H8ing on the famous and non-famous, on and offline

September 15, 2011

Several years ago I learned an important lesson: don’t write anything about a person online that you wouldn’t feel comfortable saying to his or her face. I was typing up a review of Dancing with the Stars for a newspaper and criticized the show’s co-host, Samantha Harris, whom I considered inept. I wanted to compare her to another TV host who people seemed to loathe yet embrace at the same time. Originally, I went with Ryan Seacrest, but my editor said, “People seem to like Ryan Seacrest. How about somebody else?” I can’t remember if she suggested Seacrest’s replacement or if I came up with his name, but I subbed in the name of another good-looking TV host, one who is related to a former President or two.

Imagine my surprise when this host saw my piece and dropped me an email, calling me out on my snark. I was shocked: I couldn’t believe that anybody famous read what I wrote, nor could I believe they’d care what I think. But moreover, I was embarrassed, because I didn’t really mean what I had written.  It would have been different had I made an accurate criticism of this person that I could back up, but I couldn’t really defend myself. I’m a critic, and I’m not afraid to criticize people even if it means getting some blowback (you should check out the comments here when I suggested that it’s possible that Lady Gaga was over-the-top this one time). But ever since that incident, I try my hardest not to say things on the record that I don’t believe are fair or that I couldn’t defend.



Being a person who writes online, I’ve had a fair share of rude things said about or to me from anonymous sources, usually based on really important topics like what I thought about the last episode of Saturday Night Live or something like that. So I’ve been on the receiving end of blowback from anonymous people who are bored and just want to be mean and probably don’t give a second thought about what they say. This is an interesting topic, anonymous drive-by rudeness, and so there’s a nugget of valid interest in the new upcoming show H8R, wherein celebrities confront the people who’ve said mean things about them online and try to convince them that they’re all right.

However, the show seems like it goes about this phenomenon all wrong. I chose to write online and having to deal with the occasional mean comment is part of the territory. I don’t love it, but I’ve learned to deal with it and ignore it or get over it when I have to. People like Kim Kardashian and Snooki have chosen their h8r-intensive careers in a much more dramatic fashion: their jobs are contingent on people watching and talking about them. Their job, basically, is to be talked about. If people didn’t have strong opinions on them, they’d be out of a career. If, as a piddling freelance online writer, I’m willing to take a certain amount of guff from the peanut gallery, surely a person who makes hundreds of thousands of dollars for appearing on-camera to do nothing but be herself has to have made some peace with the fact that not everybody loves her--and you know what they say about good and bad press, anyway. It seems like the pinnacle of egotism to be rich for being infamous and then also demand that everyone love you as well.

The bigger issue with me is that H8R says that it’s an anti-bullying, anti-hate kind of show, and that’s why I hope it crashes and burns (I’m h8ing on H8R before I’ve even seen it, so I guess I’ll probably end up on the show). The reason why bullying and anti-bigotry has become such a more high-profile topic lately is because of stories about kids who were emotionally and physically traumatized, kids who were drawn to suicide or murder or who were attacked and filmed on cell phone cameras. These are the victims of bullying that anti-bullying laws and the Its Gets Better Project have in mind. Not rich girls with extensions who are mad that some middle-class single mom in the midwest wrote a rude comment about her on Perez Hilton’s website.

I am all for encouraging people to think before they type (and that includes myself.) But for any celebrity involved with H8R to say that he or she has been “bullied” is a slap in the face to anyone who has actually been victimized and moreover was helpless to do anything. You’re famous for being on a reality TV show or a sex tape and you’re angry that people say rude things about you on some blog? Turn off your computer. Go on vacation. Start a new project. It is not the same thing as being forced to face your attackers every day and not being able to do anything about it. To suggest so actually makes you legitimately h8able.