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Beware the Undulating Curve of Shifting Expectations!


Do you love Desperate Housewives? If so, when did you start watching? If you tuned in early, you were likely seduced by the show’s coy, cross-genre charms. But if you arrived post-hype (as I did), you probably responded with a disappointed, What’s the big deal? shrug (as I did).

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.

Of course, some programs just stink and stay stunk (hello, The War at Home), and others add hop-on fans without any creative drag (Lost . . . so far). But most shows (and movies, and books, and CDs) get caught in a corkscrew of hype and backlash. How, as fans, to manage it? For starters, apply mental prophylaxes: Consider all rave reviews suspect. Second, remember that hype breeds hype, and it’s a short, unfettered ride from solid hit to Zeitgeist-defining mega-event. Finally, hold dear the words of Alexander Pope: “Some praise at morning what they blame at night, but always think the last opinion right.” Which translates roughly as: Entourage is good. But it’s not that good.

Where do King Kong, Martha, House, and Zadie Smith fall on the curve?


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