Criticising popular things: why is it so popular?
I wish I was popular. Hang on: people are always criticising me so perhaps I AM popular? Hooray!
That popular thing that everyone likes, that entertains many while causing no discernible harm or inconvenience? Well, it’s actually a very bad thing, and therefore anyone who likes it is, by proxy, a terrible person. But why are so many people compelled to point such a thing out, in defiance of public opinion?
There’s that thing that’s very popular right now. You probably know what this is referring to. It can’t be escaped, it’s everywhere. It’s at the top of every chart. It’s being played constantly on the radio and TV channels. Everybody owns one, and sometimes several. Presenters on all formats are banging on about it incessantly. It’s been a trending topic for weeks now. It’s raised so much awareness for all those illnesses. It’s a viral meme that keeps on meming. The popular things is, unquestionably, popular. Everyone likes it, it makes many people briefly happy in their otherwise meaningless lives filled with constant disappointment and drudgery. Odds are, you are one of them.
However, it turns out that this popular thing is, in fact, evil. Yes, as hard as it is to accept, the popular thing actually has a very dark side that makes it possibly the worst thing since the launch of the “My First Genocide” play set, which they marketed as exclusively for boys. Yes, the popular thing is awful. This means that everyone who likes it likes a terrible thing, and is thus a bad person, even if they didn’t mean to be. If you’re reading this and you like the popular thing, then yes I’m afraid this does apply to you. You are a dreadful person. Hang your head in shame (after you’re done reading, or at least rearrange the screen so you can still see it with your head at that angle).
It’s not the first time this has happened. Almost every time there’s a popular thing that nearly everyone likes, you can almost guarantee that among those who don’t like it will be a brave few who are willing to publically say why they don’t and why nobody else should. Often, they have legitimate reasons for doing so. The popular thing may have unethical or potentially-illegal origins. The popular thing may actually have harmful consequences that those who like it aren’t aware of but are unwittingly contributing to. The popular thing may be intended to entertain but lacks any notable artistic credibility, achieving popularity through cynical marketing and manipulation of the media.
But with the online revolution and everyone having access to a public platform, there are increasing examples of popular things being attacked purely because they are popular, or some flimsy rationale like how the popular things actually has a negative effect on those who experience it (usually based on wild leaps of logic and little or no evidence) or that the popular thing is actually an attempt to push a specific ideology which differs from the criticisers own (again typically based on wild logic and unfounded speculation as to the motivations of the popular thing’s creators).
Why does this happen? What reason would there be for someone to see something that the majority of people like and decide to publically attack it? Surely actively opposing the majority makes little psychological sense?
In present times, the most obvious answer would be web traffic. Controversial and unpopular views and opinions get the most attention, as the Daily Mail proves constantly. But is that the whole story, or is there something deeper?
It could be an example of group polarisation, where individuals who are part of a known group express more extreme views than they would on an individual basis. If something is very popular, then the minority who don’t like it would likely feel part of a select group, and how better to impress your group than by liking the popular thing the least, and publicly attacking it?
It’s also possible that those who attack popular things are intrinsically rebellious. Rebellion has many recognised psychological properties, offering individuals a way to identify themselves and possibly affect the views of the majority.
Maybe it’s about dominance? Humans have seemingly evolved to form hierarchies, and criticism is one way to establish dominance over others. Criticism has strong psychological properties, and could criticising something everyone likes be an attempt to exert dominance over many people at once? By showing that the popular thing is in fact bad and people by extension like a bad thing, so are bad people, the person doing the initial criticism may feel a sense of dominance over those who like the popular thing. Doing so may boost someone’s self-esteem or sense of self-worth. It’s a complex process, all told
Or it could be that some people just want attention and aren’t fussed about how they get it. Or it could be any number of the above speculations, or something else entirely. And let’s not forget, this blog criticises those who criticise popular things, so I’m in no position to judge.
At least now, when you encounter someone who says they “hate Christmas” before launching into a long rant about why this is, you may have some explanation for why they’re doing this, so can safely ignore them.