Over the years, my dad has talked to me about major moments in television and movie history that he lived through. He’s told me about the shock that was the M*A*S*H finale. He’s told me about the “who shot JR” episode of Dallas. His eyes light up when he tries to explain how mind-blowing it was to see Star Wars: A New Hope in 1977, when such a film was completely unprecedented.
Sometimes the media we consume becomes more than the media we consume. It becomes a cultural phenomenon that defines its generation. It becomes a “you had to be there” moment that future generations will never be able to fully understand.
Coincidentally, two such moments coincided over the last week. Assuming you read this around the time of original publication, you probably can guess what they are, even if you didn’t take part in them firsthand. That’s how major cultural touchstones work after all. I’m talking of course about Avengers: End Game, and Season 8: Episode 3 of Game of Thrones.
Both of these got me really thinking about how our relationships with media change when it feels like our entire country is experiencing it with us. And in both cases, I’ve had some experience on the bandwagon and some experience off of it.
In the case of Game of Thrones, I had barely watched the show at all before this year. I basically reviewed the pilot for 30 Pilots in 30 Days and that’s it (read that here if you feel like it). This meant that unlike many Game of Thrones viewers, I was able to watch seven seasons in relative peace. Seven seasons with no think pieces predicting what will happen next week. Seven seasons without reading any memes or tweets about the show. Seven seasons of just me, the story, and my long distance bestie that would watch with me while we message back and forth. I got to watch seasons 1-7 unfold without listening to the whole internet speculate about what should happen, and to be honest, I’m grateful for that. I can genuinely say that I did not see certain plot twists coming, and that’s because I didn’t have to listen to the internet tell me such twists MIGHT be coming.
Season 8 is different. I get to live through Season 8 with all the other fans, many of whom have had their relationship with the story for close to a decade (or longer if they read the books). Part of me hates it. Part of me feels like huge moments from the first seven seasons wouldn’t have had near the effect they did if I had been forced to endure such speculation for weeks leading up to those reveals. That part of me wishes we could all just shut up and let the story be what it is, rather than getting disappointed that off-the-wall fan theories didn’t come true.
But then if we did that, it wouldn’t be a moment I tell my hypothetical children about 30 years from now, would it? There’s this palpable energy in the air on Sunday night that’s only there because millions of us have been anticipating this new episode together. We’ve spent a week wondering what would happen, swapping theories back and forth. And in the world of streaming, where tv audiences seem to become more and more fragmented with each passing year, not many shows can unite an audience the same way.
As for Avengers: End Game, I honestly didn’t expect to like this movie as much as I did. I like certain Marvel movies, but have never really considered myself part of the fandom. After having a disappointing experience with Avengers: Infinity War, potentially because I hadn’t seen all the necessary movies I was supposed to see beforehand, I decided to really do my homework for End Game. I watched every MCU movie over the couple months leading up the End Game premiere. Many of those movies were just so-so as far as I’m concerned, but I’m glad I watched them as my experience with End Game was better for it. Because something like the MCU is so unprecedented, I don’t think I fully realized it was possible for a movie to be fulfilling the way that End Game is. And what’s more, being part of such a major cultural moment that brings so many people together is magical in a way that simply seeing a good movie isn’t.
There’s a part of me that can’t help but think that one day I’ll talk about the Battle of Winterfell and Avengers: End Game the same way my dad talks about Star Wars.
As much fun as it can be to find cool, interesting shows that no one else seems to be watching, this past week has reminded me that sometimes, it’s even more fun to jump on the bandwagon. The bandwagon is what takes content that might be perfectly engaging in its own right, and elevates it to a true part of culture with a meaningful legacy.