Why I Wrote the Letter Below:
In an effort not to be consumed by motherhood, lawsuits, and bitterness (as I describe in more detail in my previous post Staggering Through the New Year), I realized in March of 2016 that I needed to do something. If you’ve ever had those moments when life smacks you in the face and says “now what?”—well, that was me. I was feeling slightly better than at the beginning of the year (thanks to eating and being active), but I was still stressed—but what mom isn’t stressed, right? So I was riding my stationary bike “watching” my youngest daughter and “viewing” Game of Thrones on a device and it occurred to me: I AM LIVING A GAME OF THRONES—well, minus the violence, zombies, royalty, all fantasy aspects including dragons; and, of course, minus the incest. But here’s the thing: these characters resonated with me.
The main characters in Game of Thrones are going through so much of the same mind games and power struggles that are unfortunately still prevalent today. The interest Lena Headey shows in humanity both on and off the screen powerfully spoke to what I was seeing and feeling. We all have been at crossroads in life (no, not the Ralph Macchio movie; but, yes, with the Ry Cooder music) and it seemed like her path throughout life contained some unexpected bends and she seemed to stand tall amidst it all. In my academic life, I had written a thesis about intolerance in 2005 and Lena’s comments in the media about the Walk of Shame brought me right back to continuing a discourse about ideological monsters that suppress, oppress, and fuck with us all.
I decided for my own sanity, for my sense of place in the world, for my sensibilities as a woman, and for my children’s future, that my own crossroads would take me to meet Lena Headey. I needed to look in the eyes of someone with the character and humanity to not fear difference, but encourage it. In an amazingly lucky coincidence she was coming to the Motor City Comic Con in May of 2016. So I traveled 3 hours to the Motor City Comic Con. I brought no one with me so my apprehension ran amok the entire way. But my nervousness was calmed by the absolutely fun and welcoming crowd. A couple of guys, one outfitted as Jon Snow and a guy in a bright red skin suit, took me under their wings (I know, cape would be more applicable here) for a bit to help me get into the Game of Thrones panel (aka just Lena) and explained that I needed to sprint after the panel to get in line for a picture. Got it! They were clear that I should go right to the autograph line in case the autograph time was limited. Got it!
I did get a very short chance to get an autograph from Lena. But just like Jack Sparrow, I had no plan. I pretty much ended up channeling Brick Tamland from Anchorman, but instead of “I love lamp,” I said “I have 6 kids!” with about the same conviction as Brick. Silly, I thought, because part of what I wanted to do was share something about compassion and character, but here I was: talking about having a lot of kids… and just like living with all these kids, instead of having a real grown up conversation about the amazing character Lena portrays…my time was up. Damn it!
Side note: For any fans that might read this and having met Lena, I must add that her skin glows. I am not kidding. Her skin is insanely clear and it fucking really glows—meet her and see for yourself if you get the chance. When I was pregnant (uh..often), my skin didn’t glow like that! I’m not surprised at the clarity of her skin. She has a sense of self-awareness and seems to be able to maintain a focus on meaning in the midst of Hollywood and bullshit in the world. Damn, and here I am with my dull skin stuck at “I love lamp.”
So I didn’t want to beat myself up too bad about only talking about kids because I was stoked that I had met Lena (and she was graciously nice), I had stepped out of the crossroads, now I needed to do BETTER.
The next day I went back to the comic con and entered the autograph line again. This time I made a plan. My goal was to get a handshake and say something with grit and compassion all in the matter of about 20 seconds. No problem—ha! Lena was only shaking a few hands each day so I figured a handshake would mean I said something worthwhile. I wrote 3 words on my left hand in case I froze when I got up to the table: humanity, suppression, and grateful. Not that I was grateful for suppression, but I’ll get to that point later. My turn arrived. I said hello and she said, “Molly” as she looked up from the sticky note with my name attached to the picture to autograph. I smiled and immediately spoke the truth about why I was there: I loved the humanity narrative of the show (the simple and correct wording would be human narrative, but Lena Headey’s portrayal of Cersei goes beyond human narrative, it is more a narrative about humanity. But I knew time was of the essence so I shortened it to humanity narrative). I also said I was drawn to and loved her portrayal of suppression (not something I tell people often). She definitely was listening at this point and said that “She loved it, too.” Unlike the first day, I could tell that she REALLY liked thoughtful appreciation for her portrayal of Cersei (bigger smile, different body language, and even more glow, damn it!). Seeing her face that day revealed how much effort and care she puts into that role and how much she has given us context for a character that would normally be deemed as a shallow antagonist. I finished my 20-30 seconds that I was grateful for the show, her work on the show, and that I had the opportunity to watch her work on the show. Lena smiled and said, “Me too!” and reached out her hand and gave me a wonderful handshake to take away. Yes!! I had done better.
