Thursday, January 19, 2012

Sick of it?

In a poll conducted three months ago, 83% of Americans reported that they were already sick of the 2012 presidential race. Now, the results of this poll have only been reported by one source, and that source is an online satirical magazine, but still... anecdotal evidence leads me to believe that there is a veneer of validity behind this assertion. And if this is the case, Americans ought to be pleased with the rapid winnowing of the GOP presidential field, even though fewer than one-third of one percent of the national 2008 electorate has so far turned out to vote.

Meanwhile, a Google search of "sick of Tebow" yields over 5.8 million hits. I guess CBS is glad the Broncos lost last week, since so many people are so sick of Tebow that they wouldn't have watched the AFC Championship game had he been in it. (Despite the fact that ratings for games involving Tebow the last few weeks were up dramatically over similar games a year ago...and despite CBS now reaching out to try to get Tebow as a guest analyst this week).

These two examples illustrate a couple of fascinating trends in our culture:

1. Events and phenomena are getting more drawn out and more saturated. The calendar season for every major American sport is significantly longer than it was 50 years ago (barring a labor interruption of course). Academic calendars have been lengthened. The presidential campaign season is insanely longer than it used to be. Christmas starts in October. The reasons behind these lengthenings may be various, but nothing seems to be getting shorter. As for saturation, I think that can be largely attributed to the media climate. With many media sources now competing for attention, they ride the "hot hand" and give special attention to what is "trending." And in the case of the media feeding culture, I don't think it's impossible that supply may inspire demand.

2. While events and phenomena get longer, our attention spans have gotten shorter. The same media climate, the sheer number of things that are now accessible to us, lead us to impatience and instant gratification. Remote controls and mouse clicks give us the power to sift through content rapidly. And consequently, we grow impatient with things that are overexposed.

3. While we complain about overexposure, we also don't want to miss out on trends. Especially since the death of a monoculture, the few elements that remain that carry mass interest and appeal--such as presidential races and NFL football--will naturally be even more saturated.

So we are stuck in a loop where we are implicitly demanding saturation, annoyed when it happens, but then left wanting more when it finally ends (which leads us to look for something else to obsess over, starting the cycle all over again). So while it might not be inaccurate to say we are "sick of" something, we should also admit that this is not synonymous with a desire for it to end.


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