Of elitists and laypeople

Spoilers Game of Thrones

Spoilers Game of Thrones.

I have been watching Game of Thrones with great interest the past few weeks. It has very strongly highlighted a struggle that has been gripping my mind for a while now: That between elitists and laypeople. And I find myself in a strange in-between.

For those not in the know, the latest season of Game of Thrones is a bit controversial to say the least. If you skip past the internet vitriol, you’ll find a lot of people disliking the season for legitimate reasons: The battle tactics don’t make any sense, characters miraculously survive after the camera cuts away, time and distance stopped being an issue in a setting that used to take it slow, and there’s a weird, forced conflict that would go away entirely if these two characters that are already in love would simply marry. And the list goes on, I’m sure.

But on the other hand, there appears to be a large body of laypeople who watch and enjoy the series. Millions of people tune in every week to watch fictional people fight over a fictional throne, and they appear to be enjoying themselves. And me? Sure, I’m enjoying myself as well. I had muscle aches from the tension of watching The Long Night, and nothing gripped me more than the half-botched assassination attempt at the end of the episode.

So what gives? On the one hand enthusiasts are rightly criticising the writers for some very strange decisions, but on the other hand millions of people are enjoying the series all the same.

Of power users and newbies

I frankly don’t know the answer to the posed question, but I do know an analogy that prompted me to write this blog post. I am a humble contributor to the GNOME Project, chiefly as translator for Esperanto, but also miniscule bits and bobs here and there. GNOME faces a similar problem with detractors: They have their complaints about systemd, customisability, missing power user features, themes breaking, and so forth. And I’m sure they have some valid points, but GNOME remains the default desktop environment on many distributions, and many people use and love GNOME as I do.

These detractors often run some heavily customised Arch Linux system with some unintuitive-but-efficient window manager, and don’t have any editor other than Vim installed. Or in other words: They run a system that the vast majority of people could not and do not want to use.

And I understand these people, because in one aspect of my digital life, I have been one of them. For at least two years, I ran Spacemacs as my primary editor. For a while I even did my e-mail through that program, and I loved it. Kind of. Sure, everything was customisable, and the keyboard shortcuts were magically fast, but the mental overhead of using that program was slowly grinding me down. Some menial task that I do infrequently would turn out to involve a non-intuitive sequence of keys that you just simply need to know, and I would spend far too long on figuring that out. Or I would accidentally open Vim inside of the Emacs terminal emulator, and :q would be sent to Emacs instead of the emulator. Sure, if you know enough Emacs wizardry, you could easily escape this situation, but that’s the point, isn’t it? The wizardry involved takes effort that I don’t always want to put in, even if I know that it pays off. Kind of.

These days I use VSCodium, a Free Software version of Visual Studio Code. I like it well enough for a multitude of reasons, but mainly because the mental overhead of using this editor is a lot lower. Even so, is Emacs a better editor? Probably. If I could be bothered to maintain my Emacs wizarding skills, I am fairly certain that it would be the perfect editor. But that’s a big if. So that’s why I settle for VSCodium. And the same line of reasoning can be extended to why I use and love GNOME.

Back to Westeros

Having made that analogy, can it be mapped onto the kerfuffle surrounding Game of Thrones? Is it a matter of a small group wanting an intricate, advanced plot and a larger group wanting a simple, rudimentary story, because they can’t or don’t want to deal with a complicated story?

It seems that way, but the damnedest thing is that I don’t know. I like the latest season of Game of Thrones for what it is: An archetypical fight of good versus evil. The living gathered together to fight an undead army, and the living won. Such a story is a lot easier to get into as a layperson, and there is nothing wrong with enjoying simple, archetypical stories.

But that’s not what Game of Thrones is. Game of Thrones is the derivative of an incredibly intricate series of books with so many details and plots, and the TV series stayed faithful to that for a long time. The latest season is a huge diversion from its roots. It is, as far as I can tell, replacing vi with nano. There is nothing wrong with either, but there is a good reason why the two are separate.

Who are these laypeople, anyway?

This question is difficult to answer, because the layperson isn’t me. It can’t possibly be, because here I am writing about the subject. The layperson must be someone who isn’t particularly interested or informed. I imagine that they just turn on the telly and enjoy it for what it is. No deep thoughts, no deep investment.

But why don’t these laypeople care? Why should we care about laypeople? Must we really dumb everything down for the lowest common denominator? Why can’t they just get on my level? This is really frustrating!

Enter cars.

I have a driving license, but I don’t really care about cars. I know how to work the pedals and the steering wheel, and that’s pretty much it. I don’t know why I don’t care about cars. I just want to get from my home to my destination and back. If I can put in as little effort as possible to do that, I’m happy. I just don’t have the time or desire to learn all the intricacies of cars.

And knowing that, I suppose that I’m the layperson I was so frustrated over a moment ago. When I walk into the garage with a minor problem, I like to imagine that I’m the sort of person who shows up at tech support because I can’t log in: I accidentally pressed Caps Lock.

So the layperson is me. Sometimes.

Then who are the elitists?

Having said all of that, something throws a wrench in the works: Game of Thrones was also immensely popular when it had all the intricacies and inter-weaving plots of the first few seasons. That appears to indicate to me that laypeople aren’t allergic to the kind of story that the enthusiasts want. But they aren’t allergic to the story that is being told in season 8, either, unlike the elitists.

So why do the elitists care? Why can’t they just appreciate the same things that laypeople do? Why must it always be so complex? Why should the complaints of a few outweigh the enjoyment of many?

And this is where I get stuck. Because frankly, I don’t know. Shouldn’t everything be as accessible as possible? The more the merrier? Why should vi exist when nano suffices?

But you can take my vi key bindings from my cold, dead hands. And I love what Game of Thrones used to be, and am sad that it morphed into an archetypical story that used to be its antithesis. I want complex things, even though I switched from Spacemacs to VSCodium and use GNOME instead of i3. Not for the sake of difficulty, but because complexity gives me something that simplicity cannot.

So the elitist is me. Sometimes.

Fin

I’m still in a limbo about this clash between elitists and laypeople. Maybe the clash is superficial and the two can exist side-by-side or separately. Maybe the writers of Game of Thrones just aren’t very good and accidentally made the story for laypeople instead of their target audience of elitists. Maybe it’s a sliding scale instead of a binary.

I don’t really know. I just wanted to get these thoughts out of my head and into a text box.