The “Hype” Problem

Last weekend, in the third quarter of a game where his team was losing 28-7, a fifth year senior quarterback [third string, because the second stringer was out with an injury] took over for the touted first-string quarterback of the University of Utah. The replacement quarterback, who had been a walk-on, several years earlier, had never taken a single snap in a game. It was his last college game, and in a calm and collected way, he turned the game around and led the Utes to thirty-eight unanswered points and victory. He didn’t make any truly sensational passes; he just ran a good team professionally and successfully, unlike the first string quarterback, who has completed an incredibly uneven year, combining miraculous throws with bonehead decisions.

Why didn’t anyone give the third-stringer a chance any earlier?

I don’t know, but I’d guess it’s because he doesn’t have a cannon for an arm, isn’t a sprinter, and he wasn’t “hyped” in high school. Mostly that he wasn’t hyped.

This problem isn’t limited to college football. It happens in many fields, where all the attention focuses on someone with charisma, or some flashy special skill, and others, who are far more capable, overall, tend to be overlooked.

Every week I read about new authors who are supposed to be the greatest thing since sliced bread, or the next great genius of the written word, and yet, by next year, most have vanished or are slowly fading, to disappear several years hence when their third book cannot earn out, while other authors, ignored by the hypesters, produce works that continue to sell. I’ve also been in the field long enough to observe that almost none of the works of those hyped and vanished authors ever turn up as “forgotten masterpieces.” Yet, James Oliver Rigney, Jr., more popularly known as Robert Jordan, who created the Wheel of Time series [which has sold more than 14 million copies and redefined fantasy in the process] won no major awards in the field, except one, that one seven years after his death.

This is nothing new. Vincent Van Gogh sold exactly one painting in his lifetime, but today his works are worth millions, while the “big names” of that time, such as Ludwig Knaus or Eduardo Zabala, have faded from view and their works don’t even sell, or sell for a few hundred dollars. Very few people even knew of Franz Kafka until after he died, and Edgar Allan Poe never made enough money to support himself.

Then, and now, it’s often all about hype, but hype is overrated all too many times and seldom has staying power.

4 thoughts on “The “Hype” Problem”

  1. Chris says:

    I’m not saying the 3rd stringer wasn’t good, but it is entirely possible that the reason he did so well is because the other team had no tape of him playing in college, so the defense hadn’t been able to adequately prepare for him. This happens frequently in the NFL, when rookies will have 2 or even 3 good games to start the season, and then look bad the rest of the year because the defenses now have sufficient tape to understand how they play and know how to defend against them.

    But I do generally agree that hype weighs too heavily into a lot of decisions.

    1. Postagoras says:

      Great point!

  2. Postagoras says:

    I think that hype exists to fill a vacuum of news. There are only so many actual things happening, but hype fills up the gaps by taking incomplete data and attempting to predict the future.

    This obviously “scratches an itch” with people, which is why we keep seeing endless prognostications, polls, and projections from the nattering nabobs of not-much-to-say.

  3. Wine Guy says:

    This seems straight out of Moneyball, the movie. The players don’t need to be great or sexy, they just need to get on base (to mix sports metaphors).

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