Entertainment

Embracing JOMO: The Joy of Missing Out on Everyone’s Pop Culture Obsessions

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I don’t watch Game of Thrones. I know.

I’ve seen a few episodes, and I liked them, but I never got into it. The show is beloved by many of my close friends — smart people whose opinions I trust, and whose tastes generally overlap with mine. But fantasy just isn’t my genre (for whatever reason, as soon as dragons or wizards or nasty little hobbitses are involved, I tend to lose interest), and I was immediately overwhelmed by the sheer number of characters. I’ve run into the same issue with other expansive cultural masterworks, like The Wire, One Hundred Years of Solitude, and Pretty Little Liars.

At first, I was embarrassed. I have a CliffsNotes-caliber knowledge of the plot (Khaleesi! Red Wedding! Incest galore!), as does anyone who spends a reasonable amount of time on the internet. When conversation would turn to the latest episode, I’d nod along, and even tentatively mutter my agreement when appropriate. I didn’t want people to know that I didn’t watch.

Eventually, it occurred to me that this was a ridiculous thing to feel guilty about. I asked my friends and coworkers if they’d share some of their pop culture blind spots — a concept Vulture once defined as a “shameful hole” in one’s knowledge of media and entertainment — with me, and was surprised by how eager people were to vent. Friends came up. So did The West Wing. American Idol. Buffy. “Music after 2005.” Homeland. Harry Potter. Firefly. Scandal (“I’m so embarrassed I don’t watch this that I lie about watching this”). The Hunger Games. Twin Peaks. The latter seasons of Community. The Fault in Our Stars. “All of football ever (not sure if this falls under ‘pop culture’ per se, but it should).” Fifty Shades of Grey. The Wire was mentioned frequently, as was The Lord of the Rings. “Justin Beiber” [sic].

Though I related to many of these answers, other times I felt like a hypocrite. I was mildly scandalized to hear that multiple friends had never gotten around to watching Breaking Bad. Same for Mad Men and Seinfeld. “Pretty much all old movies,” says one friend, citing Casablanca and Citizen Kane in particular. The Sopranos, my very favorite show. The Godfather. Friday Night Lights, which I find it difficult to talk about without getting weepy. It reminded me that it can be difficult to restrain yourself from evangelizing when you find out a friend hasn’t seen something you love, something that you know they’ll love. That’s part of the problem.

Overall, the vast majority of reported blind spots were TV shows, which lend themselves to a particular brand of guilt in real time. Television involves a more prescriptive timetable than any other medium. Though DVR and streaming services mean that live broadcasts are less of the now-or-never collective experience they once were, the fact remains that everyone will still be talking (and blogging and tweeting) about Game of Thrones on Monday morning. It’s like an anxiety dream in which you’ve completed failed to keep up with the syllabus for a class you never intended to register for, and also, you’re naked.

When taken literally, “must-see TV” is an exhausting concept. No mortal human could watch all of the TV there is: no mortal human could even watch all of the good TV there is. And there’s more to this. A friend of mine calls intense, thoughtful dramas — not unfondly — “homework TV.” They require your full attention. Culturally valuable and personally enriching as they may be, they’re only one part of a balanced TV diet. If you ate only steak, you’d never shit again.

I love watching TV (and, objectively, I watch a ton of it), I love writing about TV, and I love talking about TV. But I’m realistic about my limitations: beyond binging on Orange Is the New Black, the only currently airing shows I’ll make a point of watching every week this summer are Fargo, VeepLouie, and Small Town Security (trust me on that one). To what do I devote the rest of my TV time? To watching things I’m actually in the mood to watch (maybe Top of the Lake, maybe Trailer Park Boys, maybe Roseanne), when I feel like watching them. Such is the magic of Netflix. I even expect to get around to Game of Thrones eventually, when I’m ready.

But lately, I’ve actually started to take a perverse satisfaction in my ignorance: it’s conspicuous non-consumption, a conversation starter, a charming eccentricity. “I have a weird pride about not being into Breaking Bad or Mad Men,” agrees a friend (who, it happens, has previously chided me about not watching GoT). As another Thrones-abstaining friend (who, like me, finds it difficult to watch anything in the fantasy genre) puts it, “I don’t like to publicly be a dick about it, but privately I am like, ‘Go me.'”

So, go ahead. Embrace your blind spots. Say, “I’m going to sit this one out, thanks, at least for the time being.” It’s a tremendous relief. And, best of all, there aren’t any dragons.