Game of Thrones: On Fandoms and Criticism (and crossing the line)

June 25, 2015 asoiaf, discussion post, fantasy, films, game of thrones, Kim 20

game of thrones fandom

There’s an interesting trend I’ve noticed online, particularly in the last month or so as the show got deeper into its controversial fifth season: people love to hate on Game of Thrones. “Now wait a minute, Kim,” you might be saying. “Are you trying to say I have no right to hate Game of Thrones?” Of course not. You have every right to think Game of Thrones is the vilest piece of misogynist trash you’ve ever had the misfortune to behold.

What I’m talking about is the hate-on: the disturbing phenomenon of people who attack media (and its fans) with gleeful relish seemingly for no other reason than:

1. It feels good to put down what other people love and

2. It gives the hate-oner a sense of moral superiority.

Let’s get into it.

It’s okay to not like something.

I feel like this goes without saying, but I really, really don’t want anyone to have the impression that I’m trying to police what they can and can’t like. I promise you, there is plenty of media I think is harmful garbage. And I am well within my rights to think so, as are you with any media you dislike. As book bloggers, we’re all familiar with sharing our opinions, both positive and negative, and that it’s all more or less subjective. Sure, it can be frustrating or disappointing when a friend doesn’t like that book you loved, but we shrug and wish the both of us better luck next time. And usually you would expect that your friend doesn’t take to Twitter to gloat about what an awful book that was and how fun it is to watch people who do enjoy it suffer when bad things happen to characters they love. Usually. Anyway, what I’m saying is please do feel free to hate Game of Thrones. That is perfectly a-okay.sansastarkgif

It’s okay to like problematic media.

Liking problematic media does not make you a part of the problem. Well, provided that you acknowledge that the media is problematic and don’t try to gloss it over. I am not going to argue that Game of Thrones is a feminist show; it isn’t. I would argue, though, that the book series the show is based off is distinctly feminist (this argument would take up an entire other discussion post and then some). I actually have plenty of frustrations with the show. I had a moment this past season where I wanted to stop watching [content note: rape, misogynistic abuse]. I see the ways in which the show diverges from its source material by removing women’s agency, agency and growth and the actual character arcs that they had in the books. And sacrificing this all for the sake of more male gaze entertainment. It’s cheap and it’s insulting, and most of all, it’s harmful. But I’m so attached to the story, thanks to the books, that I keep (perhaps stupidly) holding out hope that things will turn out okay for some favorite characters by the end.

It’s okay to call out problematic content in media.

seanan mcguire tweet This is even preferred and ties into points just mentioned above. There’s no reason to just quietly accept disturbing/harmful/prejudiced content, both in media that you do and don’t enjoy. Make your voice heard! Express your frustrations! It is downright admirable to demand that the media you enjoy be better and live up to its non-problematic potential.

I have such a frustrating love/hate relationship with GoT. I hate the endless and needless misogyny that the show features, but I love the property. I love the characters and the overall epic arch of the  story. There are moments of such intense badassery and strength of character (and nearly all of my favorite such moments belong to female characters) I just wish the show would be better. We deserve a better Game of Thrones. And we should always feel free and safe to call out the ways in which we wish the show would improve.

But I wish people would stop having such a hate-on.

I looked on in dismay when, immediately following a terrible fate befalling a beloved character on the June 14th season finale, people seemed absolutely tickled to watch GoT fans share their shock and dismay online. I could practically see the fingertips tented in Mr. Burns-esque delight. It appears, in some ways, to have become an issue of the moral high ground. Where obviously if at any point you still enjoy Game of Thrones you must clearly be a terrible person, you wretched hive of scum and villainy. But more seriously, the attitude seems to be, “If you like shows with problematic content than you are part of the problem and thus inferior to me, a person totally above liking a TV show with such harmful aspects. Also, you deserve all the pain you get from watching this shitty show.”

sam sykes game of thronesNope, no, negatory. Please refer to the above point “It’s okay to like problematic media.” We are not the media we consume and liking or disliking problematic media has no ultimate weight on our worth as people. Get off the high horse and stop adding more bitterness and vitriol into the world. It’s not okay to proclaim one’s opinion as fact and to put down the feelings and opinions of both friends and strangers in broad sweeping statements of ridicule. There is, of course, a difference between unreasonable ranting and gleeful mockery from thoughtful and inclusive discussion. At what point does criticism cross the line?

