Latest 3 Things

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

3 Overratings

In a world where hype has almost completed supplanted substance (see Paris Hilton, E! Television, and Justin Bieber), it should come as absolutely no surprise that we are surrounded by things that are substantially overrated. But as nearly unlimited access to information has become ubiquitous, and you can get user reviews from everything from guitars to grass seed, one might expect that we would gradually be growing more savvy as consumers. But the infomercial industry has never been stronger, and the world’s most popular piece of home exercise equipment is marketed so absurdly that I’m still not sure whether it’s actually a real product (note: it is). The fact is, we’ve now got so much information that we’re just as vulnerable to the hype as we were before. Marketing experts have determined what sources of information we trust, and have exploited them to our own peril. As the fire hose of messages, media and misinformation sprays us all down into a soggy under-informed mess, I present three completely overrated things:

1. What once was old, now is new. There is a certain charm to vintage things. They have a story behind them, and often times a very personal one. Family heirlooms, multi-generational homes, and keepsakes passed from generation to generation lend a gravity to otherwise ignoble items. But buying these things may be the worst way to spend money since burning it (or The Hills on DVD). When an old home has been in your family, its scratches and dents give it character, the smells ring of childhood and big holiday meals, and each corner seems filled with memories. When it’s been in someone else’s family, it creaks like a horror movie scene, is one good stiff breeze away from being so much rubble, and it smells like nursing-home meets something-died-in-the-basement. Old homes don’t have charm, they have old. Whoever said “they don’t make ‘em like they used to” is precisely right - they build them better, with the latest technologies in structure, materials, and energy-efficiency. When an old car is passed down from your dad, or is restored from your childhood, it’s a testament to longevity and care. When you buy a “vintage” car, you either look cheap, like a douche, or as though you still think fedoras are cool (they’re not - nor is anything else you can buy at Hot Topic). The bottom line is, new is good. Our ability to constantly innovate is one of the greatest things about our species. The paranoia and stupidity of the few amongst us who view this as “dangerous” is one of the worst. Do us all a favor: take your rotary phone back into your Depression-era farmhouse and call someone to come haul your old Buick away.

2. Hippity Hoppity. I can appreciate that I‘m not necessarily the target audience for the hip-hop music machine. Being white, 36 and consistently wearing clothes that fit places me more squarely in the demographic most likely to hate rap than to like it. But that notwithstanding, I really do enjoy a great rap song. I grew up loving Kool Moe Dee, RUN-DMC and the Fat Boys (yes, the Fat Boys). I still feel like dancing every time I hear “Mo‘ Money, Mo‘ Problems”, and I even know how to do the Soulja‘ Boy (in fairness, the instructional video came with my iTunes download). But there hasn’t been a performance style that translates more poorly from its recorded to its live version since silent movies. Seriously, going to a hip-hop show is an exercise is disappointment not unlike opening up packages of socks and underwear on Christmas morning when you’re expecting a new Optimus Prime action figure or Big Wheel. The carefully produced beats and samples you know from your favorite record become a muddled, bouncing mess and the carefully balanced and articulate vocals sounds like someone is shouting into a bullhorn that they’re holding too close to their mouth. The well-dressed, attractive and dance-happy crowd from the associated music video is replaced by hordes of weed-smoking, sloppy fat, gangster wanna-be’s and women wearing clothes they haven’t rightfully fit into in ten years. The only thing you’ll get from these crowds are a contact high and re-dedication to your workout routine. No matter how they advertise it, or how much fun it purports to be, the best way to stop liking hip-hop is to go see it live.

3. Ultra-lame. I’m not quite sure when it happened, but right under my nose, the predominant style of nightclub switched from “dance club” to “ultra lounge”. And there is no place where it is more prevalent than here in Vegas. Giant dance palaces have been replaced by dimly lit rooms with predominantly decorated with couches behind velvet ropes and curtains, and where there is only about 30 or so square feet of usable public dance space. In these uber-lounges, in order to gain access to these cloistered couches, one must purchase bottles of liquor for anywhere from $350 to a $1,000 or more, which will be made into hastily poured mixed drinks by a pretty girl in her underwear (who expects a 20% for her trouble). There will usually be a world-class disc jockey somewhere in the joint, but the dancing is only really to be done if you’re (a) female, (b) wasted, and (c) on top of something. If this sounds lame, that’s because it is. The promise of fun at these “hotspots” vastly outpaces the actual fun you'll have there. In reality, the only “ultra” thing about them is the ultra-high price list and the ultra-disappointment you’ll feel afterward. The worst part of it all is that these clubs are all marketed with either an insanely hot girl wearing very little and in a provocative pose that you can (ostensibly) meet at the club or with a celebrity host. What they fail to mention is that even for the brief amount of time that either of these folks are actually there (which is only for about 30 minutes), they’re being paid, they’ll be behind half a dozen velvet ropes/bouncers and that neither of them wants to meet you.

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I’m a big fan of ratings. I’ve liked rating things with numbers of stars since I first saw Ed McMahon doing it to comedians and singers when I was a kid. But having access to everyone’s opinion on everything has turned out to be just as valuable as having no one’s opinion on the same. All of the hype has proved, however, instructive on a few key points. First, if something sounds too good to be true, it is. Second, if someone has to try really hard to sell you something (like used cars, good Snoop Dogg tickets or $1,000 bottles of vodka) it’s probably not worth buying. And finally, there is no substitute for just doing it. If you want to know whether you’re going to like something, it’s best to go ahead a give it a go. Just don't sign any long term contracts.


Glenn H. Truitt said...

YES, I know I forgot Notre Dame... but c'mon... who doesn't already know THAT?!?! See you Irish monkeys in New Jersey in October...

Anonymous said...

As always, a wonderful take on society! I especially appreciate the Hip Hop concert stand. The only one that I have been to was Wu Tang Clan and Rage against the Machine, but how could you not like that. Every time I see footage from one of these rap concerts it seems like as much fun as listening to my 17 year old cousin freestyling in front of a web cam for youtube!


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