All The Things We Hate

A couple of months ago I watched the Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary Special as it aired. I don’t watch much live TV nowadays, but having watched and enjoyed SNL throughout the years I was pretty excited about that special. My boyfriend and I started watching the special as we did laundry at my sister’s, then we rushed home during a commercial break so we’d miss as little as possible.

I was really enjoying myself. I was so giddy seeing some of my favorite characters (like Stefon) that I almost missed some jokes. As engrossed as I was, I didn’t even tweet my reactions like I do during the Oscars or the Super Bowl. Eventually I did see a Facebook post asking fans how they were enjoying the special. I opened the comments to see what everyone else was enjoying about it. Did they gasp at the Bill Cosby joke? Did they feel nostalgia seeing a new Wayne’s World sketch?

Instead of finding like-minded sketch comedy fans, I found several people complaining about the same thing: Kanye West. Why was he performing? Why was he chosen over hundreds of other more deserving musicians? Why is he still even allowed to breathe our air?

At the risk of being stoned to death, I’ll admit that I like Kanye West’s music. I will also admit that the performance in question was not his best. The part of my brain that is occupied by my middle and high school chorus teacher, Mrs. Tanguay, screamed when it saw Kanye lay down on the floor to sing. But, awkward performance position aside, Mr. West has sold millions of albums and digital downloads, and for better or worse he manages to stay relevant. I completely understood why Saturday Night Live would have chosen him to perform that night.

So why were people so angry? And why did they need to express that feeling on Facebook instead of sharing what they enjoyed about the program? I’m not a naïve or overly optimistic person. I don’t expect that people will have only positive things to say about Saturday Night Live or anything else in life. But this was far from the first time I’ve seen a fairly innocuous social media post become a breeding ground for negative comments. What is making us so angry?

Truly I don’t think we are any angrier than we were, say, fifteen years ago when there was no social media to speak of. I remember around that time getting into some heated debates about whether Taco Bell was real food or not (it is), or whether Futurama was better than The Simpsons (it’s not). However, having outlets like Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit gives us license to express our anger many times a day to anyone who’ll read. I do it myself. There’s a certain rush in telling someone his opinions are bad, and he should feel bad.

Even though I contribute to it, all the negativity can be frustrating. Perhaps I would like to see people’s reactions to new Cheesecake Factory menu items without wading through comments about the restaurant being “to” expensive or not having locations in specific areas. Or what about this post about CT Fastrak, Connecticut’s new bus rapid transit system, on the Hartford Courant’s Facebook page? You see people (many of whom don’t use public transit) complaining about the new buses: pretty standard, yes? However, the comments quickly devolve into complaints about the city of Hartford, Governor Malloy, and Hartford Courant subscription prices. And you can find almost identical comments on many Hartford Courant posts regardless of the topic.

Who cares, right? We’ve got some high-quality, relevant comments there like, “what a joke.” Does it matter if people go off-topic to get some feelings off their chests? Honestly, if those were the worst of the cynical comments I’ve seen on social media, I would not bother to write this. At this point I expect people to be off-topic in Facebook comments. The negative comments that people make to and about individuals are what really get to me.

I expect people to write awful things about Dan Malloy and Kanye West: there’s no love for anyone who raises taxes or marries a Kardashian. I don’t imagine those two have time to read all of the comments about them, anyway. However, I regularly see Facebookers and YouTubers alike writing awful things about others for very silly reasons, sometimes no reason at all. Otherwise responsible adults will call someone a moron for having a different opinion on music, politics, or parenting. Normally helpful people will call someone a liar for saying she can’t lose weight. Someone accused me of sleeping with my cousin because I questioned her knowledge of history.

I’m sure the majority of these people could never say things like that to anyone’s face. The keyboard gives us courage whether we are anonymous or not. I had a good laugh about the cousin thing, but others don’t have my sense of humor. Earlier today I watched a video that one of my favorite YouTubers, Cassey Ho (Blogilates), made in response to some of the mean-spirited comments she’s received. If you aren’t familiar with Cassey, she makes Pilates videos. I would guess she wears a women’s size four at most, yet people are complaining that she’s too “fat” to show anyone how to get in shape. She is just one of many women on Youtube getting crap for not living up to some aesthetic ideal. If she were thinner, that would probably be an issue, too.

I don’t want to make this a crusade for the oft-abused YouTube "celebrity", or a rant about the unpleasant things that women go through online. I could, and very well may, write a whole post on the latter. I just wonder how we feel comfortable enough to judge others—people we’ve never even met. Why can’t we resist writing something negative when the opportunity prevents itself?

I know I am all over the place as I write this. I know that this post could spawn plenty of negative comments itself (assuming anyone is reading). I just want you to bear with me as a get a little corny, a little trite. What if we take time to recommend a good TV show to a friend instead of tweeting a complaint about a bad TV show? What if we sign up to volunteer for local political campaigns instead of bashing our governor on every remotely related Facebook post? What if we dropped down and did some push-ups instead of asking a fitness trainer why she isn’t skinnier? And, while we’re at it, why don’t we make a cake out of rainbows and smiles? Clearly I’m kidding about the last one. Maybe I’m kidding about all of those recommendations. But I do think it’s worth considering the impact of all the negative content we create. Writing a rude remark doesn’t get the Kardashians off the air, the current president out of office, or “deadbeats” off welfare. So ask yourself, what do your comments do?