One day, walking past the media room in my parents' old house, when my father pulls me in. He wants to show me this viral video he found, of an airplane whose landing gear broke or something, and it had to land on its back wheels and land the front of the plane on a truck.
It took me about fifteen seconds before I announced that this video seemed extremely fake.
He, of course, disagreed, and the a priori guesswork was on his side – he'd actually seen the whole video, he works in making software for airplanes and has for more than a decade, is very plugged into aeronautical news, and, of course, most fake news doesn't fake a video.
But I was watching of video of the actual landing, as if taken from the lounge area at the gate. Why would someone in that area even known it would be interesting to take that video? And why did they stick around for the local news crew to get the rights from them? And wouldn't the airport have some already existing plan for rough landings? Or do water landings, or heck, just land it anyway? Wouldn't the plane still be moving well over 200 miles per hour, thereby crushing or overrunning the truck? Why do they have so many vox pop interviews – wouldn't all these passengers have gotten on another plane and left before the local news made it through security? And why are the vox pop interviews all the same locked off shot?
He had a lot of knowledge, more than Iever will. But I was looking at something that just didn't make sense, and I said so. I'm sure he'd remember it differently, but he got pretty heated. I suggested we make a wager about it, and we settled on a hundred dollars. But he was indignant – he wanted to raise it to a thousand or more. I didn't want this to be a permanent fixture of our relationship, and I think having to give someone what much money makes it something you're unlikely to forget.
But here I am, post-Trump's election, calling something he was sharing with me Fake News. Literally, because I kept thinking that this didn't seem to be shot by a news crew. So what was he to do but put his money where his mouth was?
I debated for a while whether to include this tidbit, but the video was indeed fake. It turns out Captain Disillusion made a fantastic video about it, too, so this conversation ended up introducing me to a delightful corner of the internet.
But just because I was right, doesn't mean I regret not escalating the bet. The conflict in that moment was real, and family has a natural way of putting a hurt to skepticism in a way that friendship rarely does. And that's something I think is perfectly explored in this chapter, our introduction to Daenerys in Game of Thrones.
Young Dany is the strange forgotten princess of a far off land, living in the free city of Pentos at the estate of the overly deferential business tycoon Magister Illyrio. Of course, it's clear to everyone, except her clearly delusional and violent older brother Viserys, that Illyrio is just trying to cut a deal with the strange horse lords that roam the plains outside the cities. And he does make a great profit – by selling Daenerys as the child bride to one of the most powerful khals around. With Illyrio's fancy clothes and the help of slaves, she prepares herself to meet her strange husband and new entourage, including the disgraced knight Ser Jorah Mormont, all to help convince his khalasar, with more than 40,000 Dothraki screamers and horses, to fight for Viserys to retake his homeland.
The opulence of their stay with the magister is something Dany still isn't used to, despite being there for half a year, and it comes through in this chapter plainly. She'd never felt clothes so nice as those that are being given to her, being not just attended to but pampere by his slaves. She knows there will be a price for this generosity. She just doesn't know what it will be.
She knows her brothers dreams, all she knows of Westeros, is almost certainly nonsense. Her skepticism is sharp, even if her brother's is so weak it will be fatal to him. He's so insulted by her skepticism that he's constantly threatening his sister, over any small thing that could threaten his vision of the future, his current delusions, or nothing at all.
Notably, she's not skeptical of her brother's words that she shouldn't worry about the scalding hot water. Make of that what you will, but she does feel the pain of it.
Truly, the deepest spirit of our viewpoint character can be seen here:
Dany had no agents, no way of knowing what anyone was doing or thinking across the narrow sea, but she mistrusted Illyrio’s sweet words as she mistrusted everything about Illyrio. Her brother was nodding eagerly, however.
as well as here, when she hears of Ser Jorah Mormont:
The last name caught Daenerys. “A knight?”
“No less.” Illyrio smiled through his beard. “Anointed with the seven oils by the High Septon himself.”
“What is he doing here?” she blurted.