I don’t understand why you would ever look at someone feeling pain because of a fictional character and mock that pain. We’ve all been there. We enjoy fiction because it both allows us to see our own experiences reflected back to us and it shows us insight into other minds, lives, and worlds that we would never otherwise experience. Reading, and all other forms of storytelling, including television, can open us up to being better, more empathetic people with a larger awareness of our own place in the universe and the care for which we should take with our fellow humans.

There is media that I don’t like, and in fact find incredibly disturbing. I hated Shatter Me. I found the messaging of an abusive and monstrous love interest to be incredibly irresponsible (and yes-I know all about what happens later in with this character’s “development”). So I wrote my opinions down on Goodreads and then set about my life. When some were upset about how the third book ended, I did not crow about how fans deserved this misery for liking the property to begin with. When news broke about the upcoming TV series based on the books, I did not take to Twitter and gripe and complain about it. I won’t sit on the sidelines and laugh at anything that happens on the show that upsets fans. It just seems like basic human decency to mind others’ feelings online.


So what now?

I’m not trying to convince you to stop hating Game of Thrones (or any other problematic media). What I am doing is making a call for more civility on how we treat the media that we don’t like online. I think it’s easy to get sucked into a negativity vortex where we publicly mock and ridicule things that we hate with our friends. It can be a lot of fun. I get it. I’ve probably done it myself before, though I certainly regret that now.

Please, let’s all have a care for how we approach the media that we don’t like. Don’t tear down other fans or mock people for liking that which you detest. Let’s constructively discuss the harmful aspects of pop culture without making it personal. It’s just the human thing to do.


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What are your thoughts? Have you ever felt frustrated or shut down in an online fandom? Do you think Game of Thrones deserves the degree of ire it’s received? Or is a more measured approach always appreciated? I welcome your opinions!

kim teal





Title graphic adapted from Wallpaperest; gif credits to Tumblr user legolasgreenleaf.






20 Responses to “Game of Thrones: On Fandoms and Criticism (and crossing the line)”

  1. looloolooweez

    This this THIS. So much this. All of this.

    There is a big difference between pointing out the problems with something & asking for improvement, vs. just shitting all over it. Humans are imperfect and any media we create is bound to be imperfect as well — we can still enjoy it AND hope for better at the same time! But just being rude and gross is pointlessly ineffective.
    looloolooweez recently posted…Book Review | All We Have is Now by Lisa Schroeder

  2. Carina Olsen

    I love this post Kim. <3 You are the bestest. Thank you for sharing about this :) And oh, I very much agree with you, about all of it. Though I can't fully talk about it, hah, since I have yet to see the last five episodes of this last season. I didn't se the Sansa marriage episode, as I heard so so much hate about it :( but I'm planning on watching the episodes soon. Anyway. I do agree that there shouldn't be so much hate all over :\ Sigh. Anyway. Stunning post sweetie :D
    Carina Olsen recently posted…Cover Reveal: Down With the Shine by Kate Karyus Quinn

  3. Angie

    I don’t watch and have not read GoT, so I can’t comment on anything to do with that. I can say that this post is wonderfully written and very well timed!

    And along the same lines, I don’t like it when I see reviews that start out with ‘I don’t know how anyone with half a brain could possibly rate this book above one star!’
    Angie recently posted…Josh Lanyon Love!

    • Kim

      Oh thank you so much, Angie!! I appreciate your kind words!

