Skepticism

AI: Don’t believe the hype. Or maybe do.

I have issues with hype.  As a generally stubborn and slightly contrarian individual, I tend to avoid anything considered a must by mainstream society.  This is not something I’m necessarily proud of, as I will freely admit that it has probably caused me to miss out on some genuinely good things.  Classic example:  Harry Potter.  I read the first three books when they came out, because I was working in a bookstore and had plenty of time to read.  I loved them.  I started the fourth one, but by this time the hype had reached a fever pitch, and my interest fizzled.  I’ve since tried to pick it back up, but I just can’t seem to get back into it.

Lately I’ve been feeling this way about Avatar.  It looks genuinely cool, and I’ll probably see it, but the hype is killing me.  Especially the product placement hype that’s been embedded in several television shows that I watch.  I have to admit, it’s brilliant marketing: having people’s favorite TV characters excited over seeing the movie, but it leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth.

Do you let hype affect your decisions, one way or the other?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.

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53 Comments

  1. I’m baffled by this attitude. It’s the mirror image of what hype is intended to do. The marketers want you to consume the product regardless of its quality based on the hype. You are rejecting the product regardless of its quality based on the hype. Both seem equally irrational to me.

    This is typically something I expect from college hipsters who tell you how much cooler Band X was “before they sold out”. “Sold out” meaning “became known by more than 100 people”.

  2. I am somewhat the the same way. I avoid most popular things, especially if they are new. I have never considered it a matter of hype though. I think most people have regrettably bad taste, and the larger the sample size, the worse it gets. For instance, reality television. Hugely popular, hugely awful.

  3. I’m fairly anti-hype. If everyone’s all about it (“The DaVinci Code,” Dale Earnhardt, Jr., “Twilight,” snuggies, flip flops, crocs, Megan Fox, driving standard, having children…) then I’m pretty much guaranteed to avoid it. Especially if people try to hard to convince me that it’s great or awesome or brilliant or necessary. The more you pressure me, the less likely I am to have anything to do with it.
    Of course, it does kind of bias me against things from the start and I end up resenting things I might otherwise have liked. And that’s the reason I was only able to read two chapters of “Twilight.” I hated it before I even started it.

    As for “Avatar,” though, I actually haven’t seen the hype. I read an interview with James Cameron in “Playboy,” but I hadn’t even heard of it before that and I think I’ve seen, like, one preview for it. We’ll probably just add it to our Netflix queue…
    :-)

  4. Hype diminishes my desired to experience something almost completely. I’m much more inclined to try a movie or a music group if I’ve never heard of them before. I will only try something that has been overhyped if a number of my friends who I know and trust say it really is good. For this reason I have not see the Twilight or Transformers movies and probably never will, but I have seen the new Star Trek which I rather enjoyed in spite of the appallingly bad science.

    I think this attitude came partly from my taste being somewhat different than the popular opinion and my distaste crowds. To me there is nothing added to a movie experience by a hundred people chomping popcorn and talking on cell phones.

  5. I don’t understand the anti-hype attitude, really. The people who create things and the people who market things are generally two sets of people, and they seem to operate independently.

    I don’t care about hype of things like movies or books. The one time I let that kind of thing bother me, I missed the first couple of seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Once I got around to watching them, I kept thinking “why didn’t anyone tell me about this?” and then remembering “oh, right — they did.”

    This question surprises me coming from an ardent Dr. Who fan, which (among the circles in which I travel) is the single most hyped thing since Harry Potter. :) I haven’t seen a minute of the David Tennant Dr. Who, but it’s not because everyone is telling me I should — it’s because I saw a lot of other Dr. Whos when I was younger and thought their suckitude was impressively uniform.

    So, yes, bring on Avatar. It looks interesting, and I like James Cameron. If it’s as good as some of his earlier movies, I’ll survive having blue people on my Burger King cups. If advertising revenue helps fund future quality movies, then bring on the commercials — movie ads aren’t automatically more irritating than ads for floor wax, beer, or cars.

  6. I get the anti-hype. viral marketing gets on my nerves. The fox NFL robot fighting a terminator was kinda neat…once.

    As Flavor Flav would understand, I don’t believe the hype. I will not do something just because I’m told, but I will also not not do something because it’s overhyped.

    I do get annoyed though when I’m put down because I haven’t seen, heard, read something. I get this whenever I tell people I haven’t seen Willy Wonka and for the longest time Spinal Tap. I have friends who haven’t seen star wars and may never, that’s their burden. Not mine.

    But you just have to go see the band The Saps! You just have to!

  7. This is why I insulate myself from most of pop culture.

    Living on a college campus with no cable and no money to go out means I’m not swayed by hype. I don’t miss my TV, and I don’t watch the shows on my computer – my computer is mostly used for paper-typing and researching. If I’m interested in relaxation (like I am now, being that it’s winter break) I turn to my Netflix queue or the local library for entertaining reading. So I never know if something was hyped or not.

    That being said, I’ve made it to the theater all of twice in the last year. Both times because friends paid for me – once to see Star Trek, once to see The Informant! – neither of which I’d heard anything about prior to seeing. I enjoyed both.

    If I’d been subject to non-stop review of either of these, I’d have probably developed an aversion to them – my desire to be a unique snowflake just like everyone else kicks in, and I can’t bring myself to go with the flow.

  8. Hype just makes me scrutinize the product/whatever more closely. It was even that way with Obama. (And once I recognized his natural charisma, I scrutinized him even further)

    While Avatar looks like it will be visually cool, I’m afraid it will be like the Matrix series; pretty, but with no substantial story line.

  9. Global warming? Sorry, climate change.

    I’d take less of the hyperbole from both side and more focus on the facts. Yes, we know the wingnuts but there are niggles with the orthodoxy. Let’s work on getting better information and better solutions.

  10. Hype has little effect on me. If I like the premise of a movie, TV show or book then I will partake. If I don’t like the premise then I won’t, no matter how much it is hyped. Little advertising affects me. I spend a lot of time in a browser and hardly notice ANY ads and never click on any. I hardly watch TV directly but use a DVR and fast forward the ads.

  11. Avoiding something just because it’s overly-hyped means you are allowing marketing to manage your expectations. Just because something has a massive marketing budget doesn’t mean it’s bad. It doesn’t mean it’s good either. Most of the time, the best solution is to figure out what other people who share your tastes think of it or just experience it for yourself.

    I am a fan of many things that were heavily hyped (e.g. anything Pixar) and there are plenty of overly-hyped things that I hated (Twilight, duh).

    You shouldn’t let hype influence your decision either way, in my opinion. If it looks cool, there’s a chance it is, regardless of what the advertising dude working on it spent to get it in front of your face.

  12. Also, the whole ‘I avoid what the mainstream likes,’ feels a tad elitist to me. I’m a fan of pop culture and by embracing that, I get to participate in it and pick and choose the things that I enjoy. I think I get a good amount of entertainment that way.

    @phlebas watches Survivor regularly and even though I generally get annoyed by it, I quite enjoy watching the final few episodes with him every season. But you couldn’t pay me to watch American Idol or The Real World – they just don’t appeal to me.

    There are a *lot* of mainstream TV shows that are excellent and fun – let’s talk about House as a great example. Or Mythbusters. While I also enjoy a lot of ‘off the beaten path’ shows like Dollhouse and Firefly, if I avoided what the mainstream liked when it comes to TV, I wouldn’t have much opportunity to watch :)

  13. I generally follow my tastes rather than the hype. Sometimes my tastes align with those of the mainstream and sometimes they don’t, but I’d rather not miss out on something potentially fun just because there’s a lot of “buzz” about it, manufactured or otherwise.

    Large amounts of hype do increase the likelihood I’ll approach something skeptically, which I suppose is a good thing.

  14. @phlebas: for the record, i was into doctor who before it was cool. in this country in this decade :D

    in no way am saying i am somehow superior for being anti-hype. it’s just something interesting i’ve noticed in myself and wondered if others have noticed similar things in themselves.

    also, what i tend to think of as “hype” is not just genuine word of mouth about something being actually good, but something drummed up artificially by the people attempting to sell it. maybe there is no real distinction there, but if i feel like something is being sold to me, chances are i’m not buying.

  15. i hate hype, as 9 times out of 10 it leads to disappointment (ie. Matrix 2 and 3) and the feeling of never wanting to experience it again.

    One thing however I do believe the hype being worth however are Bananas. Man, ever since I saw those Ray Comfort videos and gave a banana a shot, it blew my fucking mind how amazingly tasty it was! And shit, my hand was perfectly created to open then as well, like they were designed just for people to enjoy!

  16. I suspect that none of the people who are anti-hype own Apple products either. I would hate to have to call them out on that one.

    Personally I am not anti-hype, at least not in regards to not wanting to own or use or see or hear or taste or whatever a thing that is heavily hyped, although I tend to be skeptical of the hype due to the fact that I have been burned before.

    @Masala Skeptic:
    I don’t listen to the hype when it comes to Pixar films. If Pixar is doing a film I am watching it. It’s the same with Quentin Tarantino films. They can only disappoint me by not living up to the expectations I have for them, I could honestly care less what others think or feel in those regards.

  17. @carr2d2:

    for the record, i was into doctor who before it was cool. in this country in this decade

    By your own admission, you were an early adopter for Harry Potter too :)

    I guess I simply am not bothered by what folks in the marketing departments do. It’s their job to get the word out in any way that makes sense. If they have a large budget, they can get it out in a lot more places. Sure, some people might get turned off, but I think they’ll take that gamble because a lot of people will be made aware of the product who won’t be annoyed by the ads.

    Of course they’re trying to sell you something. Every time they release a movie/CD/TV show, they are trying to sell you something. As much as I hated New Moon, I can’t fault them for at least not hiding that simple fact.

    (That’s why I like Las Vegas so much. They brazenly tell you they want your money, while other cities are much more subtle. Vegas has a kind of honesty I appreciate :) )

    Anyway, I guess I don’t see the big problem with marketing techniques. It’s our own fault we’re seeing product placement in our TV shows anyway, since we’re TiVoing everything and skipping the ads that fund the programs — they have to get their product name out there somewhere. We better get used to it :)

  18. @Tim3P0: It also doesn’t help that the first Matrix was freaking awesome. That, coupled with the hype surrounding the 2nd and 3rd films led to them being let downs. I felt the same way about the Star Wars Prequels. By the 3rd one, however, I had been let down so badly by the other two that I was actually able to find it somewhat entertaining. The ending still blew though. We wait two hours to see Vader in his bad ass form, voiced by James Earl Jones and all we get is a parody of the “Luke, I’m your father” scene? Lame.

  19. @killyosaur: i tend to think of Star Wars as only episodes IV, V, & VI.
    As the George Lucas Hype machine continues to circle-jerk out new ideas that are as unhealthily under-cooked to the point of viewers getting visual salmonella, i cling tightly to my Original Three Un-Fucked with Star Wars Trilogy from the 80’s. :)

  20. @DataJack: “I think most people have regrettably bad taste, and the larger the sample size, the worse it gets.”

    This is so true.

    I’m generally wary of anything that is shoved in my face. If it’s so great, why are you trying so hard to grab my interest? (There go your filthy minds…and mine) A little of the soft sell goes a long way.

  21. @phlebas: of course i understand all that, about marketing, and television, and that any kind of entertainment exists to be sold to the people. and i really can’t explain why i feel the way i do. maybe it’s something to do with a feeling i get of marketing hype exceeding actual quality or value of the product. it’s interesting.

    funny you should mention vegas, actually. i hate vegas :D it’s the definition of hype, for me. all style, no substance. a city full of shiny things that continually erases its own history. the best word i can come up with is “soulless”.

  22. I think there’s a correlation vs. causation argument to be made here as well. A lot of times, I’ll hear something hyped to the stars (like Twilight) that I’m just not into on any fundamental level. So it’s not the hype the makes me avoid it, it’s my own taste, but then the hype just makes me feel bewildered at what in the hell everyone else is thinking.

    Also, even if I do like something that everyone is all about, it rarely lives up to the level of greatness that the hype seems to suggest. I think a lot of times, (struggling for synonyms for ‘hype’) the, uh, buzz (kill me) surrounding something creates a sort of feedback loop where people are no longer evaluating it just on their own perception, but on its reputation as well. So you get people who say that Citizen Kane is the greatest movie of all time, but they can’t really say why, other than that it was “revolutionary” and all these things that have already been said.

    I think what it comes down to is that if people were really thinking for themselves, they would never agree so unanimously on so many things, and that kind of bugs me.

  23. @killyosaur: yes, my love of star wars (i only acknowledge iv, v, & vi) transcends hype. it’s really more like a religion than anything. i was raised on it, and thus love it despite its innumerable imperfections.

    i never claimed that my anti-hypiness was rational or consistent :p

  24. @Mint Classic: Well for starters, Citizen Kane helped in redefining how pacing and storytelling can work in films. By basically being told in flashback through the eyes of a reporter, Orson Welles was able to create a compelling story about a man’s life that was told in fragments, sometimes not even in chronological order. It was also an interesting film in that not only was it a take on the life of William Randolph Hearst, it was also, to a degree, semi-autobiographical, in many regards displaying the force of personality that was Orson Welles. It was revolutionary in a way, in that it did alter how people viewed what the medium was capable of, as well as changing the way studios did the business of making movies. It was probably the last time a writer/director had as much control over the production of a film, this largely due to the controversy that erupted when Hearst learned of the film and the fact that he was, ostensibly the basis for the main character.

    There, a short, off the top of my head explanation of why Citizen Kane is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, film of all time. It doesn’t cover all the reasons, but I’m winging it here.

  25. It’s not something I really think about very much.

    However, while I may be pretty arrogant, I’m not quite so arrogant as to try and claim that advertising and hype have no effect on me. I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to really say whether it does or doesn’t.

    I like a lot of things that everyone else likes and i like a lot of things that everyone else hates.

    I’m always baffled by people’s behaviors and the “everyone else likes it so i don’t” behavior is one of the more peculiar ones i’ve noticed.

  26. @killyosaur: Well, naturally, and I never denied any of these things. I agree that it’s a great film, for many of the reasons you just stated, but I’m specifically talking about people who just say Citizen Kane is the greatest film ever because that’s what they’ve heard, and then back it up with one or two other things that they’ve heard.

    It’s like they’ve made their mind up in the wrong order…instead of judging it for themselves, based on things like storytelling and cinematography and their overall impression of it, they’ve been given the answer (Citizen Kane GOOD), and then went back and justified it with those things, because they’d been told that that’s how it’s justified.

    It seems like a small distinction to make, but I think it makes all the difference in the world.

  27. I think I have some aversion to hype as well. It’s nice to hear something informative about something I might like, sure. But after getting bombarded, that gets to be a turnoff.
    Also, while not exactly scientific, it seems like the hype/marketing has no positive correlation to quality. It’s either just how much budget they have to try to get people to buy…or they know it’s bad so they try even harder to get everyone in the seats at once before they find out it’s not what it’s hyped to be.
    Also, I’m not a big fan of crowds. I don’t want to wait in long lines. So the more hyped something is the more likely I am to at least wait a while until it’s not such a big deal, or at least I don’t feel like I’m paying a surcharge for all the extra marketing.

  28. I try not to let hype effect my judgement, but it does at least a little bit; if they can get a name in my head, I’m much more likely to buy that product, if only because I’ll actually remember it.

    Are you sure people are saying good things about James Cameron’s movie “Avatar”, as opposed to the Nickelodeon series “Avatar the Last Airbender”? Because I can’t speak either way to the movie, but the series was awesome.

  29. Hype is really bad for skeptics to get involved in on either side, either trying to generate it or getting sucked up into it.

    That is one of the bad things that happens in science, a fad starts, and then every scientific paper has to include the fad or they can’t get funding or published.

    That is what is happening in medical research, it is all “genes, genes, genes”. What about diseases that are not caused by genes? The mantra is still “genes, genes, genes, genes, genes”. Even when it is clear that it is mostly environmental effects, for example the epidemic of obesity can’t be due to genes.

  30. My wife had a very long conversation last week about “classic” when it comes to art. What defines classic except popularity? If 10,000 randomly picked, culturally isolated people walked into a museum how many would pick Monet or Pollack as the masterpieces? If most people liked Patrick Nagel better wouldn’t that make him more “classic”? If something has to be understood in context in order to be considered great doesn’t that diminish it’s greatness?

    Don’t get me wrong. I think films like Citizen Kane and Casablanca could have done many important things to advance the film making art, but this makes them important films not necessarily good ones especially when compared to what we have done since. I’m not trashing cultural touchstones just to be contrarian I think most people these days including me just don’t like Citizen Kane (or Joyce or Melville for that matter) and I don’t see why film students and dead people should be allowed to outvote us.

  31. @phlebas
    About Doctor Who, being a fan myself, I can tell you that some episodes are really top notch, some of the best in television, while other episodes can suck a lot. It depends on the writers of the episodes, really.

    I recommend every episodes written by Stephen Moffat, including Blink, The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, and The Girl in the Fireplace. I also find the three episodes written by Paul Cornell, which are Father’s Day, and Human Nature/Family of Blood to be really good too.

    Overall, the series is a mixed bag.

  32. @IBY:

    Yeah, pretty much every Dr. Who fan I’ve encountered (and when I’m at skeptic events, it feels like I’m encountering all of them) has given me either a passionate editorial about how awesome it is, or an episode list that will “definitely” get me hooked.

    At this point, I’m not just obstinately refusing to watch. I am just going to wait until David Tennant is done and Netflix the whole shebang.

    But honestly, what I know about the backstory sounds (ironically enough) like a nonsensical BBC sci-fi show filmed for $15 an episode. But I’ll wait for Tennant to be done and have a look. (Too busy feeding Masala’s new Alan Davies addition at the moment.)

    It can’t possibly be as good as everyone tells me it is :)

  33. My response to hype has always been “Meh”. It’s only after something has been around for a while that I ever really take notice. If it stands the test of time, then there’s more of a chance I’ll check it out. That makes me appear to be snobbish most of the time, but it’s actually because I’m just not aware.

    Actually I’ve never paid much attention to what was going on to notice the hype. People generally have to point things out to me. I’m usually late to the party anyway.

    I don’t own a TV (I do watch some things via Hulu or Fancast) so I don’t get bombarded with a lot of the hype/marketing that’s out there. I admit to being rather jaded as Hollywood seems to have run out of original ideas.

  34. One hype I have noticed all over the net – Alice in Wonderland. I am really tired of every craft site I visit having some new Alice related item, or some blog giving an analysis of the Wonderland psychology. It’s all boring.

    Tim Burton and Johnny Depp are amazing talents, but they are getting a bit tiresome. Burton needs to find another muse and Depp can do better than to keep turning children’s fairy tale characters into psychos. They both need to move on.

  35. Yes, but I try not to. I only got a cell phone in 1999, just because everyone else was getting one. I put of reading the Harry Potter-books because of the hype (I loved them though). I’m beyond the “hate it because it’s hyped”-phase now though.

    Another way hype influence me is that I will read Twilight, just to be able to put it down more efficiently, but I’m in no hurry to do so.

