Get Off My Lawn

Sometimes people mistake fiction and television/movies as purely fan wish fulfillment particularly in television.  Partly because writers and directors in order to keep ratings high provide fans with exactly what they want/demand.  That means fans often expect to get the happy ending.  The expect the fairytale.

If a good and honorable man is killed by the evil king it is expected by fans that the eldest son will raise and army and destroy those who killed his father.  He will marry the beautiful maiden and reign as a good and honorable king.  Good has triumphed over evil and all is right in the world.

Now, in real life one of two things happens.  Either the good and honorable son wins the war and marries the maiden, but turns out to be a horrible king constantly getting his kingdom into wars and raising taxes and providing a miserable time for all; or, those that killed his father are vastly more ruthless and pragmatic then he is and figure out a way to murder him, his family, and all of his soldiers.  That is why people want the fairytale.  Real life has a habit of really sucking.

The fairytale and the hero’s journey are fun to watch when done well.  They can portray a realistic depiction of triumphing over obstacles to reach your goal or destiny.  The key is “when done well.”  Too often our modern attempts at these types of stories rely on cliché, saccharine sentimentality, and dialectical morality.

I think simple morality tales are, if not impossible, damn hard to tell well in these more cynical times.  I think we do live in an era where cynicism is strong.  That’s because I think a cynic is a romantic who has had his heart broken one too many times.  We don’t trust a modern story where the good guy is purely good and triumphs over the bad guy who is purely bad.  We’ve seen this story in real life and we understand both characters have good and bad within them in real life, and even if the good guy wins it doesn’t mean he will be good as our king.

The reason we turn away from the fairytale is also the reason we seek the fairytale out in our entertainment:  Too much experience with its opposite in the real world.  The artistic instinct that tells Benioff, Weiss, and Martin that the good and honorable son will not defeat the evil usurpers is the same instinct that makes some fans crave the good and honorable son defeating the evil usurpers.

So, when something like The Red Wedding happens, some fans are outraged because it upends their storytelling expectations.  Fans (the ones who didn’t read the books) of GoT expected death and dismemberment, but they did not expect the good son, Rob Stark to die.  They didn’t expect his wife and unborn child to be butchered.  They didn’t expect his mother to have her throat cut (though she was psychically and emotionally dead before the final cut).  They expected someone to survive and for good to still triumph.  The thing is at the end of this saga (which Martin hasn’t finished yet) that may still happen.

This cynic believes good usually finds a way to triumph over evil.  Not pure good, but a good that is better than what is currently there.  The road is always longer and always bloodier then we expect.  History shows us not everyone who starts that journey will be there for its end.  Many good and innocent will be butchered along the way and many evil and venal will seemingly thrive.

The reaction to The Red Wedding also says something about our instant culture.  Every moment that happens in public and every scene that happens in television shows is dissected as if the world ended the moment the moment concluded.  GoT is based on a seven book series of novels and this season is taking us through the first half book three.  Why don’t we let Martin show us how he wants to end this?

Part of why we read and watch is to let the creators of the stories take us on a complete journey.  It seems to me, if you aren’t willing to show the patience to let a show that is barely halfway through its journey play itself out before you decide how good the total enterprise was, you shouldn’t have started watching anyway.

I don’t know, maybe I’m just feeling like an old man today and wanted to yell at the kids to get off my lawn.  I think I’ve gotten The Red Wedding out of my system.  I’ll get back to work on the book and reading (and watching World Cup Qualifiers) until next week’s episode.

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