Hype and backlash: visualizing pop culture trends

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Back in 2005, the astute pop-culture chronicler Adam Sternbergh pointed out that a person’s opinion of any given entertainment product depends largely on how long they’ve been aware of it — that is, where the product sits on the sine-wave timeline of public expectations (aka buzz). His findings, in chart form:

“Welcome to the undulating curve of shifting expectations—the Heisenbergian principle by which hype determines how much you enjoy a given pop-culture phenomenon. The first-wave audience is pleasantly surprised, but the second-wavers feel let down; then the third wave finds it’s not as bad as they’ve heard—and they’re all watching the exact same show.”

Almost five years later, this pattern describes just about all our collective experiences. Sports fans, how much sweeter was it to watch the New Orleans Saints come out of nowhere to win the NFC championship than to have seen the Minnesota Vikings do it for the umpteenth time? As for politics, consider the poll numbers of a certain hope-and-change POTUS.

Don’t believe the hype… and don’t actively disbelieve it either. Only then, grasshopper, will you begin to approach objectivity.

“How Pop Culture Suffers from Hype and Backlash” — New York magazine, Oct 2, 2005

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