The Wheel of Time and Objectification

In the tradition of landmark fantasy screen productions like Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones comes the newest high-fantasy television series, Amazon’s The Wheel of Time. Based on the famed fourteen-book epic written by Robert Jordan, The Wheel of Time series has been compared to both Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, being noted as a breath of fresh air after the never-ending adult content of Game of Thrones. Games of Thrones normalized gratuitous sexual content in high fantasy, but The Wheel of Time is challenging that expectation.


The Wheel of Time isn’t Game of Thrones
The Wheel of Time has become known more for what it is not than for what it is. A number of critics have predicted failure for the show, saying it will supposedly disappoint fans of Jordan’s books because it is not enough like the books. So far, they’ve been proven wrong, as the series debuted as one of Amazon’s most-watched shows ever.

Despite regularly being compared to Game of Thrones, The Wheel of Time has been praised for lacking the most objectionable parts of Game of Thrones, namely the graphic nudity and sexual content. In a post-Game of Thrones world, it might seem that any fantasy tv show has to contain gratuitous sexual content to garner a huge following, but it seems that The Wheel of Time is defying that surmise.

Objectification, Art, and Entertainment
Entertainment commonly exploits human sexual desire to turn a profit. There are numerous arguments to justify varying levels of nudity and sexual content in entertainment. One argument is that nudity can be a form of artistic expression rather than intended for sexual arousal. Another is that the explicit content might not affect the viewer personally, so it’s ok for them to watch.

While God made the human body to be pleasing to the eyes, Christians disagree even amongst themselves about when nudity is being used as artistic expression or for arousal. Individuals’ own consciences will convict them at different points. However, beyond the individual intentions of the viewers (“it doesn’t affect me”) or the individual intentions of the creators (“it’s meant as art”) there is a larger problem: the problem of objectification. When nudity or sex is shown on screen, with millions of viewers, the fact that the creators intended it as art or that some of the viewers will not be affected by it does not discount the fact that many other viewers will objectify the people on screen.

Because we live in a culture so inundated with sex, from sexualizing characters in popular media to pornography (which fuels real-life sexual abuse and trafficking), it’s difficult to assume anything other than that sexualized content put out for mass consumption will be used to objectify the humans involved. Sexualized or “sexy” entertainment always has the potential to lead viewers to degrade someone to the status of a mere object.1 The larger issue at hand (rather than if a piece of entertainment leads me to objectify another human being) is whether it leads the viewers in general to do so. What is at stake is whether or not we (either as Christians or as a culture as a whole) recognize the image of God (imago Dei) in our fellow humans. The imago Dei gives every person inherent and inviolable value, marking them as a being who should not be considered as a mere object. Instead of considering only whether or not a piece of entertainment causes us to stumble sexually, perhaps we should also consider whether or not it makes us see the imago Dei more or less in our fellow humans.

The Alternative to Objectification
While objectification is wrong and hurtful, the human sexual desire (which, when corrupted, leads to objectification) is part a deep and God-given desire for intimacy. Objectification can give a person a sense of fulfillment, but it is a twisted way of trying to meet the desire for intimacy. Yet if objectification is removed as a way to give a sense of fulfillment and a person just “tries their hardest” not to objectify others without meeting that desire for intimacy in a legitimate way, they may end up feeling such a powerful urge to fill their desire that they return to objectifying their fellow human beings.

Objectification must be replaced with something more appropriate. This is where The Wheel of Time excels. Rather than violent and sexually stimulating scenes that serve to objectify the characters, the actors, and even the viewers, The Wheel of Time depicts loving and supportive relationships between both romantic partners and friends. By no means are all of the relationships shown in The Wheel of Time Christian depictions of what a relationship should be, but the show seems to get one thing right: objectification is unnecessary in entertainment. As Christians, we can add that objectification is harmful and fails to bestow the deserved dignity upon those who bear the image of God.

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Jesse Childress

Jesse Childress has a deep appreciation for good food, philosophy, theology, and literature. He is the former Lead Content Editor and Writer for Summit Ministries' worldview blog Reflect, and spent a term studying at Francis Schaeffer's L'Abri Fellowship in Switzerland. Jesse has an MA in Cultural Apologetics from Houston Baptist University (now Houston Christian University), and began attending Denver Seminary in the fall of 2022 to study counseling, focusing particularly on the relationship between trauma and faith.