November 19, 2015

SHEN | The Hype Train

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens. A cinematic juggernaut to be sure, and one that is the source of an insane amount of anticipation this holiday season. It’s reasonable to assume that the film will break all sorts of box office records when it releases in mid-December. But what is it about Star Wars that enthralls hundreds of millions of people even beyond nostalgia and faith in the franchise? I’ll tell you it’s the Force Awakens promotional team. They’ve been doing impressive work lately, building interest in the movie and ruthlessly preying on any fond memories of Star Wars that may be tucked away in our minds. Their work has millions of people around the world excited, and just when it seems like the rising tide of anticipation is beginning to wane, another teaser or trailer drops, accompanied by a distant whistle…

Yeah. Do you hear that? That, my friends, is the sound of the hype train. A distant relative of the bandwagon, the hype train (when used to its fullest) is a well-oiled machine that pulls everyone on board. It’s the apparatus that gets critics to speculate about productions before they ever hit the big screen. It’s the mechanism by which our greatest desires are brought to life in the form of clever marketing. And it’s a beautiful thing.

Hype done well it’s what I live for. Perhaps that’s an exaggeration, but there really is very little that can match the satisfaction good hype provides me. Good hype will assure me that all my misgivings about the quality or the price of a product is of no consequence and that I should just sit and wait and, in some cases, pull out my wallet and pre-order those tickets for the midnight premiere before it’s too late.

Perhaps it’s just a strange quirk of mine, but I revel in the reactions of others. Going back to The Force Awakens, I love the trailers and have watched them many times, never feeling bored or uninterested. However, sometimes it’s even more magical to watch other people watching the trailers. Hear me out. There’s something special about watching people in the moment and seeing their reactions as they watch the same trailer, gasp at the same scenes and freak out just as you did before rushing to make plans for ticket reservations. It’s the reason funny things are funnier when you’re with friends you subconsciously consider that there are other people in the room who might share the same reaction that you have. So when I say that watching a hasty phone recording of the premiere of the first Force Awakens trailer at Comic-Con 2015 is perhaps more satisfying than watching the trailer itself in 1080p HD quality, I’m putting a lot of stock into my sympathies with the gathered crowd. Everyone in the recording who was sitting there in the hall was there because they were (probably) as excited about the movie as you were and are, and so it’s a beautiful thing to watch their reactions line up with yours, to see them expressing the same emotions that you feel deep inside.

The whole thing has a lot to do with a feeling of belonging. “I’m hyped, he’s hyped, she’s hyped, and we’re all hyped about one thing. I belong here.” It’s that group mentality that drives the hype train, and it’s that same outlook that makes hype succeed as an expression of enthusiasm in a community. In the end, all I know is that it’s a tool of marketing that (when used right) works wonders, and that I’m not at all upset with that. Direct my enthusiasm and take my money the hype train is here and I’m hopping on board.

Zhao Shen is a freshman computer science major in the College of Arts and Sciences. He loves music, movies, milkshakes and penguins, and is currently working on his doctorate degree in procrastination. His posts appear on alternate Tuesdays this semester. He can be reached at [email protected].