Life & Culture

Yellowstone: the smash hit TV show that exposed a cultural divide | Television

sellowstone, a violent drama about family legacies and the waves of change in the mountains of Montana, is the most-watched cable show in the US, although depending on where you live, you might not know it.

Paramount Network drama starring Kevin Costner as the owner of the largest contiguous ranch in the United States drew more than 11 million people for its fourth season finale earlier this month without air, and ratings not seen since the heyday of such staples of the 2000s as Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead, which were both widely popular and highly honored. (For example, season six of the HBO fantasy saga averaged 10.61 million viewers in its first week, including broadcast; AMC’s zombie apocalypse peaked in its fifth season from 2014-2015 with an average of 14.4 million viewers per episode) .

However, despite hitting the same league as Thrones and The Walking Dead without a clear streaming port (entire seasons have been licensed to NBC’s Peacock, while new episodes have been shown on fledgling broadcast network Paramount+ on CBS), Yellowstone isn’t attracting critical attention. Or media scrutiny like its predecessors ratings. Co-author Taylor Sheridan (who also serves as lead writer and episodic director) has earned accolades for Brave New West such as Sicario, Hell, or High Water and Wind River, but Yellowstone, which premiered in 2018, has been ignored by award shows. (It received its first major nomination, the 2022 Screen Actors Guild nod for Best Ensemble in a Drama, on Wednesday.) Culture sites like Vulture and The Ringer publish episode-by-episode summaries, but there’s almost no articles, media gossip on Twitter, or analysis Intrinsic, for example, to HBO’s succession, the tumultuous and bruising image of a media conglomerate family parallels Yellowstone’s substantive framework — massive wealth, squabbling siblings, a family that guards its assets — and offers a stark contrast to its lack of critical attention.

Streaming was supposed to be the big equalizer, either to access content (see: Global megahits like Netflix’s Squid Game, or the miserable South Korean drama that reached 111 million households worldwide in late 2021) or split it up into competitive platforms that struggle for their position. and IP chip. Yellowstone offers a fascinating rebuke to these trends: word of mouth at the heart of the country, for the lack of a better term for the loose and distinct geographic division in the United States, the phenomenon of cultural silos between identical urban cable consumers and urban (small towns surrounded by farmland, suburbs, small towns and rural communities) consumers basic cables. Paramount is building a world famous around the success of Yellowstone — the previous film 1883, starring adorable couple Tim McGraw and Faith Hill as well as Sam Elliott, made the biggest cable show debut since 2015 in December — and a big part of the show. Country did not notice.

It is hard not to compare Yellowstone with succession, both on a superficial level and as an indicator of cultural bubbles. Quite the opposite though—the Caliphate is serrated, satirical, lyrically profane, Yellowstone elegiac, melodramatic, and prone to philosophical musings—they both depict super-rich descendants scrambling to protect their assets (a Rupert Murdoch News Corporation-like media conglomerate; farm-size from Rhode Island) from threats outside the family. (Other companies; real estate developers and Native American tribes seeking compensation).

Both trade in ambiguous business disputes (hostile takeovers, shareholder meetings, land and water use rights). Both parents prefer to travel by helicopter, while the sons (three sons and a daughter, the toughest of them all) vie for attention and approval. Both created lush visual motifs to communicate lofty ambitions—for succession, airy and impersonal luxury signify the sheer soullessness of vast wealth; For Yellowstone, its sweeping shots of the mountainous countryside and grueling depiction of farmworks argue that one’s land is a soul worth fighting for.

But despite all the cultural fixation, the Caliphate attracts only a tiny fraction of Yellowstone’s audience. The Emmy-winning drama attracted its largest audience to date, 1.7 million viewers across all platforms (including HBO Max), for its third season finale in December, largely centered in major cities as it grew as word of mouth (and meme generator) online; 73% of its audience for the latter end was located in the so-called A-markets such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

By contrast, Yellowstone has rebounded in popularity outside of major markets, which account for 28% of season four viewers, according to the Wall Street Journal. For example, the season’s premiere in November 2021 drew 14.7 million viewers without broadcasting, and did particularly well in smaller cities whose farming establishments respond to the show’s bread and butter sequences and focus on property disputes—Abilene, Texas; Boise, Idaho; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Lexington, Kentucky; and Topeka, Kansas, not to mention the area around Bozeman, Montana, where the show is largely featured.

Part of that split comes down to delivery mechanics—the cable core, which contains Paramount Network, reached peak market saturation in 2010 with 105 million households; As of 2021, it’s down to nearly 82.9 million, and distortion is older. In contrast, HBO and HBO Max, the premium cable network and streaming service, had 45.2 million subscribers in the United States last year. Part of it is due to clever marketing pushes by Paramount’s parent company, ViacomCBS, which have driven supply in smaller markets. Part of it comes back to topic: More than anything else, Yellowstone is preoccupied with real estate ownership—most of the disputes with John Dutton stem from Costner and his family seeking to keep the farm in their name—and an idealization of the American dream of homeownership that resonates with audiences outside of tenant towns. mobile, and in places where possession of physical assets imposes local authority.

Kevin Costner in Yellowstone Photography: Kevin Lynch

In other words, Yellowstone is a showcase of what historian Patrick Wyman has called the American gentry—the class of local elites who own land and business in smaller markets across the country, whose policies tend to veer from conservatives and whose influence tends to collapse. Covered in comparison to glamorous oligarchs, billionaires, and those whose fortunes are not tied to a particular place. As inherited wealth in the United States tends to decline, this class is disproportionately white, as does the Yellowstone audience. The show consistently scores among the lowest viewership on US television (in February 2021, for example, Yellowstone had the lowest non-white viewership of all programmes, at 23%, according to TV analytics firm Samba).

Yellowstone’s conservative ethos has led some commentators to defend it as a rebuke of the liberal media – for example, former View host Megan McCain attributed his success to being “not woken up”, and several outlets described him as “prestigious television for conservatives”. This is true to some extent ; Yellowstone is conservative in the small sense, as its main preoccupation is the feeling of a way of life (i.e. being white ranchers) threatened by progress, outsiders and changing culture. “I don’t know if this is a uniquely American fear or just a human fear: the fear that the way of life is coming to an end,” Sheridan told the New York Times in late December 2021. I think it’s a huge topic, this fear of losing someone you love or a place you love. This is very universal. “

Sheridan is on to something. He. She is being An oversimplification of Yellowstone’s dismissal as the “Red State Caliphate,” but the series’ ambitious wealth and victim fiction (and truly amusing romance, swearing, and dialogic chess) resonated beyond the confines of the critical hype concentrated in the liberal-leaning cities. Depending on your social circle, this is self-evident or surprising — a fact, like a show that attracts millions of Americans to live TV weekly, requires serious scrutiny.

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