Today I stumbled upon this little treasure: Emily Nussbaum’s critique of Smash. I’ve stopped watching the pathetically awful show for some time now. Yet for some reason I have kept reading Alan Sepinwall’s increasingly scathing recaps of the show. It’s like I enjoy reading how desperately bad this program has become. So when I saw the title of Nussbaum’s review: “Hate-watching Smash,” it was as though she and I were sharing brainwaves.
I gleefully read through the article and laughed out loud at such exquisitely biting remarks such as: “McPhee has a pretty pop voice, but she plays every scene with a Splenda-flavored neutrality, which might not rankle so much if the show didn’t keep insisting that Karen is a star whom everyone adores.” Ouch. But so satisfying to read!
Or how about this one? “During the last episode, I spent most of my time mentally replacing the awed facial expressions of cast members gazing at Karen as she sings with the horrified expressions of “Game of Thrones” characters staring at King Joffrey as he tortures minions. It helped.” If you’re a Game of Thrones fan (I am), this is deliciously hilarious. And spot on.
The stinging hate-review goes on. And I loved it. Which got me thinking: Why do we continue to watch (or read about) the shows we hate? Is there really such a thing as “hate-watching”?
Anti-fandom – termed as such – has been around for a few years. The site “Television Without Pity” is based upon the practice of writing snarky reviews. Just yesterday Melissa Silverstein posted this video about female viewers’ reactions to HBO’s Girls. The very title “Shit Girls Say About the Show Girls” highlights our culture’s tendency to sarcastically and meanly comment about the things we don’t like.
But this is the first time I’ve come across the phrase “hate-watching.” How many of us do this? And why? I know I’m guilty. I started watching Gossip Girl one day because I was bored. I found so many things to hate about the show, yet I kept watching – like some kind of perverse fascination. As it turned out, I used Gossip Girl as one of the main case studies in my dissertation, and I eviscerated the show with my severe critique of its sexism.
Therein lies one possible reason to “hate-watch” a television show: If one is intentional about it, the process can be instructional. As Sepinwall puts it, “[A]s an observer of TV, it’s instructive to watch a show like ["Smash"], or “Studio 60″ or “Heroes” where you go in with lots of expectations and it all starts going wrong, and continues going wrong, in so many different ways.” We can learn from truly bad programs. Viewers can express their displeasure. In this age of instant, digital information, networks can observe feedback and either rectify or cancel. (Or do what they often do – just ignore it.)
We can also learn about ourselves. Why do we passionately dislike the kinds of shows we do. They differ for each person. I would be interested to talk to people about the shows they so thoroughly hate and the reasons why. Storyline? Characters? Dialogue? Is the show sexist? Does the program support materialism and superficiality? Here we can discover things about our own viewing habits — what makes us tick. What values do we subconsciously bring to a television program? And how do our responses connect with the greater cultural context?
Questions to ponder…
Do you “hate-watch” any television shows?