Part two of my series dissecting self-esteem in the fictional realm. Last week we delved into the inner workings of Eric Cartman. This week, we shall be journeying to the seven kingdoms of Westeros.
Joffrey Baratheon, first of his name, King of Westeros. One of the most universally despised characters in Game of Thrones, no small achievement in a series that is rife with despicable personalities. From his introduction, he becomes exponentially more arrogant and horrible.
Unfortunately for everyone living in Westeros at the time, Joffrey was actually special. He was a prince and became king at a young age. By definition, kings are special. However, being born into the correct family at the correct time is (usually) the only thing special about the people who become kings.
Presumably from birth, Joffrey’s mother took every opportunity to remind him of precisely how special he was. After all, he was the product of joining two wealthy and powerful families, and would be king. He would have nearly limitless power, and must be obeyed at all times.
As a child, his mother would not allow his behavior to be corrected by anyone, including his father. Years before taking the throne, Joffrey was already making demands as though he were king. When these demands were not met with unwavering immediacy, Joffrey would sulk, brood, or tantrum until his impulses were satisfied.
King Robert, the man Joffrey believed to be his father, taught his son that kings were men of action. Kings took what they wanted and allowed none to stand in their way. Disrespect would not be tolerated. Kings did anything they wanted, and usually in excess. King Robert’s fondness of wine and whores were not things that he attempted to hide. He was a king, and did exactly as he pleased.
Joffrey learned from his parents that he was entitled to supreme power, instantaneous satisfaction of his impulses, and justified to act in any way he saw fit. If someone was bold enough to challenge his authority, he need only speak and that person would find themselves lacking a tongue, or perhaps a head.
Even after taking the crown, Joffrey remained a petulant and vicious boy. He typically refuses the advice of his council and is unnecessarily cruel, especially to Sansa Stark, who he is supposed to wed. This becomes abundantly clear when he promises mercy for her father, only to have him beheaded in her presence, and forcing her to visit his rotting head atop the castle gates.
Joffrey has Sansa beaten frequently for answering questions inappropriately and for the ‘treasons’ of her family. After she is no longer required to marry him, he informs her that he intends to rape her at his leisure, and no one will stop him. He also has an inexplicably strong desire to serve her the head of her brother at his wedding feast. An impulse that was only quelled by his grandfather, the only man in the realm capable of sending the king to bed without his supper.
While Sansa Stark serves as the most consistent and obvious example of Joffrey’s unyielding cruelty, there are dozens of examples that could be pointed out. He demands a knight be drowned in wine for arriving at a tournament drunk. After receiving a crossbow as a gift, he fires it into a crowd of people begging for bread at the castle gates. He calls his personal knight ‘dog’ and orders him around as such. He publicly ridicules his uncle on numerous occasions, usually for being a dwarf. A scene appearing only in the television series shows Joffrey receiving two whores as a gift from his uncle, only to force one to beat the other for his amusement.
Despite his penchant for violence and cruelty, it is worth noting that Joffrey rarely does anything at all. He orders for death and violence to be carried out in his name. The king tantrums when his work is not done in a satisfactory manner, but usually cannot be bothered to hold court or attend his own council meetings.
Joffrey feels entitled to all the benefits of being king with none of the work or responsibility. His subjects must show unyielding loyalty, but he should not have to earn this with gallantry or any sort of benevolent action. His enemies should suffer, but this should require nothing that would be potentially tiring.
If things are not exactly as Joffrey thinks they should be, if he feels less than an all-powerful ruler, he responds with childish rage. This is consistent with a person who has been taught that reward comes without work, a person who feels that they deserve more than others. Respect and admiration are given, not earned. In Joffrey’s case, he is instilled with these values by both his heritage and his mother’s reckless indulgence. A king is special. A king who thinks himself special does not a good king make. His untimely end is neither unexpected nor sad. It is not surprising that no one aside from his mother grieves for him.
Game of Thrones author, George R. R. Martin, describes Joffrey as an amalgamation of some of the children he attended school with. He says that Joffrey is like them in that he is a “classic bully” all of whom were “incredibly spoiled.” Like Eric Cartman, Joffrey is an exaggerated account of the real world implications of the Self-Esteem Movement.
Think about the children sitting in middle school classrooms right now. They have been told they are special, that they deserve anything they can dream of, they should not have to wait for what they want, and they will always win. Now take a moment to consider what would happen if one of those children were given control of a continent.
Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion of this as of yet unnamed series of posts next week, or skip the wait and read the entire chapter this was adapted from in The Snowflake Effect.