‘Game of Thrones’ as scholarly pursuit

Marga Deona

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

Two Ateneo professors tap pop culture in their instruction. Up next? 'Be Careful with My Heart,' perhaps?

WINTER IS COMING. TV series as primary reference for a theology elective in Ateneo. Photo from the Loyola Schools Theology Department’s Facebook

MANILA, Philippines – The university bell rang at 5 minutes to 3pm, signalling the end of one class and the beginning of another. It was a Wednesday afternoon and it seemed like it was going to rain.

The tree-lined thoroughfares of the Ateneo de Manila University are suddenly crowded with students and professors alike. Some are hurrying past this horde, frantic over running late amid the threat of rain. Others are still seated on the benches and along the hallways, poring over their notes or casually hanging out. It is the tail end of the first semester, that time of cramming for not a few students as they scamper about and fight to stay afloat.

Meanwhile, in the faculty quarters, some professors are thinking up creative ways to make learning less of a chore to the students and to bridge their reality with core academic disciplines.

The ‘nutty’ professors

Here at the Ateneo, two such professors – one with a theology doctorate, the other, a dissertation shy of a Ph.D. in Philippine Studies – are finalizing their syllabus for an inspired elective that takes off from a popular television series.

The elective will be about the theology and history involved in “Game of Thrones,” based on the George R.R. Martin series of novels. The show will be the focus in this study of the relation between fantasy literature and the two aforementioned disciplines.

“There’s no clear delineation between good and evil in ‘Game of Thrones,'” Ray Aguas, the theologian, said. “The only evil people are Joffrey, Littlefinger – ”

 “Hoy, si Littlefinger may redeeming factor pa rin ah! [Hey, Littlefinger still has a redeeming factor!]” Jo-Ed Tirol, the historian, cut in.

Joffrey is the progeny of an incestuous relationship between the antagonistic Lannister twins in the series, and Littlefinger is the manipulative mercenary who switches alliances as he pleases while running a brothel on the side.

Professors Ray and Jo-Ed continue to bicker like a comedic duo. Ray is the more voluble one, alternating between the irreverent and profound, and Jo-Ed, more taciturn and sarcastic, throwing a verbal jab every now and then.

“Ganda siguro magkaroon ng [It would probably be great to have an] elective [on] ‘Be Careful With My Heart.’ Ano sa palagay mo [What do you think], Jo-Ed?” went Ray’s jesting, referring to the popular rom-com serye starring Jodi Sta. Maria and Richard Yap.

“Bahala ka [Whatever],” Jo-Ed retorted.

 APPRECIATING POP CULTURE. Professors Jo-Ed Tirol (left) and Ray Aguas thought of the elective out of a whim. Photo by Marga Deona

“You know the Model United Nations concept?” Ray inquired. He was referring to an academic approach simulating the UN model, where each member of the class plays a pre-assigned role relevant to the subject matter.

“I’m thinking each member of the class will portray one character, will answer questions from each character’s perspective. You’ll be Sansa, he’ll be Arya, I’ll be Cersei – recitation will come in the form of role play, as though we were [the characters].” Jo-Ed rattled off a mix of heroes and villains from the many characters in the series.  “So I have to research how Cersei thinks, what she would say, what she would do.”

Pop culture is situated at the crossroads of society’s divergent opinions. There are those who embrace pop culture as a significant, legitimate medium for understanding human behavior; whereas others would be a more condescending, dismissive lot, regarding this milieu as a crass environment of mass exploitation and an insult to intelligence.

With pop culture (including its thriving and freewheeling industry, gossip) being hotly contested and defended at the same time, it has become a phenomenon worth studying – with great rigor and fervor – in the different courses, departments, and universities.

READ: Pulp fiction, pop lit?

For all the elitism still being unfairly associated with the Ateneo, the university itself has been rather open in not only appreciating pop culture but also fostering an understanding of this prevalent milieu – of its language, for example. (Check out this pop dissertation on “kilig.”)

Jo-Ed is drawn to – and utilizes – pop culture as a tool for academic studies, as he approaches history with less regard for empirical data than for the complexities of human nature and how they influence history.

Ray, on the other hand, finds moral dilemmas in pop culture as potential problem-solving tools – both to deal with the more mundane and to explain the esoteric concepts of faith and morality.

“You don’t typically get extreme case studies such as siblings having sex,” he said, “so if you can resolve the dilemma in these extreme situations, it will work with the normal ones we encounter in the day to day.”

THE DIGITAL PULSE: Jo-Ed and Ray have taken to Facebook to gauge their students’ interest

Jo-Ed considers “Game of Thrones,” for all its fantasy elements, as something more historical and realistic than Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings,” where the delineation between good and evil is clearer.

“In history, ‘Game of Thrones’ is very realistic,” he said, “not only in terms of facts, but more so of human nature. Even the greatest of humans fall.”

Ray and Jo-Ed agree that the seemingly most evil, those driven to commit atrocities, have very human motives that any of us can understand, such as the cold, manipulative Cersei Lannister’s love for her children.

“On the other hand, people you would normally admire, such as the Starks, tignan mo, may ginawa rin silang katarantaduhan [look, they did some pretty nasty stuff too],” Jo-Ed said.

He believes “Game of Thrones” reflects human behavior throughout time – and how the good and the noble fall and make mistakes – and also the harrowing effects of evil, and how the fallen can rise above their own folly.

Elements of pop culture, even when peppered with fantasy devices and fiction, are deeply rooted in reality. Studying it from a given framework and focal point leads to a deeper understanding of human behavior.

“This,” Jo-Ed said, “is the story of human nature.” – Rappler.com

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Marga Deona

Marga leads digital and product management for Rappler’s multimedia expansion. Sometimes, she writes about the intersection of technology, culture, and business, as well as the occasional sports and music features.