      It is so incredibly rude to write reviews that way. There are plenty of books I have rated one star. But I understand that all of this is subjective and different people have different attitudes and take different things away from any given media. So sad and disappointing that such understanding can’t be extended sometimes. *big sigh*
      Kim recently posted…Classic Readalong: To Kill a Mockingbird

  4. Pili @ In Love With Handmade

    This is a fantastic post Kim, truly fantastic!
    I will never understand why a disagreement on taste or opinion has to be turned into mockery or glee over other people’s suffering.
    I must confess to not having watched the past 3 season of Game of Thrones, not out of moral high ground or anything like that… but I keep on being torn about seeing this loved world on screen (and visually done so well!!) and being angry about the changes over the storylines in the books that keep on happening!! GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!! In the end my doubt and being torn means I haven’t watched these past seasons… I still think I’ll probably end up watching them, perhaps being warned about episodes that will make me angry, I’ll skip those and hope that I have forgotten enough about the books to not be bothered too much about other changes…

    We can complain and disagree, and we should be able to vocalize our disagreement respectfully. I’ve always thought that the moment we lose our good manners when complaining and disagreeing about something, we lose a big part of the advantage that we might have on being right.

    As always, is it so hard to be civil and have some manners? Why is it apparently so in vogue to be an arse nowadays??
    Pili @ In Love With Handmade recently posted…Friday Reads: A Court of Thorns & Roses and The Girl At Midnight!!

    • Kim

      Oh thank you, Pili. You are always so kind to us!

      Like you, I just have to sit and scratch my head why anyone would take enjoyment in other people suffering for enjoying a property. Yet I can guarantee you around 10PM Eastern time on GoT Sunday nights you will find more than a fair share of those looking on and laughing at those who are still fans. And if not that there is just this sense of moral high ground. “Clearly if you stil like GoT you cannot be in the right.” So. Frustrating.

      GRRM himself continually makes reference to Gone With the Wind to try to illustrate the differences between the show and the books. “How many children did Scarlett have?” It’s different from the book to the movie. Ultimately, the answer doesn’t matter how many she had. There’s only one kid who really mattered. And so the showrunners always say it’s the same thing. Just a different way to tell the same end game. I try my best to divorce my book-reader thoughts from my show-watcher thoughts but I have to say I mostly fail. Especially watching things that haven’t (yet?) befallen beloved characters in the books happen on the show…it’s difficult. If you ever do want to watch I will happily advise on which episodes should be skipped due to anger making!

      If only everyone could disagree in a civil manner without seeming to purport their own opinion as the ruling matter. It’s so much easier to be rude when you don’t have to look anyone in the face. And especially when you can just write into a void (like a general tweet does). People stahhhhp. Let’s remember we all have feelings and just be nice!
      Kim recently posted…Classic Readalong: To Kill a Mockingbird

  5. Cait @ Paper Fury

    YES. Omg, yes I completely agree. It’s okay to hate but it’s NEVER okay to be rude and cruel about it. And why do people get such satisfaction over being so rude??? Where has respect gone? I’ve seen a lot of authors leaving twitter and tumblr because of the disgusting hate they’re receiving. It’s like fans (or, well, non-fans) are losing grip on reality and think that they can just bash things online because there’s no “physical repercussions”. Or something. Gah. It saddens me a lot. I hate a lot of books and I review them as such, but I reeeeally hope that I keep it civil and also point out that “This is my opinion! Feel free to read/rate this for yourself!” **sigh** I still get a lot of backlash if I post a low star review on a book people loved. Okay, I’m totally rabbit trailing from the actual Game of Thrones topic. OOPS. XD hehe.

