Celeste Headlee: On 'Haters'

Timeless behavior that didn't begin with YouTube

Tuesday, May 18, 2010 - 03:38 PM

Dawdling on the internet this morning, I found this YouTube, embedded below : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JrBrQxDDryY&feature=player_embedded 

It's a protest, but also a tribute. And it's notable for a couple reasons: first, this is an international theme. I imagine if they had opened it up to foreign languages, we would hear guys described as "Rien ne l'intéresse" or someone might start a YouTube video by saying, "Amo mi hater." This term is globally ubiquitous; there are very few translations of it because in many countries they understand what a "hater" is without a dictionary.

The Online Slang Dictionary defines the word this way: one who disapproves of something or one who is jealous. But this isn't about someone who didn't like "Avatar" or can't listen to The Black-Eyed Peas. A true hater would go to several movie review sites and smear James Cameron's epic using snide, personally insulting comments. Take a look at reviews of "Avatar" on RottenTomatoes.com. Here's a critic: "For all its powerful technologies, Avatar can't get out from under its essential cardboardness." Here's a hater: "...a big, dumb movie built to make money but hardly worthy of serious examination. Avatar isn't only critic-proof, it resists serious criticism. You might as well analyze a beach ball. "

To be fair, one scathing review does not a hater make. A true hater hates repeatedly, always using personal insults, and never acknowledging the existence of any redeeming feature in the person/book/movie/law/whatever that they hate. Case in point, there is a special definition for YouTube haters, someone "who leaves rude, mean, and/or degrading comments on other YouTuber's videos and/or profiles that are, in no way, constructive." Here's an example of one comment about an amateur singer: "He sings the chorus like he's deaf...? Not tone deaf, but just deaf and his eyes? are so open wide like he's going to lose his sight." That's followed by this comment, "Gross, I can feel his breath on me through the monitor... please take up miming and stay out? of public places." Now THAT'S hating.

Again, these are not simply bad reviews. Critics have been getting it wrong for centuries. Take, for example, this 1876 review of Bell's new-fangled device out of a Western Union internal memo: "This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us." And perhaps the only reason we remember Carlo Bersezio and Carlo D'Ormeville is because they described the premiere of Puccini's La Bohème as "the mistake of the moment" and "failed opera [that] won’t become known." Critics give their best guesses and we can't really blame them when they get it wrong.

If a hater had reviewed Puccini's masterpiece, he probably would have peppered it with nasty comments about his stupid mustache and call him a poseur, not fit to empty Verdi's spittoon. Haters try to tear people down personally, as though it somehow raises their own standing by comparison.

But here's what strikes me about this YouTube montage: these people seemingly share no common traits except their loathing for haters. There are cool kids and dorks, seniors and elementary schoolers, Americans and Australians, women and men, and every possible skin color conceivable. They are all united in hating "haters." So perhaps this is a theme that we can all rally behind. Haters = bad. Knee-jerk, non-constructive, personal insults are not welcome.

But if that's true, why do we listen to so many angry rants in our news programs? Are we simply more tolerant of haters when they're hating on someone else? Clearly, it's all protected, free speech. But I don't think we should use a different moral compass when we're measuring hatred on blogs and Facebook pages than we use in evaluating our news coverage. If haters are bad when they hate you, they are bad when they hate your neighbor, too, and even when they hate that politician that you, privately, also hate.

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Comments [1]

Bennett from Minneapolis

Interesting point. It makes me think. I try my best not to watch the screaming heads on cable news. At the same time, I sometimes love reading the one-star reviews on Amazon.com. Here's a review of Citizen Kane:

"I saw this movie and just about puked in my lap because it was so terrible! Go see the Da Vinci Code instead. Tom Hanks is ten times the actor Orson 'Fatty McFat' Welles ever was!"

I think that reviewer qualifies as a hater.

May. 18 2010 05:20 PM

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