(Story courtesy of The New York Times)
Will they ever stop hating on Anne Hathaway?
“There’s something about her that rubs me the wrong way,” Alexis Rhiannon wrote in a screed against the Oscar-winning actress in Crushable, the celebrity blog, last fall, adding later, “I feel like she’s not a real person.”
A writer for The New Yorker’s Culture Desk blog, Sasha Weiss, explored the question: “Why are you so annoying?”
And then there was the contest on The San Francisco Chronicle’s Web site, which anointed her “The Most Annoying Celebrity of 2013.”
The cyberhaters even have their own catchy name, “Hathahaters,” which James Franco and Howard Stern dissected on Mr. Stern’s SiriusXM radio show two weeks ago.
“Everyone sort of hates Anne Hathaway,” Mr. Stern said, speculating that it was because she comes off as “so affected and actressy.” Mr. Franco did not strain to defend his 2011 Academy Awards co-host. “I’m not an expert on — I guess they’re called ‘Hathahaters’ — but I think that’s what maybe triggers it,” he replied cagily.
So why does the perky and supremely talented actress inspire such froth? Ms. Hathaway could simply be a victim of what the British call “tall poppy syndrome” — the bloom that pokes above the others is the first to get cut. With her too-perfect mouth, flawless skin, doe eyes and svelte figure, Ms. Hathaway is certainly one of Hollywood’s most visible blossoms of late, particularly after scooping up a best supporting actress Oscar and Golden Globe for her turn as Fantine in “Les Misérables.”
But in recent months, the Hathahating has moved beyond garden-variety snarkiness — as seen with Gwyneth Paltrow, say, or Taylor Swift — and become a meme with unlikely stickiness. Hathahaters have spawned a Twitter hashtag (#hathahaters), a portentous debate before the Academy Awards about whether Hathahatred would hurt her chances for an Oscar, and a high-minded cultural discourse seeking to deconstruct Ms. Hathaway’s alleged powers to annoy. (Did we mention The New Yorker — or a blog post by Ross Douthat, an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times, in which he invokes Hathahaters to illustrate a new Pew study saying that the Twittersphere offers a skewed snapshot of public opinion?)
No one, it should be noted, accuses her of doing anything wrong. Rather, Ms. Hathaway seems to have become a mirror for our own inadequacies.
“It’s not really Anne Hathaway I ‘hate,’ ” said Sarah Nicole Prickett, a writer for Vice and The New Inquiry, a culture and commentary site. “It’s all the lesser, real-life Anne Hathaways I have known — princessy, theater-schooled girls who have no game and no sex appeal and eat raisins for dessert.”
Indeed, for some nonfans, Ms. Hathaway seems to embody the archetypal high school drama geek who cannot turn off the eager, girlish persona, even away from the stage. “We love authenticity, that’s why we have a billion reality shows,” said Neal Gabler, an author of several best-selling books on Hollywood culture and history. “And here comes Anne Hathaway. Everything she does seems managed, calculated or rehearsed. Her inauthenticity — or the feeling of her inauthenticity — is now viral.”
Fine, write her up for misdemeanor phoniness. But when has that ever been a crime in Hollywood? But it does not end there.
“Why Do Women Hate Anne Hathaway (But Love Jennifer Lawrence)?” Ann Friedman asked on New York magazine’s fashion and women’s issues blog, The Cut. “We simply don’t find successful ‘perfect’ women all that likable,” she wrote, adding that women prefer sassy best-friend types like Jennifer Lawrence, with her Oscar-night podium stumbles and self-effacing jokes about Spanx and cheese steaks.
One might think that Ms. Hathaway would have an adoring fan base in the gay community — what with her outspoken support of gay rights, her star turns in “Brokeback Mountain” and “The Devil Wears Prada,” her fashion sophistication, a gay brother and her reported plans to play Judy Garland in a biopic. But gay people, too, have failed to embrace her, according to Derek Hartley, a talk-show host on SiriusXM’s gay issues channel, OutQ. “Anne Hathaway practically demands that we love her,” Mr. Hartley wrote. “I’ve seen less aggressive bids for our attention on Grindr.”
But what if the hatred is less about Ms. Hathaway and more about how social media has amplified the echo chamber of celebrity blogs, reducing cultural commentary to a series of innuendos, like high school gossip. That was suggested in a recent BuzzFeed thread on “Why Do People Hate Anne Hathaway.” Among the piercing insights offered (“She has a huge horse mouth”), the blog post offered this theory: “She brings people together in their hatred.”
P. M. Forni, a founder of the Civility Initiative at Johns Hopkins University, which focuses on manners and social behavior, agrees that piling on can be fun, in a perverse sort of way. “The sensation of belonging to a group of like-minded people activates the pleasure centers of the brain,” Dr. Forni said. “So at a certain point, something like what has happened to Ms. Hathaway acquired momentum, and people were willing and eager to be part of that momentum.”
“The psychological dynamics at work are, at least in part, the ones at work in cyberbullying,” he added.
Jack Goncalo, an associate professor of organizational behavior at Cornell University, who studies group dynamics, goes further and argues that the Hathahaters might not actually harbor negative feelings about Ms. Hathaway, but are merely following a mob mentality. Psychologists call this “informational social influence.” “ ‘If the majority has done my thinking for me, I can move on to something else,’ ” Dr. Goncalo said. “People don’t want to think.”
In that sense, Hathahating echoes the emergent online sport of “hate reading” — following a blog regularly for the express purpose of ridiculing it, or “hate watching,” the bad-television-show analog, as chronicled by Katie J. M. Baker, in Jezebel.
“It’s like we’re in middle school,” Ms. Baker said. “The easiest way to bond is to talk smack about someone else, whether you’re online or at a party.”
It is a safe bet that the real-life Ms. Hathaway is not enjoying the sport. Her spokesman declined to comment for this article, and the actress herself has steered away from the issue, although she was quoted after the Oscars as saying that the endless barbs about her emotional awards-show acceptance speeches do wear on her: “But you have to remember in life that there’s a positive to every negative, and a negative to every positive.”
Her perfect smile notwithstanding, the cyberhating has got to take a toll. Last week, Britain’s Daily Mail published paparazzi shots of Ms. Hathaway, her newsboy cap pulled low, on a book-buying spree in New York, where she snatched up titles involving balance, health and harmony.
Her karma might be looking up. After an onslaught of nasty Twitter messages mocking Ms. Hathaway’s emotional Academy Awards acceptance speech, for example, Lena Dunham took a stand in support. “Ladies: Anne Hathaway is a feminist and she has amazing teeth,” she wrote on Twitter. “Let’s save our bad attitudes for the ones who aren’t advancing the cause.”