Godzilla was forgettable.
The final season of Game of Thrones fell flat.
The latest MIB (subtitled Men and Women in Black) was entirely predictable.
Somewhat ironically, it’s not because these movies didn’t have good writers. In some cases, like Prometheus, it’s a case of too many cooks spoil the broth, with rewrites and revisions obscuring the storyline, but Aquaman, Game of Thrones and Men in Black all shared one common trail that DEMANDED they be lame—they’re popular.
Wait? What the…
Yep, you read that right. They had to be lame because of their broad appeal. Sounds crazy, right? But it’s actually based on sound psychology and explains why Christmas crackers ALWAYS have lame jokes.
After more than a century of trial and error, Christmas cracker manufacturers have settled on mundane, lame puns—and with good reason.
If a joke is good and you tell it and it doesn’t get a laugh, it’s your problem. If a joke’s bad and it doesn’t get a laugh, then it’s the joke’s problem. My theory is that [dumbed down jokes are] a way of not embarrassing people at Christmas.Professor Richard Wiseman
And there you have it, modern story telling in a nutshell—dumb down your story to avoid alienating your audience.
From a commercial perspective, it makes sense. If you want to reach the broadest possible audience, you can’t risk nuanced plot points or character development that could confuse people.
Books and movies are escapism. They’re a mental break, a time to recharge—not a time to think in depth. In fact, the whole premise of fiction relies on the suspension of disbelief, putting rational thinking on hold for a while.
A lot of what we think of as “lazy writing” is actually writing that caters to the broadest possible audience. Rather than lazy, it’s deliberate, just like the jokes in your Christmas cracker.
A good example of this is Brienne of Tarth.
Okay, what did you think when you read the caption above? If you’ve seen the show, you probably agreed, “Yes, she deserved better.” And that highlights how the suspension of disbelief works. She isn’t real, but we think of her as actually enduring the humiliation of being used and dumped by Jaime.
Asking why the writers chose that direction is akin to asking why water flows downhill—it’s natural, easy and effective, and there really isn’t any choice in it. With seven seasons of character development, the writers of Game of Thrones chose to dumb down the eighth season to appeal to the broadest possible audience. It might be poor storytelling, but it brings in the bucks.
In some ways, the writers are damned… tell an esoteric story with complex characters and it’ll miss broad appeal… tell a simplified story with easy-to-grasp, in-your-face caricatures and you’ll reach the masses.
So there you have it… if you’re looking for nuanced, thoughtful stories, you’ll have to venture off the beaten track as you won’t find them in popular circles.