This past Sunday, HBO’s arguably most popular series, Game of Thrones came to an end. It was a final season that alternated between shocking fans, boring them to tears, or simply stirring up righteous anger. Viewers complained about pacing, dialogue, character arcs, coffee cups, you name it. And yet when it came to the final episode, fans were evenly divided: they either loved it or hated it — and anyone who disagreed with them was stupid.
It’s interesting how people have learned to cling to their opinions as sacred, truly convincing themselves that their opinions are correct. Part of this phenomenon is due to humans’ tendency toward confirmation bias and self-justification: our survival genes need us to believe that our assessments are correct, else we perish at the jaws of a lion. But in the contemporary world, it just encourages people to hold tight to their opinions.
Add in a dollop of Western entitlement and you’ve got a society of people who insist that they are entitled to their opinions. As I’ve written before, many people assume that this entitlement means that their opinions have validity and deserve equal footing with those of experts, and thus we have experienced professionals sit on panels and “debate” kooks who printed out a degree that they made in MS Paint.
When it comes to art, however, no one opinion is valid over another. That’s the wonderful thing about art: it can mean any number of things to the viewer. Unfortunately, not everyone appreciates this fact. Instead, the mocking comments descend upon anyone who dares say that they liked the ending of Dexter or How I Met Your Mother, while insisting that “smart people” must adhere to their opinion.
The purveyors of such comments are the arbiters of culture. They’re the ones who signed a petition for HBO to remake the final season of Game of Thrones to suit their opinions. They’re the ones who flooded the IMDb page for the all-female Ghostbusters with negative reviews. They’re the ones who demanded that Brie Larson step down as Captain Marvel. They’re the ones who dismiss any plot line they dislike as “bad writing” and any casting they dislike as “bad filmmaking.”
What’s key here is that these people aren’t expressing their opinion with the necessary caveat that it’s, you know, their opinion. In a sense, they’re ignoring the expertise of casting directors and professional screenwriters and insisting that they know better by virtue of being fans.
As a fan of many things, I certainly feel upset by the treatment of some of my favorite stories. I disliked the changes made to Harry Potter, I thought A Wrinkle In Time was a propaganda piece for Oprah, I just about broke my TV during The Circle, and don’t even get me started on Prometheus.
But I don’t expect others to share my opinion. I understand that some people may actually LIKE the ending of Game of Thrones (gasp). I understand that my opinion is based on a lot of factors and moreover that the artistic work of the writers, directors, and actors must be respected.
A book or movie can be beloved by millions, clearly bestowed with cultural value by sheer virtue of its volume of consumption, and yet self-elected cultural arbiters take it upon themselves to declare its worthlessness, and then either overtly and subtly all its fans to be uneducated, undiscriminating steeple. There’s only one word for someone who does this: a snob.