Hating famous people

Like Scott, I was intrigued by Emily Gould’s article about blogging. She’s a beautiful writer and her experiences are fascinating. I was a little frustrated by the article, though, because I kept hoping that she would push further past the anecdotal to the broader implications. What does it mean to be internet famous? How does that vary from regular famous? How has our world changed because of blogging? And why is it so often female bloggers who get such insane volumes of hate mail?

I was quite shocked by the ferocity of the comments responding to Gould’s article. One thousand two hundred and sixteen of them and most of them astoundingly nasty. Many of them seemed to boil down to: how dare she be young, talented, and pretty?

For me, one of the most disturbing aspects of the internet is the ease with which people can go on the attack. Hate spreads faster than light now. And even relatively unfamous people like Emily Gould can be the brunt of it. I have many blogger friends who receive hate mail and comments from total strangers. Some of them in astonishing numbers.

The whole thing makes me much less comfortable with my own celebrity hatred. See, I’ve always found hating famous people really cathartic. Rather than hate someone I know—cause we all know how uncomfortable that can be—I aim faux hate at random actors. Like Michael Douglas and Jack Nicholson. I don’t do it actively: no hate mail or anything like that. I just say mean things when they’re on tellie and boycott their movies.1

It’s one of the many few disagreements Scott and I have. Scott thinks hating famous people is stupid because these are people you don’t know and it’s a distraction from the people you do know and the real things in your life. He thinks that’s a bad thing; I think it’s a good thing.

Except that I’m not sure I do anymore. Seeing my friends get cyber stalked and harassed via comments on blogs and emails, well, it makes me not just sad and unhappy for my friends, but really uncomfortable about having strong feelings about strangers. Because people you don’t know are strangers. Some people seem not to get that about bloggers. Just because you read their blogs, no matter how intimate that feels, it doesn’t make them your BFF or even your enemy. They’re just someone whose blog you read.

Jack Nicholson, even though he is exceptionally annoying, especially in his role as an LA Lakers fan,2 is not my enemy. He’s never done anything to me. He has no idea who I am. I hereby vow to quit hating him. It’s going to be tough, but I think I can do it.

Now if I could just get all those trolls and writers of hate mail to take the same vow and quit harassing bloggers who annoy them. Hint: it takes a lot less energy to simply not read bloggers who piss you off than it does to keep attacking them. Funny that.

  1. Unless the films are directed or written by someone too fabulous to miss. []
  2. Don’t get me started. []


  1. Aden on #

    Perhaps it’s a reflection of some of the websites I read, but I often consider that a wide variety of posts probably come from a single, insanely irate commenter. Which is either more or less comforting, when you think about it.

  2. Patrick on #

    I guess I’m a little weird in that I assume famous people hate me.

    Why do you hate me Justine? WHY? WHY? What have I done to you? :weeping:

  3. Bill on #

    Some people don’t get heard in their real lives, and having 100 people reacting to their troll comment gives them the illusion that they’re important.

    I think many inflammatory commments are code for “I’m so lonely and powerless in my real life that this is all I have left. Won’t somebody even *pretend* to talk to me?”

    Then again, some people are just jerks who believe that anyone who disagrees with them must be *fixed*. They’re crusaders, wielding their QWERTY sword of righteousness against the forces of evil. Ignoring injustices (like a misplaced comma or incorrect Star Trek reference) would be shirking their sacred duty.

    Now please excuse me, I’ve got to go set this Scalzi fellow straight on a few things. 🙂

  4. Patrick on #

    I hear you, Bill.

  5. Aden on #

    I’m not sure I’d go as far as Bill has in his characterization; we all like to imagine we’re right, it’s one of those boxes that gets checked when you’re doing the startup routine of consciousness. I think it’s easier to maintain the illusion of correctness online for all the same reasons that people are confessional online.

    It seems almost like two sides of the same coin–two responses to the same set of stimuli. One takes the basic deception of anonymity and turns it into a confessional; the other is just as liberated, but instead of attempting sincerity and earnestness, goes for empty aggression and venom.

    (That is, I’d agree with Bill that some people are just jackasses, but disagree in enumerating the specifics of jackass-dom.)

  6. AliceB on #

    Thank you for putting into words what I found missing about the Gould article. I too read it with interest, but walked away feeling that in writing the piece, she had been self-indulgent, somehow. And now I can pinpoint why: she didn’t talk about the broader implications.

    Regarding hating bloggers who are strangers, my take is that it’s because of the way we read (and conversely how writers write). There is no way for a writer to describe a character completely: a novel or a short story can only hold a limited number of words, and they have to do more than just describe one person. So a writer gives us salient details about that person — ones that matter and that make us understand the character. And as readers we figure we know the person completely as a result. But we don’t really. Not completely.

    A blog is also written medium, but this time with even more personal details, many, many more than any short story or novel. And so, as readers, we assume that we understand the blogger. They are as familiar as the character in a book. And like a character in a book, we feel free to hate them.Not that this is right, but the medium gives us this impression.

  7. Candy on #

    hear, hear, justine. well said.

