Last weekend, a disposable coffee cup showed up in a scene from the latest episode of Game of Thrones. I watched episode almost the moment HBO released it, and never noticed the blunder, though it was extremely hard to miss it the next day online and on social media. Spot the cup in the screenshot below, it’s visible in the actual television show for about two seconds.
For the reaction it received among fans and non-fans alike, you would have thought the cup, which shows up in a candle lit feast scene, somehow changed the entire story arc of the series. Non-fans used it as proof that the show was overrated and the cast/crew were lazy, sloppy, and unprofessional. Fans used it to justify all their other gripes about any and all of season 8 thus far. The Game of Thrones coffee cup was a trending topic on Twitter Monday morning.
While a bit of ribbing to a show that spent millions per episode and two years to perfect its final season is probably in order, there were some comments that were downright nasty and others directed at the scene decorators and prop masters over a blunder that has seemingly ruined some people’s viewing experiences that were downright cruel. Never mind that some of these angry viewers are literally social media personalities who make their living going over TV and movie footage with a fine tooth comb looking for errors. If you’re profiting off the coffee cup (and it’s expected Starbucks will likely profit over 10 million dollars from the recent publicity), you probably also don’t get to complain about the coffee cup ruining you life.
There were many things that I wanted to complain about in Sunday’s episode, but even after seeing the coffee cup in a still shot of the scene, that was not one of them. It did, however, illuminate a bigger cultural phenomenon that I think has been exacerbated by social media and the hive mind. That is…it’s possible that we’re not allowed to make mistakes anymore.
The irony in this is that, as a teacher, the buzz in education about developing kids with grit and determination, is all about encouraging mistakes and failures and learning to rebound and come back better and stronger. As a private citizen however, I look at the world of social media, and the permanence of a comment, picture, or content created online, and realize that we’re simultaneously creating a world in which we quickly learn you can’t make a mistake because it will last forever in infamy somewhere on the internet waiting to haunt you when trying to get a job, find a date, or make friends.
This is an amazing double standard! On the one hand, make mistakes because they develop personality, character, and grit…but don’t make them in the wrong place, at the wrong time, in front of a camera, on social media, or in the presence of other people who might have social media or a camera. Not all that long ago, the list of times and places it was “safe” to make a mistake based on those criteria was much much longer than the list of places it wasn’t. But today, at almost any given moment, there may be something or someone around that threatens to capture our mistake, and thus doom us to its repercussions, forever.
As a result, we’ve become a society that both needs to make mistakes so as to learn and grow from the opportunities that rectifying those errors provides, and one that isn’t “allowed” to make mistakes because we may be repeatedly slaughtered in the court of public opinion for the rest of time…or at least until our ego is so thoroughly bruised that we keep entirely to ourselves for fear of future lashings.
What’s more is that social media has created a platform where people are completely unafraid to be vocal about their opinions as there are no real consequences for doing so, even if it hurts others in the process. Date the wrong person…mistake. Wear the wrong outfit…mistake. Say the wrong thing…like the wrong content…support the wrong cause…mistakes! And now thanks to the internet, we can document and relive those things for years to come. Never mind that mistakes should be one of the most expected parts of the human existence. Now it’s not merely enough to learn from them, you must also learn from them, and be willing to revisit them once a year should they show up on your “on this day” Facebook history.
Worse yet is when we feel we’ve done well, and find ourselves happy, and the “hive mind” deems our choice or success a mistake for us. Even more recent than the Game of Thrones gaffe, the new royal baby’s name was announced as: Archie Harrison. Immediately in scrolling the comments were people dubbing the name a mistake. “I think they will come to regret,” said one reader, “that they didn’t name the baby Spencer.” Another read, “Archie!?! What a mistake!” Still two more contained rude GIFs suggesting the parents’ (or name’s) stupidity. I very much doubt that given all the time to think about and plan for the naming of their child, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex consider it a mistake. But don’t worry, the internet has already deemed it one, and so much conversation, angst, and opinion has already been shared on the topic.
This is not to excuse bad behavior, nor to say that every poor choice can be instantly written off as a mistake and immediately moved on from without consequence. I’ve written about this extensively before. Mistakes don’t just go away and not have consequences when we take social media out of the picture. And using “it was a mistake” as an excuse for destructive and cruel behavior should always be rejected.
However, we should also reject a society in which mistakes of all forms, regardless of their frivolity, are used as fodor to torch an individual’s character. In one extreme comment, a viewer suggested in an exceptionally cruel tone that the Game of Thrones set department should be fired on the spot, and then be subjected to some utterly despicable humiliation of which I will not repeat. Of course, it doesn’t matter that the entire Game of Thrones set department is essentially unemployed from the show because the series is ending. As long as we get to drag them through the internet mud in the name of sport, that’s good enough for many.
Millennial author Eileen Moynihan writes of mistake making:
Now it seems like every situation ends in the worst possible consequence. No one asks what happened or what else is going on in a person’s life. Especially on social media, even the smallest faux pas doesn’t pass by without scrutiny…Now [a mistake] is quoted on Twitter until it becomes an identifier, branded on that person forever. The fear of making mistakes should not have to be as paralyzing as it is!
Please let us be a society that holds each other accountable when it’s time to hold each other accountable, but also allows one another enough breathing room to grow and evolve without comment on every step in that process. Please let us recognize when mistakes are opportunity for growth and not for gossip. Please give yourself permission to make mistakes, and not feel like you need to broadcast them to the world. And please don’t let the world name your mistakes for you. 90% of the time we already know what’s gone wrong, and the other 10% of the time what the world deems a mistake, might be your truth. Let’s just take a breath, stop the nitpicking, get off our soapboxes, and put our finger pointing away once in a while. And remember, the best thing we can really do for one another is…