Living up to the hype
If you hype it, they will come. It’s been a reliable Hollywood mantra for years. But in the past few weeks that rusty saw has taken on razor-sharp teeth. Thanks to the confluence of two pop-culture monstrosities — the Seinfeld finale and Godzilla‘s opening — the roar of summer-entertainment sloganeering, already pitched painfully high, has reached deafening new levels. Be one of millions to see the end of Seinfeld — or be embarrassed! Get ready for Godzilla — or get lost! Hype, in short, has become hysteria.
Today, says trend analyst Vickie Abrahamson, coauthor of The Future Ain’t What It Used to Be, ”hype is more fun than the actual [event].” Indeed, the hyper-hype over Seinfeld and Godzilla is less about the material and more about the mass. Take last week’s big Godzilla news: It opened on a record 7,363 screens, and attracted 11,500 to a premiere party at New York’s Madison Square Garden. The overt message, says Raleigh Pinskey, author of The Zen of Hype, is ”who can do it bigger and better? The hype is exponential.”
These days, all the hubbub is about quantity — not quality. Maybe that’s why so much Seinfeld mania seemed so utterly artificial. You could almost justify the nationwide finale parties and the artifact auctions (despite someone paying $9,800 for a ”Soup Nazi” script). But then there were the businesses that tried to cash in on the fuss, like the New York Health & Racquet Club, which offered gym rats an extra month of membership if they joined the day of the finale. And, of course, there’s the media, which, in lieu of real news, pounced on mind-numbing stories, like Seinfeld look-alike contests and plot scraps popping up on the Internet. A scan of the Lexis-Nexis periodical database turned up 3,484 references to Seinfeld in May; in the same period, the words ”cancer” and ”cure” appear only 1,113 times.
With Godzilla, the machinery behind the myth was even more apparent. For months, Sony had whipped up media interest with a reported $50 million domestic merchandising strategy, which kept the lizard’s ugly mug under wraps; stores agreed to withhold toys from their shelves until the film officially opened. But in reality, Godzilla toys have been leaking into consumer outlets for some time now. Dolls were available at one New York area Blockbuster Video as early as two weeks ago; a manager for the store said they were unaware of any embargo. Similarly, the studio caused a minor stir after an April news report noted that their creature reproduces, only to air recent commercials with Matthew Broderick uttering ”He’s pregnant.” The emptiness of the hype was evident at the Garden premiere: Sony issued portentous warnings to attendees, promising Big Brother-style shakedowns for recording devices. In reality, no searches took place. Says Sony president of worldwide marketing Bob Levin, somewhat disingenuously: ”People became so interested in us withholding the creature, I was never confident that we were going to pull it off. But it looks like we did.”