The other night, I was watching actual live TV, which meant that I was also watching (not fast forwarding through) commercials. The Wonderful Pistachios commercial with Korean sensation Psy came on. You know the one where he adapts his “Gangnam Style” lyrics to sell us a novelty nut and even does the weird cowboy horse dance that adults are making kids everywhere recreate? First thought: poor ad executives at Wonderful Pistachios got here too late; I mean isn’t “Gangnam Style” so three months ago? Second thought: why does everything always have to be overdone to the point of turning great pleasure to great disdain?
Because that’s what I felt: disdain. Watching him jump around in his green suit, I felt like Psy was an even bigger sellout, that Wonderful Pistachios was so lost for good ideas that it stuck itself on the tail end of a pop culture trend, and that I would now be unable to enjoy yet another thing I once found so amusing. When Psy and “Gangnam Style” were part of the slew of videos a friend would forward during the workday or show you on her smartphone, I loved it. I bought in to how absurd it was, how oblivious this pop star might’ve been to our Western reactions. But now, one pistachio ad too far and I’m over it.
Wonderful Pistachio’s ad is of course not the first thing to make me feel like, come on, enough. Psy is mentioned everywhere, from family gatherings, where a cousin has showed me how his son can do Psy’s dance, to daytime TV, where Ellen Degeneres and Britney Spears were taught the dance by Psy himself, to celebrity magazines, where actors like Max Greenfield mention how their sons or daughters love to dance to “Gangnam Style.” The AT&T ad (you’ve definitely seen this one ad nauseum) where the kids espouse “You really like it, you want more” (because essentially more is better than less) is at the heart, perhaps, of the culture of overindulgence we have long been living in. We like big drinks and baskets of endless fries and unlimited breadsticks. We like more, because less is disappointing and more means we never have to say no to ourselves.
But is more really better? I propose it isn’t. About ten years ago, when I was working at a firm in New Jersey, my co-worker—a few years older and wiser than me—advised me to leave parties while they were still fun. But it made no sense to me. Why would I leave when I was still enjoying myself? In her mind, it was to avoid having the memory of when you’re no longer enjoying yourself, the point when it gets stale and everyone’s slowly leaving for home. If you leave when the party is still hot, you remember how good it was.
I wish we applied this more often and to more things. I liked Psy and “Gangnam Style” just as much as I once enjoyed The Office before it went on for too many seasons or the chocolate pudding pie I made last week before I consumed too many consecutive servings. I used to like Beyonce and began to turn on her for no other reason than suddenly, she’s in my face several times a day: HBO special, Pepsi billboard, Jay-Z’s wife, Blue Ivy’s mother, Cuba, Paris, the presidential inauguration. Half the songs I mark as new favorites end up overplayed on the radio to the point where I regret purchasing the iTunes file and most of my favorite actors hit a period of overexposure that makes me want to smack them. It’s too much.
It’s also not very creative. Take Hollywood, for instance. The film industry of today is less about chances and much more about mining what was tried and true. How many times were we willing to see The Hulk redone? How many times will we watch some version of Adam Sandler making an ass out of himself with his immature adult friends before we stop buying tickets? And what of the Sex and the City franchise? I used to love it and then the movie versions, which aimed to be bigger and better, wiped out the integrity of the brand.
And besides, a lot really can be enough. I like that when I order Thai takeout, I get two days worth of food but not three or four days of it. I’m happy that when the executives behind Arrested Development decided to come back, they were thoughtful about when and in what format so as not to dilute the goodwill established in just three seasons. I’m relieved at the timing of Steve Carrell’s exit from The Office, and of Tina Fey’s pulling the plug on 30 Rock before it fell so deep off the deep end, it was no longer ironically absurd, but gratingly contrived in its weirdness. I’m grateful that my memories of these things are of how good they were instead of how terrible they became. Even with food, when you get too much, you have to wonder if it’s really that good to begin with, and if you really want to eat anymore of that same thing anytime in the near future.
When something is really special, we overdo it. We change the nature of it. “Gangnam Style,” just like tons of other videos on Youtube, was at its best when it was just that: a weird little thing we found online. Some people knew of it and others thought you were making up some weird word to stump them. (What style? Is that a new fad?) And thus, it was still thrilling to happen upon it, view it and wonder who the guy in the video was and how this weird little thing got put together. It still felt then like some kind of treasure.