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Old 05-16-2010, 02:21 PM
uncle ebeneezer uncle ebeneezer is offline
Join Date: Feb 2007
Posts: 3,332
Default Re: smackdown: mcwhorter v. treme

Hey Ocean, as usual I think my ramblings may have suffered from being a bit too meandering. Let me try and tighten up the main point I'm getting at.

What you say about subjectivity and the feelings people have for the area they lived in makes alot of sense. I can't cite any specific research but I've always thought that it was pretty well established that human beings, when we identify with something whether it's our city, our sports team, our country, our favorite band etc., have a tendency to oversell the positives and under-report the negatives. So if we asked a bunch of people to give an assessment of their home town (or even just any city) we would expect that sort of emphasis on the good stuff (after all they like it.) But I still would expect to see some variance in the reports and I guess the main thing I'm getting at is that in all of my experiences I have found the variance with regards to NY to be extremely low (like almost non-existent.) Aside from some people who just hate cities, or others who rave about "coastal-elitism", I've almost never heard anyone say they don't like NY or that they think it's overrated. So the question is why is that so. A couple possibilities:

1.) My sample size. I just haven't met enough or the right variety of people. There are any number of NY-critics out there but I have just never met them.

2.) NY is just so qualitatively great that nobody (or almost nobody) doesn't love NY.

While I will admit that number 1 is most surely true (my take on this is admittedly unscientifically based), I have a hard time thinking that 2 would be enough to account for the lack of variance I've witnessed. It may just be my skeptical nature but anytime I see anything where the reviews are almost universally positive, I start to suspect that something along the lines of a societal-pressure or hype phenomenon is at play. If I look at amazon book reviews and see all 5-star reviews, I wonder how much of it is do to the reviewers feeling it was a 5-star book, and how much is the reviewers feeling like they are "supposed to" give it a 5-star review.

The thing that made me start thinking about this was a girl I once dated. The topic of New York came up and she meekly admitted that she doesn't really like NY. Too overwhelming for her taste. And she said she often feels like expressing a dislike of NY is like committing blasphemy. So it got me to thinking, and I realized that in fact, she was the first person I could remember ever making such a statement candidly and not doing it just to be a NY-hater or be contrarian. So when I was out with some friends from mixed geographical roots I tried the same thing and I was surprised at how strong the reactions were. "How can anyone NOT LIKE New York?!!" And I found it strange in that as you pointed out, it is an entirely subjective matter of taste and it should be expected that some people just won't care for it, just like they might not care for Jackson Pollack, or Feta Cheese, or back-country camping or anything else.

Anyways, so while I think NY is a great city which earns it's fair share of high praise as one of the most unique cities in the world, I also wonder if the low variance in criticism (at least in my experience) is influenced by more than just the city's quality, combined with the amplified regional affinity that we all feel for our favorite areas. I wonder how much is subject to a form of societal pressure/groupthink and people not wanting to commit cultural blasphemy. Hopefully this post has been a little more clear.

PS I think a diavlog on the phenomenon of hype (whether it's the hot new movie, or a sports team that everyone suddenly roots for etc.) from a psych perspective would be highly interesting.
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