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Hate-watching TV As A Survival Strategy

Most reality shows do well to completely obstruct any reality, and that’s precisely their appeal

08/12/2016 04:53 SAST | Updated 08/12/2016 04:53 SAST
AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa
American reality-show star Kim Kardashian wipes her daughter's face, North West, as she rides in a classic American car with her husband, rap singer Kanye West in Havana, Cuba, Thursday, May 5, 2016.

It goes something like this: you really do love old episodes of Mad Men, The Wire and The Sopranos and it's easy to see why. Critically-acclaimed and appropriately "highbrow" these award-winning series don't threaten to embarrass you if your Netflix history is exposed. If anyone dares to question your taste, you've got the series' many Emmy Awards to silence the haters. The tricky part comes in when you admit (in a hushed voice, perhaps) that you also love The Bachelor, Geordie Shore and Botched just as much, maybe even more.

That's where the concept of hate-watching conveniently steps in, and you get to binge-watch the entire box set of your chosen "cringe-worthy" series while maintaining some semblance of a so-called cultural high ground. "This is such trash," you squeal content in the knowledge that so long as you claim to hate it, you don't have to admit you actually, really love it.

Not to be confused with guilty-pleasure viewing, which is usually akin to a humblebrag a la "I'm such a dork, I love *insert obscure series from Japan*" hate-watching is, often hilariously, hateful. Just search for the #TheBachelor on Twitter for proof. But, despite the hateful veneer of the habit, at the end of the day, we simply aren't wired to pursue anything that we truly hate, not at least after our nine-to-five day. So, if we religiously tune into every single episode of The Real Housewives of Atlanta, there must be some payoff, right?

Basically, it's schadenfreude that you've PVRed

Most of the series that fall into the hate-watching category are reality shows. However, as anyone who has watched an episode of Real Housewives will tell you, most reality shows do well to completely obstruct any reality, and that's precisely their appeal. Watching such reality shows offers viewers a potent mix of validation (they're imperfect like me) and escapism (they're different to me) all in a twenty-two-minute segment.

I spent a horrendous/glorious number of hours hate-watching Keeping Up with The Kardashians until I realised that I didn't hate them at all. I actually loved watching them eating various salads in Khloe's showroom kitchen, their cheekbones glimmering with the most iridescent highlighter. What I didn't love was the fact that if I admitted that I loved them, then I'd also have to admit that I was embarrassed by my own preference. I was uncomfortable with the inconsistency of my taste. You see, just as much as I love the sharp-as-a-knife Joan Holloway from Mad Men and the meta Jane the Virgin, I also love Kim's monotone clapbacks.

Almost all the series that we're supposed to like are filled with violent men who rape women. And more than that, these men are often painted as twisted heroes. Why is watching these series "cooler" than watching America's Next Top Model?

The precise payoff of hate-watching comes from the mocking and criticising of the show in question and its characters. Basically, it's schadenfreude that you've PVRed. And that's where it becomes interesting. More than being embarrassed by my own preferences (I still love you, Kim) I didn't want to acknowledge the joy of judging others without any negative effects. I could formulate the bitchiest rant while being content in the knowledge that no one would get their feelings hurt. More than that, I could be a bitch. And nothing would happen. The rare lack of consequences is a privilege usually reserved for men.

Women are constantly instructed – both tacitly and explicitly – how to behave. "Don't be a bitch" is pretty high up there with "Girls aren't supposed to..." and that's where hate-watching becomes subversive. A marathon session of hating on the Kardashian clan means I can embrace my haterade and take pleasure in my perfectly-timed, salty quips without the guilt. It also means that I can accept the thing I'm not "supposed" to be – a bitch – and in fact plan time for myself to play that role without reducing myself to a label.

The truth is, the system is rigged. Almost all the series that we're supposed to like are filled with violent men who rape women. And more than that, these men are often painted as twisted heroes. Why is watching these series "cooler" than watching America's Next Top Model? Violence against women is so pervasive that we have been dulled to the point where depictions of rape and entertainment are not mutually exclusive. The patriarchal system has paired women and children in the category "vulnerable" which is to say "not men" and yet both series and movies rarely feature extreme violence against children, and if there is violence it is usually inferred or the series or movie will belong in the horror category. This is largely because violence against children is a taboo, so what does this say about violence again women? It can exist within the realm of entertainment only because the underlying belief is that it is not only omnipresent, but it's acceptable too. After all, art does imitate life.