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Damon Lindelof Needs to Slow His Roll: The Difference Between Complaints and Criticism

Though I will defend the Lost finale TO THE DEATH.

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I love me some Damon Lindelof. I loved Lost (yes, even the ending  COME AT ME!), I will always love that he gave Wolverine a panda spirit guide, and while I stopped watching The Leftovers after the third episode because WTF, I’m going to give it another whirl, because I’ve heard good things. That said, Lindelof recently said something about people who stop watching shows that doesn’t sit well with me as a writer, as a pop culture critic, or as a person who reserves the right to like or not like whatever the hell I want.

In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, Lindelof wrote an impassioned essay about why he loves Game of Thrones, and how our “clickbait-y media culture that exists to pick things apart.” There’s a lot to, ahem, pick apart in that one statement alone, but I’ll give you some context first.

Lindelof on excellence in Game of Thrones:

I’m literally watching five minutes of silence—that whole moment where Jon Snow is going off into the water and looking at The Night’s King and he’s doing his “Come at me, bro” moment. And I was just like: “There’s nothing better on television, right now, than this.” You only need to demonstrate excellence once a season for me to view the entire season as excellent, or the entire show as excellent. And Game of Thrones is able to do it at any one time.

And now, Lindelof on people who find something they don’t like on a show like GoT and say they’re going to stop watching it:

And I see people pushing against Thrones where it’s like, literally from week to week, someone will say, “This is the most excellent show, this season is firing on all cylinders, it’s never been better.” And then because of one story move—Stannis burns his daughter—suddenly [the reaction is] like, “I cannot watch this show anymore. I’m quitting you, Game of Thrones.” And I’m thinking: “No, you’re not. Don’t be an ass.” That’s like my 8-year-old saying, “We’re not best friends anymore.” When I see a blogger—thank God I’m not on Twitter anymore, because I get into all sorts of trouble—or a critic, or a recapper say, “I’m done with your show,” if I were running that show I would call them up and say, “You are not allowed to watch my show anymore. I’m going to f-king alert everybody in your life to watch you. I’m going to hire a private eye to tap your media consumption, and you better not ever watch it again. Are you sure you want to do this?”
It’s like you get in a fight with someone you love, you storm out of the room, and you say this is over. And then an hour later, you’re apologizing for being an asshole.

First of all, Mr. Lindelof, you realize that the people saying “This is the most excellent show, this season is firing on all cylinders, it’s never been better,” are not necessarily the same people saying “I cannot watch this show anymore.” But even if they are, people are multi-faceted creatures, individually capable of all sorts of opinions. Yes, even simultaneously! It’s like right now – I love Damon Lindelof’s work. And I’ve even met him once, and he seemed like a cool dude. That doesn’t mean I’m going to like everything he says or everything he does ever. And if he ever said something horribly sexist, or racist, or in any way offensive to my core beliefs (which he hasn’t, thank goodness!), I might not be able to support his work with my patronage anymore for ethical reasons. But that doesn’t mean that my love I already had for his work would be any less. It would just change how I interact with it. And that’s well within my rights as a fan and an intelligent human being.

Also, he assumes that the people saying they’re not going to watch the show anymore won’t be true to their word. Storytelling Excellence is not the be-all and end-all for everyone. Not everyone prioritizes “a great story” over things like, I don’t know, the way that mass media affects society, or even affects them on an individual level. For example, I wouldn’t expect someone who suffers PTSD because of a violent trauma to be comfortable watching GoT, and that has nothing to do with how good the story is or isn’t. It has to do with There’s too damn much violence on this show for me to deal with! I need to stop watching, because it’s relentless.

Lindelof doesn’t seem to be making a distinction between complaints and legitimate criticism. He groups it all together under General Internet Noise, and I have a problem with that, because he’s demanding nuance from people that he’s not willing to extend himself. And perhaps he has a blind spot because he is “someone who makes television.” To him, story is everything. But I, too, am a writer (I even hope to write for television myself one day), and the way I see it, a story can be “excellent” from a technical perspective – but if it doesn’t resonate with viewers, if a writer isn’t able to communicate with an audience and get them to see/understand things the way they do, what the hell is the point?

I’m all for letting creators tell the story they want to tell. But I’m also for letting consumers of content analyze and interact with that content in the way that’s best for them. And while things like “hate-watchng” frustrate me (why watch something just to experience the “joy” of complaining?), I’m not going to tell people what not to do. Sure, I might offer an alternative (like, maybe instead of hate-watching shows you don’t like, how about making sure the shows you love and want to see more of get ratings?), but whether people want to watch or not watch a show is ultimately their business.

Lindelof seems to be ignoring the fact that the people who say they’re never going to watch a show again aren’t just hating on the show or complaining for fun – they might actually have legitmate criticisms that they prioritize over storytelling prowess. TV comes into people’s lives and homes every day, and those people have a right to talk about how it affects them. What’s more, they should be listened to. As for the “clickbait-y media culture that exists to pick things apart?” Picking art apart is good. That’s how we wrestle with ideas and see beyond the art and into ourselves. I don’t understand how someone who creates television would ask an audience to mindlessly accept it at face value without questioning it, then complain that they’re a part of a larger “clickbait-y media culture.”

Bottom line? Fans aren’t this nameless, faceless, stupid mob – although the Internet can certainly make them seem that way. They’re individuals with a million and one reasons why they may or may not want to watch a show. It would behoove television creators to remember that.

(via Pajiba, image via Ewen Roberts on Flickr)

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