The Art of Hate-ReadingS

Hate-reading is an activity that's, well, exactly what it says it is. Have you ever found yourself visiting a website, Twitter feed, or Facebook page for the express purpose of ridiculing — or indulging your disdain for —the author and/or content? Then you're hate-reading. And unless you're a saint with limited Internet access, you're probably guilty of doing it at some point.

Almost everyone I know hate-reads from time to time, but ever since I discovered LiveJournal in middle school, I've been a ringleader. Long after everyone else is done giggling about my cousin's ex-girlfriend's tumultuous Facebook wall-to-wall history with her fiancé, I'm still scrolling down the page and most likely Googling her name in hopes of finding her Tumblr. I tried to justify it all as a socio-anthropological pursuit: I'm a writer! It's research! People's lives are endlessly fascinating! But the truth is that I've never been artistically inspired by a hate-reading session. I can't even pass hate-reading off as a catty social activity, because, while it's certainly bitchy, I usually hate-read alone, late at night when I'm procrastinating, drunk, bored, or all three. When I finally walk away from my computer, I feel like I've just binged on a butter-sogged bag of popcorn before the movie even started: I'm slightly nauseated, but still can't help licking my fingers for more fatty flavor.

Hate-reading isn't limited to reading; you can hate-watch, too, for a Peeping Tom-esque experience not all that different than that of watching trainwreck-style reality television: in both cases, the observer is entertained by her contempt for the media she's consuming. But while the Real Housewives or Jersey Shore producers present an edited version of their ridiculous protagonists, the Internet is rife with uncensored, unedited folks with, it would seem, nary an ounce of self-awareness. And that's what makes it so much more entertaining – if a subject has absolutely no idea how they're coming off to readers, then it's all the more outrageous and, for me, all the more enjoyable. Some of my tried-and-true hate-reading regulars include an ex-roommate who refers to her significant other as "The Boyf" and brags about how she only eats at Michelin-starred restaurants; a former co-worker who extols the values of juice cleanses and composes lists with titles like, "The Top 10 Ways to Stay Present and Centered;" the friend-of-a-friend whose wedding site features a countdown ticker and engagement ring video montage; and the acquaintance who has a "fashion blog" even though she only ever posts black-and-white photos of herself in American Apparel leotards. I'm endlessly fascinated by how obnoxious these people are, and equally entertained by their ignorance of that fact.

The Art of Hate-Reading So why am I — and likely you — this way? While trying to get to the root of my love for hate-reading, I remembered an article I read on this site about "perfect bloggers" — all those Zooey Deschanel lookalikes with intimidatingly adorable hair/bicycles/macaron-making skills. "I fell down the picturesque-vintage-design-craft rabbit hole a few days ago," Sadie wrote, "and emerged three hours later, bleary-eyed and full of self-loathing." A solid hate-reading session can definitely suck me into a mindless, time-wasting hole, but hate-reading never makes me feel inferior. Instead, I've realized, it makes me feel superior. The subtext behind my derision — "How could this person think this post is meaningful/funny/creative?" — is that I, in contrast, am meaningful, funny, and creative. If I get to decide what's lame, I also get to decide what's cool, because I am cool.

A recent study out of Stanford determined that people feel worse about themselves when they think they're alone in their unhappiness. The survey was inspired by a researcher who noticed that his friends felt shitty about themselves after logging into Facebook and scrolling through sexy photos and cheerful status updates. "They were convinced that everyone else was leading a perfect life," he told Slate. But hate-reading is the perfect antidote to that sentiment. When I'm feeling insecure, all I have to do is read some angsty kid's pseudo-philosophical musings and I'll remember how far I've come. Or I can read bourgie baby-stroller reviews and reassure myself that I'll never be that way. I convince myself that I'm the one with the perfect life, or at least a life that's better than those people's.

I don't think my hate-read standbys "deserve" better — it's their choice to put themselves out there on the Internet — but maybe it's me who deserves something different. I finally realized this recently, after I told a friend that I refused to watch the Republican debates because they made me too angry. "You won't hate-watch them?" she joked, knowing my proclivity for the sport. "That would be such a huge waste of time!" I said. And then it hit me: I don't hate-read anything that I actually hate. I just hate-read stuff that I find stupid or annoying. Perhaps it would be more productive to spend my time fuming over content that actually inspires me to speak out against it, kind of like how the entire feminist blogosphere has been hate-reading Caitlin Flanagan, than it would be to spend an embarrassing amount of time rolling my eyes at my high school lab partner's account of "finding himself" during a two week vacation to Australia. My brand of hate-reading satisfies my negative energy, but it leaves me with little more than a false sense of both security and productivity.

So I'm going cold turkey. It's going to be rough; I'll never know what my friend-of-a-friend's bridesmaids wore to her wedding shower. But I bet they picked out some really hideous pastel puffball dresses.

Related: The Top 10 Sites for Hate-Reading