The Hype Culture Epidemic

Within the past five years, hype culture has swept America by storm. Hype culture is essentially a term used to describe a generation obsessed with finding the next big thing. It is a culture bent on excitement and adrenaline—almost to the point of self-exhaustion.

Hype culture bleeds into all societal circles in some way, shape, or form. In the sciences, it involves developing new treatments for diseases. Some of these treatments will work, but others offer only a brief ray of hope. A prime example of this is the use of Zidovudine (AZT) to treat HIV in the 1980s. Both doctors and The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) were so eager to prescribe a potential treatment for HIV that not enough testing was done when preparing the drug. Doctors ceased to explore other options until they realized that AZT was not effective. Everyone was so excited about a potential cure for HIV that they rushed the administration of the drug and it was not until the 1990s that the FDA approved a different treatment that finally enabled HIV patients to live longer than a year after being diagnosed.

Hype culture also appears in the literary market. Literary agents are forever searching for the next best-seller. Everyone who has the ability to write a decent sentence is scrambling to produce the next Harry Potter series. As a result, some modern prose emerges as bland, try-hard writing when compared with its predecessors.

Although hype culture can be found everywhere, it is most easily recognizable in the realm of film. Picture this: a spine-chilling trailer for a new horror movie debuts. The trailer plays as an ad before every YouTube video. There are advertisements for it on all social media platforms. There are even ads on Amazon. It is ubiquitous. Many people spend money to see the film, but most of them find that it falls short of what they had envisioned.

The rise of hype culture in the film industry is due in part to marketing decisions. The span of time between a film's trailer and a premiere screening of the film is increasing. Even before a trailer is released, film magazines like Entertainment Weekly and American Cinematographer publish articles on up-and-coming projects months before production begins. The purpose behind this type of marketing is to increase excitement and suspense; however, giving people too much time with the material and the trailer before they see the final product can lead to the actual film seeming anticlimactic.

These days, most trailers showcase only the best footage and dialogue clips in the film. Sometimes viewers take these scenes and snatches of dialogue and construct their own ideas of how the narrative will play out. When the final product fails to live up to preconstructed expectations, people leave a film full of disappointment.

Sometimes films that are not even poor quality leave audiences unsatisfied. Sometimes the film may even be a great film; however, consumers are caught up in their own ideas of what course the film should take and they leave the theater disappointed when the film does not live up to preconceived expectations.

Besides affecting consumers, hype culture also affects production of the film itself. Often in the rush to get the film to theaters, parts of the production process are glossed over. Characters are left wooden. Dialogue becomes cheap. The cinematography is not aesthetically pleasing. Whatever the case may be, it is not hard to tell when a production job is rushed.

A prevalent fear in the discussion of hype culture is that it will bring about the extinction of creative minds and critical thinkers. Thankfully though, there are currently people who are more concerned with the art and thought involved in their product rather than the profits. For example, independent directors such as Wes Anderson and the Coen Brothers are not caught up in the “make-more-films-make-more-money” philosophy of larger big-name studios. They focus instead on artfully conveying their message through quality films.

In our culture, patience is going out of style—instant gratification is the popular mindset encouraged by hype culture. Advertisements are saturated with slogans like, “Get rich quick,” “How to write a book in a month,” and, “Lose five pounds in a week.” The culture falls into one continuous cycle of searching for the next big thing, hoping to satisfy the age-old craving for getting the best out of life and getting it fast.

“Festina lente” is a Latin motto meaning “make haste slowly.” Often it is when a culture slows down and takes time to ponder that it produces its greatest art. Perhaps if American culture rejected the current fast-paced, hype culture timeline, our film industry would produce more thoughtful, well-crafted films.