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No, the problem with hype is that it transforms the use value of a would-be work of art into its exchange value. For in the middle (there's no end) of the hype cycle, the important thing is no longer what a song, movie, or book does to you. The big question is its relationship to its reputation. So instead of abandoning yourself to the artifact, you try to exploit inefficiencies in the reputation market. You can get in on the IPO of a new artist, and trumpet the virtues of the Arctic Monkeys before anyone else has heard of them: this is hype. Or you issue a "sell" recommendation on the overhyped Arctic Monkeys: this is backlash. But there are often steals to be found among recently unloaded assets: "Why's everybody hatin' on the Arctic Monkeys?" says the backlash-to-the-backlash. The sophisticated trader is buying, selling, and holding different reputations all at once; the trick in each case is to stay ahead of the market. And the rewards from this trade in reputations redound to your own reputation: even though the market (i.e., other people) dictates your every move, you seem to be a real individual thinking for yourself.

No one will admit to being the 100% tool whose taste is 100% social positioning. Probably no one is that person. But anyone sensitive to art is also sensitive enough to feel his true aesthetic judgments under continuous assault from publicists, bloggers, journalists, advertisers, reviewers, and assorted subcultural specimens. Hype-and-backlash overwhelm the artifacts that supposedly occasion them. At this point a basic inversion takes place. Never mind the moon; look at the finger pointing at the moon. Is it pointing too high, or too low? It makes you want to turn away from that overhyped satellite altogether. But there are perversities involved with ignoring hype, too. There's the person who demonstrates his individuality by patently false proclamations: "The Sopranos has nothing on Friends." Or the person who by promoting a revival of some "underrecognized" artist wastes his time and others': "J. F. Powers is the greatest American novelist of the 20th century." Or you shut yourself off from the world and read only Dante. Some people even proclaim discrimination itself hopelessly snobbish, and just watch whatever's on.

Hype-and-backlash might seem simply to speed up and democratize the process of criticism; everybody's a cultural critic now. But this is mistaken. Real criticism of art sometimes attempts the correction of reputations (as when T. S. Eliot encouraged everyone to drop Shelley and pick up Donne), but that's not its main task. Real criticism can take the form of a monograph or a long review, or just a few words mumbled to a friend. In any case, it judges art with reference to the work's internal logic and generic and historical situation. And criticism, which relies on impressions and arguments, is always susceptible to opposite impressions and counterarguments.

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