Why Do People Like Terrible Things?

Monday saw a devastating string of reviews of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, the Bono-produced new musical based on the Spiderman comic books, with the New York Times summarizing it as follows:

“Spider-Man” is not only the most expensive musical ever to hit Broadway; it may also rank among the worst.

Ouch. And then it got mean. Nonetheless, last month, Spider-Man actually outsold Wicked, a musical that’s not just a crowd-pleaser, but actually a good show. Why? Why do people like terrible things? We posed that question last week, in different form — if Glenn Beck is so wrong, why is he so popular? — and as it turns out, the two questions have a bizarre unity. Because Glenn Beck is Spider-Man‘s biggest fan. Naturally.

A lot of this may have to do with spectacle.  Beck’s typically hyperbolic description of the show:

I’m telling you, you go buy your ticket – you buy your ticket now, if you’re thinking about coming to New York, because when this thing opens and it’s starting to run, you will not be able to get tickets to this for a year. This is one of those shows, this is the ‘Phantom’ of the 21st century. This is history of Broadway being made. I sat next to the casting director, by chance, and I said, “You, sir, are part of history.”

Is not entirely off base. In fact, the bold parts are clearly true. Spider-Man‘s theater presence dominates 42nd street — the promotional materials are huge — to the point that it dwarfs, and appears to include, nearby theaters. Case in point, the adjoining New Victory Theater has actually taken to reminding their patrons, before the show, that they are not in the right place for Spider-Man. And Spider-Man is the most extensively covered show currently playing in New York. This hype becomes self-sustaining. The show is “popular” in the literal sense of the word: it generates knowledge, opinions, and discussion. Given that, who wouldn’t want to see it? I do, and I’m fairly sure that I’ll hate every minute of it.

Modern media rewards the spectacular. Spider-Man is a spectacular failure; Beck, simply a spectacle. Merit need not enter the equation.

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4 comments

  1. I thought Beck was so popular because of his secrect hypno-ray that he uses to dupe weak-minded Americans into believing that conservatism is a better choice than liberalism?

    1. Don’t be silly. They are already weak-minded Americans believing that conservatism is a better choice than liberalism before they watch Beck.

      He is popular for a cable news host and he is popular in the sense that he is known beyond his (relatively speaking) slender audience. He is the master of making the poorly read/educated fell like they are somehow being intellectual watching his show.

      1. Considering how Beck apparently wants to roll the US back to how it was during the McKinley administration, isn’t he more of a reactionary than an actual conservative?

        1. I got the impression he wants to roll it back to just after the passage of the Bill of Rights. Redo it again and this time get it “right”.

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