Earlier this year in a jaunty bit of Q&A with Twitter followers, my comic books colleague Adam from the Battle of the Atom podcast asked me the following question:
“Why do you hate the good stuff sometimes?”
Adam was mostly asking about comics, but this is a question that has followed me my entire life. Any of my friends who have gone to the movies with me has asked the same question.
It doesn’t matter what the thing is. You can hand me a random stack of anything: comics with no credits, new albums by unfamiliar artists, or even a selection of burger condiments. it’s all the same. I will enjoy a consistent amount of each sampling, and I will tend to prefer some of the unpopular stuff while eschewing some of the most most mainstream items.
I always thought this was because I have unique wiring in my brain. I thought it was that certain tropes or styles simply lack appeal for me.
I’m sure that’s true, to some extent, but I’ve recently learned that it might also be because I am a “harbinger of failure.”
I first heard about this concept last year while watching a 2017 episode of the British quiz show QI, or Quite Interesting, as gleaned from a 2015 MIT News article on a study conducted by two MIT professors. Here is how QI summarized it:
The difference between the next big thing and a turkey is that there are people who will always buy the turkey – as in the American showbiz term for something that flops commercially.
There is a kind of consumer called “harbingers of failure”, whose always buy a new product that later goes on to fail. Thus, people with a “flop affinity” are in demand from people in market research because they are good at predicting what products will go on to be unsuccessful.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology analyzed 10,000,000 transactions at a chain of convenience stores, and they found that people who buy the nail polish that fails are also the people who buy the ice cream that fails. Harbingers of failure in the past have also bought watermelon-flavored Oreo biscuits and a range of ready-meals made by the people who made Colgate toothpaste called “Colgate Kitchen Entrees.”
The moment I heard this explanation, I recognized myself in it.
More on that in a moment. First, let’s talk about the flipside of being a Harbinger of Failure: disliking popular things. [Read more…] about Harbingers of Failure