Why We're Obsessed with the Emmys: A Theory

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During my 36 years on this planet, I can’t think of a single time that I cared about an award show. If anything, I tuned in for the musical performances because there have been some epic ones at award shows. Now, although I don’t care about awards shows, I’d never judge people who do. I personally think it’s silly and takes a massive lack of self-awareness to not realize that there are plenty of people who don’t care about something you’re really interested in.

With that being said, year after year, I’m just interested in why people care so much about award shows. If you’ve been following my content for a while, you know I’m just fascinated with human behavior. I don’t care what brings you pleasure and joy, I just like to figure out why. And for anyone who can relate, I highly recommend How Pleasure Works by Paul Bloom, and his upcoming book The Sweet Spot is similar and very different at the same time (I was able to get an advanced copy because he’s coming on the podcast closer to launch, so make sure you’re subscribed to the podcast so you don’t miss it.)

Whether you’re like me and don’t care about the Emmys or you’re someone who is obsessed, you have to admit it’s extremely interesting.

Why do so many people talk about it? Why do we care what these strangers are wearing? Why does it matter who wins when we have no skin in the game? And it’s strange how we love hearing what these celebrities have to say on the Red Carpet or when they accept the award.

Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Ted Lasso, and I’ll fight anyone who has one bad thing to say about that incredible show. In fact, I find it reminiscent of hipster behavior when people feel the need to publicly say the show sucks:

But I digress.

Last night, my lovely girlfriend and I were catching up on that ridiculous, yet somehow good show Slasher on Shudder. Since it’s hard for me to keep my attention in one place, I was also browsing through Twitter and was once again intrigued by all of the buzz about the Emmys.

After years of curiosity, I’ve come up with a few theories as to why people are so obsessed with the Emmys as well as just about any other award show like the Grammys, VMAs, CMAs, and all that.

Let’s Get Tribal

Something that always makes me giggle is how we live in 2021 and think we’re so advanced. In Western civilization, we love to look down upon cultures that still live like hunters and gatherers. The reality is, regardless of how many gadgets we have or fancy cars we drive, we’re still as tribal as our ancestors, but it appears in the silliest ways. And if you want a great book about this, grab a copy of the new book The Power of Us by Jay Van Bavel and Dominic Packer.

We see it every single day when it comes to the increased polarization from the political divide as well as from fans of professional sports. But when you really look around, it’s everywhere. There’s a tribal, in-group mentality from competing companies, or between cliques in K-12 schools, and so much more. I actually got interested in this topic when I was cancelled in 2019 because I saw how it happens with outrage culture, and it’s especially bad with “stan” culture.

Don’t believe me? Go piss off some K-Pop fans and see what happens.

So, what’s this have to do with the Emmys? Think about it. We’re constantly signaling what tribe we’re in so we can separate the in-group from the outgroup. Each social media post saying “Yay, our show won!” or “WTF?! Our show lost?!” is a signal to the tribe.

Something else that makes me giggle (yes, I’m a giggly person) is to think how many people who love the Emmys and think sports fans are ridiculous. It’s all the same candy with a different wrapper. We all have so much more in common than we think with our ridiculous behavior, and I think about how much more connected we could be if we realized the similarities in our innate behaviors.

Confirmation Bias is the New Heroin

I actually had the chance to speak with Jay Van Bavel about his book on the podcast recently, and at one point, we were talking about how we hunt for confirmation bias and how addictive it is. I’m not sure if any studies have been done on this, but I’d be willing to bet our pleasure centers light up like fireworks when confirmation bias kicks in.

When you blend confirmation bias with a little Dissonance Theory from Leon Festinger, we get another possible reason for why people are obsessed with the Emmys.

Being right feels good as hell. I don’t know about you, but in the age of streaming, we’re a house of bingers. We have a bit of a rotation with some older shows we haven’t seen that have multiple seasons, but when a new show drops a brand new season, we plow through it. This takes up a lot of time. The average show is about 10 episodes at 45 to 60 minutes. And if the show is weekly, we make time for that show.

