Matters of taste

The HBO series Game of Thrones is heavily reviewed, and analyzed in the cyber world, revealing a clash of ‘taste’ cultures, and highlighting the fact television shows do not just appeal to a single style of audience or type of fan. In the lecture we looked at the idea of taste and cultural discrimination. It seems that even with television there is a hierarchy of what is acceptable to watch, and what is not; deemed ‘low brow’ television. Game of Thrones falls into the fantasy genre of television, a genre that is typically considered, and stereotyped as ‘low brow’ and appealing to a ‘geeky’ audience, who are active in the cyber world. Such shows are generally criticized, as their appeal to those outside their particular target audience is quite low. Game of Thrones however, has a fan base that stretches outside the traditional small niche of fans of the fantasy genre. However some may be led to question or feel guilty about their fandom, thanks to reviews that criticize their tastes without fully understanding the appeal of such a show, and the fact that there is such an abundance of shows available. This point was well summed up in a quote from the lecture – “Our daily lives conspire against us. We live in a tasteful world. We are surrounded by people of taste. Worst of all, we ourselves must constantly choose from a wealth of options open to us; we are seduced by our own preferences our likes and our dislikes. How can we possibly aspire to tastelessness? And why, after all, should we?” (W. Brooks, ‘On Being Tasteless’ 1982).

Taste is very specific to the individual concerned, and determines desirable and undesirable ways of relating to texts and cultural forms. This idea as discussed in the lecture becomes apparent in the particular reviews of Game of Thrones. It is clear in Ginia Bellafante’s review in the NY Times that she isn’t a fan of the show. The show obviously doesn’t match her particular tastes in television, evidenced in her unfavourable review. She argues that Game of Thrones is “boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the populations other half” (Bellafante, 2011) through its illicitness, and does not believe the show has a place on HBO. She believes that When the network ventures away from its instincts for real-world sociology, as it has with the vampire saga “True Blood,” things start to feel cheap, and we feel as though we have been placed in the hands of cheaters” (Bellafante, 2011). This is of course her opinion, and she is entitled to it, however it highlights this clash of tastes, where fantasy is considered of lower status. Asserting her opinion,  “If you are not averse to the Dungeons & Dragons aesthetic, the series might be worth the effort. If you are nearly anyone else, you will hunger for HBO to get back to the business of languages for which we already have a dictionary” (Bellafante, 2011), she is deterring potential audiences, particularly females, by suggesting if they were to watch the show then they would be like the geeky fans of the fantasy genre.

Such a review was bound to see rebuttals, and it sure did with a string of fans responding on various online forums. In response to Bellafante’s claims about gender, one female fan wrote “Any geek girl (wait, do I need to explain that term to you) would happily tell you that she’s looking forward to Game of Thrones. Not because of the sex, but because of the story, the intrigue, the swordplay and — oh yeah, I forgot — the fact that it’s based on books they’ve read” (Geek Girl Diva). And this is just one example, many reviews of the show have been carefully unpacked and critiqued, largely due to a legion of loyal fans who are active online. This trend has been recognized with one reviewer, suggesting that Game of Thrones‘ built-in fanbase has created a scenario not unlike the Rottenwatch trend within film, as each review is dissected and analyzed in order to explain – or, rather, explain away – the writer’s disappointment”. (McNutt, 2011).

What this abundance of coverage reveals is that Game of Thrones has a very large fan base, the ultimate active audience. Fans are often stereotyped as cultural ‘others’ – as obsessive, freakish, hysterical, infantile and regressive social subjects. (M. Hills 2007). Traditionally, pop cultures take on fandom has typically been of “distaste and critique, with fans’ emotional attachments to media texts and celebrities being viewed as ‘irrational’” (M. Hills 2007). However this view of fans is changing, as fans become more mainstreamed thanks to technologies, most notably the Internet. ‘Fanish modes of engagement’ have become more mainstreamed – a fan only has to read an article like Bellafante’s in the NY Times, a mainstream newspaper, and then comment on it.

Television really is a matter of personal taste, and different audiences will ‘read’ texts very differently. Despite the fact that there is no right or wrong taste, there is still discourse that allows for ‘superior’ tastes to function. Game of Thrones highlights this, with much debate surrounding whether or not this is quality ‘tasteful’ television.

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