Dany is constantly evaluating rumors of Khal Drogo, everything she hears. Her skepticism is reflexive, even when it might bump into her brother's fragile ego. Even her small reactions to her brother mentioning she's about to meet the Khal are heard from a skeptical point of view:
Dany turned and saw that it was true. Magister Illyrio, all smiles and bows, was escorting Khal Drogo over to where they stood.
Reading Practice - Lectio Divina
“This is beauty. Touch it. Go on. Caress the fabric.”
The first step of Lectio Divina is to ask what's happening on a narrative level in the passage. This is Viserys, talking to Dany about her extremely luxurious gown they've received from Illyrio to help impress the Khal. It's lavish in the extreme, to the extent that can only be understood when feeling how soft it is. A curious choice, as the Khal will only be able to see it, in all likelihood (after their encounter the chapter ends, so who knows what happens?).
The second step is to consider the connection between this and the other sections of the book. The strange overbearing assumption that Viserys needs to give her permission, that everything is his even a fancy gown, is certainly a clear reflection of their dynamic, and the earliest sign of his walking the path towards his distruction.
It's also interesting because beauties that can be revealed are shown (later) to be quite common, as are illusions in general. The mummers shows of the books are numerous, to be sure, and portraying her as a true princess is, in many ways, an example of that.
There's also a weird thing with Viserys using the term 'caress'. It's oddly sensuous, from a character who rarely seems to care about much except power and revenge and his petty fantasies. Contrasted with Dany's confusion, about why they aren't following their house's tradition of incest, creates a strange contrast. She's so routinely abused by her brother, her whole life spent in his orbit, whether she liked it or not, that this deeply strange and disgusting idea was normal to her – and her clearly insane brother is the one delivering the exceptionally relatable feelings of disgust at that idea and at the idea a woman so young would be seen in a sexual way at all. Dany understands this is all about power, but her understanding of the power relationships are still evolving. Even that seems to be a solid foreshadowing of her later themes and conflicts.
The passage's essentializing of the gown, calling it beauty instead of just beautiful, is interesting as well. Many things around them are essentialized. Dragons are fire made flesh, and they are the blood of the dragon. They seem to detest similes and adjectives, but beyond that: they view many things by their most salient attributes. Nothing is much more than one layer deep, in their strange narrative view, one that Dany takes a very long time to develop out of (if she ever truly does).
The third step of Lectio is to think about how this connects to real life. An interesting example of the strange genderedness of all of this, with the woman being the most reasonable and yet the most passive (although you can see her wit will push her out of that role), is modern dating. We all know women approach the world in essentially the same way men do. And plenty of statistical models show women get worse partners if they wait for people to ask them out on dates. And yet I see a world where women are quite passive. I don't mind as much as I ought to, but I can't help but shake the feeling it's strange – perhaps stranger by the fact I'm writing this from East Asia, where it's a bit more pronounced. But even in America, the ratio of men asking women out to the reverse is completely bonkers (particularly when you remove dating apps, which are, essentially, tools of cowardice – not that I'm above them).
The last step is to ask what the passage calls us to do. I'm called, oddly enough, to make sure I appreciate and indulge in beauty. It's so easy to ignore, to be too busy for, for it to be out of reach. But it's important to witness the truth of that beauty, even if you're the most grave person to ever have lived. Because when something is beautiful, and you fail to experience that beauty, you've lost a part of the true nature of things. An important part, and one you can't quite replace with simple substitutes.
I'm using this opportunity to bless Illyrio. Yes, he's self-serving, strange, a flatterer who might be trying to get a clearly delusional man in charge of an entire continent, but think about it this way: people who were way, way down on their luck needed a place to stay. They were special – indeed, without their ancestral magic, there might be none left in the world. He spotted something special – this strange esoteric element of the world, and refused to let it die. The story starts as he's finally helped Viserys with his quite-bad plan, but he had months of generosity for them before those plans could have begun. Without his strange brand of selfishness, truly wonderous things would leave this world, and that's a shame, perhaps a bigger shame than an arranged marraige between two almost-royal families.