Jewish World Review March 6, 2013 / 24 Adar 5773
This just in: Watching the Oscars is NOT a waste of time
By Kevin Horrigan
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Once in a great while, you read something that totally changes your life. So I offer profound gratitude to economics reporter John Cassidy of The New Yorker for his blog post that explained why watching the Academy Awards show wasn't a complete waste of time.
I had watched the Oscars and was feeling guilty about it. It was 31/2 hours that I would never get back, 31/2 hours that I could have devoted to reading Proust or trying to finish "War and Peace" (only 512 pages to go). I'd seen only three movies last year, have no interest in designer gowns and couldn't have cared less who won what. When the show's host, Seth MacFarlane, was introduced, I had to Google him.
But thanks to John Cassidy, I realized I had spent 3 1/2 hours acquiring what those familiar with "game theory" in economics call a "positive network externality." He wrote:
"Events like the Oscars and the Super Bowl generate what game theorists call 'common knowledge,' which itself has value."
It seems the value of watching the Oscars lies in the fact that lots of other people are watching the Oscars. All of the goofy stuff the bad speeches, the tasteless jokes, the silly production numbers become "common knowledge" that people discuss.
"Good, bad, or indifferent, each Oscars ceremony can be relied upon to provide plenty of this sort of trivia," Cassidy wrote. "If you are in on it, you can use it to start conversations with your friends and workmates, look smart, and appear au courant. If you don't know what's going on if you choose not to join the network of people connected by having viewed the Oscars you risk appearing dim, antiquated and anti-social.
"The shared experience is what is crucial," Cassidy wrote, going on to say that the show "provides viewers with what economists call a 'positive network externality.' The more people that are watching, the more the potential viewer stands to benefit from joining them."
Before last Monday, I lived in fear of "appearing dim, antiquated and anti-social," totally un-au courant. I spend my days reading and writing about public policy. I labor in the spinach fields.
I worry about things like continuing budget resolutions. I can name my state representative. I am even vaguely familiar with economic game theory, though that's only because I read "A Beautiful Mind," Sylvia Nasar's 1998 biography of John Forbes Nash. (My new fellow Oscar fans will recall that the movie version won Best Picture in 2002).
There is no shame in knowing stuff like this, but if you combine it with a large dose of guilt about wasting time (I'd like to thank the nuns and priests who taught me for this award), it can make you appear dim, antiquated and anti-social. I'll never forget the way my children mocked me for referring to the rapper 50 Cent as "Half-Dollar."
But now, thanks to John Cassidy, I no longer have to feel guilty about frittering away time on sports, movies, television shows even Hollywood gossip. I am acquiring positive network externalities and lots of common knowledge.
"The awareness that others are watching, and that you will be able to communicate with them about what happens, changes the cost-benefit calculus of the potential viewer," Cassidy explained.
The problem here is that there is no bottom. There is literally nothing that can be regarded as a waste of time or too silly for words. I am thinking here of Great Britain's Royal Mascots, whose comings and goings, marriages, divorces, pregnancies and naked romps are followed breathlessly by millions of people.
Or the TV show "Two and Half Men," which is seen by 13 million people every week. That's a lot of common knowledge, assuming you'd want someone to know you'd watched "Two and Half Men."
Or soccer. Billions of people around the world like soccer. If I could get into soccer, they would no longer think me dim, antiquated or anti-social. But it seems a terribly high price to pay.
Social media have raised the stakes. In the old days, if you hadn't seen the Oscars or the Super Bowl commercials or read about Prince Charles' bugged phone conversations, only your closest friends knew you to be dim, antiquated, etc.
Now people talk about such things in real time on Facebook and Twitter. Oscar night, I had people tweeting me not only about the women's gowns, but the men's tuxedos. I had nothing to say; they must have thought, "What a clod."
Now that I know it's not a waste of time, next year, I'll be ready. Also next year, the World Cup! This July, a baby royal mascot! Ashton Kutcher's better than Charlie Sheen, don't you think?
Apparently you get points just for knowing. You don't have to care.
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Comment by clicking here. Kevin Horrigan is a columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Kevin Horrigan is a columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
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