So, with that much time spent on something that some would deem pointless or a waste, when that show wins an award, we feel justified in our love of the show. We’re all smart people who do smart things and spend our time in smart ways, so why would we spend that much time on a show if it wasn’t good? That award to our favorite shows or our favorite actors and actresses is undeniable proof!

But what if our show doesn’t win? Well, that’s when my boy Leon Festinger steps in.

It really shouldn’t matter whether our show or its cast loses, but it does. Not only do we signal to our tribe by posting that we think we were robbed, but our brain comes up with all of these excuses and reasons for why “we” lost. And I believe that’s just the dissonance setting in. Since we’re smart people who do smart things and we only spend our precious time watching good shows, there must be some other explanation for why “we” lost.

Free Will or Mimetic Desire?

I had a great conversation with Gregg Caruso about free will, and for those of you who don’t know Gregg’s philosophical ideology, he’s a free will skeptic. Like Gregg, I’m in the free-will skepticism camp. The more I learn about human behavior, our subconscious decision-making, and our knack for self-deception has made me realize that free will is an illusion to satisfy our personal need for control.

One great example is what we want. Every day, we’re making decisions that are driven by wanting.

We work hard because we want a promotion. We get in shape because we want to attract the right person. We buy things because we want them. We do different activities because we want to.

We do what we want because we’re in the driver’s seat…or are we?

Well, the reality that we fail to acknowledge or admit is that our wants are often driven by external sources. We want that promotion because we want more status and more money, and a lot of this is just to feel better than others or to be accepted. Sure, when we get older, we stop being dumb and settle down with a mate, but how many people have you hooked up with or dated just so you could brag to others or because you knew that person was wanted by others? And how much money do we spend on things just so we can impress others? Living like this was a primary source of my depression for many years because the goal post was constantly moving.

Alright, so if there’s a chance we don’t actually want what we want, then what is it? This French polymath René Girard called this “mimetic desire”, which, in it’s simplest terms, that we’re constantly comparing ourselves to others and look to others to know what to want. Although I recognized this years ago when I got sober, I didn’t know it had a name. Fortunately, I came across the incredible new book Wanting from Luke Burgis, and I highly recommend everyone reads it. I promise it’ll up your self-awareness.

The best way to know what to want is to look to people with higher status, and what better place than these award shows where you can get all these celebrities in one place? What’re they wearing? What’re they saying? How are they acting? We want to know because it shows us how “successful people” act and what they do. Maybe if we can see what they’re doing, we can mimic their behavior to our best ability and hopefully be on track to have what they have.

This is a theory that’s been noted in the social sciences as well as in evolutionary psychology. If we take a trip back to tribalism, it was a good idea to see how the high-status people in the tribe acted so you could hopefully gain status too. And maybe if you gain status, you’d be a better option in the mating pool and all that fun stuff.

So much of what we do is for status. It’s one of the main driver’s in our lives, and it’s a never-ending game that we play until the day we die. In fact, the incredible author Will Storr recently released his book The Status Game which analyzes this topic perfectly. I was so happy to read his book and then chat with Will on the podcast because I was like, “Yes! Someone else has noticed this as well but can explain it far better than I ever could.”

To recap, there’s good reason to believe we’re obsessed with the Emmys due to the following:

  • We’re tribal and love to signal to our group

  • Confirmation bias is awesome, and we love being right

  • We look to the rich and famous to mimic them

And again, if you’re one of those who love these awards shows, I got nothing against you. I play an insane amount of video games, build legos, and watch just about every superhero movie and TV show that comes out, and I’m a man in my mid-30s. I like to analyze why I like what I like too, and maybe someday, I’ll write about that as well.

But, in the meantime, I’d love your thoughts in the comments. What do you think about these theories? What’re your theories for why people are obsessed with awards shows?

I’ve been working on organizing all the books I’ve read, and I have multiple lists of books on becoming a better thinker. There are lists for educationsocial issuescritical thinkingself-deception, and biases. For the rest of the categories, click here.

I’m always open for a conversation and to be shown what I might be missing or where I may be wrong, so feel free to email me at TheRewiredSoul@gmail.com

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