I just found out that Taylor Swift’s elaborate build-up and promotion for her single “ME!” weren’t enough to get it to No. 1, and it reminded me of how much my expectations for something dictate my enjoyment of it. When I first heard “ME!,” I thought that it if anyone but Taylor Swift had written it, I would be fine with it as a dumb but fun pop song, horrendous bridge notwithstanding. But because I know that Taylor is capable of GREATNESS, it fell flat for me, and it was even more disappointing precisely because I had been following the teasers for it. It didn’t live up to the hype.
However, while the general public may have agreed with me in this case, I have noticed that my expectations tend to color my perception more than most, maybe to the point of even skewing it. I like to think that I just have high standards, but being so swayed by my expectations means that my ability to compare the quality between two things can get distorted. The most egregious example of this that I now find extremely embarrassing was that, initially, I liked Solo more than the Last Jedi because of my rock-bottom expectations for the former and my very high expectations for the latter. When Solo turned out to be more enjoyable than I thought and The Last Jedi not quite as great as I thought it would be, I then made the logical error of thinking that Solo was the better movie. The more I thought about both movies, though, the more I realized that was wrong (although I still hold that The Last Jedi needs some serious editing and several darlings killed).
I think the influence of my expectations is also why I tend to love comedy that features throw-away lines, like 30 Rock, because the whole point is that you’re not expecting those lines to be funny. Meanwhile, I struggle a lot with the humor in the Avengers movies because, to me anyway, they always seem to telegraph the jokes from a mile away. If you’re making it clear that “now it’s time for the funny part,” it had best be very funny, and the jokes in Avengers often don’t meet the expectations that they’ve built up.
Musician and podcaster Hrishikesh Hirway once shared on an episode of Gilmore Guys that he doesn’t watch any previews for movies so he can go in fresh, and I think I might need to apply the same principle to my own life if I want to be able to judge things more accurately. Unfortunately, I love reading reviews and criticism of culture, so I’m not sure that will happen. But if you hear me talking about how much I didn’t like some album or movie or TV show, ask me what my expectations were.