Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Lies, damn lies and Braavosi plays. Propaganda in Game of Thrones S6/E8.

When we first met the actors of Izembaro's theatre troupe a couple of weeks back, I thought they would be an amusing, one episode sideshow. Three episodes on and they have proven to be fundamental to at least two plot lines: Arya's completion of her training with Jaqen H'ghar and the Lannister's scheming from the Red Keep.

The second may not be obvious but consider the nature of the tragedy they have been acting out. Covering the events that we know as season four, their play tells the story of Joffrey's and Tywin's murders solely from the point of view of Cersei: all a vile plot by an unprovoked and spiteful Tyrion. The crowds eagerly to buy in to it. So who is paying for this version of history?

In our digital world, dodgy regimes seeking to impose their worldview have satellite TV stations like Russia Today, Press TV and Al Jazeera. But the use of propaganda to distract from or conceal the truth is of course as old as politics itself. The plays of ancient Greece could be used to glorify or denigrate heroes or battles. Shakespeare's history plays served a similar purpose. Richard III was "based on the Tudor propaganda campaign aimed at discrediting the last of the Plantagenets".

"Undermine The Imp? No problem. But in this Donald Trump wig?"
The Greeks, and the Romans after them, also understood the powers of great oratory and rhetoric in shaping public opinion. Demosthenes's speeches played a role in war, diplomacy and the eventual unification of the city states of ancient Greece. Cicero is still cited as a source of campaign advice in the modern age. It was when great words were blended with religious conviction that propaganda became a common part of life in Europe. Indeed, that's where we get the word from. The Vatican's College of Propaganda, first formalised under Pope Urban VIII in the 1630s was set up to train priests to propagate the faith.

In Meereen, the preachers in the market spreading the word of the Lord of the Light - as part of the deal that Tyrion struck with the Red Priestess Kinvara - are also enthusing their audiences with loyalty to Danaerys Sixteen Jobs.

This mixing of religion, propaganda and politics is set for a bloody conclusion in King's Landing as Cersei and Maester Qyburn plan their final move against the High Sparrow and his Faith Militant. The younger Lannister might have more success in controlling the ideas he's unleashed in Essos. But will he overcome the slander promoted against him on the stages of the Free Cities? 

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