Black Holes and the (Meta)physics of Popularity


Black Holes and The (Meta)physics of Popularity

Have you ever stopped to question how something becomes and remains popular? Has it ever baffled you beyond words why a singer or a film or a book gain a massive following, and yet has left you cold, and unable to see its appeal? Have you ever finally succumbed to peer pressure and bought the latest must-read book, that must-have music and found yourself wondering why the blazes this has somehow hit the big time when you can see few redeeming features in it?

I bought the novel Twilight about two years, to read while away on a trip, and was seriously disappointed. I got to the end and was unable to see why it has become a global phenomenon. It is poorly written, and unoriginal; someone has described it at Jane Eyre with vampires and werewolves. The characters are flat and unrealistic, the plot thin and predictable and it doesn’t even scare. While I am fully aware I am not a part of the demographic for which it is intended, I am also aware that a hefty section of the fan base comes from women of my age and background. I remain baffled.

The same applies to certain of the big blogs, which will remain nameless and linkless for reasons I hope will become apparent as I go on. These are the blogs that have hundreds of thousands of hits a day, who have subscribers in their tens of thousands, and every post draws hundreds if not thousands of comments. I’ve had a look at such places and come away baffled by why the numbers are so high. They don’t usually offer anything that strikes as wise or clever or helpful or really anything out of the ordinary; the self help ones seem to repeat the same type of information you can find anywhere. There’s nothing there to keep me coming back. And yet people do. They come back and read obsessively and comment and recommend and re-tweet.

These are the blogs I call the Black Hole Blogs. They inhabit the same universe as I do, they occupy a tiny space(virtual places are virtually without geography) and yet they have such immense mass that they draw in everything. Other blogs speak of them with awe and reverence and even a little fear. There’s always a danger they will swallow up all the readers who have an interest in that subject, and once those readers go past that event horizon from which exit is impossible, they are lost to lesser blogs.

It’s the same with best-seller books and authors, and blockbuster movies and chart topping music. Once something reaches a certain size, the size alone is what draws people in. How many of us went to see Avatar, because everyone we knew had been to see it? It’s a very average movie, with recycled themes. I was disappointed (I saw it in 2D so perhaps that is another factor) and couldn’t see what the fuss was about.

In the end, I do question whether popularity is more about herd mentality than it is about the quality of the product itself. Nobody wants to be the odd one out who doesn’t watch a certain reality TV show (insert whichever is current) or hasn’t seen the in-film or read the in-book. Every time a Harry Potter book was launched, commuter trains were packed with adults reading the latest offering from JK Rowling. Before that The Da Vinci Code was the in-book. It doesn’t matter in the end about the quality of the product, if the marketing gets a certain number of people to buy into the adventure(music, book, film TV whatever) then a strange cascade effect takes place.

There are plenty of times where the popularity is deserved. A great book, a superb film, a fabulous album can just as often reach the heights. And yet, so too does total and utter rubbish. It baffles me. It’s beyond  simple issues of taste and choice.

In blogging terms, there is a possible collateral benefit of being associated with a Black Hole blog, at least in the minds of the smaller bloggers. Commenting on such a blog may bring readers to your blog, may even attract the attention of the Black Hole blogger, though in practice, I suspect that the majority of this kind of blogger may at best skim through their comments and only reply to those who are already a part of their network, if at all. If a post is getting hundreds of comments, or thousands, it would be a full time job reading the comments alone.

If you only equate success with numbers, then allying yourself to the Black Hole blogs and aiming for their level of ‘success’ is a futile and probably deadening exercise.At best you’re going to be a pale shadow, accused of copying them or be swallowed up by them and get no readers of your own. But if you leave aside concepts of numerical success and examine things based on their own intrinsic worth then a very exciting universe emerges, one where you can make discoveries for yourself.

Be a pioneer. Find books that make you go, “Hmmmm!” when you read the cover and turn over the first pages with the excitement of a Dr Livingstone of the literary world. Don’t wait for recommendations from the media for what films to see or music to buy; go out and see what you can find. Don’t mindlessly obey those little prompts you get at Amazon, “If you liked X then you will like Y”. Avoid automatically buying another book by a famous author simply because the words NY Times best-seller is printed in bigger letters than the book title.

