The Ethics of Being a Hater

My first ever experience with haterdom was at the ripe old age of 12. The highly anticipated My Little Pony Season 3 finale was about to air. To a group of slightly unpopular middle schoolers, this was the pinnacle of television. We all went home after school, either watching it in a computer room or if you were lucky, on your own laptop. I was one of the former kids, as my mom was using the family laptop. I watched with bated breath as Twilight Sparkle saved the day, restored order to Ponyville, and subsequently became a god.

I was furious.

The next day at lunch, I ranted and raved about how Bee Ess (I was still scared of openly cursing in front of authority figures) the ending was, and how now the main character had essentially become a Mary Sue (ie: a character who was essentially perfect and had no perceived flaws). I did get one or two people agreeing with me, but the rest just called me a hater. I sought refuge on deviantart, which was the only website my parents would allow me to use without parental guidance. I hoped my fellow anonymous bronies would be more sympathetic. Alas, I felt the rage of a thousand suns from men twice my age. I was told that I was negative, a hater, and that ‘if you don’t like it, just don’t watch it.’ Thus, a hater was born. I swore that I would call out bad media when I saw it, and that I wouldn’t let naysayers get in the way of spreading the hater gospel. Years passed, and despite earning myself plenty of pushback online and a hater reputation among my friends, I wondered the topical question: is there an ethical way to be a hater? 

The internet is a pendulum when it comes to hating in public. On one side, it argues that hating is always wrong, and people should like what they like. The other postulates that if one side is allowed to freely love, the other should be allowed to hate openly. The wider consensus swings back and forth constantly, and it’s never been more evident than right now due to the polarization of how opinions are viewed and a dominant culture that equates media with activism. The online landscape, as it is laid out now, is rife for creating arguments. Anonymous users constantly dunk on each other, all for the approval of their peers who share their sentiments. This essay is not a call to stop that. I am one lone voice in a sea of people shouting what they think. But perhaps, this is an essay to make you think beyond the false dichotomy the internet loves to peddle. We don’t have to settle for either option. So what can we do?

The obvious answer seems to be to keep both sides separated. Let the haters have their space and let the lovers have their space. This works in different forms on multiple websites. Tumblr and Twitter have their own tags that one can block out, but those tags constantly change and can get more convoluted. Do you abbreviate the show or not? Do you call it critical or call it anti? Is there a difference? Probably not, but better be safe anyway. This results in an overloading of hashtags, as well as confusion, which can unfortunately lead to people getting harassed over not tagging correctly. Reddit has gone a step further with subreddits dedicated to hating, but this creates even more insular communities dedicated to keeping each other apart and allowing for opposing opinions to be treated with hostility. While these methods seem to do some good, they ultimately create echo chambers where no one is allowed to disagree, lest they want to move their post to the other community. Having separate communities is also more likely to create hostility between the “lovers” and the “haters”, and later descends into all-out “fan warfare” that no one has fun with. Ultimately, these methods are useful, but are imperfect and have the potential to do more harm than good in the long run.

A representation of the average internet slapfight. Unfortunately, most people partaking in these fights are adults. Or adults fighting with children. I find them hysterical.

So what is the true answer? It’s not something short-term and easy. In order to be an ethical hater, one has to destigmatize hating in general. Hatred is a negative emotion, but it’s still an emotion. Human beings have been hating since the dawn of time, although it was more about hating the quality of copper or the lame new king and his higher taxes rather than fictional drama. Back in the present, hating a show or hating a writing style or hell, even hating an animation style isn’t inherently hurting anybody. One could make the argument that the creatives would be hurt, but that is to be expected when you’re in a creative field and put something out into the world.  Reviews/criticism by the average Joe aren’t for the creatives; they’re for other average Joes. It can be a learning experience to see arguments that conflict with your opinion. Either you find ways to strengthen your positive argument on why something is good, or you learn to view something differently. That is how you not only learn how to debate people, but also grow as a person.

There is also this subtle idea that you can only be a lover or hater. You must either praise a show for everything they do, or despise it and wish it was canceled/off the air/never supposed to be released in the first place. Which absolutely is not how the world works. There are plenty of books I’ve read through that I adored, but found lacking in certain areas or wished they could have cut some scenes. There are plenty of movies I’ve despised, but found nuggets of an interesting character or intriguing idea that wasn’t executed to its fullest potential. People who speak up about their opinions in this way to their group might be told to shut up and “take it to the other side.” Yet again, a refusal to go outside one’s comfort zone destroys nuance.

This is not an issue that can be solved in a day, a week, or even a year, because this issue was not created overnight. This may be something that the younger generations have been doing more (especially those who frequent social media), but people of all ages can fall into this kind of trap. The key to being an ethical hater isn’t just to be a hater, but to also be a lover. One must balance these delicate forces in order to stay sane in the face of insane internet discourse. Only then can one ascend to the status of being an ethical hater.

Jenna Stolzberg

She/Her. Lover of video games, screenwriting, and screaming at the television. Though I hate, I am free