared to the depiction of female characters in other programs — True Detectives, Homeland and Teen Mom 3, for example — these are the most dynamic and least cringe-inducing women on the small screen. Why? Because they aren’t merely the decoratively dead victims of cult murders or going off their birth control or other meds when they know better. Also they have much better lines.
Male characters have good lines, too.
See if you can correctly attribute the quotations to their respective shows by choosing from the following pairs. Decide whether the line was said by one of the yak-clothed, heavily eyebrowed and faux Middle-Ages GoT cast members or by one of the svelte, tweedy and ultra-modern MM types:
1. “It’s not easy being drunk all the time. If it were easy, everyone would do it” vs. “They say as soon as you cut down on your drinking, you have a drinking problem.”
2. “Am I to entertain your ballad of dissatisfaction, or has something actually happened?” vs. “If you want justice, you’ve come to the wrong place.”
3. “One never knows how loyalty is born” vs. “My father beat the hell out of me. All it did was make me fantasize about the day I could murder him.”
Answers: 1. GoT, MM. 2: MM, GoT; 3: MM, MM. Even if you did well, wasn’t it a little tricky?
The Middle Ages and the 1960s were, perhaps, not so different: they were infused with the fear of, and real potential for, the destruction of civilization whether from plague or nuclear war. Considering recent and compelling world tensions, we haven’t got past those yet. We’ve dressed up the characters and added some heroism to addiction and deception, but I think we’d all rather be here.
Both Mad Men and Game of Thrones wrestle with timeless issues: the cutthroat nature of success, the incendiary results of certain forms of conflict — and how to entertain ourselves on Sunday night.
After all, isn’t their primary function to divert us from the anxieties and worries we’re actually facing when we start our real lives on Monday morning?
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