The Sheep Effect

This post is apt to piss some people off, which I guess is a good thing, considering that the people who do get pissed off are those I'm directly addressing. Then again, there's the chance that what I'm talking about doesn't even exist, in which case nobody will get pissed off.

What am I talking about?

Why, the Sheep Effect, of course.

(Yes, yes, I'm attempting to coin a term again.)

You know what it is, though. It's pretty obvious. Simple peer pressure. It's not just a grade school or high school thing. Peer pressure stays with us throughout life. And, wouldn't you believe it, it even happens in writing communities.

Quite recently I read a book that I'd heard so many good things about. Everyone, it seemed, loved it. Everyone but me. I just didn't get what was so great and special about it. Someone I know found out I wasn't completely knocked over by the book and asked what my problem was.

"How can you not like that book?" this person asked. "It's amazing!"

"What's so amazing about it?"

"It's just so good!"

"What's so good about it?"

"Aw, man" -- this person waving a dismissive hand -- "you just don't know."

I decided it best not to pursue the point. Maybe I just didn't know. Maybe sometimes we just love a story or book or movie or a piece of music for no other reason than because we do. There doesn't have to be a reason for it. Right?

Now I don't consider myself a member of any real writing community. I try to keep a toe in as many different ponds as possible to know what's going on in any particular water. But in every writing community it always seems to be the same thing: people fawning over a particular book or story or writer that I just don't understand. Sure, the book or story or writer isn't bad, per se, but I can't see what the big fuss is about. My theory, of course, is that a lot of other people don't find them great either, but they don't want to be left out and made to look like an idiot so they go along with the flow.

Yes, just like sheep.

A more prominent example of this is Oprah's book club. Now for the record I like Oprah very much. I like how she tries to raise awareness of books to her vast audience. But what I'm not thrilled about is how her vast audience gobbles down any book she gives them and immediately claims it's a "masterpiece." Because I've read some of Oprah's picks. Some, I thought, were great. Others, I thought, were ... not so great. But of course that could just be me. We all have different tastes. Or at least we should.

I could keep going with different examples of this ongoing phenomenon (like where the majority doesn't like something and so everyone else doesn't like it either, even though there's nothing wrong with it at all), but I'm sure you get the point. Keep in mind I'm not saying it's not all right to like something without knowing why you like it. There are books and movies that I love without really knowing why I do. But I know in my heart that I really do love them and not just say I do because everyone else does and I don't want to look foolish. Or that I don't like a book or movie or story when everyone else does.

I could end here with a challenge to everyone who reads this to take more of a stand in what you like and dislike. But then if the majority did that, we would all be sheep. Wouldn't we?