Culture Clips: Game of Thrones Conquers Millions, Facebook Billions

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Winter is coming. In, like, about five and a half months or something. In the meantime, HBO’s Game of Thrones is coming, too. Its seventh season begins July 16.

The show has become about the closest thing to “must-see TV” in today’s fragmented television landscape: Time tossed it on its cover this week and called it “the world’s most popular show.” Last year’s Season 6 finale pulled in a record 8.9 million viewers. But the official ratings don’t truly reflect its popularity, given that Game of Thrones was also television’s most-pirated show for the fifth straight year last year.

But the HBO fantasy series is also one of the most sexually explicit shows on television.  And it has served as a tawdry, explicit form of sex education for some—including one of the show’s youngest performers.

“The first time I ever found out about oral sex was from reading the script,” says Sophie Turner, who plays Sansa Stark. “I was like, ‘Wow! People do that? That’s fascinating!”

But most teens aren’t following Game of Thrones‘ example. As we touched on last week, fewer teens are sexually active these days, which researchers say punctures some well-worn parental fears.

“There’s this myth that kids hook up quite a bit and have sex with someone they literally just met,” says Dr. Cora Breuner, a professor of pediatrics at Seattle Children’s Hospital. “This [study] dispels that myth, that our teenagers are having sex with people they don’t know.”

Moreover, the teen birth rate hit a record low last year: There were 20.3 live births per 1,000 females between the ages of 15-19, a decline of 9% from the previous year. And as we’ve documented, drug abuse among teens is also on the decline.

One exception? Marijuana use, which teens seem to think is no big deal. A new study from the University of Bristol (England) suggests that it kind of is. Researchers have found that teens who use marijuana are more likely to use other drugs when they hit adulthood. Oh, and alcohol and tobacco use goes up amongst such weed-using teens, as well.

Teens aren’t showing any inclination to curb their Facebook habits, though. Nor, frankly, are the rest of us. The social networking site now has 2 billion active monthly users. Australia’s The Standard notes that, if Facebook were a religion, it would be the second biggest on the planet, trailing only Christianity. (And not, it must be said, by very much.)

Which makes it pretty interesting that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently said that he’d like the network to be more like a church. “People who go to church are more likely to volunteer and give to charity—not just because they’re religious, but because they’re part of a community,” Zuckerberg said. “A church doesn’t just come together. It has a pastor who cares for the well-being of their congregation, makes sure they have food and shelter … Leaders set the culture, inspire us, give us a safety net, and look out for us.”

If Zuckerberg wants to transform his brainchild into something better, the entertainment world seems eager to give fans a more empowered picture of femininity. Entertainment Weekly points out that Wonder Woman leads a number of films featuring a female protagonist. And it’s not just grown women taking center stage: ABC points to preteen heroines such as Laura in Logan, Eleven in Netflix’s Stranger Things and Mija in the South Korean fantasy film Okja, also available on Netflix, as role models for little girls. (For now, we’ll skip over the fact that even the MPAA says that little girls probably shouldn’t be watching the bloody, R-rated Logan.)

Maybe someone needs to pick up the slack for all the guys who aren’t even working these days—perhaps because video games are far more entertaining than punching a clock. But hey, it’s not just guys who want to quit the rat race: Most of us engage in escapism of some kind or another—including films and television—about 13 hours a week. That works out to a whopping four years of total time spent during the average person’s lifespan.

Even stars need to escape. Adele announced in a handwritten note that she might be done touring. Comedian Hannibal Buress, who has a small role in Spider-Man: Homecoming, sent a celebrity lookalike to the film’s premiere. And Rob Lowe said he spent some quality time in the mountains with Bigfoot. (OK, Lowe was technically working on his new reality show, The Lowe Files, but still.)

And finally, let’s talk about who else might want to escape: Anyone who’s starred in a salacious R-rated comedy lately. Most have been scorned by critics and ignored by audiences. Variety’s Seth Kelley even opines that “the R-rated, raunchy comedy’s partying days may be over.”

Well, we can hope, right?