The Most Overrated Pieces of Universally Beloved Pop Culture

From the Works of Ernest Hemingway to Steven Spielberg

Photo: AMC

Not everybody is going to love everything. That's just human nature. But occasionally, an instance arises where you find yourself defiantly not loving something everybody else seems to love. And that can be an isolating stance.

So in the spirit of solidarity, we asked ourselves the following question and invite you to ask yourself the same: what's a piece of canonical, universally beloved pop culture that you don't understand the appeal of, or just outright hate?

Here were our answers.

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Sam Eichner: I read The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway in high school. During a summer home from college, I read A Farewell to Arms. Studying abroad, I read sporadically from a complete collection of his short stories. I won't say I hate Hemingway—I did like A Farewell to Arms quite a bit—but I will argue that he's easily the most overrated canonical writer in history (I am not the first to make this argument, surely). Understandably, his outsized character and celebrity has played a part in all this. His athletic prose and declarative style has also been intimidated to death—both satirically and sincerely—which doesn't help, either; reading Hemingway today, it's hard for me to separate parody from original. The real reason for my disillusionment, though, is that, while frequently poetic, I often find his writing somewhat flat, lifeless. If I'm being honest, I'd rather read about Hemingway than read Hemingway. 

Miramax Films

Hadley Tomicki: I haven’t seen Life is Beautiful for 20 years and I’d probably feel different about it today, being a father and all. But I remember being sort of baffled by the positive response this movie got. It just seemed super fucked up that we were supposed to be slapping our knees amidst the horrors of a concentration camp. And I understand that was the entire point of the movie, that he was making an unbearable situation better for his son. It just struck me as improbable and vulgar somehow, that everyone else was suffering with some modicum of reality, too weak to lift a finger, while Roberto Benigni clowns it up like Giulietta Masina and Robin Williams’s wild love child. I feel like I’m the only person who feels this way and it makes me not fun or something.


Thompson Brandes: I don't understand the love for Mad Men. I watched the first season on Netflix and liked it so little and experienced such little emotion watching it that I couldn't muster up an ounce of motivation to continue following into season two. I'm 100% sure it's one of those shows that gets dramatically better after watching long enough to grow attached to each character and performance—I even like Jon Hamm as an actor. But until I do (and I promise you I never will), I refuse to believe it is anything more than average. 


Geoff RynexBreaking Bad. To say I hated it isn’t really accurate, but I’m shoehorning it in here. I actually liked it, but that’s as far as I can go. It made me feel insane watching it and seeing all these critics I admire and friends whose opinions usually closely align with mine mention it in the conversation of best show ever made. To me it totally lacked nuance. I never had to think about anything beyond what was being said and done on-screen. The performances were showy. The specifics of the plot were original (not many cancer-suffering high school chemistry teachers making meth on TV before that) but the way it unfolded never felt much different than any other story about a regular guy getting in over his head. And don't get me started on the fucking air traffic controller/Walter, season-long plot payoff. That was some bad undergrad creative writing shit. But I have to admit though that I came into the show looking to poke holes. I was and am a huge Mad Men fan, and even though I think the Emmys are basically irrelevant and what the hell do I care if a show full of people I’ll never meet gets awarded a statue over another show full of people I’ll never meet, it bugged me that Bryan Cranston always beat Jon Hamm—who could say more with a forehead scrunch that Cranston did in any of his arch, bloviating threat monologs—for Best Actor. Not that it still bothers me or anything. 

Columbia Pictures

Ilana Dadras: Not sure if this counts, but the last time I remember watching Close Encounters of the Third Kind, I must have been eight years old in my family’s living room. It was a Sunday evening, family movie night. I was in my pajamas and had made a heaping bowl of buttery popcorn dotted with Junior Mints, my favorite. Within minutes, some combination of the suspenseful music, a stressed Richard Dreyfuss and possibility of aliens had me dashing up to my bedroom, bowl of treats in hand, my brother shouting, “Lani, it’s really not that scary,” from the couch. I oftentimes wonder if I should check it out now in my old age, but I kind of like that it’s burned in my memory as a terrifying horror film.

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