zeitgeist

Zeitgeist

Part of this semester involves developing a concept for a TV series, film, or something of the like that targets the zeitgeist.

Spirit of the times. What does it mean exactly? After spending almost four hours in class exhausting all literal, figurative and spiritual meanings, we were definitely able to come up with a definition of the word, but when it came down to the criteria that determined whether something captured the zeitgeist…our steadfast collective producer intelligence fell into a heap. We were scraping at the bottom of the barrel for the most specific and concise set of ‘rules’. Our responses quickly turned into vague mumblings and entered into the realm of ethereality.

I suppose it was to be expected. Isn’t that what the entire entertainment industry is trying to do? If a bunch of wannabe producers could come up with the perfect formula for success in a few hours, well then, civilization would collapse and cease to exist. Probably. Or we’d all be filthy rich and own our own country.

It was an interesting discussion to get us thinking nonetheless. To develop a concept that captures a truth, concern or sentiment that permeates through our modern lives. We’ll see it in the way it’s reported in the news, in our lifestyle, in the way we speak, in politics and government but not always necessarily consciously thought of or expressed.

The responsibility of art - in all its forms – is to push the envelope and find the ever evolving and elusive zeitgeist. (It can also be said of entrepreneurship and new business ideas). The first series or films to hit it sparks a trend and all the networks and distributors want a similar show like that to bring to the masses. However, the subsequent wave is no longer targeting the zeitgeist, it rides on tails of success and forms the mainstream. An example would be the Twilight books. How many imitation Twilight covers have you seen on bookshelves over the past five years? And vampire films and TV series?

Herein lies the difficulty of my task; I cannot create a show that chases what’s popular but have to find one that will be.

Chyeah. By the end of this post I will probably sound a lot more wankier but still not have the slightest idea of what kind of show that should be. It’s almost as hard as predicting what video I upload will go viral. 

Part of the confusion is also the difference between when something is considered to be zeitgeist or merely just popular. Is Game of Thrones a show that really nails it or is it just extremely popular?

A show is never this successful for no reason. Why is it popular? What is it about this exact moment in time that makes GoT more influential than it would be say ten or twenty years ago? We could pin it to a rise in popularity of the sci-fi and fantasy genre in television, or the HBO brand of drama or even all television in general. But fantasy and sci-fi genres have always been moderately popular on television and the first of the A Song of Ice and Fire novels were published before I was even born, so it does not adequately explain the sudden GoT obsession.

The answer is that maybe the core of it lies within how the show deals with themes of power, deceit and political upheaval. In the “real world” we’re presently seeing a lack of transparency in governments and leaders. More so than ever because information is spread so widely and quickly through social media and the internet. Many have been exposed and accused of working for their own agendas, out of touch and indifferent to the needs and concerns of its people. This is at the heart of all the plots in the series.

The way George RR Martin has written his novels also makes the television series more significant. Moral characters, ones have good intentions and that we cherish, just die. No one is safe. Fatalistic as it may be, this is a truth in real life that we are starting to accept more and more. We are as insignificant as the characters in the books, bad things happen to good people for no reason. Consistently killing off regular or hero-type characters is rare in network television. You kill off your main character; you kill your viewership. GoT has managed to turn this unpredictability to its advantage, the plethora of characters and intertwining storylines makes the story more compelling and the bizarrely, the axing of characters more forgivable. Almost.

I’d say that is the reason why the show hits the zeitgeist jackpot.