Photo: Getty Images. Posed by model.
The latest buzz word in pop culture consumption is hate reading (or hate watching or hate listening.) Not sure what it is? Well, it’s extremely possible you’ve already been doing it without being aware (you clever thing, you!) That old school frenemy’s food blog who you frequent on a regular basis just so you can roll your eyes at her poorly baked and even more poorly photographed attempts to become the next Nigella Lawson? Hate read. The fact that you watch Glee even though you didn’t like the songs being performed when they were originals, let alone as covers? Hate watch. When you forwarded Rebecca Black’s Friday to your work colleagues with the subject line “Watch. This. Now.”? Hate listen.
Hate reads can be gleaned from your personal life such as that annoying friend’s Facebook feed which is basically a list of all the times she thinks a guy hits on her (to which you want to yell “It sounds like he was just talking to you!”) or from more public forms of entertainment like the TV disappointments of Smash, Glee and The Newsroom.
What is it that is so addictive about spending time with something you dislike? Hate reading or watching comes from the same impulse that compels us to yell “Give it here!” when a friend says “Ewww, this smells gross” or to push a bruise just to see if it hurts anymore. There’s a warped sort of pleasure in hating bad things, I’m sure the Germans probably have a very lovely sounding word for it. Hating can also be a bonding experience as evidenced by the outpouring of bile on Twitter any time a new reality show launches on Australian television screens. As we define ourselves by our likes, it can be equally pleasurable to delineate our own personal pop culture boundaries and find our tribe through our hates. These days with social networking we can all be critics and it seems we are taking to it with aplomb. Your mother’s sage advice has now morphed into, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, broadcast it on Twitter and gain some followers.”
Not all bad art is a hate watch. I genuinely enjoyed Tommy Wiseau’s horribly acted, so-bad-it-turned-back-into-good cinematic masterpiece The Room and I will never tire of quoting, “F**king magnets, how do they work?” from Insane Clown Posse’s rap rock monstrosity Miracles (if you’ve never seen this, DO IT!) There’s something heartbreakingly tragicomic when the gap between ambition and ability is so vast. Insane Clown Posse’s track was supposed to be a sweeping ode to the majesty of the natural world but instead just revealed that they have a bafflingly suspicious attitude towards scientists, or as they call them “liars”. And hate watching is not to be confused with guilty pleasures which are cheesy programs or movies or songs that aren’t cool, but are enjoyable (see Taylor Swift’s entire back catalogue.)
I had thought that hate watching was a rather modern malady, but when I Googled “pleasure in hating” I found I had been pipped at the post BY CENTURIES when in 1823 writer William Hazlitt penned an essay titled On the Pleasure of Hating. He believed that “there is a secret affinity, a hankering after, evil in the human mind, and that it takes a perverse, but a fortunate delight in mischief, since it is a never-failing source of satisfaction.” Hating something can make us feel secure in our superior taste, which is a warm and fuzzy feeling indeed.
But while hating on popular culture or social media can be fun or a bonding experience, be warned that in the long-term it could also have a corrosive effect on the psyche. “As a society, we are addicted to drama,” says psychologist and life coach, Emi Golding (catalystbreakthru.com). “Drama also comes in the form of bad news from friends, complaining and bitching about colleagues, and negative posts on social media like Twitter or Facebook. There are always more ‘likes’ and comments for negative and hateful posts than for positive ones. When you take in and absorb these negative messages from around you, it actually changes your brain chemistry, and the neurological pathways in your brain, and trains your brain to look for and seek out the negative in life. Therefore, you are more likely to find all the things that make you anxious, stressed, depressed, and also lower your self confidence and self worth.” Or as Hazlitt put it way back in the 19th century, “We hate old friends: we hate old books: we hate old opinions; and at last we come to hate ourselves.”
So if Glee is making you glum or Smash is making you want to smash your head into a wall perhaps it’s time to take a break and catch up on all the masses of good art out there (despite my best intentions I’m still yet to get around to watching a single episode of The Sopranos or Breaking Bad.) However I don’t feel quite emotionally evolved enough yet to delete that bookmark of my frenemy’s blog, she just made a tray of muffins I wouldn’t feed to my cat that I urgently need to mock...