Yes, I’d Rather Keep Up with the Kardashians Than Play A Game of Thrones. No, It Isn’t a Socio-Political Statement.
Over the weekend, I felt compelled to make a horrible confession on social media. After reading of countless friends and strangers’ unbridled enthusiasm for the start of season seven of Game of Thrones, I needed to admit that I had never watched a single episode of the HBO hit show. And I had no intention of starting that evening.
It is amazing how media consumption defines us as individuals these days. Our news-viewing (or listening) habits make clear our political leanings. Our entertainment programs define where we see ourselves — or where we want others to see us — on the social and economic ladder.
So I confessed to having no interest in GoT. Then social media was hit with the revelation that the next Doctor Who would be a woman, and I realized I had never watched, and had no intention to watch, that program either. I’ve never seen an episode of Downton Abby. I’ve yet to watch a zombie drama. In fact, I’ve pretty much ignored all of the media programming that my social media bubble has embraced to define who it is.
When it comes down to it, my media consumption is based solely on what I find entertaining. I seek to make no political statements in my choices. I’m not looking to impress anyone. I’m not seeking the socio-political deeper meanings of my choices. For a half hour or so, I just want to be entertained. And I suspect that that is true for many of us.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that Game of Thrones is not an entertaining program. My wife insists that it is. It just doesn’t do it for me. And injecting a modern political lens into it makes it even less attractive.
I’ll listen to Rush and Hannity while driving not because I share their politics, but because I find them engaging and entertaining. And I’ll choose sports talk radio over NPR for much the same reason (and just can’t listen to NPR after hearing them once describe a World Series game as a “baseball match.”)
In the past decade, I’ve watched more episodes of Keeping Up With the Kardashians than I have segments of 60 Minutes. After reading five newspapers — The Washington Post, The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and the New York Post — each morning, there just isn’t much more I’m going to get from television news magazines.
I’ve yet to make it through an entire Rachel Maddow show, but I’ve watched plenty of RuPaul’s Drag Race. And plenty of UFC Fight Night on Fox. In short, I’m the Neilsen Ratings’ worst demographic nightmare.
Why is this important? At a time when we should be looking for commonalities and ways to bring people together, we are using more and more — including our media consumption — as ways to divide and ascribe potentially mistaken personas.
Even worse, it is often a way to separate based on economic standing, not political. Those who rave about Game of Thrones or Showtime’s Billions may be easy to put into a “liberal” box, but they are also ones who have no issue paying extra dollars for cable premium channels.
The same can be said for those who go gaga for Netflix series like Orange Is the New Black or House of Cards (though I’ll attest to the awesomeness of both Netflix’s Narcos and GLOW). Or even for those who can’t wait to show off their latest NPR or PBS swag, the result of a charitable contribution to “public” broadcasting.
Yes, I may roll my eyes at those who want to drone on about every incredible “truth” Maddow may preach, but I’m also going to have a secret crush Samantha Bee for her snark. I may shake my head at those who bemoan the “fake” news, but I’m also not setting my proverbial dial for CNN.
We label enough things with partisan labels, can’t we stop at entertainment? For a growing number of us, television (and movies) are an escape from the hard realities of our lives. My love of early Steven Seagal movies doesn’t mean I yearn to be a rogue cop with mad martial arts skills, just as my passion for Sons of Anarchy doesn’t mean I’m joining an outlaw biker gang, just as my affection for the movie Burlesque doesn’t mean I want to work in an LA dance club.
We can, and should, find entertainment in many mediums with many messages. It is meant as an escape, not as extra credit in the uber-partisan, uber-judgmental society we must slog through each day. Can’t we just allow a cigar to be a cigar once in a while?
(This essay originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.)