  8. Diana Peterfreund on #

    Hmmm, interesting. I think you and Scott are a lot like me and my husband in that regard. He spends very little time thinking about the relative merits of famous people when they are not actively doing what they are famous for. So he would say, “I like that actor, for the *acting*” or vice versa.

    I also like Aden’s position that it’s really only one troll being such a bitch around the place.

  9. Brent on #

    The relative anonymity of the internet is a curse. Or perhaps it just exposes some of the inherent problems with our societies. In any case, people feel free to say things they would never say in person. In fact, many commenters and bloggers say things they COULDN’T say in public (as in, it would be dangerous to them).

    The stereotype of the “hater” is a person who is socially meek in real life so they become a cyber bully. It’s safer; no one is going to reach through their screen and punch them or push them off the swings on the playground.

    Also as Bill said above, a lot of it is a cry to be heard by those that are ignored or too introverted in real life to speak out.

    But it’s not just the internet. The internet is the most safest and most prolific place to find haters, but it’s hardly the only place. People used to be far more courteous to one another in public. Now it’s not unusual to get cursed at by another driver, or someone who bumps into you at the store, or just a randomly angry person that doesn’t like your age/sex/race/clothing/etc.

    Specifically for celebrities; I think a lot of it is jealousy. People LOVE to hear the garbage about celebrities for some reason. Some celebrities earn their success, others just seem to get it through nepotism or luck.

    Paris Hilton is a good example. She is famous because her parents have lots of money. She has no demonstrated artistic talents, yet she has bought herself a music and film career and regularly appears next to famous actors and musicians that actually HAVE talent. Is it any wonder that people who struggle to pay their bills, work a bazillion hours at hateful jobs, or get ridiculed over being poor would dislike her? Is it unreasonable to assume that they’d vent those feelings on the internet where there aren’t any consequences for doing so?

    It doesn’t help that most of these celebrities behave as if they believe they ARE better than everyone else. Nobody likes arrogance.

    P.S. Justine, if Jack Nicholson would play more good guys, perhaps he wouldn’t be so easy to hate. I recommend watching “As Good As It Gets” to help with your not-hating-Jack therapy.

  10. Patrick on #

    Diana – Why do you hate Matt Damon?

  11. Cheryl on #

    Synchronicity: I have just come across this article which claims that “parasocial” relationships can have benefits for people who believe that they are “friends” with celebrities. Sadly it says nothing about people who hate celebrities, but I suspect the same may apply.

    Personally I try not to hate people, except of course the English rugby team.

  12. Diana Peterfreund on #

    I actually don’t hate Matt Damon. He seems like he’s a perfectly nice chap and I have nothing against him as a person. I just don’t care for him as an actor and could not bear to watch any of his movies — that is, until I watched the Bourne movies, which I liked (the first two, anyway).

  13. Justine on #

    Brent: if Jack Nicholson would play more good guys, perhaps he wouldn’t be so easy to hate. I recommend watching As Good As It Gets to help with your not-hating-Jack therapy.

    Surely you jest? As Good As It Gets is one of the many many reasons I have Nicholson issues. If I have to endure his “acting” I find him much more tolerable when he’s the baddie.

  14. Aden on #

    Nicholson was pretty solid in The Departed, as a bad guy. At some point I remember him having a nonchalant conversation with blood up to his elbows. Chatting away in a storefront.

    As to Brent, though–as you said–the stereotype is the meek person seeking refuge through anonymity, I don’t think that’s entirely accurate. It’s one of those artifacts of older psychology, when the reverse is true: Inner inferiority (or feelings of such) doesn’t breed the kind of confidence required to lash out at someone else. And I’d argue it does require confidence.

    (There’s also been suggestion in recent research that the growing aversion to physical contact in our society is what breeds disrespect; without the threat of acceptable physical consequence, people feel freer to be confrontational. Whether that’s true or not, it is food for thought.)

  15. molly on #

    Justine, I want to hug you. I cannot abide As Good As It Gets and I think I’ve held Nicholson responsible for the ridiculous number of times I’ve had people look at me like I’ve grown an extra appendage when I tell them this.

    I also hold his annoying Famous Person Lakers Fan Self against him, actually. And his perpetual indoor sunglasses, creepy commercial about why he doesn’t like baseball (no cheerleaders) and needless Oscars for the overrated The Departed. So, er. I’m with you on that one. Even if you stop hating him for the sake of the greater good.

  16. Josh on #

    Justine, how dare you be young, talented, and pretty?

    I certainly hate the movie under discussion (Robert McRuer has a great article about its awfulness, which is reprinted in his book Crip Theory) -I first saw it in the company of a guy with OCD and ended up apologizing for having taken him to see a movie that so trivialized that problem- but am charmed by the Nicholson-as-arsehole first two thirds of it. I mean, I get putting the term “acting” in scary quotes -he’s been a caricature of himself for way too long- but that film was the start of a more restrained phase, IMHO.

    What scares me is the hatred some otherwise gentle people bear toward Sean Penn and Martha Stewart.

  17. Patrick on #

    Sean Penn once stole my parakeet.

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