Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Wednesday Factoid: Hater

Today's Wednesday Factoid is: Are you a "hater" about anything in particular? Have you ever been called a "hater"?

Ha! Yes. 

Actually this is a really interesting situation because okay, y'all know I am really over-the-top obsessed with the cartoon show Steven Universe and one recent trend toward criticizing it a lot is popping up in my fan spaces. People nitpick on stuff like characters being off model, plot points not being resolved, and social/political issues not being handled how they would like. And my thoughts usually fall like this:

  • Design variations: Who cares? Variation from the original models is actually a feature, not a bug.
  • Plot points: Who cares? They're telling the story the way they want, and you don't get to whine that they failed for not using the pacing and content you'd prefer.
  • Social/Political issues: They've had some misfires, which stands to reason as they're imperfect humans, but also, having something portrayed in a show does not mean they're advocating it.

I've never actively said these things to anyone because I'm not a fan of getting embroiled in The Discourse, but I realized way before I'd even thought about responding that these folks are allowed to complain however they want--and that the "who cares?" response isn't constructive. Because THEY care. I really don't give a crap if the characters look different heights and have different proportions depending on who draws them, partly because I know the creator of the show specifically WANTED that kind of variation with her storyboarders, but if that makes the show harder to watch for people who prefer their characters drawn with consistency? Okay, you do you.

I don't agree that the show's failure to resolve certain points in specific ways, tie up "loose ends" that aren't necessarily loose, or focus on what's considered "the plot" all the time constitutes a bad show, but they're allowed to have their complaints. I have to admit that when I've seen deeply negative analysis videos and entire networks of blogs and tagged content specifically devoted to tearing the show down, I wondered . . . why are these people spending their time on this? Why are they paying attention to it if they hate it so much?

And then I remember what "being a hater" was about for me.

I was very active in the "hater" community surrounding Christopher Paolini's novels in his Inheritance Cycle. See, I read the first book in the series unaware of any issues; I'd been expecting such a popular book to be great (or at least readable), and I was so appalled at its quality that I wrote a scathing review. I was recruited, sort of, by other people who felt the same way and wanted me to discuss the book and its surrounding phenomenon with them in a LiveJournal group. I did.

The book was bad. Dragon fanboys and people who weren't sick of the Chosen One phenomenon were bamboozled by it, but to me it was just bad. Poorly written, full of amateur mistakes, obnoxious, sexist, tiresome. I wasn't surprised to discover that the book had been written by a fifteen-year-old and initially self-published, "discovered" because an established famous writer happened to meet the teenage author hawking his wares in a local market, and marketed as the fresh new work of a wunderkind. I'll admit this kind of shortcut to the publishing big-time rubbed me the wrong way extra hard due to my own pursuits of publication, but I absolutely wouldn't have begrudged the author his stroke of good luck if I'd found his book deserving. So my unusual annoyance at the book was about more than just its disappointing and occasionally offensive content; it was also about what I considered undeserved fanfare and platform.

My review was popular among fanboys and other haters alike, but the fans frequently interspersed one taunt amidst all the ad hominem attacks and personal incredulity: "You should read the second one, and you'll see he's gotten better." I resisted because I hated the first one so much, but eventually I caved and gave the second one a chance. (I was working at a bookstore at the time and did not have to pay for access to books.) The second was, in my opinion, even worse in a few ways; most of them probably because the author had been taught through his success that his freshman effort had been spectacular, so he just did more of the stuff I hated (with some additional decorative obnoxiousness). So I said so, and yet, people upheld my willingness to look at the second after hating the first as evidence that I was being a hater for the fun of it.

The other haters had so enjoyed my evisceration of the books that they begged me to review the third when it came out, but I was done (and also no longer working at the bookstore). It took someone actually sending it to me as a gift and over one thousand days of procrastination before I gave in and reviewed the third. And I finished off the series because at that point I figured I had become invested in following this terrible project to its logical conclusion. I never enjoyed any of the books. I never gave any of them more than one star. And I did not continue to monitor what the author was doing, nor did I plan to continue following his career.

One could (and they did) argue that I and people like me spent too much time crapping on the topic in question. Why, if we didn't like it, did we still read it and then throw hatred around? What did we stand to gain? Why were we so negative? Why didn't we just pay attention to things we did like?

My answers to those questions are why I understand the reasons behind my own fandom's haters.

Of course, I never did some of the things they do. I never went into their fan spaces and tried to get them to hate the books. I never followed the author on social media and harassed him. I never made personal statements about him or his family or loved ones (except in cases where he put his personal content or made reference to his personal beliefs in public statements or the books themselves). I never insulted or harassed any fan over their love of the books, though I would certainly bar no holds if they came after me commenting on my own content.

That said, I did not entirely perceive my "hater" content as being about Those Books or That Author. It was always more general for me--it was about quality, and it was about opportunities in publishing, and it was about some of the terrible social messages that I believed the books were condoning. There was also nothing about the books that I liked--I was not a fan-turned-hater, nor was I disappointed in the book because I thought it had potential to be better. I just thought it was a shame that an author I perceived to be writing amateur-level, ham-fisted fiction had been given a seat at the table of big shots (and was being paid like one), and this is also key: many of my fans and readers were aspiring fiction authors themselves who took a lot of lessons home on what NOT to do from my essays. (Of course, one could argue that if Paolini failed as hard as I say he did at writing a good story, they'd rather fail like him and make millions too, but I think part of my point is that by and large people who write like this don't even get in the door.)

There was definitely pettiness in the communities I interacted with, and I didn't condone it. Some if it was actively mean-spirited and I admit I kept company with people who were there to be vicious. (If I was interacting with them, I often mentioned that I did not agree with that behavior.) It's easier to judge something petty and specious if you're a FAN of the material being criticized, so I don't know if the anti-fans of Steven Universe actually ARE bigger jackasses or if I just see it that way because I don't agree with them. But here's what I've learned:

Being "a hater" isn't necessarily about hate. It is often about quality, about taste, about high standards, about actual concern, about a bigger picture. I might disagree with some of what the haters say and do, and there are lines they shouldn't cross, but I do not believe people should avoid material they don't like at all costs, and I do not believe intense criticism of a piece of media constitutes a waste of time or a sign of personality issues on the part of the hater.

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