Hype Aversion/Backlash as an Immune Response?

by lucidfox1 min read4th Jul 201112 comments


Personal Blog

"Check out this book/movie/show! It's got everything! Everyone and their mother is talking about it, and it seems just your type!"

Sounds familiar? Chances are, more than once such hype made you, if anything, more reluctant to approach the work in question, and if you do, you may be up for bitter disappointment; the work may not even be that bad per se, and fairly enjoyable if you just heard about it on your own, but it simply fails in your mind to live up to the massive hype that positions it as the best thing to happen to the universe since the Big Bang.

I know that in such situations, my mental energy is often channeled in the opposite direction: into venting bitter disappointment, into arguing that it's not as great as everyone seems to think it is, into looking for just about anything critical anyone has to say about it, anywhere. Finding refuge in knowing that at least I'm not lonely in my dissent. Except when I apparently am.

Typically, I expect any work of fiction, community, or social movement to have its share of praisers and critics. When a healthy balance of positive and negative opinions is preserved, I'm calm about it, regardless of my personal opinion on the subject. When something is universally critically panned, it sometimes sparks my curiosity. ("Come on, it can't possibly be that bad!" Except when it occasionally is.) But when something is unanimously liked, and criticism is next to nonexistant, and I just plain "don't get it"... then things get ugly.

"What in the blazes did everyone find in it? Why am I not affected by this outbreak of unanimous praise?" I've had this feeling before about Neon Genesis Evangelion (which by now has got its own share of skepticism and criticism), about the Haruhi Suzumiya franchise (which I now actually like, although its obsessive fandom still rubs me the wrong way); the current contenders are Twitter, Steven Moffat's grip over Doctor Who, and My Little Pony.

I suspect that in my case, the backlash is an automatic response that is a part of my "defense mechanism", so to speak, against hostile memes. I can usually detect not-so-subtle attempts at mind manipulation, such as loaded questions, biased presentation and dodging inconvenient subjects; this is why, for example, I don't watch TV news and feel uncomfortable when someone else does, as if I can feel it trying to invade my brain.

I suspect, thus, that such an "allergic" reaction to hype is my attempt to balance the equation. The more universal the praise is, the less criticism there is (and the more quickly critics are shunned), the more my mind treats it as some kind of infection of the collective conscious, a malignant meme that it needs to repel. I don't, of course, seriously believe there is some kind of mind control at work, but it feels like it, and so I subconsciously try to distance myself from the event, trying to maintain integrity even in the face of apparently the entire world going mad. Hoping, perhaps, to slow down the spread, even if it might seem as hopeless as trying to survive in the middle of an ocean in a trough during a thunderstorm.

Perhaps it represents a bias, perhaps it's not a big deal, and I should just learn not to let such things bother me, even when I feel like a lonely dissenter?


12 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 9:56 AM
New Comment

I don't, of course, seriously believe there is some kind of mind control at work, but it feels like it

Why don't you think there is some kind of mind control at work? Surely advertisers and marketers are constantly attempting to control your mind using memes. If you are seeing crowd recommendations, then that's probably a successful viral marketing campaign - and a "memune" reaction seems to be a pretty natural response to me.

The question is if it's an intentional viral marketing campaign organized by the creators/advertisers, or if it's something that arose naturally.

I see. However: memetic engineering, domesticated memes, or wild memes - it is still the memes attempting to control and manipulate your mind for their own ends.

I can imagine why you might be interested in whether the resulting mind control originates from someone who is trying to sell you something, though. With the arts, that is usually the case, one way or another.

I think he's referring specifically to My Little Pony, which became insanely popular among 16-30 year olds despite absolutely no advertising towards that demographic.

Aye, my girlfriend has gone so far as to watch the entire first season twice to try and see why there is such a large community of 'bronies'. She is completely bewildered at its popularity, and even more by the demographic distribution.

Having watched it I feel that the simplest explanation is the best.

  • It's got good animation, writing, and production quality.
  • It tells stories to provide characterization rather than plugging characters into plots. Though setup like a sitcom, it functions opposite to sitcoms.
  • It is transportive fiction. Like Harry Potter or Titanic, the aim of the show is to bring you into that world.
  • The characters and world are likable, good, and healthy. There is no grim darkness. You can feel good about the world by watching it.

Any one of these is rare individually and makes shows watchable. Two or more and you get Firefly or Harry Potter. All of these together creates a popularity storm where there really shouldn't be one, and causes a series to be intensely popular despite all it's flaws. Simply put, it uses the basics of children's storytelling right.

Stephen Bond's Objects of Fandom essay seems to apply to your examples. It describes a pretty similar polarization effect as you do.

I'm not sure I agree with him, especially considering he lumps all "Japanese kiddie-cartoons" into one broad category and doesn't say what exactly is spectacularly awful about Star Wars. (Besides, Indiana Jones also has a fanbase, if not quite so numerous as Star Wars).

Seems reasonable. In me, this reaction doesn't always correlate with universal praise, or the objects of the praise - see Portal, for example. Rather it correlates with signs of faddishness, and especially the people of faddishness. I don't particularly dislike fads, but I dislike the sort of unreflective, little-picture sincerity you occasionally run into that this one is really the best.

We are indeed trying to take over your mind. Resistance is futile.

Personally I have the opposite reaction, I like being a battleground. It may or may not be related to liking "lived in" aesthetics that provide "free pets", thinking of implementing structured procrastination but not getting around to it, solving bloat by getting an external harddrive, and practising rationality largely by tweaking my intuitions for what kinds of intuition can be trusted and how to tweak intuitions.

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply