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All Men and Women Must Learn: Using Game of Thrones as a Pedagogical Tool

by Ethan Tussey

by [Sarah Hanks] for IN MEDIA RES

In December 2012 and 2013, my online course “A Game of Thrones: A Contemporary Medieval Frame Story”, a cross-media examination of Game of Thrones at the University of Oklahoma, looked at the dynamic of how the romanticized narrative of Medieval European feudalism Martin’s book series and HBO’s adaptation utilize is viewed and perceived by an audience situated in American free-market Capitalism. The course examined the socio-economic and cultural climate of Medieval Europe and early 19th century capitalism to locate tropes which American society valorizes (chivalry, hierarchy, the underdog, etc.) are co-opted by Game of Thrones’ narrative and how this could result in our current disproportionate economic statuses being viewed through a romantic lens.

To do this we looked at Hegel’s claims of the self/other binary in the process of human process of identification - for if we had no one or no ‘thing’ from which we could compare ourselves, then we would not know who we are via who or what we do or don’t want to be. Everything that we want to be gets placed in the primary category of 'self'. Conversely, all the stuff that we decide we don't want to be, gets placed in a supplementary category of 'other'. As such we see these binaries everywhere: rich/ poor, human/animal, male/female, civilized/savage, hero/villain, light/dark, strong/weak, etc. Jacques Derrida amongst other poststructuralists have said that it is through the process of setting up primary and supplementary terms in binaries that cultures and social systems establish dominance.

Game of Thrones' narrative takes place in a world where summers can last decades. However, we are frequently warned that “winter is coming” - a veritable summer/winter binary. One discussion was based on the following prompt, which we can use for our discussion today: Who exists in geographical locations of ‘perpetual winter’ and “perpetual’ summer? How do they compare to each other socio-culturally and – economically? In this vein, how does the warning “winter is coming’ threaten summer’s comforts and securities”? Seeing as Game of Thrones has a modern author and audience who bring their modern positionality to a historical text and settings, how does this interpretation relate to our current socio-cultural and economic milieu?

All Men and Women Must Learn: Using Game of Thrones as a Pedagogical Tool

Old Nan's tale from Game of Thrones used by Sarah Hanks on In Media Res to demonstrate how to use Game of Thrones when teaching in the classroom

from Old Nan's Tale from Game of Thrones (2014)
Creator: Sarah Hanks
Distributor: HBO, YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey