Some people call it ‘hate watching’, but I think this mostly refers to the enjoyment of critique.
Separately from that, I sometimes find genuine enjoyment even while consuming something I can see is hugely problematic. Humans are able to hold discordant views in our brains at the same time. That is our great evolutionary advantage; it may also kill us all.
The standout example of ‘hate watching’ for me is Breaking Bad. Vince Gilligan blamed his audience for dumping on Skyler all the while championing Walt, failing to see that Walt — not Skyler — was an increasingly despicable character. We weren’t meant to root for Walt, according to his creator, and if we did, that’s on us, the misogynistic audience.
Not true. Vince Gilligan did such an overly good job of creating empathy for Walt that he failed to turn the majority of his audience later. Perhaps it was a simple writing failure — audiences are like ducklings — we fall in love with the first character we see. Perhaps Gilligan’s failure wasn’t in the telling of the story, but in underestimating the amount of misogyny out there.
And I know darn well how it worked, because around the time the story wrapped up on Australian TV I happened to be sitting in a doctor’s waiting room alongside some older guy. We got to talking about TV reception, which led to a discussion about TV. Turns out this guy loves Breaking Bad.
“Oh, me too, what else do you recommend?” I ask him.
He recommends True Detective (of course). He’s not interested in my suggestions. He also tells me he’s grumpy about Breaking Bad because Walt should’ve killed the wife in the first season so we didn’t have to keep being annoyed by her.
Him. Many, many hims in this world.
He disappeared into the doctor’s surgery. Meanwhile, I was privately shocked. Turns out I was one of the few avid viewers who liked Skyler as a person.
Sure, Vince Gilligan can blame his misogynistic audience for hating on Skyler, but his writing room went out of its way to create empathetic characters in Walt and Hank, and unsympathetic characters in Skyler and Marie. That will always annoy me.
I’ll still watch Breaking Bad again one day. I still admire it. But all the while, simultaneously, I’ll be seeing the ideological problems baked into it.
Natalie Wynn is especially articulate on this facet of human nature, in which we can understand something but remain somewhat spellbound.
In this video she expounds upon her full understanding of beauty ideals while at the same time wanting to conform to oppressive beauty standards.
I think her tongue-in-cheek phrase ‘Problematize, critique, cancel’ is especially meme-able.
As Natalie says very well:
Critiquing things doesn’t change our desires. But! It can motivate us to change society and this, in turn, can change our desires.
Critique first; changed desire comes later.
So… keep ‘hate watching’? More importantly, keep thinking. If you feel luke warm fuzzies about every single thing that you consume, it’s probably because you’re not thinking all that deeply about it.
WHERE IS THE HATE WATCHING LINE?
Why can I consume some ideologically problematic media but can’t stand others? Where’s the line?
For me, Breaking Bad gets a pass because the misogynistic reading of Skyler is, as Vince Gilligan intended, partly on the viewer. Sure, he overestimated his audience, but a woke, egalitarian audience isn’t going to read Skyler as terrible. They’re going to see a woman doing her best in a tough situation. If Gilligan got his audience wrong, perhaps that’s because he himself is less misogynistic than most people. (I’ll believe that until he turns into a milkshake duck, which he hasn’t yet.)
In contrast, a film like Nocturnal Animals is way past my line of ‘watchable’, for all of these reasons, and because the creators appear to be showcasing an unchecked misogyny that is all their own.