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Stuck in the middle with you(rself)

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 27, 2016

In the Guardian, Oliver Burkeman writes about what’s going on when we become a little stubborn about not wanting to enjoy Hamilton, Ferrante, Better Call Saul, or [insert your friends’ current cultural obsession here].

Somewhere around the 500th headline I read in praise of Hamilton, the universally acclaimed Broadway musical due in Europe next year, I was struck by a deflating thought: I’ll probably never see it. Not just because it’s virtually impossible to get a ticket, but because so many people — people whose tastes I trust — have raved about it that I now regard the prospect with annoyance. Two years ago, it was the Richard Linklater movie Boyhood, which I still haven’t seen; then Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, which I still haven’t read. Straw polls of friends suggest I’m not alone in this reaction — call it “cultural cantankerousness” — which seems to affect books, films, plays, holiday destinations and restaurants equally. Increasingly, my first thought on seeing something described as a “must-read” is‘“Oh really? Try and make me.”

This reaction could be a FOMO defense, but the optimal distinctiveness theory explanation is more interesting.

One explanation is what psychologists call “optimal distinctiveness theory” — the way we’re constantly jockeying to feel exactly the right degree of similarity to and difference from those around us. Nobody wants to be exiled from the in-group to the fringes of society; but nobody wants to be swallowed up by it, either.

FWIW, I have not see Boyhood or Better Call Saul yet, but I’ve read Ferrante and seen Hamilton are both are as good as advertised. (Oh, and Burkeman’s own book, The Antidote, is great as well.)