Look for blogs that intrigue and excite you because of what the author says or does, not because it is endorsed by a celebrity or because you think you may get traffic as a result, or because you are convinced that something that has gotten 10 million hits somehow MUST have something. It might, but it no longer needs YOU. Go and find the blogs that are out there that are languishing for lack of hits, but whose author has talent and insights, and encourage them with your comments.

Open your mind to the small, the independent, the quirky and unpredictable things of the world, those mindblowingly undiscovered places and things and people and writers and musicians and artists. Open your eyes to see beauty and talent, open your ears to new experiences in music and find out for yourself what you like without being brainwashed that it is whatever product the sellers happen to be selling at the moment.

In other words, don’t be a sheep. Be a wildly alive explorer and see what new worlds within this one you can find and share.

There is no map but the one you create for yourself. So go and explore and steer clear of Black Holes. I’m looking forward to reading your Captain’s log.

19 thoughts on “Black Holes and the (Meta)physics of Popularity

  1. Wow! This is a sincere and inspiring write-up! Thanks for sharing!!! And it sure deserves to become a blackhole blog itself *winks*


    • If it ever does, I will bail!!
      Size is all relative anyway. To some I am infinitely small and insignificant and to others, I am a big blog already. Just depends where you’re standing at the time.
      nice to meet you and thank you for commenting!!
      That’s the nice thing about a manageable sized blog; you can reply to comments properly!


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  3. that was a brilliant analysis : Once something reaches a certain size, the size alone is what draws people in… and : Commenting on such a blog may bring readers to your blog… and ….

    I am agree with you about Twilight and Harry Potter, but although Avatar is stereotype it has something different and special. Avatar has a very smart hint to the native american who were captured and dislodged from their own territory . they were exactly them with their believes an traditions and manner .


    • I found a lot of good things in Avatar, but I could also see a lot of borrowing from earlier films(Dances with Wolves, and also direct scene steals(and characters) from a famous animated film from the 90s, Fern Gully. I guess that nothing is truly original, and all literature and film draw on earlier ones for inspiration.
      I also think that sometimes too much hype can ruin even a good film by unreasonable expectations. I am looking forward to seeing the newest Narnia film this week, and am worried that as this was my favourite book of the series, I may be disappointed even though the reviews are saying it’s the best Narnia film yet.
      Lovely of you to drop by and comment; thank you!!


  4. Excellent post and one I am in full agreement with! I may be the only person left in the world who has yet to watch Avatar so can’t comment on that!

    I shall now go and explore while steering clear of black holes!!


    • I did quite enjoy Avatar but that said, it was nowhere near as good as the hype said. I did buy it on dvd for my dad’s birthday so maybe I shall pinch it back at Christmas and you can watch it with us whenever you come and visit. That and the Pirates series too.


  5. I have to say, I loved Avatar. Not because of the story, so much, I saw that story in Disney’s Pocahontas. But because of the visually stunning CGI. I’m a sucker for good visuals.

    I hear you on finding the heretofore undiscovered. I’ve fallen in love with music in the past that no one in my family has heard of, only to have them go viral a few months later. All from surfing through my Rhapsody subscription, instead of going with random “recommends”.

    I’m also a fan of Harry Potter and of Twilight. Unabashedly. Not so much for their literary content, but for a temporary return to a simpler time. They take me back to the types of things I used to read as a child, fairies, vampires, werewolves, witches and magick.

    One of my favorite authors is Kim Harrison. She’s a fantasy writer, with a good grasp of where her fan-base is. On her personal “drama blog”, her fans (Me too!) can leave her messages, which she turns around and actually replies to!
    She talks about day-to-day stuff, as well as book stuff and well, just the flotsam and jetsam of life. I loved her books first, and now I love and respect her, for sharing pieces of her real life with her fans, and actually taking time to ANSWER them. She also gives good advice for beginners!

    Whew, sorry, this got a little wordy, but I really enjoyed your post!


    • I enjoyed Harry Potter for similar reasons, but not the films which feel overblown and pretentious. Twilight you will never convince me of; there are also subtexts there that I find deeply offensive, but over all I just found it …boring. I deeply dislike romance anyway, because it is the literary equivalent of porn, IMHO.
      glad you enjoyed it!


