On anticipation and disappointment

I'm very disappointed in you.

No, not you, dear reader. I have little reason to take issue with your elegance, your style, your exquisite good taste ... your seeming imperviousness to flattery. No, I'm referring to a small coterie of movie and television executives who have produced a culture of hype designed to send me into a tailspin faster and deeper than Bush's poll ratings the week the Dow decided to dig itself a new deep hole.

What seems to be the problem? Well, I'll tell you. I sat down to watch HBO's "Sex and the City", which started its new season about a week and a half ago, jittering and wriggling with the kind of excited energy usually seen in 3-year-olds when they're asked if they'd like an all-expenses-paid trip to the candy store. It had been a good six months since I last looked in on the adventures of Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte, and Samantha, those irrepressible thirtysomethings whose adventures have, theoretically, become a touchstone for New Yorkers everywhere (well, at least New York women). In fact, they have simply created one of the more entertaining half-hours on television these days.

The amount of hype that had been generated about the show's return was sufficient to sink a medium-sized battleship. Newspaper articles. Magazine pieces. Ads on telephone booths. I felt like I couldn't walk 20 feet in New York City without feeling Sarah Jessica Parker's eyes on me, beseeching me a) to watch her show and b) to ignore the fact that she was pregnant and her character wasn't.

The companies creating the hype had not only done their homework, but gotten two gold stars and a smiley face sticker on it. I was chomping at the bit to find out What Happens Next, the three most magical words in the cultural vocabulary.

Imagine my feeling, then, when I tuned in to what may have been the most dull, listless, unfunny, and disappointing episode I've seen. Though three of the four principals, as well as the show as a whole, have been nominated for Emmys, you wouldn't be able to prove it by that first episode.

Why was I so disappointed? My high expectations, of course. All the ads, all the stories, they all suggested the same thing. "Remember how much you liked those old episodes?" they whispered. "Well, here are some new ones - and they're just as good. Even better, maybe." And so you tune in ... and then you get whomped.

And each time this happens – whether it be with "Sex and the City", or the new Star Wars movie, or the mediocre sequel to a truly fantastic movie like "Men in Black" – we become more reluctant to put our hearts out there, to get excited, to eagerly anticipate the return of the next Big Thing.

"The Sopranos" are starting again on September 15, and I'm afraid to watch. How is it going to beat the imagined Sopranos I have in my head, the one I can't see, exactly, but that lays out stories of love, of murder, of truly human suffering to quicken the heart and chill the blood? And let's not even talk about the new Harry Potter book, due some time next year.

In this culture industry, executives take our natural excitement and our natural desire and build it up, up, up. It's understandable, and in some cases, even worthwhile. But if the product's not worth it, the taste left in our mouths is indescribably bitter.

Jeremy Dauber is a professor of Hebrew studies at Columbia University in New York.

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