In the days before the Internet, before television, before most people even knew how to read, there was the church. And Notre Dame, literally and artistically, towered above many.
In his book The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Victor Hugo wrote that the cathedral was a “vast symphony in stone.” But it was more than that. For centuries, churches were the blockbuster movie of the day, illustrations in stone and glass conveying biblical stories and lessons to the largely uneducated masses. Notre Dame’s massive façade is so filled with illustrative statues that some have called it “the poor people’s book.”
So perhaps it’s fitting that when a fire raced through the 850-year-old cathedral on Monday, the moment—and mourning—likewise spread around the world through today’s sprawling, collective “book” of social media. The disaster’s most poignant viral moment might’ve been footage of the faithful gathering at the site to sing Ave Maria as the church burned, raising hymns to the sky for hours as the flames raged on. But a simple, sweet tourist pic of a joyful little girl with her dad in front of the cathedral—taken about an hour before the first smoke started to appear—has been liked to nearly 500,000 times, too.
Now, attention is turning to rebuilding France’s grandest grand old lady. While French President Emmanuel Macron hopes to have Notre Dame restored in five years, experts say it’ll likely take decades. And the restoration cost will likely be astronomical, though nearly $1 billion had already been pledged in the first 36 hours. (The push to rebuild may also be having a positive ancillary effect on three churches in Louisiana, too, torched by an arsonist earlier this year.)
Oddly, a video game may help in Notre Dame’s restoration, too. The makers of Assassin’s Creed: Unity made detailed 3-D renderings of the cathedral—spending “years” recreating the church for the game. Oh, and other, more scientific, folks have used technology to map out Notre Dame, too. And remember, Notre Dame’s seen rocky times before. Hugo’s famed book was written at a time when the cathedral was in a state of massive disrepair: The popularity of Hunchback, in fact, actually inspired a restoration effort. This latest disaster and restoration will, many believe, simply be another landmark in the building’s nearly millennium-long history. Said New Yorker writer Lauren Collins on a recent podcast for Slate: “The way that we think of the Constitution, for instance, as a living document, [Notre Dame is] kind of a living building, that is constantly dying and growing and changing.”
Speaking of constantly growing and changing and, especially, dying, HBO’s Game of Thrones just began its eighth and final season Sunday night. And after one episode, the ratings are just what you’d expect. About 17.4 million watched the Season 8 premiere, breaking HBO’s all-time ratings record. With streaming figures rolled in, those numbers could be even higher.
Obviously, lots of folks are talking about the season and looking back on the series in toto. Mary McNamara of the Los Angeles Times says that it’s the “greatest show of all time.” Slate’s Kyle McAuley says that it might’ve been the last real vestage of our mostly fragmented monoculture—a show that it seemed as if everyone watched—and Time suggests that while it might indeed be the “last true water-cooler show,” it might be nice to talk about something else around the cooler for a while. And even as the show gasps its last, plenty of folks are still trying to make a buck from it, from wine makers to cookie bakers.
But even as the show draws in its millions of viewers, we should remind you that it’s also, like, super-problematic. Need evidence? Someone calculated all the nudity on GoT and found that, through its first 67 episodes, there were 82 nude scenes. (Season 7 was actually the most chaste of them all, with a mere six.) And The Washington Post is offering an “illustrated guide” to all the 2,339 deaths the show’s encompassed. (How more will be added? Some students may have algorithmed an answer.) And it’s not just hard on viewers, either. Sophie Turner, who plays Sansa Stark on the show, admitted that she got pretty depressed and even suicidal as she weighed the online crit from “fans.” On Dr. Phil’s podcast Phil in the Blanks, she said:
People used to say, ‘D–n, Sansa gained 10 pounds’ or ‘D–n, Sansa needs to lose 10 pounds’ or ‘Sansa got fat.’ It was just a lot of weight comments, or I would have spotty skin, because I was a teenager, and that’s normal, and I used to get a lot of comments about my skin and my weight and how I wasn’t a good actress … I would just believe it. I would say, ‘Yeah, I am spotty. I am fat. I am a bad actress.’ I would just believe it. I would get [the costume department] to tighten my corset a lot. I just got very, very self-conscious.
Writing for Relevant, Tyler Daswick acknowledged the show’s problems while still acknowledging that it has been “the show of a generation.”
Game of Thrones’ morality is twisted by any standard—not just Christians’—but its popularity proves a wide cultural tolerance for the story despite (or because of, if you’re pessimistic) its despicability. You might protest to Thrones’ excessiveness and explicitness, but most people don’t, and whether that’s due to evolving TV standards or greater exposure to antiheroes or some psychological sugar/medicine cocktail that sees the fantasy stuff wash down the vulgarity is beside the point. It’s instructive to recognize that general tolerance exists. This is the last massively popular TV show.
We’re running out of space (the internet is only so big, you know), so a quick scattershot of other stories and links for you this week.
A college student apparently fell to her death while taking a selfie, but that doesn’t seem to be stopping folks in swimming suits from taking some seriously dangerous-looking pictures. Disneyland’s Star Wars-themed land, Galaxy Edge, will be so busy that the park will be handing out bathroom passes so visitors don’t lose their places in line. A good thing, given that they’ll also be offering super-cool-looking droid-shaped drink bottles. (Any Disneyland visitors out there are free to send one to me.) Disney has also unveiled some of what will be included in its upcoming streaming service, including a series based on the gay teen romcom Love, Simon.
But finally, as we anticipate Notre Dame’s ability to rise from its own ashes, let’s close with another comeback tale: that of Tiger Woods. He won The Masters this weekend after an 11-year major title drought, a drought fueled by physical ailments and personal scandals. And while his victory was significant for lots of folks (CBS’ coverage of him added $22 million to Nike’s bottom line, for instance), it held more spiritual significance for Helen Raleigh. Writing for The Federalist, she said, “We should also remember that this week is the holiest week for Christians. Wood’s redemption on Palm Sunday serves as a good reminder for all of us that no matter how far we fall—or how flawed we are—we can all be redeemed.”