The fascination with driver distance has always been interesting to me. I play with some guys, as we all have, who seem like the only thing on their mind when playing a round is seeing how far they can bomb one of the tee. Every hole the longest hitter will say something along the lines of "I think I got you on that one" whenever we pull up to the ball to take our second shot. One day after hearing it about 10 times too many I said "Oh really? I thought we may finish the hole? Should I pick up now or keep playing?" It didn't matter that the guy was 5 strokes behind me, so long as his drive was longer than mine.
I notice this a lot as well. I think some would much rather hit a few big drives than to score well. People really want that big drive and I think (to the OP's original point), perception can be really skewed toward great distance.
I actually use 3-wood or a 17* hybrid for most of my tee shots. In my occasional measuring, the good ones for these clubs would be about 215 and 230 respectively. But I often experience a scenario where a 'big hitter' will hit a good looking drive and kind of hoot and holler about his distance and maybe even throw out a few estimates of how far it went. Then when we get to the fairway, I see that he only out hit me by a little. It seems these shots that I'd estimate around 250 are pretty often estimated closer to 300. To me - anything close to 300 is an abnormally long shot. I'd say I only saw a couple in 2013.
I think it has to do with just wanting it so bad that some see what they want to see.