    I’m like a Game of Thrones newbie. I’ve read the first two books and seen the first two seasons. I liked S1 better because it followed the book sooo closely, and S2 confused me a lot because I read and watched simultaneously and ended up getting muddled as to what-was-book-and-what-was-not. So far I haven’t gotten to where everyone is raging. I’m a little scared. :O I really love these characters, I think the writing is great, it’s brutal but it feels honest to me. Idek if my opinions will change. But it does make me sad when people have declared GoT a “BAD SHOW/BOOKS”. If you don’t like something, it doesn’t mean it’s inherently and unforgivably bad. :(

    Zomg, such a long comment!! *dashes off*
    Cait @ Paper Fury recently posted…Uprooted by Naomi Novik // i accidentally didn’t love it

    • Kim

      Exactly! There are plenty of tv shows and books that I have less than enthusiastic opinions about but I am never, ever cruel about it. In fact, I almost universally feel terrible and cringe any time I write anything less than positive on the internet (even though it’s perfectly legitimate to have a negative reaction!). I do find it so, so worrying that authors feel like they have to leave social media because of attack and fear of attack. There is a disconcerting “strike first, questions later (if at all)” attitude that pervades platforms like Twitter. Certainly there’s a disconnect when you don’t have to actually look someone in the face to say something to them that lowers the bar of civility, I think. We should always be mindful that our opinions are just that: opinions. And not a statement of fact about the worthiness of a piece of literature or art or television etc..

      Ha and I don’t blame you for getting muddled up with GoT. Honestly, I do too and I’ve read all of the books (and then some). It’s a dense show and there are a lot of layers going on. I could watch seasons on repeat and still catch something new every time. If you ever do get to the ragey parts, feel free to be ragey too! Just remember to be kind to us few who still insist on having hope in the show. :p
      Kim recently posted…Classic Readalong: To Kill a Mockingbird

  6. Kristen@My Friends Are Fiction

    I’m pleased that I missed the majority of this hate on social media. I’m pretty sick of this type of thing myself. I’m a long time fan of the series having read all the books way back when and having to wait for the next installment. I followed all the casting (with Peter Dinklage being the first announced–which I LOVED). I have aspects of the show that I dislike…you know what I do? I fast forward through them. I’m offended by parts so I don’t watch those aspects. It works for me. I wish everyone could just get along but sadly it really seems like some enjoy insulting and bringing others down. what a bummer.

    And I must commend you for such a well written post. <3
    Kristen@My Friends Are Fiction recently posted…Blog Tour- A Book of Spirit & Thieves Interview + Giveaway

    • Kim

      Ha and you are much better off for missing out on the random hatred, Kristen. Next year on Sunday nights, right around when GoT ends on East Coast time take a look on Twitter. You might see lots of snark/superiority going on. Or don’t, rather. But it is there.

      I’m a relative newb fan since I first read them in 2012 when all of the current books were already out! I’ve read them each through 2 times since then (which is a feat since all three reads occurred within about a year and a half period and it takes me a couple of months to read all five). And I have extensive notes and highlights that I consult (thanks, Kindle versions!) all the time for Reddit meta posts and the like. I am very much an ASOIAF nerd. But I still have such respect for those who were fans before GoT came into popular culture!

      Many of these characters really mean a lot to me on a rather personal level. I identify with them and I see my struggles in their struggles. So what I’m saying is that I care a lot about these characters and I want to see them treated properly in the adaptation. The show disgusts and frustrates me alternately. It’s fine to express disagreement and disgust. I just wish some could so without acting like there is no room for nuance in liking problematic media. Pretty much all media is problematic in one way or another. It’s no good to ever hold oneself up as a moral authority just for getting on a high horse about a particular show. If only we could remember that and be kinder.

      Thank you so much for kind words!!!
      Kim recently posted…Classic Readalong: To Kill a Mockingbird

  7. Mel@thedailyprophecy

    I get it why people hate Game of Thrones and I definitely don’t agree with all the things they did with the TV show, but I simply love it. I love the cast. I love the storyline. It’s crazy how I almost felt guilty at one point for liking it; like I was some kind of bad person. But then I decided I should never give people that power. Just because YOU don’t like something, doesn’t mean somebody else can’t like it.

    Some people always seem to want to burn others down with their opinion. It’s okay to speak up, but be respectful for people with other thoughts.
    Mel@thedailyprophecy recently posted…Cinderella book tag.

