TV 101: Why I hate the haters
Since Fox decided to release a Simpsons movie (apparently under the radar -- I mean if you're going to release a movie, you should at least market it! you know?), I've been hearing that sentiment approximately once every thirty-four seconds. It annoys me every time I hear it, but it wasn't until today that I realized exactly why this was so.
It's because the people expressing it are confusing their ignorant negativity for intelligent commentary.
The internet exists for two reasons: communication and porn.
I love both of these things, but since this is a family blog, I can really only talk about the former. To learn more about the latter, type in a random noun into Google and you'll be guaranteed that one of the first ten hits will be a fetish site built around that noun.
As to the idea of the internet increasing our communication, so far it's been a mixed bag. Sure we get to hear everybody's opinions about every conceivable thing without the editorial barriers built into the traditional media, but it only takes a few seconds of reading everybody's opinion that we discover that hey, wow, those editorial barriers were there for a reason!
Having spent the last eight months as a blogger on TV Squad (New Zealand's fourth most popular television blog), I've been able to conduct a field study of internet commentators in their natural habitat. I've broken them down into four distinct species:
1) The Genuinely Helpful Contributor (estimated 50% of the population) These are the normal every day people that express their opinions sanely and organically. If they disagree with something you say, they usually do so politely. Sites like TV Squad are built around these people.
2) The Internet Troll (estimated 20% of the population) Remember that kid that rode a moped to school, had a mullet, and used to torture squirrels? Well, he just bought a computer. And guess what? He realized that he can say and do things anonymously! Also, like my mother, he loves to use words like "idiot" and "loser". It's people like this that give any graduate student in psychology an easy paper on the effect anonymity has on social etiquette.
3) The Bat-Shit Crazy Lunatic (estimated 5% of the population) These are the people that respond to the American Idol threads with things like "Hey my sister can sing. You should have her on your show." The TV Squad tip line is filled with comments like this. They write to us as if we were TV. I don't mean that they think we're network executives or something, I mean that they kind of imagine "TV" as a Matrix-like web of shows and that TV Squad is the intelligent mouthpiece for the whole enterprise (like that thing that showed up at the end of Matrix Revolutions). It comforts me to no end that these people have a vote that counts just as much as mine during the next election.
4) The CRITIC (estimated 25% of the population) The inspiration for this column. They're the ones that take every opportunity to tell you why something you like is bad and why something you've never heard of is so much better. They seem to know more about pop culture than you do, but with no joy at all. They treat their addiction to television or movies or comic books like it was an affliction rather than a healthy diversion. They are, as my good friend Jay-Z might say, hate-ahs.
(Note: there is a fifth flavor of commenter that I left out of my breakdown -- the super creepy obsessed male commenter who thinks if he makes enough jokes or gives enough subtle compliments then the female that he's after will fall in love with him. I didn't discuss them because as a male myself, I very rarely receive any kind of creepy attention -- though I'm open for it ladies! For a fuller definition of this type of commenter, see Brigitte's TV Squad Daily comments section on any day of the week).
I've been searching for a reason why there is so much hate for beloved things floating around the internet. Why is it that whenever somebody brings up a particular pop-culture institution, there is a flood of response at the ready to tell you why that thing you love is really so awful?
Here's my theory: the CRITIC needs to justify his existence in this world by looking and acting intelligent. Since actually being intelligent is hard to do (seriously, try reading some Leonhard Euler -- even pronouncing his name is beyond me!) the easiest path is to just criticize everything and hope that nobody realizes that the angry internet emperor isn't wearing any clothes.
Negativity masquerades as intelligence because it implies that the speaker of that negativity sees something that the average person doesn't.
This is the CRITIC's equation: Everybody loves this show, and since most people are stupid, their love must mean that the show is stupid too... if I express my disdain for the show, I am distancing myself from the stupid masses and am therefore smarter than the average person. I can thus explain my lack of a date to the senior prom as not a commentary on my severely lacking personal hygiene but on the Philistine's inability to recognize genius in their midst. I will now go watch obscure BBC comedies and eat Fluff directly out of a jar.
The CRITIC hates it when the average person loves something. You see it all the time when their favorite band releases a breakthrough album and they spend the next four years adjusting their ill-fitting girl-pants and muttering "sellout" with their hipster friends.
I think that's a lot of the reason why most Simpsons haters cite the downturn in Simpsons' quality to be somewhere around the 8th-10th season. It was at that point the show stopped being a subversive hit and started being comfort-food television. It didn't matter whether or not the show was still funny because once it became "beloved", it was no longer an option for the CRITIC to love it anymore.
Now, I can already see the comments flooding in about how, "No, Jay, you moronical dummy, I don't like the show anymore not because I'm one of these so-called internet CRITICS (real original label there by the way, Jay, where do you do your thinking? A Starbucks -- in 1998!?) but because I truly don't think the show is funny anymore!"
Okay, fine, I believe you. Just answer me this: why the virulent hate? Why do you feel the need to express yourself on every single site where the Simpsons are mentioned? Why do you use nineteen exclamation marks? Why do you write in all-caps that "THE SIMPSONS MUST DIE!!! THE SHOW SUCKS NOW!!!!!1111"?
What, exactly, are you adding to the conversation?
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying a show should be criticism-proof simply because it's popular. It's just that the CRITIC very rarely has any kind of real criticism to offer. Read what they say online and you'll find that more often than not, their criticisms are less an intelligent deconstruction of a show than a claws-out nerd-attack of it.
When it comes to The Simpsons, the CRITIC tends to simply recycle the same old tropes -- "The show doesn't have heart anymore"; "The show stopped being funny once they made Homer too stupid"; "The show became too self-reverential when writers who were raised on the show started writing for it"; and so on. These kinds of "criticisms" don't expand the knowledge base. As I used to tell my old soccer coach (while crying) good criticism should illuminate, not denigrate.
I'm a huge fan of The Simpsons and will probably continue to be until the show ends sometime in May of 2174. Those of you that disagree are entitled to your opinion. I just wish you thought I was entitled to mine.