The seventh season of HBO’s immensely popular series, Game of Thrones, returned a few weeks ago – and as expected, think pieces and wordy Facebook statuses quickly followed along. While many of the critiques of the show – such as the use of sexual violence specifically toward girls and Women, a white savior storyline, or the lack of main characters of color – are extremely valid and absolutely should be discussed, many of the think pieces written have turned toward targeting fans of color, particularly Black fans. This focus on intentionally shaming Black and NBPoC (non-black people of color) that enjoy popular media seems non-productive and speaks to a lack of nuance and critical thinking when engaging in pop culture.
Strengthening the critiques against fans of color is the recent announcement of HBO’s newest planned series, Confederate. The show will explore an alternate United States, where the south won the first Civil War and slavery remains intact. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, Game of Throne show runners, will be at the helm of this extremely harmful series that has already sparked a social media mass campaign demanding HBO not move forward with the project. For a more in-depth analysis of why Confederate is a horrible idea that should never see the light of day, check out Geeks of Color’s own Qamar Shafiq’s piece, The South Cannot Rise Again: Why HBO’S Confederate is a Bad Idea.
As stated above, the critiques of Game of Thrones, its show runners, and similar outlets of entertainment are absolutely valid and essential. Dialogue is critical in discussions centering representation and access in pop culture. It is also completely valid if folks decide to not engage with media due to personal views, beliefs or politics. However, it becomes a slippery slope when Black and NBPoC viewers are harassed and told what they should or should not engage with. Most popular films and television shows contain problematic elements and exist in a system based off of capitalism and colonialism. Should fans of color remove themselves from pop culture completely? Are we not able capable of holding multiple thoughts and ideas while still enjoying a Television show?
While not defending the violence usually embedded in media or erasing critiques or discussions, it is possible to engage pop culture as a fan with a critical lens. It is possible to love a series, be vocal about problematic aspects of a project or fandom, demand well-written and complex representation, and stan all at the same time. Shaming viewers of color for partaking in Game of Thrones, comic books, or other popular fandoms implies that Black folks and NBPoC’s are not capable of viewing material with a critical lens. It also denies folks from the act of escaping for short spans of time from real world issues, and erases folks who have found a community of other fans of color within popular fandoms.
This focus on Black and NBPoC viewers also prevents critical discussions and harmfully shifts blame. Instead of productive conversations on representation or holding creators (specifically rich white men) accountable, Black and NBPoC viewers are harassed and targeted. It furthers a toxic cycle and does not center the systems and people responsible for perpetuating violence.
The “How can you support this as a PoC” argument usually lacks nuance and denies Black and NBPoC viewers the right of choice. Again, discussions and critiques are not problematic. They are important in creating spaces for nuanced, complex opportunities and stories for talent of color. Pop culture is inherently violent and again, the critiques against shows such as Game of Thrones are valid. What is problematic is the harassment of fans of color. If you choose to not engage with something, cool. If you choose to provide critiques of a popular series or franchise, cool. Do not shame other folks as if they are not capable of holding multiple nuanced, complex thoughts at a time. Happy viewing!