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OnWords: Don't Believe The Hype

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The power of hype is its ability to radically lower our expectations.

I remember vividly the 1980s TV show That's Incredible! featuring a yogi so flexible he was able to fold himself into a tiny Plexiglas box.That's Incredible! was, at the time, not considered very good. It was a bit downscale, perhaps, sensationalist light entertainment. It was, for its time, what we might call “reality TV.”

Compared to the reality TV of today, however, That's Incredible! seems culturally rich and and maybe even intellectually stimulating. It may have played on our incredulity, but still it informed us, and those “incredibles” of the title at least helped somewhat expand our world view.

Jersey Shore, the various “real” housewives shows, and any of a dizzying array of competition-based programs only make us incredulous that people could be so stupid and only stimulate our sense of disgust.

So why do we accept this trash at all?

I suspect it's because we have been so used to judging a work's value by the amount of hype it receives that we have simply given up expecting anything else. The box-office receipts of movies, after all, are historically poor indicators of their value or influence, yet that is what our media report on a weekly basis, not whether or not a film transformed a person's life or made her think differently about the world.

More worrisome, the power of hype led us into believing that an oppressive dictator who wasn't was harboring weapons of mass destruction, and thereby into a war the consequences of which millions will be dealing with for decades to come.

Demanding our politicians and reporters present us with good information, not just a lot of it, could go a long way toward helping us better governing ourselves.