On "Game of Thrones" and White Female Messiahs
I've been followed Saladin Ahmed on Twitter since I heard him make a presentation on the podcast Writing Excuses that helped me find the extremely helpful book series "Daily Life In..." This morning, I found some Tweets from him criticizing the most recent episode "Game of Thrones," in this case the ending featuring the Arab-looking inhabitants of Yunkai all but worshiping the light-skinned Danaerys Targaryen for freeing them from slavery.
Here's one tweet:
aaand the season ends with a bunch of grown-ass brown people calling a white teenager 'Mommy!' It's 2013. Cut that shit out, #gameofthrones!
"You bring war and hissing monsters. You leave behind ruined cities. PLEASE LEAVE, CRAZY WHITE GIRL!" - what ppl would really say to Danerys
I am not so ignorant that I don't recognize how "save the brown people" was used by white countries to justify imperialism and aggression on both the macro scale (one defense of imperialism in Africa was fighting the slave trade) and on the micro scale (I remember a political cartoon from the antebellum era claiming slaves in America were better off than free blacks in Africa), but there is legitimate historical precedent for what Game of Thrones depicts however paternalistic it might seem.
This account of the occupation of Richmond at the tail end of the American Civil War depicts the freed slaves greeting Abraham Lincoln with all kinds of physically affectionate, almost worshipful gestures. They touch him, they kiss his clothes, etc. Is anybody going to call REALITY racist for depicting black slaves hero-worshiping a white man who has freed them?
To be fair, this isn't as over-the-top as what was depicted in the show (see the YouTube clip later), but at the same time, Confederate slavery is not as over-the-top monstrous as slavery in Essos. The slavers of Meereen crucify 163 slaves to thumb their nose at Danaerys, while the way the Unsullied slave-soldiers are created is absolutely murderous and vile. Confederate slavery featured the rape of slave women by masters (why do you suppose African-Americans are generally lighter-skinned than Africans?), but the city of Yunkai specializes in the training and sale of sex slaves. A whole city doing this kind of thing on an industrial scale. Given how the cities of Slaver's Bay are so much more ridiculously evil than the Confederate slavers, the reaction of the people freed from their tyranny would in all likelihood be much more grateful.
And although foreign war is a useful way to rally the population around a dictatorial regime (the Falklands War in Argentina, for example), if a regime is sufficiently brutal and inept, the population may not simply fall for it. Allied forces were greeted as liberators from Mussolini by the people of Naples, for example. Although the Iraqi insurgency began soon after the fall of Saddam, that resulted in a large measure from inept U.S. occupation policies perceived as discrimination against Sunni Muslims, not just knee-jerk "the people dislike foreign invaders and prefer domestic tyrants to them no matter what." The Iraqi people were overjoyed when Saddam fell--they didn't throw themselves at U.S. troops en masse in defense of their regime because the U.S. brought war and frightening, destructive machines (analogous to "hissing monsters"). Obviously there were people who didn't like a long-term occupation of their country by foreigners, but that isn't the same as "we prefer our slavery to your scariness."
Having watched the snippet in question (I had a YouTube link posted, but the video is gone now), I think it's too long and a bit overdone, but considering how unbelievably atrocious Essos's slavery is and the whole "Mother of Dragons" thing, it's plausible.