This time I walked away ecstatic. I really needed a moment that I could go back to when real life (work, kids, broken bones, doctor’s visits, etc.) came back into the picture. Lena’s response to my words gave me something to focus on that was outside my daily everything.
I later thought about this meeting, and I tried to resolve how to take this moment and make it more. I decided to write about the experience. I had thought a lot about Lena Headey’s panel at comic con and I decided to write my thoughts in an open thank you letter to her. Perfect, I thought, I could talk about issues, practice critical writing for the first time in years, and extend the 20 second interaction that I had with her. I finished my letter (after 17 drafts with substantial changes) in June of 2016, titled it My Convoluted, Sincere and Open Thank You to Lena Headey and I felt elated—I had strong intent, but I had no idea what to do with this letter. So the letter sat and I showed it to a handful of people; Again, no plan and no momentum!
As I watched the campaign in the fall of 2016 and heard Hillary Clinton speak about especially women’s rights, I thought that we were well on our way to not foreclosing others and that my original letter was a bit out of touch and I did not need to post it. Hillary was talking about health rights, human rights, inclusion of all, and she was opening a conversation that was similar to what I was referring to in my letter. Then came the awful, sexist, degrading banter from Trump during the election and the reality that there are a lot of people in America (and the world) that support the opposite of equality. And the results of the election have opened a giant platform for xenophobic, misogynistic, homophobic, racist people and put power in the hands of hate. The words in my letter were now a premonition of a Trump presidency and the crossroads of American complacency and tyranny. I now have tremendous motive to get this letter out and especially to have Lena and the world read it before another day goes by with the newly elected President.
And Trump’s narcissistic personality disorder is one where the less we focus on him, the less power he has. Unfortunately, the President gets a tremendous amount of focused attention and he has shown that he is ready to suppress the shit out of America and the world for that matter. This is where I firmly believe that we counter his hate by not spotlighting his ridiculous and awful decisions (number one being his tweets). We must focus on dialogues that are the exact opposite. The Women’s March this past Saturday was an excellent first step. We need to focus on the actions of people such as Lena Headey—a strong voice continuing to spread empathy and compassion (with fabulous wit and humor). We must be reflexive and productive.
The issues in my original letter are exactly what Trump is adept at doing (and I thought America’s continued discomfort with nudity/sex was the big problem 8 months ago—we have much bigger problems now!). All he does is shame. In only two days of office and throughout the election transition period we continue to see Trump push one person or brand under the bus rather than to face an issue. For example, according to Trump, the media needs to shut up and present “alternate” facts; Meryl Streep is a loser; and Representative John Lewis is all talk, no action; and the shaming examples from Trump grow each day. And we all know that he is not going to change and this is going to be a precarious 4 years (ok, maybe the people that voted for him don’t know this, but it’s glaringly obvious to Clinton supporters). That is why writing my letter to Lena and just sitting on it is not enough…time to move past “I love lamp” and push onward…onward together, not alone! Just like I say in my letter below, when one person is shamed, we all are. So, Lena Headey, your back is mine, too. Please read my letter below and consider becoming an active part of conversations that move us ALL forward:
My Convoluted, Sincere and Open Thank You to Lena Headey
A year after the airing of Cersei’s Walk of Shame on Game of Thrones, you are still defending your choice to use a body double. Most of the conversation related to the Walk of Shame thus far can be summarized as follows: Oh My F*cking God, Lena Headey used a body double and why won’t she get nude for us! There is tremendous irony in you portraying a character walking through the streets alone while sh*t is flung and you alone having to deflect a giant media sh*tstorm aimed right at your breasts. Unlike the show where the Mountain is by your side, your real-world Walk of Atonement is you alone defending yourself; you alone commenting against haters; and you alone experiencing the voiced disapointment of some fans (I’m looking at you, Howard Stern, among others whom expressed how they feel they were owed a view of your breasts and body since they have been so dedicated to watching the show). Enough of people expecting you to satisfy their incessent need for whatever they imagine you need to be. Enough is enough. You have walked through this criticism without a multitude of voices backing you up and that is a giant red flag.
Lena, I cannot abide by you alone deflecting criticism as an appropriate way to proceed as a society. I am writing this because I am sorry that I did not raise my voice in whatever means I could much sooner to let you know you are not alone in the defense of your “choice of many choices.” You have consistently responded to criticism with patience, tolerance, and humility. You pursued the artistry of your Game of Thrones atonement scenes in a way that made sense to you. The media and viewers oversimplification of Game of Thrones into tits and asses is unfortunate. You have been very truthful from the beginning that body doubles were used on Game of Thrones. I for one recognize that it’s your choice. Your body. Your f*cking choice.
