July 23, 2019 | 68° F

On mass culture: Number of omnipresent shows dwindle


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The monoculture is dead, or maybe it never even existed. Of course, I'm referring to the perception that even though we are all individuals, we all experience the same culture. This system is of a bygone era, before the internet created the niches we all live in. Back when television had three channels, when the radio was the best way to listen to music, when movies sold out — not only for the Avengers — and everyone seemed to be on the same page. 

The perceived monoculture really was not a thing. Everyone listened to different music, read other books and watched various films, but there were cultural “events.” I’m talking about The Super Bowl, The Oscars and even a pop album like “Thriller.” Now culture is segmented with a diminished mass watching together and most remaining out of the loop. 

Everyone has that friend who refuses to watch “Game of Thrones.” That friend insists it’s not for them. But how can you deny something you’ve never seen? 

“Game of Thrones” seems to be the last vestige of appointment television. Even if you're out of the loop, you know about “Game of Thrones.” More than 20 million viewers tune into HBO to watch a medieval fantasy drama filled with incest, murder and zombies. 

In today’s fragmented entertainment world, 20 million people might as well be the whole country, if not the world. The show will not break any records in terms of viewership both because it's on a premium cable network and frankly because there are more shows that “that friend” may be more interested in. 

“Game of Thrones” may be, in terms of word-of-mouth, the most popular show on television. It takes up the same amount of cultural importance as “The Sopranos” did two decades ago and “Breaking Bad” did more recently. But those shows all had lower viewership numbers than the behemoth of yesteryear, “M*A*S*H.”

I empathize with those who remain out-of-the-loop. It must be great not to engage with content one does not want to watch. Personally, I have seen all 22 Marvel movies and all 10 Star Wars films, just to be in the zeitgeist. I have only enjoyed three Marvel movies (“Black Panther,” “Thor: Ragnarok” and “Iron Man”) and one-third of the Star Wars saga (“The Empire Strikes Back,” “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”). 

I haven't enjoyed “Game of Thrones” consistently for three seasons, but I force myself to watch to remain relevant. It's important to engage with cultural events. How else are you supposed to understand your time on this earth, or more importantly, on Twitter?

Not engaging with massive culture can stem from multiple reasonings. Perhaps “that friend” is genuinely not interested in the film, show or album. Perhaps they prefer more niche content like mindless 6-second videos given to them by an algorithm created by a corporation rather than a movie created by a corporation. 

Perhaps “that friend” is a contrarian. You know the type. The friend that hates anything popular for seemingly no reason. If it premieres and people like it, they won't. These friends are the worst. Sometimes we wonder, why are we friends with these people? They don’t even like Batman movies. It's tough to convince someone to engage with anything, especially when they hate everything.

Being out-of-the-loop is ignorance combined with disinterest. No one needs to watch “Game of Thrones” every Sunday. But we do it to get on the same level. “Game of Thrones” talk is small-talk, a shared interest that builds into something hopefully not Westeros-related. We all need some common interest, or else we're barely a society. 


Eamonn O'Neill

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