In entertainment as in sports, is being a “hater” an essential part of being a fan?
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I’m a deep-down, born-in-Georgia, I-remember-Biff-Pocoroba-and-Claudell-Washington fan of the Atlanta Braves, which means that according to the customs of sports fanaticism, I should hate the Philadelphia Phillies, New York Mets, Miami Marlins, and Washington Nationals, the Braves’ division rivals. But I don’t. During the season I root against those teams, fervently. And in the rest of Major League Baseball—as well as in other professional and college sports—there are individual players and coaches that I strongly dislike. And like most sports fans, I enjoy seeing perennial powerhouses get upset. But I’ve never really been much of a gloater, trash-talker, or hater. I tip my cap to the great athletes, even when they’re up against my favorite teams; and if I encounter people online who don’t show the same respect to my guys, I seethe. In fact, I’ve been known to drop people from my social-media circle if they talk too much smack about the Braves.
Let me stress here that in no way do I think that my kind of sports fandom is morally superior. I acknowledge that I’m a freak, an outlier—and absolutely oversensitive. For a goodly number of folks, much of the fun of watching sports involves ragging on their buddies and reveling in the failure of their enemies. I get that; I just don’t feel that. And now I’m wondering: Am I missing something vital by not hating more?
I’m not just talking about sports here. When I was younger, there were musicians that I hated, but I can’t really say that’s true anymore. Who would I hate? Katy Perry? Not a fan, but she has some catchy songs, and a lively stage presence. Justin Bieber? Not really my thing, but he’s a pro at a young age, which is sort of fascinating (in a horrifying way). I have come close to hating some movies of late, such as the irritating indie oddity American Animal, but even the worst films usually have redeeming element or two to that keep them from being completely worthless, even if it’s just the sheer misguided gumption of the filmmaker. It’s not easy to get a movie made, so I tend to give people at least a little credit just for completing the assignment.
Along the same lines, I confess to being a little baffled by the recent trend toward “hate-watching” certain TV shows, like Smash, or Glee, or Girls. It’s not that I’ve never watched a movie or TV show fully expecting to make fun of it. That’s actually something I did quite a lot when I was younger (and had more time to waste); and even now, I regularly contribute to our Films That Time Forgot and Commentary Tracks Of The Damned features, which generally proceed from the premise that the movies we’re covering are terrible. I’ve also, in my reviews of Smash done my share of mocking. I’m no saint.
But “hate-watching” seems to go a little beyond the “isn’t it fun to kid the inept,” and into the realm of outright sneering. It’s a knee-jerk rejection of everything a piece of entertainment might have to offer. Just as in politics some people judge what a politician says based on whether there’s an “R” or a “D” next to his or her name, so Smash could conceivably deliver an outstanding episode full of great performances, sparkling dialogue, and heartrending songs, and some viewers wouldn’t notice because the only reason they tuned in was to rip it apart. (To be clear: Smash has not done this yet, and quite possibly never will. But the show has had its bright spots.)
Our own Todd VanDerWerff summed up a lot of my sentiments about this phenomenon in a comment on his Girls review this week, in which he said the following:
We owe the art respect. More important than that, we owe the people who make it respect. That doesn’t mean we automatically praise it because somebody made a good effort. It means that when we criticize it, we criticize it like we would want our own stuff to be criticized, even when we think it sucks. Everybody goes in for snark because it’s easy. I know I have more than a few times. But when you snark, you absolutely shut out whatever’s going on onscreen. You’re not open to it. And that’s no way to approach anything.
I’m in Todd’s camp here. I’d even go so far as to say that I’m at a point in my life where I’d rather read an intelligent, impassioned defense of something I dislike than a “takedown” of anything—if only because I’m more likely to learn something. I also wonder if this mentality is a byproduct of the need in our culture for everything to be “the best” or “the worst,” with no room for “lousy story but terrific lead performance,” or “great vocals but crummy lyrics,” or “jerky third baseman but impressive starting pitching,” or “wrong on abortion but right on tax reform.” In our preference for all or nothing—and our tendency to push everything into the slot we’ve already assigned it to in our heads—I worry that we sometimes miss what we’re actually seeing and hearing.
That said, I don’t want to give the impression that this is the kind of worry that keeps me up at night, staring at the ceiling, thinking, “How can I get people to stop saying mean things about Arcade Fire?” And in all seriousness, I’ve been considering lately: If I’m trying to be open to what an artist is trying to say, should I also be more open to the haters? Hate too is a form of expression. And to some extent, I can see the value in an extremely negative point of view. Some say that love is meaningless without hate, and that we define what we’re for by declaring what we’re against. I don’t know about that, but I do know that many of my favorite critics are so stingy with praise that when they strongly like something, it’s more impressive.
Also, let’s be honest: If someone out there deeply and outspokenly hates, say, any movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio, that person may be annoyingly narrow-minded, but it’s not like he or she’s hurting anybody, any more than a Red Sox fan who hates the Yankees is committing an actual crime. For some, trashing the actors, pop stars, and TV shows that they can’t stand is just an idle pastime, not meant to be taken seriously. Their “hate” isn’t really all that different from me watching some dopey old B-movie and cracking jokes about it. If people say I should just lighten up about all this, I wouldn’t necessarily say they’re wrong.
But to bring it back to baseball again: I live and die with my Braves, to the extent that I can be unpleasant company when they lose. The payoff for that intensity of emotion is that when they win, I’m downright euphoric, and will stay up late watching every remaining baseball game down to the last out, enjoying every nuance of my favorite sport. And I feel the same way about the TV shows, movies, and bands I like. I root for them, and when they’re at their best, it’s a thrill so powerful it makes me feel better about the very medium they’re in. Would that feeling be any sweeter if I also raged publicly against their competition?
Really, I’m asking.