They say the opposite of love is not hate, but ambivalence. No statement could be more true than when looking at the phenomenon of hate-watching. Whether it’s Riverdale or Emily in Paris, we all have that one show that gets progressively worse, but for some reason, we can’t seem to look away.
The psychology behind hate-watching
As Brittany Wong speculates in her article for Huff Post, there are three main reasons hate-watching has become so commonplace. Firstly, she says, “there’s the social aspect of it”. If everyone on Twitter is talking about the unfortunate musical demise of Riverdale, of course I’ll be tuning in each week to keep up with the conversation.
Secondly, in the age of cancel culture, we almost love to look for things that are problematic. “We oftentimes hate-watch with an eye for what we find superficial or in poor taste in our culture at the time; hate-watching gives us the opportunity to openly criticise those things,” Brittany writes.
The third reason she gives is that simply, as viewers, we revel in being smug, smart and snarky about the media we consume to give ourselves a sense of superiority.
Social media and hate-following
Another form of hate-watching or hate-following you might be familiar with is the real people you continue to follow on social media, even though you don’t particularly like them. I’m talking about those ‘friends’ from high school you haven’t talked to in years, but can’t bring yourself to unfollow, lest you’d miss their engagement announcement. You can’t unfollow them because then, how would you know if she’s still dating him, or friends with her? In this case, our own nosiness prevents us from culling down our following list.
Kimberly Bond for Independent links the increased use of social media during the COVID-19 pandemic to this curious behaviour.
“Social media became a primary source of entertainment during lockdown,” she writes, as if the lives of our own friends have been lumped into the same category as television shows. Following this analogy, each Instagram post is seen as a ‘new episode’, reserving us the right to dish out our criticism.
So sure, we don’t unfollow our former friends out of FOMO and our personal stalking purposes, but what about influencers? Perhaps the most interesting case of hate-watching is the ironically fan-like behaviour of those who claim they can’t stand the very people they obsessively follow just to mock. To be fair, influencers say their fair share of cringey things, whether it’s flaunting their travel plans in the height of a pandemic, or calling a different pair of #sponsored sneakers the “most comfortable shoes” every other week, we’ve come to expect hate as part and parcel of the influencer experience.
But I’m not talking about a handful of negative comments under a YouTube video. Unapologetic haters have taken themselves elsewhere, creating their own space on the internet dedicated to all things influencer gossip. Invitation-only Reddit threads and websites like Guru Gossip and Tattle host a forum for nearly every YouTuber and influencer you could imagine. From complaints about influencers “changing” or being inauthentic, to speculations about their personal lives, these threads can contain years’ worth of comments, serving as a meticulous, often chronological commentary to an influencer’s online career.
Take OG beauty creator Michelle Phan’s recent puzzling cult concerns for instance. Her decade-long Reddit threads acted as valuable evidence of changing public opinions and reactions to the highs and lows of her career.
Circling back to Brittany Wong’s theories on the psychology behind hate-watching, it seems the same rules can apply here. In a twisted way, these online gossip pages foster a sense of community centred around a shared hatred of a particular influencer. And do not be mistaken – despite being labelled as haters, you can expect these people to be fully up to date on their chosen influencer’s activities, often to the same extent as their real fans.
As Jennifer Keishin Armstrong writes for BBC, “hate-watchers exhibit the symptoms of fandom – watching every episode, micro-analysing it with other viewers – while still abhorring their targets”. To be clear, haters have had to adapt to watch all of their non-fav’s content without letting them benefit from their views. These users will often post links to re-uploaded videos on platforms like ViewPure and Toggl.es, or individual users will write up their own recaps of videos so their fellow haters don’t have to watch their videos. That’s dedication… in a strange way.
From hate-watching TV shows, to old acquaintances, and now influencers, we see that the common thread behind why we hate-watch has less to do with the object of our distaste, and more to do with the sense of community we find when interacting with like-minded people. We can all agree that it can be validating to hear your own opinion seconded by someone else. As for the ‘hate’ in hate-watching, far be it from me to judge, but I suggest observing how much energy you put into fuelling the hate yourself, versus taking the commentary as light entertainment. After all, nobody likes a hater.