    • Kim

      Yes same! I often get very, very frustrated by the show. But I just love the characters and the story so much, I just want it to be better. And I know it could be! *sigh*

      But I’m glad you realized you shouldn’t ever let others make you feel guilty for liking GoT, though lord knows plenty of people seem rather intent on it. I really don’t understand the impulse! I have absolutely no desire to arbitrate what others shouldn’t like. If I don’t like something I just…move on to things I do like and just don’t waste my time on what I don’t. You would think this is common sense. And I would certainly never take to publicly ridiculing people for being a fan of something. Geez. Sometimes I think the internet makes it all too easy for basic kindness to go out the window.
      Kim recently posted…Classic Readalong: To Kill a Mockingbird

  8. Becky LeJeune

    Right on! I have so many thoughts on this topic but I think most would be misinterpreted by my clumsy attempt to put them into words. I’ll just say that I’m amazed (though I know I shouldn’t be) at the rabid hatred that spews from the internet. There’s a big difference between a thoughtful conversation about issues, poking fun, or even simple fan enjoyment and the extreme reactions to everything these days.
    Becky LeJeune recently posted…Some Mini Reviews

    • Kim

      It really is amazing (in the worst possible way) isn’t it? People say things and react in ways online than they never would in real life. I suppose there’s just a certain disconnect that allows people to be more brazen and/or nasty when they don’t have to look someone in the face. I hate the pile-on’s and how quick people are to make assumptions and just jump into a fray to feed their own moral superiority. So frustrating! It’s better if we can all just remember the human sitting on the other side of the screen.
      Kim recently posted…Classic Readalong: To Kill a Mockingbird

  9. Bonnie @ For the Love of Words

    This is such a fantastic and well-written post. I completely agree with you too. While I can SEE the harmful aspects of GoT, you couldn’t pay me to stop watching. And after the horrid Sansa episode? Gosh.. I understand peoples anger and hate towards it, I was also a bit upset, but the bashing/hate got to the point where I started to almost feel guilty for being one to continue watching it.

    Sam Sykes really got it right with that one line: “Do what you have to, I guess. But maybe don’t act like you cured cancer because you decided to stop watching.” So hilarious and so true. People were acting all righteous like the show was completely beneath them and how dare the writers do that. *sigh* Again, like I said before, I get it and I was maybe not equally upset but I certainly understood the motivations behind the anger. But it is EXACTLY like book reviewing: not everyone will like the same book and that is perfectly okay, it’s even expected. So why is it so different when it comes to TV shows? Or movies? Everyone is going to have a difference of opinion, there’s a proper way of handling any situation when this occurs. This “proper way” doesn’t happen often at all but it really needs to.
    Bonnie @ For the Love of Words recently posted…Book Review – Lion Heart (Scarlet #3) by A.C. Gaughen

    • Kim

      Thank you for the kind words, Bonnie. <3

      I *totally* see the harmful aspects, and I hate them. But there is a line between portraying a world that has misogyny in it and showing how characters grow and change and explore in the difficulties of that world, and then having a property actually engage in misogyny. Where the books or more less firmly stay in the former, the show does frustratingly often stray into the latter. And I get the outrage, I really do. I was so angry over that Sansa episode. Yet another example of D&D straying from the source material and adding more pointless and needless misogynistic suffering. But the thing is, like you said, you felt guilty for continuing to like the show, and that's not okay. It becomes an issue of moral superiority for people. "I'm up here on the high horse because I'm boycotting GoT for moral reasons. If you aren't doing the same you're clearly beneath me." No thanks. Sure if you continue to watch GoT AND you think there's nothing problematic about the show...then there might be *some* understanding of that attitude. I just wish people would stop acting like they are often the sole arbiters of rightness when really it's the same sort of subjective opinion as everyone else's. I'm with you on that "proper way." Unfortunately, it seems for a lot of people getting to have a sense of superiority seems to matter more.
      Kim recently posted…Game of Thrones: On Fandoms and Criticism (and crossing the line)