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.
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.
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.”
Nope, 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.
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!