A couple of weeks ago, a little show called Game of Thrones aired its final episode.
The HBO-produced TV series launched the careers of several high profile actors, captivated millions, and changed our perceptions of TV forever. And no, I didn’t watch it.
I will never watch it because no one has ever explained to me why it is any good. Sure, I can reverse-engineer its good qualities and unique aspects from the various talking points I inevitably come into contact with around the web, but that’s precisely the problem. No one seems to be watching this show for its merits, at least, not anymore – all anyone wants to do is avoid being left out of the ‘conversation.’
Let’s talk about something I can join in the conversation for – Avengers: Endgame, the 22nd film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and finale of the ‘Infinity Saga.’ Although it might just miss out on becoming the highest grossing film of all time, it’s success and influence on the landscape of popular culture today is nothing to sniff at.
There was a time when I enjoyed Marvel movies. Iron Man and the other ‘Phase 1’ movies came out at the perfect age for me, back when I was in my early ‘teens. Yet, I’d like to think that I’ve broadened my artistic horizons a little bit beyond superhero flicks nowadays – not that those types of films are unworthy of criticism or appreciation, mind you.
Even so, I found myself physically affected by the release of Endgame and the fear of the dreaded spoilers. I’m currently in France and don’t feel like going outside much – especially to a movie theatre where I’ll have to deal with subtitles. Yet the fear of having the fact that Tony Stark dies, or that Falcon becomes Captain America being spoiled for me, meant that I spent a day visibly torn between the desire to remain inside and the need to go outside. (Oh, yeah. Endgame spoilers, btw.)
Even so, why did I need to see Avengers: Endgame? That fear of spoilers only stems from a larger process in play in our consumption of media in the modern, Disney-monopolized age; the fear of being left out of the ‘conversation,’ which can sometimes manifest in having the talk piece being ruined for you through spoilers.
The titanic ‘conversation’ phenomenon is not just limited to Game of Thrones and Avengers: Endgame, however. While I have seen one of those two properties, there’s plenty of other things I haven’t seen or consumed that I feel excluded from the ‘conversation’ because of – Stranger Things, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Golden Wind, One Piece, even Undertale.
It’s certainly true that the ‘conversation’ phenomenon is more acute in the consumption western mainstream media than it is in the consumption of outsider media such as JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Yet, niche communities on such sites as 4chan and Reddit often still generate conversation, or perhaps discourse, around them. If you use these sites, like I do, then it’s still easy to feel excluded from the conversation despite the participants being relatively small in number.
But the thing is, I just don’t give a fuck.
I’ve spent almost the entirety of my life trying to get away from the conversation, from the conversation pieces, from the mainstream. That’s why I watch animated cartoons made in a country on the other side of the planet and play games that are far too hard to reasonably have fun with.
So when somebody expresses disbelief at the fact that I haven’t watched Game of Thrones, and even more so when I say that I have no intention of watching it, I get very, very annoyed. Why would you assume that I want to be in on a conversation, and your conversation at that?
If this is sounding a little bitter, then I must apologise. As of late, I am becoming increasingly pessimistic and demotivated; the ‘conversation’ phenomenon has had a large part to play in that. It just seems as if no one is trying to start conversations of their own anymore – no one is trying to discover anything new and exciting to share with the rest of the world.
The anime community used to be like that, back in the day. Back when everything was unknown until it became known, until somebody started a conversation about it. Now, everyone just watches the most popular show on MyAnimeList, or whatever Crunchyroll is pushing, just to be in on the ‘conversation’ that particular season.
Hence why Gigguk had to make an entire video talking about why classics are still worth watching – a phrase that would have been downright comical if uttered merely ten years ago.
Although this may sound like the mad ramblings of a bitter nerd, there is a genuine cause and effect to all of this. For anime, the volume of content on offer thanks to modern simultaneous streaming services has meant that viewers are at once spoiled for choice, but at the same time lost at sea. Can you really blame everyone for just watching whatever ranks highest on Reddit when every season has at least thirty shows to give a shot?
It’s not a quality problem, as some critics would like to argue. The same is quite true for the world of TV and film, as pointed out in this excellent article by Matt Zoller Seitz on RogerEbert.com. Our increasingly interconnected world has meant that consuming the vast amount of media discussed online increasingly becomes an obligation more than a pleasure, which is one way that traditional media has managed to stay alive in the short term.
Even in my world as a professional anime journalist, I’ve experienced much of the same problems. I always enjoy, and invariably put more time and effort into generating a conversation around something that not many people know about. I’d like to consider it my way of giving back to the community that has nurtured me so much over the years. But those articles almost never get the same amount of traction as the articles I manage to push out as fast as possible about a popular topic.
Again, this is no one’s fault. We like to stay inside our own bubbles and rarely like to venture outwards. It’s only madmen like me who dare to venture outside of the tribe, outside of the norm, outside of the conversation. But conditions can dictate behaviour, and I worry that the quantity of ‘content’ coming out these days is limiting the amount of things we can actually have ‘conversations’ about.
So, yeah. Fuck your conversation. I don’t care to join in, I never have and I never will. I will never watch Game of Thrones, but I may watch Stranger Things one day. I do like a bit of Stephen King, after all.