We live in a world of hype. No matter where you are, there is someone trying to demonstrate the importance of something that on second look is insignificant. We are overwhelmed by commercials insinuating that we can’t do without their products. The television stations try to convince us that a particular program is a “must-see.”
Never has so much effort been made to dupe so many. In the information age, everything and everyone have been reduced to sound bytes. From politics to entertainment to education, hype is the way information is disseminated in the 21st century.
Hype sounds great, but it never lives up to expectations. Recent years have witnessed so much hype that only a bit remains fresh in our collective memories. Many people probably still remember Tiananmen Square, Princess Di or the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Initially, pundits called each of them a watershed. China was supposed to be transformed into a pseudo-democratic society in response to the demands of a group of students. Princess Di and her death were supposed to initiate the demise of the British royal family. Bill Gates created the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in an attempt to rescue his poor public image, which promised money to promote serious scientific research but awarded it essentially for social engineering.
Stem cells and hormone-replacement therapy constitute a pair of hyped technologies with some great hopes that quickly dried up. Stem-cell enthusiasts talked about their project as if it offered a panacea to cure all diseases, even though no one yet understands how a single stem cell differentiates into the various specialized tissues in the body. The whole thing may one day be as discredited as Dolly the lamb and the publicity-hounded cloned babies. As for hormone-replacement therapy, following so many conflicting studies, it now seems as if it is no therapy at all. After promising better health, both technologies are still mired in controversy.
E-commerce was the fad of the 1990s. All commerce went electronic. For quite some time, it appeared as if the dot-coms had taken over and the classical way of running businesses was out of date. The creators of the Web sites were worth millions, and money continued to pour in until the whole bubble burst, and the perceived wealth disappeared with the 20th century itself.
The most recent hype is Howard Dean’s political juggernaut. For the past year, Dean campaigned in Iowa while other Democratic contenders waited in the wings. Dean, who worked for Jimmy Carter’s campaign in 1976, patterned many of his techniques after his former employer. But Dean forgot to learn the most important trait of Carter: humility.
Until the other candidates decided to turn up the heat, Dean pounded on and insulted everyone, both Democrats and Republicans. In fact, he was so hard on other Democrats one could easily have assumed he was a Republican. Anything was fair game to him as long as it kept him ahead in the polls and in fund raising.
Although Dean sounded angry with anyone who knew where Washington D.C. is located on the map, he was ready to accept endorsements from the Washington insiders he so detested. Despite his claim of support from every corner of the state, he imported thousands of supporters from out of state to knock on Iowa doors rather than to rely on local supporters. Even before a single vote was cast, he was reported to be asking another candidate to give up and agree to become his running mate. It was no surprise that Iowa clipped his wings to protest his arrogance.
Dean showed his true self as an angry man after he lost to John Kerry and John Edwards in Iowa. His raving and ranting made him the laughingstock of the nation and brought him back to earth. For the past four months, he reveled in the attention of front-runner status. Now, his campaign blames the press for his demise. Maybe Dean has learned a lesson or two in humility. We can only hope so.
Bode Olakanmi, The Daily Iowan, University of Iowa.