Good Grief

Plenty of things piss me off. Bad grammar. Ugly architecture. Friends who let their dog hump my leg. Weather. People.

But the item at the very top of the list of Things That Make Me Want to Kill Myself With an Ax is a simple phrase, one that everyone in the English-speaking universe uses on what seems to me to be an hourly basis. It's a mind-bendingly meaningless phrase, one that makes my blood boil. It's a phrase that makes me want to purchase a nail gun and use it for something other than assembling a bookcase, if you know what I mean.

Seriously: The next time someone says "I heard it was supposed to be good" in my presence, I might have to staple their ears to their head.

You've heard people use this asinine expression, maybe even some time in the past several hours. You've almost certainly uttered it yourself, even though you haven't a clue what it means. It's a phrase that comes tripping off all of our tongues ritualistically, and it has absolutely no merit.

People generally say "I heard it was supposed to be good" in response to the mention of a movie, book, play, or other form of entertainment. Mention that you're looking forward to a yet-to-be-released Gwyneth Paltrow movie, for example, and your companion will almost certainly respond with, "I heard it was supposed to be good!" Really. Try it sometime.

Probably I should find a hobby other than getting mad at stupid people, but in the meantime I've deconstructed this loathsome expression in an attempt to really get at its foolishness.

The "I heard" in "I heard it was supposed to be good" almost always means that the speaker has seen a trailer or TV commercial or ad for the product in question, and is too stupid to realize that this advertisement was prepared by a company paid to promote the product. Because it's considered untoward to advertise a production by announcing, "This show really sucks! Stay home!", promoters tend to produce upbeat ads citing four-star reviews and ellipse-heavy quotes from critics.

The "supposed to be good" part is especially galling. I mean, everything is supposed to be good. Right? No one goes to a restaurant expecting to be served a plate of offal. Nobody wants to read that their parish priest has been busted for diddling teenaged boys. Priests are supposed to be good. Entrees are supposed to be good. Pretty much everything is supposed to be good.

In short, what people mean when they say "I heard it was supposed to be good" is actually "I have been exposed to some form of propaganda created by the promoters of this movie/play/book and have stupidly mistaken it for proof that this product has an intrinsic goodness that I should witness." Which is insane, because nothing is intrinsically good. Most things are quite awful, in fact.

The real trouble with this horrible catch phrase is its sentiment: "I heard it was supposed to be good" sums up how very far we've strayed from our own instincts, from knowing what we like rather than waiting to be told what we can count on liking. It's a phrase that says, "I do not know the difference between advertising and criticism, and I'm too dimwitted to know whether I want to see Hamlet or The Dukes of Hazzard."

And so there can only be three reasons for saying "I heard it was supposed to be good": 1. You don't know the difference between advertising and criticism; 2. You don't trust your own taste in entertainment; or 3. You are a moron.

Trust me on this one. I've given it a lot of thought. Hopefully this essay will be the first step in easing an unpleasant phrase out of our already crowded language. Because this essay? It was supposed to be good. And you heard it here first.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela