The Q&A Hole: How Does Something Get "Overrated"?
With Lauren Weinstein, Tim Doyle, Pat Dean, Mark Finn, and more
By Wayne Alan Brenner,
8:00AM, Tue. Sep. 20, 2016
Opinions, the saying goes, are like assholes: Anybody who has one, is one.
Wait, no, that’s not quite right, is it?
Right – you know very well what the saying is, citizen. But if everybody has an opinion, and everybody voices that opinion (whether in Highly Exclusive & Very Important Tribunals of Taste – or in the swirling global free-for-all of YouTube comments), how does something get overrated? We figured, for this iteration of our weekly Q&A Hole series, we’d seek opinions about that.
HOW DOES SOMETHING – A MOVIE, A BAND, A CITY, WHATEVER – HOW DOES IT GET “OVERRATED”?
Lauren Weinstein, cartoonist: The "overrated" question is too complicated for me. Or maybe I don't care about the concept. It involves thinking about cultural things in layers of superficiality with judgment on top. But here are things that are overrated: 1) Cupcakes. 2) Antioxidants. 3) Star Wars. 4) Harry Potter.
Mark Finn, author: My rule of thumb is a corruption of that old Yiddish expression, "If three people tell you you're drunk, lie down." In this case, it's "If three people tell you to see this movie/read this book/watch this show because it's exactly the kind of thing you'd love, then avoid it like the plague." Circle back around to it in six months, when people are busy talking about something else. Quality material will still exist in the vacuum of social media's past. Hype will show up for the punk-ass that it is.
Sarah Marie Curry, actor: Easiest way for a thing to become overrated? When a person, group, media makes an assumption about how I will feel instead of allowing me to form my own opinion. I will automatically rebel against any assumption or judgment made on a thing because I want to be seen as a complex individual. Examples: "Sarah Marie, you are gonna love this thing! This thing is so you. It is the best thing ever!" My Response: YOU DON'T KNOW ME *flips table* I refuse to like that thing. ”Sarah Marie, you have to see this thing. Everyone has seen this thing and you have to." My Response: YOU'RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME *flips table* I do what I want. "Sarah Marie, I saw this thing and had an experience about it. Let me share with you my thoughts and feelings." My Response: "Ooooo. I also like to experience things. I want to have an experience and when I experience this thing, I will discourse with you about my own individual thoughts and feelings about it."
Shannon McCormick, improviser, actor: Maaaaaaaaan. “Overrated” is a dumb concept. Because it places too much value on, like, social positioning vis-a-vis taste. You know? People should like what they like, and if you don’t like a thing, who gives a crap? Like, we were just talking about Stranger Things. There are people who think that show is overrated. Why feel the need to announce that, except to distinguish yourself socially as somehow different from other people? Who cares? We already know you’re different from other people. It would be easy enough to say, “I don’t like that show. It’s not my taste, it’s just not for me,” or whatever. But to say that it’s overrated is shorthand for signaling some sort of – aaaaah, I don’t know, man, I don’t go for “overrated.” You can have things be built up in your mind that they’re gonna be better than they are – by word of mouth and hype or whatever – and then you feel disappointed. But that disappointment shouldn’t be with the thing; the disappointment should be in your own gullibility and your desire for something that turns out to be something other than what you wanted it to be.
Tim Doyle, artist: There are hardly any phrases I find more "overrated" than "overrated" itself. It's used as a dismissal, a verbal needle to pop someone's balloon of enjoyment. But – how does something become "overrated" (if such a subjective thing is even possible)? Let's take the recent show Stranger Things. A bunch of early adopters watched it, and a portion of them really enjoyed it – so they began to evangelize. Then Johnny-come-latelys (or, really, Johnny-come-reasonable-time-frames) watched the show and a portion of them didn’t like it. So they took to social media and said, "This? This is the thing? This is not a thing. This is a bad thing. I saw all you people say it was a good thing, but it is in fact bad." So now, we're in an identity war: If Group A says it's good, and Group B says it's bad, then that means, to some of the people in Group A, that they may have the wrong opinion – so they push back with hyperbole. "THIS IS THE THING AND YOU ARE DUMB FOR NOT LIKING THING! THERE HAS NEVER BEEN ANYTHING BETTER THAN THING!" And then Group B has to come back and defend their opinion/identity by saying "YOU ARE CRAZY! THING IS (wait for it) OVERRATED!" Here's the deal: A few years back, comic book writer Brian Michael Bendis railed against the term “meh.” But I love “meh,” “meh” is usually pretty accurate. It's okay to not be moved by something, to have no opinion. But in the polarized right/wrong and good/bad of discussion (especially online), we want there to be definitive answers – as if you can ever truly evaluate art empirically. But in the rush to have a “hot take” opinion, the easy thing to do is to call something “overrated.” They really should just say “meh.” If you hated it, say it. If you just want to say you don't get it, say “meh.” But to call something “overrated” is just a negative reaction to someone else's enjoyment – and that … well, that just makes you an A-hole.
Pat Dean, comedian: I asked my friend James Scheuren about this, and he said that something becomes overrated once people with no taste defend it as dogma. But, to be honest, James hasn’t been good since 2013 – so take that with a grain of salt.