Tuesday, August 07, 2007

On Hateration

It took me quite a while to realize that my list of friends who hate Jack Kerouac’s On The Road far outstripped my list of friends who actually read the book. I don’t think this means that I love a pack of liars so much as a posse of amateur but enthusiastic debunkers, people still young enough to stick to the contrasting opinion even if none is necessary, especially if the prevailing opinion was once the transgressive one. Put a simpler way, they hate shit that is cool just because everybody keeps saying it’s cool. Like my friend who hates Nirvana because everybody loves them but loves the album Nirvana fans dislike (MTV Unplugged), the consensus record for people who don’t really like Nirvana. One would be quick to call such people contrarians but they are something far more simplistic and far less tolerable: Haters.

Or Haytas. You are forgiven if unaware that Hip-hop has irrevocably altered the word, just as surely as Jamaicans changed the meaning of ignorant. Haters no longer hate, they hate on. They pile on disapproval for transparently selfish purposes. Hateration is mean spiritedness with a personal agenda. Sometimes it’s dislike for no other reason than there being a season for disliking. Other times it’s dislike for someone or something because they have become too ubiquitous, popular, correct, cool, or sometimes because they have been around too long. When Notorious BIG rapped about mo’ money, mo’ problems, the chief problem was the hater, the miserable (and less successful) who sought companions in their misery. People who can’t stand success in any shape or form not their own and to tear down such success even in their meager sphere of influence.

It’s always been cool to hate any book called a literary masterpiece. In one belligerent bout of hateration, Nabokov tore Dostoevsky to pieces, perhaps because he was sick of seeing Crime and Punishment being placed ahead of Lolita in Best Of... lists. For years the beats have been easy targets, first for the literati, then the threatened establishment, and then for every lit brat short of pubic hair but long on attitude, trying to make a name for himself by openly despising someone else. The more canonized the better. So many people view On the Road as an overrated novel that it might shock people to know how few people have actually read it. And that’s another thing about Hateration. Scratch off a hater and you’ll find its incestuous little cousin, the bullcritter.

Bullcrit. Most of us have done it and some of us will do it today. Bullcrit is the critical praise or damnation of a work one has never seen, or read or heard. More often than not we can pull it off because the average person is, without putting a fine point on it, knowledgeable of little and critical of even less. I was a bright and shining bullcritic until I embarrassed myself with the Great Gatsby, a book I have faked-read for years. “Just read the first chapter,” I said. “A pitch perfect example of the reliable narrator. How about that tone? Isn’t Gatsby the first truly modern novel? The first 20th century American novel of its own age? Isn’t it informed by post world war one weariness and melancholy?” I could go on and frequently did until I used the novel in my argument for the return of melodrama to fiction, saying, “that scene where Gatsby dies in the car crash is pure melodrama.”

We bullcrit novels we haven’t read, turned on I guess by the act of hating the loved. But hateration isn’t limited to dead novelists. In pop music, where the term came from, hateration is de rigueur. Missy Elliot’s sly single ‘Gossip Folks’ opens with samples of haters who can’t stand the bitch for eating two crackers a day and wonder if she’s having Michael Jackson’s baby. It’s funny as hell to be sure, but also serious. Missy knows that she’s at the stage where people will hate simply because it’s her time to be hated. Jamaicans can haterate with the best of them. Every time I start a discussion about Jamaican musician Sean Paul, the typical Jamaican’s typical response is “but he sucks live.” Now given that Sean performs 99.9% of the time to faraway audiences in faraway lands, such a judgment is downright impossible for a Jamaican to make. So I usually call them out on it. “And when did you see him perform?” I ask, “because I saw him at a club on Puerto Rican day and he blew everybody away.” The Jamaican will then trot out some irrelevant example, a concert from five or even ten years ago, or some award show with dozens of reasons for a bad performance, not one being the performer.

Even the seemingly highbrow sometimes go for the down and dirty. Rolling Stone Magazine, clueless as ever, lionized The White Stripes’ most overrated records, Elephant and Get Behind Me Satan, one guessed because they have never paid attention to them before and did not want to seem behind the curve. In fact Rolling Stone has mastered the art of loveration, loving a band simply because it’s now their time to be loved. And since they are usually off by a couple years, they frequently champion the major label debut and waste column inches explaining why it is better than their obscure indie records. But now that the love-in with White Stripes is over, not only have they given Icky Thump—a stunning return to form— the dreaded 3 ½ star review, the recently did a story on new guitar heroes and ignored Jack White. They did however feature John Mayer.

Hateration is hypocrisy, envy and covetousness all mixed into one despicable package and taken to extreme levels. It results in the death of Biggie Smalls and the debasing of the same idols that were created last week. It’s also ignorance (pre-not post Jamaican definition of the word) made into an art and a science; a dimwitted dismissal of something one has never heard seen or felt, in essence something we have always had with us but used to call by another name: