With heaps of must-see series and films and countless ways to stream this content, we as a pop culture consuming society are watching more on our screens than ever before. Thanks to this Golden Age of Television, there’s a lot to digest, and for the most part, this is a good thing. From comedy powerhouses like Veep and Louie, to binge-favorites like Making a Murderer and House of Cards, we’re constantly inundated with trying to “keep up” with shows that are hailed by social media and the Internet as “amazing!” Everything is awesome (thanks, Lego Movie!), so clear your social calendars or fear being (GASP!) left behind.
Thanks to this current TV landscape, we all inevitably fall victim to hype and we mostly have social media to blame. The posts, comments, reviews, spoilers…the need for everyone to have a public opinion about everything is ruining art. When we are force-fed rave reviews of something like USA’s sleeper hit Mr. Robot, our brain primes itself to believe that the show is not just intrinsically “good,” but groundbreaking. Life-changing, even. It’s virtually impossible to eschew this oft overblown mob mentality once the almighty News Feed has proffered its judgment. And it’s all innately poisonous to media consumption and individual thought.
Look, we’re all guilty of fueling up the hype machine. When we fall for a show, (Orphan Black, you had me at hello), we want everyone to jump aboard so we can sail off into the sunset together and slobber over the finale later. Eventually though, all the incessant praise for the latest-and-greatest Netflix series starts to feel like a Kindergarten classroom where everything is a winner and everyone gets a trophy. Streaming has brought the game to a whole new level, and thus, it’s getting harder to stay in the loop with the latest “it” show and manage our expectations (But, seriously, for the love of GOD, why aren’t you watching Orphan Black yet!?).
Yes, I’m tardy to the Robot party, but having recently caught up, I can’t help but feel cheated by the hype. While Mr. Robot’s tone was on point and the performances undeniably strong, I couldn’t help but be disappointed by its lackluster twists and predictable plot points. Would I have enjoyed it more if my expectations weren’t manipulated by what I had read and heard? If I had been allowed a more unbiased viewing, would I have been more prone to drown myself in Elliot’s mania? Perhaps. But the hype, in this case, transcended the art.
In an episode of the PBS Idea Channel web series entitled, “LITERALLY OUR MOST AMAZING EPISODE EVER!!!”, host Mike Rugnetta examined the connections between pop culture, technology and art. Rugnetta explained how we’re living in a “culture of hyperbole” because “everything is amazing!” He noted that over the course of many pop culture conversations, we all attribute a lot of what we watch as “the best!” and in turn, these aggrandizing claims are actually quite counter-productive.
“There’s lots of excited overstating, especially on the Internet, where the use of hyperbole is constant, pervasive, suffocating,” he said. “There is so much hyperbole on the Internet, I literally cannot even. We ‘literally’ lots of things that we do not literally, ‘literally.’”
Is this “culture of hyperbole” inescapable?
After feeling “lukewarm” to Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, a film that in 2014 and 2015 received almost unanimous praise, film critic Kenneth Turan took a second look at his “out-of-step opinions” about the movie. In a commentary piece for the LA Times, he wrote, “[the film] emphasized to me how much we live in a culture of hyperbole, how much we yearn to anoint films and call them masterpieces, perhaps to make our own critical lives feel more significant because it allows us to lay claim to having experienced something grand and meaningful.”
That’s really it in a nutshell, isn’t it? We have a notable viewing experience, we relate to a story in a profound way, and then we claim that experience on the Web or at Happy Hour. So while it’s understandable why we rave the way we do and I remain admittedly guilty myself (seriously. Orphan. Black.), we’re worse off for being exposed to the swarming of unsolicited opinions that we read every day on social media. I want the luxury of being able to experience something for myself, taking solace in the fact that if I loved it or loathed it, it’s strictly founded from my own thoughts and opinions. But with today’s open social floodgates, these go-in-dark style viewings have become rarities.
So, where do we go from here? For one, we can pump the brakes on our own hard-sell recommendations to friends. We can limit the amount of social culture we participate in, both reading and posting, and occasionally, we can turn our ears off to the masses. We can allow others to have their own experiences without telling them how they’re going to react. Basically, we should all just be cool, Sodapop.
I can’t help but be bummed out about my lack of love for Mr. Robot after being so amped to see it, but I don’t think we’ll ever escape hype, not fully. Not as a social media-driven society, not as journalists, and definitely not as pop culture fans. But if there is one benefit to this over-sharing hodgepodge it’s that our over-hyping nature stems from a deep desire to incite passion in ourselves and others. We want art to strike a chord in us and help us connect with the culture and world around us, whether we’re watching the silly melodrama of Scandal or a critical darling like Transparent. I don’t know about you, but that’s why I’m watching.