Why HBO Did the Wrong Thing With “Bush-Throne-Gate”
The controversy surrounding George W. Bush's severed head appearing on 'Game of Thrones' is remarkable, mainly because it's the stupidest controversy in recent memory. Seriously.
For those of you who don't know, here's the whole story:
About a year ago, the first season of HBO's 'Game of Thrones' concluded to a strong audience and critical acclaim. Three months ago, the first season hit DVD and Blu-ray and sold tons of copies. In the commentary for the season finale (titled 'Fire and Blood'), producers David Benioff and DB Weiss noted that an impaled severed head, one of many lined up for display by the evil King Joffrey, was that of former United States President George W. Bush. Here's the full exchange between the two of them:
"You may not have noticed this, but the last head on the left is George Bush."
"George Bush's head appears in a couple of beheading scenes."
"It's not a choice. It's not a political statement. We had to use what heads we had around."
Then, a few days ago, someone posted this piece of trivia on Reddit. The ensuing chain reaction of "outrage" led to HBO, Benioff and Weiss offering multiple apologies, pulling the episode from iTunes and HBO Go and even recalling every copy of the first season on disc until the offending shot could be removed. And here we are.
Here's the short version of the rest of this post: HBO's reaction was stupid. It was overdramatic and fearful and wildly out of character for a network that has made its name by courting controversy with its often explicit programming. They put their tails between their legs and backed down to outrage that doesn't even exist.
Is it in bad taste to place the head of a president, even one who split opinions as much as Bush, on a pyke? Yeah. Pretty much (although Devin Faraci over at Badass Digest rightfully points out that plenty of famous faces have met vicious ends throughout cinematic history). And they apologized as such. Heck, it was not only an apology from the network, it was an apology from Benioff and Weiss as well. Whether you think this whole thing was just a dumb joke, an accident or a hidden political statement, a public apology should have sufficed. Heck, Bush's severed head in this scene means that he was a Stark bannerman and an enemy of the Lannisters, which makes him a martyred hero in the world of Westeros.
But then HBO disappeared the episode. They pulled it off iTunes. They pulled it off HBO Go. They recalled the DVDs and Blu-rays from stores (your current copy may now be a collector's item, by the way). Essentially, HBO is doing everything it can to keep people from seeing 'Fire and Blood' until they can remove the offending head. This is about a thousand steps beyond the necessary apology. These are the actions of a company afraid for its well-being, afraid that its public image is about to go down the drain.
Well, it isn't. And it won't. Never mind that 'Game of Thrones' is show packed with violence, child murder, incest, rape and graphic torture (all part of a well-balanced HBO breakfast) and no one would care or remember "Bush-Throne-Gate" in a month's time because this would just be absorbed into the show's pre-existing reputation. Ask yourself "Where is this so-called controversy?" Your probably don't have an answer, so go ahead and ask Google.
Here's what Google will tell you: there is no controversy. There is only the illusion of a controversy. There must be thousands of posts and articles discussing this whole debacle and each and every one of them mention the "outrage" that accompanied this revelation (in a three month old commentary for a year old episode of television, of course). However, if you actually search for this outrage, you're going to come up pretty empty-handed. In fact, the only public figure who seems to have gone on the record during this whole shebang has been Brooklyn Republican Party head Craig Eaton, who told the Daily Mail "I think that it's despicable. As a country, Democrats, Republicans, we have to have respect for the office and the individuals...Think about what people outside the country think when they see how Americans are disparaging their own former presidents."
With all due respect to Mr. Eaton, he is but one man and a man in a relatively minor office. HBO's reaction suggests that congressman and senators were knocking at their door, demanding that the episode be removed. Their reaction suggests that every blog and newspaper in the country were up in arms. In fact, this manufactured outrage only appears to exist on the extreme fringe. Everyone is so busy writing about this "controversy" that no one took the time to notice that there is no controversy! The most common reaction to this whole thing, from both Democrats and Republicans, has been a shrug accompanied by "When does season three start?"
The second season finale of 'Game of Thrones' was watched by over four million viewers, making it the second most watched show on HBO after 'True Blood.' The first season shattered records, selling 350,000 copies the first week of its release. The show is a phenomenon and one of the network's greatest assets. The fact that HBO feels the need to bend over backwards for an imaginary controversy is not only cowardly, it's disrespectful to the ridiculously talented people who have made 'Game of Thrones' must-see TV.