Thursday 19 September 2019

Tanya Sweeney: 'Why I just love to hate-watch the Rose of Tralee'

Modern Life

Dáithí with Arizona Rose Kayla Gary on Monday night
Dáithí with Arizona Rose Kayla Gary on Monday night

Tanya Sweeney

Here's something I thought I'd never write: watching the Rose of Tralee last night gave me life. I don't mean that I devoured with relish the gowns, mentally Pinterested the lovely chignons, or clapped along to whichever Rose murdered 'Rolling In The Deep'. Instead, I shouted, guffawed and snarled at the telly, like a Kilkenny supporter during most of the recent All-Ireland Final.

I pulled out every lazy and uncharitable Lovely Girl trope I could think of ("I'm a teacher! I'm an occupational therapist!"), shrieked at the party pieces, tutted at every well-scrubbed escort and offered a bruising commentary. I admit I enjoyed every minute of getting supremely vexed.

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We all absolutely love a hate-watch, don't we? It energises us. From the toe-curlingly dismal to the ironic, it seems to do us the absolute world of good to let off steam about something that irritates us or annoys us (see also: any Kardashian series, Made In Chelsea, the Angelus). My partner spent half the summer giving serious side-eye to Love Island, pitching in with his 'I don't get this' commentary, and dramatically shaking his head. Yet I could tell he sort of loved it, too.

Part of it, for all of us, is seated in plain old snobbery and elitism, of course. Sometimes, morbid curiosity has us reaching for the remote. But there are many different types of hate-watch: there's the voyeuristic watch, the 'so bad, it's good' watch, and the 'love to hate' watch. Why do we do it to ourselves? Why go out of our way to watch something that makes us mad? Is hate-watching or hate-listening merely enjoying a film, TV or podcast, but being too 'ashamed' to admit you actually really, un-ironically like it?

According to a study by data-analytics start-up Canvs, people are motivated to watch something they hate. Various expressions of 'hate' by viewers were the strongest indicator that TV-show viewership will increase for the following episode.

Canvs looked at nearly 6,000 episodes of recent shows, cross-referencing ratings and tweets associated with each show. They found that for every percentage increase in 'hate' responses, there's a 0.7pc increase in viewership for the next segment of a show. That's more than double the power of 'love', for which a 1pc increase corresponded to a 0.3pc viewership boost for dramas and 0.2pc uptick for reality shows.

If you don't believe me, look at the snark-contest that Twitter becomes during various TV shows. Having a sneer at bad TV is now a communal, tribal pastime. Hate-watching requires the same energy and level of commitment as appreciating something as a fan. Take Richard Curtis. Much as I loathe everything the screenwriter stands for - the dreadful jokes, the middle-class privilege, the 'winning' of women at the end, the kooky American woman that always, always falls for the bumbling British guy - I'd never miss a chance to watch one of his films.

Fifty Shades Of Grey's inexplicable popularity was in part driven by people who wanted to irritate themselves seeing just how terribly written it all was. And sometimes, a gleefully excoriating review of a bad film or TV show is almost as bracing as the hate-watch itself. US writer Lindy West's review on the cinematic pile-up that was Sex And The City 2 went viral, for good reason: "It is 146 minutes long, which means that I entered the theatre in the bloom of youth and emerged with a family of field mice living in my long, white mustache," she wrote.

In a culture where wit, snark and the right acerbic zinger all carry plenty of social cachet, today's media landscape is truly marked by cynicism and mockery. This has, for better or worse, trickled down to our consumption of film, TV, books and podcasts. And it's rife on social media too.

I know plenty of people who 'hate-follow' others. The Cut magazine have even pin-pointed the advent of the 'unfluencer' - the person whose feed irritates you so much, it eventually turns you off the things you once enjoyed.

How often have you seen a neon flamingo sign, a bit of latte art, that dress from Zara (that one), or one of those insufferable 'view from my office' beach photos on your own Instagram feed? My point exactly. Like it or not, we're all fond of a bit of hate-watching, and we're at it more often than we like to think.

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