Monday, August 11, 2014

On the Success of Game of Thrones

By the end of its fourth season, Game of Thrones became the most watched show on HBO ever.

More watched, even, than the storied Sopranos.

That the show would meet with much success at all once seemed a longshot.

And yet, in hindsight, it seems perfectly natural.

Game of Thrones succeeded as a fast, flashy, sex-and-violence-laden soap opera. And where soap opera is concerned, it is tough to beat a feudal setting.

The simple fact of the matter is that in today's world power is vested less in individuals than in large organizations, while office and office-holder are separate, and likely the products of a culture of white-collar organization men taught to always seem agreeable and "speak to the well-blunted point." Different kinds of power--public and private, economic, political and military--are vested in altogether different organizations. It all makes power diffuse, and vague, and impersonal, and the players rather self-important cogs in just one of many wheels, for all their flattering by worshipful journalists.

By contrast, in the Game, personal power is often highly concentrated and multidimensional, so that individual players like Tywin Lannister (Lord of Casterly Rock and Warden of the West, King's Hand, creditor to the throne) weigh very heavily in the scales--so much so that they don't have to worry about hiding bodies when violence becomes their preferred recourse. At the same time the drama of politics and war and wealth is tightly bound up with family drama, with people's love lives, in a way they never could be in the modern world (an incestuous relationship, a family vendetta, sufficient spark to set alight the ever-rickety feudal structure). And it is all attended by pre-modern pageantry next to which even the most lavish corporate function must pale (though admittedly, the TV production never quite does Martin's conception of these justice).

To put it another way, a couple of lawyers trying to do each other out of a partnership in their law firm, suburban adulteries, and even the tabloid scandals of the glamorous seem a very small thing next to the drama of the Lannisters and Starks.

Does this mean American television is about to unleash a torrent of feudal-set soap operas on us?

Perhaps. But it seems more likely to remain confined to channels like the CW (already invested in this area with Reign), and historical drama-minded cable networks like the History Channel (offering up Vikings) than the American Big Four, perhaps not totally averse to flirting with the form but much more likely to stick with their lawyers and suburban adulteries and such over the long run.

My Posts on Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire

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