Reading those columnists whose views we hate lets us feel good about ourselves
Opinion: Nothing cheers one up quite so much as feeling contempt for the ignorant
Ernest Hemingway: had Paris been already ruined by the time he and F Scott Fitzgerald arrived?
Relax. The only appearance of “selfie” in this article is as the fifth word in this sentence. Then again, you may enjoy getting furious at the ubiquity of that unavoidable term. We hear you rustling through the paper in search of writers you despise (hello!) droning about subjects you find inconsequential (rustle no further). Once a suitably enraging article has been devoured, the recreational offendee can make his (rarely “her”, I fear) way to the computer and repeatedly type: “why is this news?” into the comments gutter.
I mention the 2013 word of the year to illustrate contemporary culture’s enthusiasm for putting terms to concepts that have been around for decades. I have, at home, grim photographs, taken at arms’ length, of a still hairy Clarke smiling naively before various London landmarks during the second year of Mrs Thatcher’s premiership. Now I have a name for them.
Another useful phrase that has recently crept upon us is “hate read”. The term describes the practice of consciously seeking out books, articles and blogs that will offend your sensibilities. A vast spectrum of annoyances is covered by the phrase. At the soothing violet end, we get mildly irritated about lifestyle pieces that seem a little too taken up with first-world problems concerning paint and asparagus. At the furious red end, we fume at lunatic screeds from racists, anti-Semites and homophobes. Both constitute a similar class of intellectual masochism.
This week, Mother Jones, a reliable American journal, published its list of the best hate-reads for 2013. That organ makes no secret of its leftist leanings. So we should not be surprised by the number of conservative pieces that appear in the list. Richard Cohen, controversial columnist for the Washington Post, gets a section all to himself. “Racism vs reality” got stuck into Trayvon Martin’s choice of clothing. “What art says about the past” found him surprised slavery was quite so horrible.
Members of the Republican Party may, however, be cheered by repeated appearances of the liberal New York Times on Mother Jones’s list. For the most part, the offending articles lurk in the violet end of the hate-read rainbow. “How hipsters ruined Paris,” a November piece went. (Hadn’t that happened by the time Hemingway and Fitzgerald arrived?)
The notion of the hate-read – though only so named in the last two years or so – is far from being a new one. Copies of the News of the World found their ways into many liberal homes where, after frowning at the nude ladies, self-righteous snoots would seethe excitedly over reactionary columns by blowhards such as Woodrow Wyatt (self-styled “voice of reason”). Where would British political comedy be without the Daily Mail? For decades, satirists have been lampooning that newspaper.
So why have we only recently invented a term for this mental abasement? As usual, it’s all to do with the internet. For centuries, the hate reader’s activities largely happened under cover of darkness. Fans of fine writing would groan through the meanderings of Ayn Rand. Misogynistic buffers could tut secretly at the Guardian’s Women’s Page.
The irresistible urge to fight back in the digital age has revealed the true scope of hate reading. At least one columnist on this newspaper – work this out for yourself – appears, on the evidence of his or her comments trough, to attract at least twice as many dissenting readers as adoring acolytes. What’s striking is not the number who disagree. It’s the number who return week after week to disagree. Such folk clearly love the feeling abrasive opinions make as they swivel down the resistant gullet.
Pleasure in pain
It’s clear what’s going on. For several years, I have been an avid reader of a website entitled Conservapedia. Engineered by one Andrew Schlafly, this eccentric organ argues for the foreignness of Obama, the preposterousness of evolution and the fatness of atheists. Reading Conservapedia, happy liberals feel angry, unnerved and amused. But, crucially, they also feel enormously pleased with themselves. Nothing cheers a chap so much as encountering those he feels more ignorant than himself. By hating this knave I raise myself up in my own eyes.
Hate the column. Love thyself.