Image Credit: HBO
Game of Thrones is a show that prided itself in shocking reversals of fortunes and defying expectations, so in many ways that it’s fitting that what was once heralded as ‘the greatest show on television’ has left millions of ardent fans disappointed. In reaction, a fan petition has gone online calling for the remake of season eight with 1.6 million signatures at the moment. For many, signing this petition has become a tongue-in-cheek way of simply venting their disappointment and frustration, and even the creator of the petition acknowledges that reshooting the season is a ridiculous request. That being said, many will have signed the petition in earnestness, and an ironic signature appears the same as one in earnest, so it’s impossible to tell the number of genuine responses.
In this day and age the internet, and especially Twitter, has become a central voice in media criticism, with the gap between creator and consumer growing narrower and fandoms having never been so connected. In short, mob mentality rules Twitter and angry fans raging is becoming part of the course. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (which is great by the way) sent fanboys into hysteria, which resulted in the online harassment of the very real Kelly Marie Tran over the actions of the notably not real Star Wars characters. But to audiences, Luke Skywalker feels more real than an actress on Twitter, so horrific abuse can be excused because they were hurt first.
The Game of Thrones petition justifies its point of view by saying, “There is so much awful crap going on in the world, people like me need to escape into things like Star Wars and Game of Thrones. We fans invested a wealth of passion and time into this series.” I don’t think this is true though. You don’t own something just because you love it – your investment into the show doesn’t mean your voice should be prioritised. Yes, they need us to watch it to fund it but my Netflix viewing habits don’t, and shouldn’t, gain me a say in the production process. It’s the same mentality that causes sports fans to scream ‘we won’ when their favourite team wins a match, as if they themselves played centreback.
Of course, creators should have respect for their fans, and of course audiences are welcome to be critical. Criticism is an essential part of the creation of art and pop culture and, ideally, should be a productive relationship between creator and consumer. I personally have so many issues with Game of Thrones’ Season eight that if you buy me a drink I can tell you about for many hours. In many ways, the show’s failings are often just as interesting as its triumphs. The reaction to this season has provoked many fantastic thoughtful, and nuanced evaluations of Game of Thrones, some negative and some positive. But, importantly, all took the show at face value, detaching their own personal experiences were left disappointed.
I think this problem of entitlement has grown not because these franchises offer escape but rather because they are bleeding into people’s everyday lives and identities. Think about the number of people who still have their Hogwarts house in their Twitter bio, people who justify their political opinions by comparing their views to Game of Thrones politics, or the never-ending supply of Buzzfeed quizzes for figuring out which Star Wars character you are show how fan culture is integrating itself into real life. It becomes difficult to reconcile when you have a little baby Daenerys sleeping upstairs to happily go along with television Daenerys slaughtering thousands of innocents and as such a bad episode starts to feel like a personal betrayal.
You may remember another recent petition calling for the ban of Rotten Tomatoes titled “Don’t Listen to Film Criticism”, calling on the disconnect between audiences and critics because, basically, critics generally didn’t like DC films. Though not the same as the Game of Thrones petition in intention they do follow the same theme of putting the figure of the fan central to the creation of media – it’s less a discussion of creating a great product and more a discussion of satisfying the whims of fandoms. In this new era of fan culture, it has been deemed that beloved franchises should not be owned by the creators, but by their impassioned fans. Enthusiasm has mutated into entitlement. Not only has the author been killed but they have been usurped by the audience.
I don’t want creators to personalise works to my taste. I have horrible taste. I’ve seen all the Sharknado films multiple times. As viewers ,we should want to be challenged, and we can dislike things while still finding them interesting and worthy of existing. You can be critical of media and still enjoy it – it is allowed. I can recognise faults in The Last Jedi and still immensely enjoy it and I can recognise Casablanca as a landmark film and find it so incredibly boring. The attack on critics, abusive messages over Twitter ,and the outcries for do-overs are a worrying trend in how fans are reacting to entertainment. It allows for little nuance, condemning media as wholly good or bad, and can have troubling real-life consequences.
That being said, I would always prefer passionate fans over apathy, and these fans care so much. It is the same passionate fans who have raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for a variety of charities to thank the Game of Thrones actors for their years of work. I don’t think the intentions of the Game of Thrones petition was malicious but prioritising the fans over the genuine quality of the piece of media won’t lead to anything positive, or meaningful. You are not going to change artistic expression with a petition. Fan reactions shouldn’t be central to discussion of creativity, therein lies a path to madness since with millions of viewers it’s impossible to make everybody happy. So be pleased or disappointed with Game of Thrones, have your own opinions, I frankly don’t care – just remember that it’s not all about you