What do you do when the hype kills something for you? Do you try to go along with the crowd? Do you go so far to the opposite end that you become a staunch crusader against that thing? What kind of kneejerk reactions does it stir in you when you finally watch that movie or read that book that everyone’s been raving about and you don’t have that connection with it?
I can honestly say that the times when something felt equal to the overabundant praise it was getting have been few and far between for me. Some things that became blockbusters or bestsellers gave me the same reaction as it did many others, but I’m always shocked when it happens. Because more often than not, I feel like the one person who wasn’t impressed.
There is a recent example of this for me that inspired this editorial. I finished The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey yesterday and was completely underwhelmed. I think the hype surrounding this book is a particular kind of hype that gets under my skin: “it’s so original! There’s nothing else like it!” No, it isn’t. Sure, there is. Has anyone taken these exact elements and mashed them together? Not exactly like this, but as someone who reads and watches a lot of horror and science fiction, I didn’t see much that was completely new here. Some of it was clever, but most of it was obvious. Surely not worthy of calling it one of the most original ideas of our time.
In cases like this, I have to ask myself an important question that would put this into perspective. Is that the only reason it irked me? If I had read this without the hype, would my opinion be different? The answer is that maybe I wouldn’t have felt so harsh, but it did still have other problems that brought the experience down for me, things I don’t want to spoil for you. It would’ve been average instead of something that left me sour.
That’s where the community experience of absorbing media can be a bane. It’s not just the negative people who pan everything that can get under your skin. It’s also the people who push and insist and make hyperbolic statements. The way we all, as fans, can get in a crowd and insist this is the best thing. I’ve seen it happen outside of my own groups, as well.
I love Star Wars, and I never fail to encounter someone who doesn’t get what the big deal is. So am I contributing to that feeling, that if you don’t like it enough you don’t like it at all? I think if we’re interacting as part of a fanbase, we inevitably are. I’m certainly not trying to tell anyone to stop being a fan of anything, but I wonder if we should analyze how we present to outsiders. How welcoming or alienating do we seem? The word fan does find its origins in “fanatic”, and is that automatically going to put newcomers off?
I know that when I read reviews, I find over-the-top statements to be totally unhelpful. I understand the impulse. I get excited when I love something, too. At some point, I bought into the hype surrounding The Girl With All The Gifts. I got a copy because, even though I should know better, I assumed enough people liking it would mean something. In looking back, I realize that no one actually talked about why this book was good. It was all this intensity and fire about it being the best. Just the best thing. Better than chocolate and unicorns! And now I sit here chagrined trying to analyze why I fell for that and why it cheeses me off.
The best advice that I can give, that I intend to follow myself, is read thoughtful reviews. Fangirling and getting excited shouldn’t be eliminated, but don’t use that as your personal barometer for the entertainment you choose. Look for the people putting their thoughts into a tangible form with weight, not fluff. Avoid that hype cloud at all costs.