  6. I must admit that I NEVER follow a trend – either I discover Da Thingy (whatever it is) before the rest of the world, or I don’t follow. So I’ve never read Harry Potter, nor seen Avatar (hi, J! ;-)), nor followed any of the other trends.
    Heck, I was the only one in the zine world who bought the other zines, while the other ziners didn’t bother to buy mine (ok, they were penniless, I had Day Job, but still…)! Sometimes I refresh my Amazon recommendations just because I’m sick of seeing all that stuff recommended – sometimes I just leave it there and ignore it.
    I buy stuff because someone tells me about it or because the author is a friend/acquaintance/blogger I’ve been following (although I can’t find my copy of Strangers&Pilgrims anywhere in the house, if the fairies haven’t taken it, I’ll have to buy a new one next year).
    But then, I’m different, I know it, and I’m proud of it!
    Oh, and did I mention I DON’T watch TV at all? 😉


  7. Advice and productivity blogs always seem to be popular and banal. I often wonder the same thing on twitter. There are some people with oodles of followers and I can’t imagine why.

    I am one of the people who enjoyed Twilight, despite the amazing overuse of the word “chuckle.” I’ve always rather liked the way genre writing reveals cultural obsessions (and personal ones). I particularly enjoyed the hoops Meyer jumped through to keep her kids chaste until marriage. I suppose it was a bit like indulging in junk food, but I really did thoroughly enjoy it at the time, and I read the entire series. In the first book the characters frequently refer to Wuthering Heights. Cathy and Heathcliff have to be two of the most annoying literary characters ever, and their passion has all the hallmarks of being written by someone who has a very immature understanding of love. At least that has been my take on it. Meyer can’t write like Bronte, but her Bella and Edward share that weird, twisted, obsessive I-can’t-live-without-you regard for each other, which masquerades as high romance.


  8. You speak my thoughts, questions, and suspicions, Viv. I’ve decided to stay true to my intuition and write what comes out of my soul.

    Twilight – I watched the movie because, as an Aunt, I needed to know what the nieces were so excited about. As it is very appealing to the teen and pre-teen set, I hoped it would encourage kids who “stand apart” to not accept being a victim of bullying because they are different. I may have high hopes.

    So, thanks for this, “Blogs that make you go…hmmmmmm”


  9. Reblogged this on Thea Atkinson and commented:
    Vivienne Tuffnell has written a post that I think is a nice companion to the thoughts I express in my Haystack Giveaway. Although my post was purely in the hopes of gaining some visibililty, Vivienne writes eloquently as she always does about her bemusement of some viral book and blogs. Great post, Vivienne. I always look forward to your postings.


  10. I did enjoy Avatar, but like you, i couldn’t see the allure of Twilight. Recycled ideas for a new generation, I saw it as….like the remakes of 70s movies. To the young, these are new.


  11. I think with age comes experience (and the truth about reality). I was never one to watch or read because others did. Usually, when I did, I came away scratching my head–like you–wondering what all the fuss was about. After all the hype about Pretty Woman, I did see it and thought, “What? Boring. Same old, same old. How did that get the raves it got?”

    When they boasted Avatar was the best in something, I chuckled. Hype. That’s what they were building. When I heard there was a 45 minute battle scene at the end, I yawned and passed. I don’t care for battle scenes. It’s like the left hand battling the right hand in front of my face: boring. It’s why I tuned out of Star Wars the droid wars or whatever they called it. Little machines fighting. Whopdedoo! Men might like that but as a woman, I find long battle scenes boring.

    There are many people, books and movies built on propaganda (or as I tell the kids, made popular by the critiques). The Beatles, Shakespeare, Twilight, Titanic the movie… You name it, there’s not much substance to any of them. I go for something a little more meaningful.

    I haven’t yet found a black hole blog, but then again, I don’t go looking for blogs. I usually find the ones I follow from blogs like this.


  12. So interesting what modern media has done with mob mentality. I also believe there is something in the masses that makes us want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, and only those completely happy with who they are can avoid the black hole’s tug.
    Thanks for the ideas.


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