Expectations Corrected

by robinhardwick

The internet hype machine, once again, has led us astray. Pictures of celebrities commonly “break the internet.” Viral videos of people fighting back against bad customer service have “won the internet.” Fan pages, message boards, and recaps have made many people obsessed with certain television shows, films, and cinematic universes.

Our ability to binge-watch pop culture and have most movies at our fingertips turn us into Augustus Gloop always wanting more, Mike Teevee who has no limits, and Veruca Salt, who wants the latest thing (latest season, latest film) right now. In fact, we have turned into all the Willy Wonka kids. Except maybe Charlie Bucket. Wait, no. Charlie Bucket is busy making viral lip dub videos with kids in orphanages hoping to break a million views.

This is not news. This is cranky old me giving a “kids these days…..” spiel. It’s great to like something or enjoy something you see on the internet. But we are too quick to declare somethinga winner of something you can’t even quantify (the internet) and to take a quiz to find out just how obsessed you are with something. Our obsessions these days, define who we are. We have to create a billboard advertising our worth and identity online, and we don’t want to have nothing to show for it. Our mixture of likes, dislikes and ‘obsessions’ show the world who we are and how we can connect with others. I believe that people’s ‘obsessions’ with Breaking Bad created connections of people across race, age, status, whatever. It’s nice to connect with someone when you think there is nothing to connect with.

Here is a common conversation I’ve had with people:

PERSON: So do you watch Breaking Bad?

ME: I watched some of it. I think I’ve season the first season.


ME: Why do you like it? What about it is good?

PERSON: It just…it’s just SO GOOD.

This is not to illustrate what a special snowflake I am because I didn’t watchBreaking Bad. I’m not pulling the “I don’t own a tv” attitude. These roles could be reversed often, with me trying to convince people to watchBattlestar Galactica, American Horror Story: Asylum, or various other programs.

My point is: are we over-exaggerating our love for things? Are the things we claim the best ever and obsessed with because we get caught up in the common participation of liking something? THis is not a bad thing. I have met and become friends with people over a shared love of Sweet Valley High (that’s a long story). I’m just concerned about our collective regard for things no longer having any standards, any range. If you are trying to get someone else to like something you like, claiming it is the best thing ever and they have to watch it is a great way to turn them off to it. I’m going to call it “The Wire Effect”, after the early-aughts drama aired on HBO that literally no one watched until someone watched it on-demand and declared it the best show, joining the ranks of prestige television, birthed by The Sopranos. But if we keep declaring our “obsession” with something, it cheapens everything. It’s crying wolf. What is really good and what deserves undying, devotional acclaim?

Take Serial, the supposed most popular podcast of all time. It’s surge in popularity astounds me. It certainly helped that it was linked to This American Life, but I think it was also the recipient of some great word-of-mouth publicity.

And it’s very good. I’m not trying to convince you otherwise. The week-to-week suspense, the mystery we all try to solve, Sarah Koenig’s voice. It’s all quite good. It’s also a great vehicle for conversations about our own theories. But it this really the best ever thing produced about true crime? Is it worth it that podcasts about this podcast has sprung up? (I’m looking at you, Slate, who now devotes most of their Spoiler podcast to talking about Serial.)

Therefore, I’d like for us to reconsider America’s current “obsessions” and “winning” items and describe them in more realistic, non hyperbolic terms.

Harry Potter series: The ideas are nothing new, and it’s your basic good v. evil story. However, Rowling excels and creating the world of the book and the books are an enjoyable, not-difficult read. It is aimed at children, so the ideas are not too complicated and many of the characters do not have much depth. It is an enjoyable read

Mac and Cheese: It’s an indulgent mix of carbs that are usually not recommended if one were to “eat healthy”. The cheese part is abundant, often rendering the pasta tasteless, merely serving as a rational to ingest all the cheese. Cheese, as we know, is full of fat and salt, which gives the strongest reaction to our tastebud. One might as well eat a brick of cheese, if it were more socially acceptable.

Orange in the New Black: The show is unique in that it covers a subject and type of characters not usually portrayed: It is satisfying to hear women’s stories front and center in a show. However, many of the plot points border on melodrama. The entire run of the show was presented on a platter by Netflix, serving as an all-you-can eat buffet with no limits, instead of a week-to-week treat, adding to its indulgence. Would people feel the same way about this show if it was weekly?

Guardians of the Galaxy: Many of us are hitting superhero movie fatigue, but Guardians rejects the recent dark and surly tropes (thanks, Chris Nolan) for funny, bright, and cartoonish action that heralds back to the excitement of childhood. The film further caters to this by the main character also being fond of nostalgia. It provides an escape for our brains for two two-plus hours, but still sticks to tired tropes- a “woman” just being a type of the group. The “I Am Groot” business borders on trite. It is upsetting, however, that there was mass death and destruction, but all is well because our conventionally good-looking characters survive.

Let’s remember that the actual real-time enjoyment of these items may not, and certainly does not have to, correlate with quality. I’m not trying to rain on your parade by telling you that Guardians of the Galaxy was dumb and you are stupid for liking it. But as far as depth and subject matter, it’s hardly the most profound thing that ever existed.

For instance, it is no secret that I love the now-canceled unscripted MTV show The Hills. I turn it on when I have to clean or when I am sick, because the experience of watching it is probably the most comforting thing I can think of. Is it quality? No. Not in the way I judge storytelling. It’s okay to really enjoy anything at any level, but that is different from true, artistic criticism.

The next time you think that something is really awesome, think about how you are describing it to people. If everything is so great, and obsession-worthy to you, you may start crying pop culture wolf. If everything is the greatest, how can you really tell the difference in quality? Save the accolades for those that truly deserve it.