From wildly underrated to wildly overrated: a shortlist

Item One below got me thinking the other day about how collective opinion can shift crazily over time. Even the biggest cultural monuments started out small and overlooked. Occasionally, though, something that was once unjustly scorned or neglected has, over time, got so much praise heaped on it that it’s treated like the First and Second Coming rolled up into a single, bloated, conformist-friendly package. Here are a few cases that spring to mind.

THE BIG LEBOWSKI  When it came out in the wake of the prize magnet Fargo, critics and all but the staunchest Coen Brothers fans turned their bafflement into spite, calling The Big Lebowski scrambled and self-indulgent. Then, gradually over the following years, it was rightly recognized for the off-hand comic brilliance of its performances and script. And then… Well, then it became the Rocky Horror of our day: a cult movie in the most suffocating sense of the term, strip-mined for quotes and Halloween costumes.

NHL HOCKEY  For decades the NHL was the bumpkin cousin of the major North American pro-sports leagues, with quirk-riddled venues and TV coverage that had an almost colonial look. Still, its fans knew how naturally the game itself created electrifying drama (nothing in sports has ever been able to top the Stanley Cup playoffs—that’s just a scientific fact). Within the last 20 years, however, organizations like the Vancouver Canucks have become as slick and omnipresent as any in the local entertainment biz, and the game’s packaging for TV has turned into a glop-fest of rock-ish videos and platitudes about “who we are as a nation”.

LED ZEPPELIN  Not my idea for inclusion on this list: given where and when I grew up, I have no choice but to love this band like family. (And there are countless other musical acts you could nominate: Fleetwood Mac, U2, Radiohead, even Rodriguez.) But a colleague suggested their name, and I had to admit that the shoe fit, or rather the Viking helmet. When Led Zeppelin was putting out its best records, few groups were more reviled by the music press. But arguably the needle has since swung too far in the other direction, so that you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that the band had also discovered insulin and won World War II.

YOGA  What took root in North America as a tranquil alternative to the huffing, horking fitness regimen of the mainstream has become that mainstream, and with a vengeance. Its converts can be zealous, to put it mildly. I play ball hockey for fun and exercise, but I don’t treat every instance of anxiety or unhappiness in acquaintances as a chance to say: “Well, you simply have to play ball hockey.” Please don't be mad at me.

SOCIAL NETWORKS  The time is still within living memory when television was condemned for ruining society by sucking our attention away from the company of friends and extended family. But now that we’ve all become the TV—now that Facebook has turned us into the content we consume—you could say we have far too much of our friends and family, who come at us constantly in sortable clusters of facts and images.

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