  36. @Bjornar: 1999?! you early adopter, you :p

    i didn’t get a cell phone until 2004. i had a very bad day, trying to find a jobsite, and ended up having to drive back home to call and find out how to get there. that afternoon, i ordered my first cell phone.

    now i’m trying to convince my mother to get one :p

  37. Hype ruins things for me. If my favourite band become popular I practically stop listening to them. If things get advertised too much, I ignore them. If my sister tells me it’s great, I ignore it.

    I am such a culture snob. I can’t do anything about it.

  38. I try not to let it shape my decisions. I think I’m fairly successful – although that’s obviously pretty subjective.

    Mostly, I try to keep my expectations reasonable. In the case of Avatar, I intend to see it purely because I think it will look pretty. I’m expecting the narrative and characters to be fairly flat, but I’m cool with that for some 3D eye-candy.

    So I doubt I’m in for a disappointment. The trick is to keep your expectations reasonable without getting drawn into cynicism for the sake of cynicism.

  39. It depends for me, and I most commonly use it in the cinematic experience. Jason and I tend to get more excited over movies that most people have a negative reaction to when it comes out. For example – we know some people who loved Transformers & Transformers 2, and not in the “haha it was so bad it ROCKED” kind of way. So when they mention a new movie that they think sucks, we watch it. I guess we basically just distrust the opinion of most people and find that a lot are wrong. Also, we’re assholes.

  40. I never “believe” hype. Grain of salt and all that. Nothing is perfect, and rarely does something really suck completely. I’m an optimist that way; I try to find something good in anything, not painting with broad strokes, even if it’s just to acknowledge the effort. If someone’s opinion on something is too cut and dry I tend to not have as much respect for their opinions.

    That said, I don’t like crowds and lines. I haven’t found anything that is SO good that it deserves more than 10 minutes of waiting with all the other sheople. Not everything needs to be artistically redeeming either, some things are just plain fun and that’s okay. I try to keep an open mind, low expectations, and let things just be what they are. I think there are a lot of people that feel the need to find fault and knock everything, which is just as bad as being an uncritical fan. I would hate to miss out on an experience because of an unfounded prejudice, which, in my opinion, is what “anti-hypers” do to themselves.

    I’m a fan of few things, but I also acknowledge the legitimate criticisms. There’s a band that I’m a huge fan of and I try to share my appreciation with interested others, but I never attempt to portray them as “The Greatest” or better than _____. As with anything that I use or enjoy I simply say that it works for me or brings me pleasure and it might for you as well.

  41. Carr2d2: I did the exact same thing w/ the Harry Potter books. I’m not sure whether it was the hype that made me stop reading or just other things got in the way, plus the movies were coming out once a year and I didn’t have to wait long to see them.

    I’ll admit I’m sometimes swayed by the hype, though I tend to like things that are not necessarily popular (like foreign films not on the Ocsar list).

    I think we are all susceptible to hype thru the mere exposure effect: repeated exposure to a stimulus leads to acceptance or liking of that stimulus. It works with music, movies, food and even people. However, the original stimulus must at least be tolerable or over exposure will just make us hate it. OTOH, there is the song “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic. I was basically forced to listen to that song about 10 times a day for about three months in 1997. I still get a little nauseous when I hear it now.

  42. Well, of course, hype will influence me in a certain way. Usually, I try to stay up to date with what is going on in the industry (movies, books, video games, etc). So, I hear about those subjects way before they are getting any hype. But, sometimes, hype will make me discover some new things. Harry Potter is an example. I LOVE HP. I discovered those books when JK Rowling was already writing the fifth book if I recall correctly. And, I don’t love it because of the hype. I love it because I can imagine myself, as a kid, in a school of sorcery… Who wouldn’t have loved it? And JK Rowling, no matter what people might say about her, has a way of writing interesting stories.

    As for Avatar, I’ve been following the development on that movie for a few years now. And I don’t need the hype to make me want to see it. Only one name, James Cameron. The guy has crafted some of the most entertaining movies in the last 20 years. And now, I hear that he might have surpassed himself (yes, that’s the hype) so, I will certainly go see the movie in the next weeks.

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