I am sorry that the backlash from your choice leads to you being treated like an object. I have been in the audience while you answered questions like “How does it make you feel that we have all basically seen you naked?” What kind of answer would anyone expect by asking such reductive questions? What are people hoping you will say? And let me be clear: the problem with these questions is not the reference to nudity! I do not want to in any way to enhance an already engrained puritanical fear over nakedness, nudity, sexuality, and gender (especially in the United States). Yet, there is such a widespread social tendency to want someone to strip down (and sometimes capture them naked without their consent) and then have that person alone atone for that choice forever. Every time you have to defend your choice not to take off your clothes is akin to a passive aggressive penance. Such statements and questions represent an all too common predilection to objectify humans as only a body. One might as well get up to the mic and say: “Lena, be my nude servant.” I am disappointed at life imitating art here – you standing before the crowds, and the crowds objectifying your body while the real humanity of the story is deflected and ignored.
I am sorry that you are subjected to this degree of objectification, but I am glad that you called out the haters, the criticism, and the repetitive backlash that fills much of the Internet and have at least attempted to shift the ideological monster that has formed. I am glad that your forthright answers open up a discussion of what is “owed” to viewers. It is not a large enough discussion yet—but there is an opening for us all to participate in. You encourage tolerance when answering all kinds of questions. Your statements and answers have a resilience to them that indicates reflexively thinking about struggles, choices, and consequences (not only with this character, but in life as well). Your response to the criticism provides at least a path toward a future without rampant objectification.
Lena, I should have spoken up with haste and urgency in support of your decisions to defend personal choices, creativity, and identity. You have described Cersei as “forever fighting.” What a productive way to frame the character as a human being that may not be so different from us all. The Walk of Shame should be an opening to a long discussion and a “forever fight” about suppression and intolerance and the lack of choices available to us all. I have watched the show and often thought: this character has to make a choice and either choice sucks. How often in our own lives do choices come along and both choices suck? As a person and especially as a mother of six, I, too, should be more aware of these occurrences even if they are not immediately in front of me. When one person is shamed, we all are. I have a duty to pay attention to the world beyond my own and assist with creating circumstances where either choice does not suck.
On Game of Thrones you are portraying a character that obviously has lived and continues to live within an oppressing society and constantly has to self suppress. Game of Thrones is a strong narrative about humanity, fears, and as you have described: the “shades of light and dark in us.” Cersei’s consequences for her choices are highlighted at a very dramatic level on the show, but after the airing of Mother’s Mercy, the real-world conversations relating to her shaming are disappointing. Where are the comments on how, where, and why public shaming is still happening to various degrees in the world? Where is the public debate about how shaming is as prevalent as ever, but hidden in a guise of passive aggressive lawsuits, compromised privacy, and the foreclosing of others (especially with “anonymous” commenting)? When everyday comments, conversations, and headlines continue to encourage forced assimilation and suppress creativity, our culture just replays the Walk of Shame. Can we avoid overwhelmingly reductive and empty simplification of human rights? Can we move forward without foreclosing others?
The circumstance of this letter may not seem that poignant when we have riots, shootings, and large scale hunger; yet, I believe that forward thinking begins with any resistance to the forces of hegemony—calling attention to the media sh*tstorm aimed at your breasts is an important first step toward much needed cultural changes. I am sorry that I cannot stop the ideological monster—yet! There is space and I believe a need for reflexive thinking and more productive discussions without unintended consequences. Even if one person reconsiders before asking you or anyone else questions that paint them or their body in a corner, that is the beginning of an open space for productive thinking and gratefulness rather than a focus on what is “owed” to us.
I want my children to see humanity as much more than themselves. To have the means to understand the importance of paying attention. To not fear the unknown. To not fear difference. To understand the shades of “dark and light” in each of them and how to harness that without foreclosing others. Eventually, as they become adults, I want my children to be able to put nudity into the context of the story. To embrace the symbolism, the creative choice, and to not have to experience the same kind of messed up, hegemonic, life imitating art Walk of Shame that has been consequently doled out to you. And I do hope my children can be as truthful and patient and resistant to hegemony as you have been. I hope they can build up resilience and call attention as you have to situations where someone is being pushed into a corner. And I hope they can start conversations that move forward and encourage productive thinking. My children and I cannot do this alone. Just like you, Lena, we should not have to do this alone.
Thank you for the awareness you have brought to not only me, but indirectly to my family. Thank you for providing a catalyst for a much needed awakening. Intolerance is not tolerable.