Even though the “Caliphate” finale aired on May 28, the conversation about our collective cultural obsession with the show continues to enthrall audiences. What makes the Emmy Award-winning Max series so enthralling? Why do the psychological conversations about the narrative sweep the minds of millions of viewers?
“There is a process called escapism, which is trying to escape your immediate reality and immerse yourself in a different world through media,” said Celeste Wagner, Ph. D., assistant professor of journalism at the University of Florida (UF). “People listen to consume things that allow them to escape from their daily routines, stressful jobs, and their material and personal struggles. Statistically speaking, this show can deliver that experience to the majority of the audience.”
Since June 2018, Caliphate has offered viewers four seasons and 39 episodes of a black comedy-drama about money, power, politics and the inner workings of a deeply dysfunctional dynasty. The escapist TV series revolves around a media mogul who discovers which one of his four sons will inherit his billion-dollar empire. The Season 4 finale comes after the sale of media group Waystar Royco to technology visionary Lukas Matsson, leading to all kinds of family turmoil.
The dialogue around this story led to headlines like, “Can you feel bad for billionaires?” Fans have been engaging in in-depth discussions about why they relate to Roy’s family and characters, and why they feel strangely invested in fictional individuals who commit evil acts like extortion, murder, and sexual assault. This sympathetic phenomenon of flight may seem bizarre, but it permeates universally relevant parts of the human psyche.
“While segregation is the main structural theme in this show, it’s ultimately a show about a dysfunctional family and an aging patriarch, whose kids are constantly trying to get his approval, make him proud, and in general, just trying to feel some sense,” said Wagner. “This is also something a lot of the audience might identify with, especially during a time when we’re seeing so many generational shifts around masculinity, forms of leadership, emotional availability, and different ways of expressing love.”
Wagner explores topics such as these in her scholarly research, with segments such as “Affect, Curiosity, Positionality in Context: Watch Television Entertainment in Argentina and the United States” and “Watching Turkish TV Series in Argentina: Intricate Convergence and Resigned Agency in Global Media Streams” in International Journal of Communication.
“People may consume content that represents a community or lifestyle to which they aspire, and this is evident in the many intrigues surrounding the experience of the American Dream. However, I believe that upward social mobility and aspiration are not why so many people love the Caliphate,” said Wagner. “There is something amusing about taking up stories about the powerful and the rich shown to be a bit depraved, morally corrupt, greedy, greedy, and also generally unhappy despite their wealth.”
The vicarious thrill that comes with watching the power fall through the runaway TV is, in its own way, even more powerful than watching it blossom.
“Sometimes it’s easier, as an audience member, to feel better about your life after watching a show—and to appreciate more things about it—than to try to look forward to how those at the top live,” Wagner said.
Maria Celeste Wagner et al., Influence, Curiosity, and Location in Context: Watching Television Entertainment in Argentina and the United States, International Journal of Communication (2021). ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/view/14191/3343
María Celeste Wagner et al., Watching Turkish TV Dramas in Argentina: Intertwined Convergence and Resigned Agency in Global Media Streams, Communication Journal (2023). DOI: 10.1093/joc/jqad001
the quoteShows like “Caliphate” tap into our deepest desires to escape from reality, says Scholar (2023, June 1). Retrieved June 1, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-06-succession-deepest-desires. html
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