As a species, we love to hate. But, aided and abetted by the darker corners of social media, a new beast now stalks the edges of movies or television shows we adore.
Hate is alive and well in 2018. But there are many versions of it. There is true hate, i.e. the rebirth of those pesky white supremacists, and there’s important hate, exhibited when someone dares make a new Star Wars film with ladies in it. The question, of course, is why. Why do we feel the need to spend our limited mortal hours watching something we actively dislike? Well, Gonzaga University’s Melissa Click (great name) has in investigated the dark art of loving to hate, penning a series of essays entitled ‘Anti-Fandom: Dislike and Hate in the Digital Age’.
According to Click, the entire endeavour started with Martha Stewart. Prior to her prison sentence, she wondered, “…why is Martha Stewart so popular with women? It seems like women have so many choices for their lives today, and there’s this real resurgence in focusing on the home.”
From there, she dug deeper discovering that she “…started to hear a lot of people who said they loved her also say that they hated her. They hated her voice. They hated the way she dressed. They hated her drive to be perfect and that she was sort of a know-it-all. And I was really confused about why people who were answering my calls to talk about why they liked Martha Stewart were sharing all these things about why they didn’t like her. I was still interviewing people when she was indicted, and through her trial, and when she went to prison. I watched the hate turn: People who had been really critical of her then began to feel like she was being really wronged. For example, people who self-identified as feminists used to say, “I’m really interested in the things that she does, but I feel like she’s cramming them down my throat, and it’s not very progressive.” And then, when she’s accused of insider trading, they say, “Well, all these other men did this too! Why is Martha Stewart being singled out?””
Another interesting example is the character of Skyler White. Breaking Bad’s primary antagonist (she wasn’t, but she felt that way), was a reasonable woman who adored her husband, but fans of the show quickly derided her as a naggy, nosy, housewife. I mean, how dare she ask questions about Walter’s whereabouts? He just wants to make blue meth, bitch. According to Melissa Click, “Fandom and anti-fandom live together. If you love something intensely, and then the story takes a turn that you don’t like, that intense love is what shapes how mad you are about it.”
The hate of Skyler White (or the love of the WWE’s Donald Trump) is the engine that powers anti-fandom. According to Click, “…taking a TV show you like and establishing what it is about the show that you like or what character you like is automatically positioning you against something else.”
The ease of this hate, seems to be the problem. There’s always a crowd to make it feel justified. It seems like an obvious point to make, but it’s worth mentioning that it tarring someone with that easy brush could be a fools errand, as there are some who are knowingly numb. Click states that, “…it feels like anti-fandom’s everywhere, but it’s important to remember that there are a lot of people who are “meh” about things. And so it feels like anti-fandom is overrepresented in our world, because the people who don’t really care (and are probably the majority of people) don’t really have any visibility around it — you don’t see the mainstream “meh” behaviour demonstrated.””
I feel you.