No one likes to be judged -- not even gymnasts and figure skaters. But at least in those sports, the judges supposedly know what it is they’re judging. So, in the spirit of instant feedback, let me rephrase: No one likes to be judged by a peanut gallery*. Or, to use a more era appropriate moniker, by a troll’s chorus.
Because of this, I feel sorry for David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the showrunners of "Game of Thrones." Those poor bastards couldn’t be any more doomed if they had been invited to a wedding of the red variety.
At least they were aware of their fate. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, they disclosed their plans for the airing of the final episode. “We’ll in an undisclosed location, turning off our phones and opening various bottles,” Weiss admitted. “At some point, if and when it’s safe to come out again, somebody like [HBO’s 'GOT' publicist] will give us a breakdown of what was out there without us having to actually experience it.” Added Benioff: “I plan to be very drunk and very far from the internet.”
Like it or not, we now live in an era of instant judgement, from everyone. It’s the evil twin of social virality. It means we have to grow thicker skins than your average full-grown dragon**. And because I’m obsessively fixated on unintended consequences, this got me to thinking. How might all this judgement impact our motivation to do stuff?
First of all, let’s look at the good that comes from this social media froth kicked up by fervent fans. There is a sense of ownership and emotional investment in shows like "Game of Thrones" that's reached a pitch never seen before -- and I truly believe we’re getting better TV because of it.
If you look at any of the lists of the best TV shows of all time, they are decidedly back-end loaded. "Game of Thrones," even at its worst, is better than almost any television of the '80s or '90s. And it’s not only because of the advances in special effects and CGI wizardry. There is a plethora of thoughtful, exquisitely scripted and superbly acted shows that have nary an enchantress, dragon or apocalypse of the walking dead in sight. There is no CGI in "Better Call Saul," "Master of None" or "Atlanta."
But what about the dark side of social fandom?
I suspect instant judgement might make it harder for certain people to actually do anything that ends up in the public arena. All types of personal endeavors require failure and subsequent growth as an ingredient for success. And fans are getting less and less tolerant of failure. That makes the entry stakes pretty high for anyone producing output that is going to be out there, available for anyone to pass judgement on.
We might get self-selection bias in arenas like the arts, politics and sports. Those adverse to criticism that cuts too deep will avoid making themselves vulnerable. Or -- upon first encountering negative feedback -- they may just throw in the towel and opt for something less public.
The contributors to our culture may just become hard-nosed and impervious to outside opinion -- kind of like Cersei Lannister. Or, even worse, they may be so worried about what fans think that they oscillate trying to keep all factions happy. That would be the Jon Snows of the world.
Either way, we lose the contributions of those with fragile egos and vulnerable hearts. If we applied that same filter retroactively to our historic collective culture, we’d lose most of what we now treasure.
In the end, perhaps David Benioff got it right. Just be “very drunk and very far from the internet.”
* Irrelevant Fact #1: The term peanut gallery comes from vaudeville, where the least expensive seats were occupied by the rowdiest members of the audience. The cheapest snack was peanuts, which the audience would throw at the performers.** Irrelevant Fact #2: Dragons have thick skin because they don’t shed their skins. It just keeps getting thicker and more armor-like. The older the dragon, the thicker the skin.