Kate Eakins hates James Corden. Like, really hates him.
“Every time I see James Corden, I wish him fear and agony and I have no idea why,” says Eakins, a 30-year-old analyst of Evansville, Indiana. “He’s not done anything to me personally, but I still wish him ill.”
“In fantasy, what we love and what we hate can get very, very close, because it’s just about strong, intense feelings that don’t really have much of a frame around them,” says Sharon Marcus, Columbia University professor and author of “The Drama of Celebrity.”
Plus, there’s always a reason. “It may be a reason they don’t want to admit to themselves, but there is a reason for it,” says Jeffrey Brown, professor and chair of the Department of Popular Culture at Bowling Green State University. “Celebrities signify things. They stand for certain values, certain assumptions that we make about them as people, and when we don’t like what those celebrities signify, that’s when we inherently blame the celebrity themselves and say, ‘oh I hate that person because they don’t align with my values.'”
That’s why Ify Anita strongly dislikes Nicki Minaj. “She has constantly used her platform to spread negativity,” Anita, 26, says, citing some of Minaj’s publicized feuds with other stars.
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Why we hate celebrities
But where exactly does this burning hatred come from? Hint: Think about who you spend time with in your own life. Who do you like? Who don’t you like?
“A lot of the strong dislike can be traced back – at least partially – to our tendency to prefer those who share similar characteristics to us over those who are different,” says Kaston Anderson-Carpenter, assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University. “Those characteristics can be external (e.g., having fame or notoriety, being wealthy) or internal (e.g., personality differences).”
It’s easy to project dislike onto celebrities. “In our collective mind, we set up certain (often unrealistic) expectations of how celebrities should behave,” Anderson-Carpenter says. “And when they don’t meet our expectations, we tend to judge them more harshly than we would judge a non-celebrity who behaved the same way.”
Fan culture, of course, goes back hundreds of years – but mass media has warped the obsession into something much larger. It’s also proliferated hate, which could prove dangerous.
“I believe there is a psychological danger in hating someone so intensely, especially someone we don’t know and have never met,” Anderson-Carpenter says. “A number of studies have shown consistently that hatred – especially when directed at groups of people – can lead to negative individual and public health outcomes. And hating someone with such intensity whom we don’t know might increase our tendency to act on that hatred in harmful and dangerous ways.”
This vitriol has developed alongside the internet, Brown says.
“We’ve always had it, but Hollywood, for example, used to be able to control what information got out to the celebrity press,” Brown adds. Everyone is the paparazzi all of a sudden – cameras clicking and clacking away the second a star leaves a restaurant – with the ability to share the best and worst of every celebrity.
“Celebrities are symbols for the people who are interested in them,” Marcus says.
But they are, of course, real people.
“Most of us don’t know really anything abut celebrities as real people,” she adds. “Even when we know a lot about their private lives, we don’t know them the way we know people we’ve actually met.”
It’s difficult to think of a celebrity who hasn’t attracted negative feelings, Marcus says. Think everyone from Elizabeth Taylor (and her eyebrow-raising marriages and divorces) to Anne Hathaway (chided for her earnestness).
“They’re basically objects of fantasy,” Marcus says. “And fantasies are notoriously contradictory and polarized and kind of messy.”
Look back to Hathaway’s best supporting actress Oscar acceptance speech in 2013. She strolled up to the stage, kissed presenter Christopher Plummer on both cheeks and stared at her shiny, new trophy. “It came true,” she marveled. But fans found the reaction more eyeroll-inducing than marvelous.
“In that moment, she revealed that she cared about her celebrity status, that it mattered to her,” Marcus says. “And weirdly, people like celebrities to act like they don’t care.”
The opposite can be true, however. Look no further than the fame-hungry Kardashians who inspire ire for their incessant social media posting. Brown’s students hate them – with reason: “It isn’t just randomly disliking them,” Brown says. “It’s a resentment for what they represent, which is sort of this idea of celebrity without accomplishment.”
Women must meet different standards, and find themselves in a can’t-win position, Marcus says. If they say anything positive about themselves, they’re vain; too self-deprecating, they’re awkward and so on. The bar always looms higher for underrepresented people at large.
“What’s interesting about celebrity is that it is one of the spaces where people in marginalized groups can in fact have a lot of influence and status,” Marcus says.
“But if a person’s status as a celebrity contradicts the social status that the majority ascribe to them, it’s going to cause controversy and there will be discomfort with those people having power.”
So, you want to stop hating celebrities
Turn your anger down a few notches with these tips.
Keep in mind that celebrities are still people. “Who they are as a person is not necessarily the personas or characters they project to the world – especially because those projections are often part of their jobs,” Anderson-Carpenter says. “Another thing people can do is to examine what is it about the celebrities they dislike, because that hatred might be projections of their own areas of improvement.”
Social media is not real life. “In today’s media environment, people can pile on Twitter, and say they hate someone,” Marcus says. “And that can seem like that’s everyone, oh now everyone hates Anne Hathaway. But there’s still like a kind of silent majority that really likes Anne Hathaway, thinks she’s sweet. So it’s really more about being polarizing than people just hate her.”
Your hatred doesn’t matter. “Sitting and fuming about a celebrity you hate is the definition of futile,” Brown says. “It’s not going to make that celebrity go away. It’s not going to change other people’s opinions. It has no effect on the celebrity whatsoever.”
Redirect your energy. “If a person truly hates someone, that hatred can be channeled in ways that not only benefit themselves, but also society,” Anderson-Carpenter says. “In that respect, the intense psychological effort needed to truly hate someone can be shifted so the focus is not on the person, but on the deed.”
People can change. Be open to that. “If (Minaj) can be a better person and preferably act her age, then why not (stop disliking her),” Ify Anita says. “She’s human and humans aren’t perfect.”
Still, some people – like Kate Eakins – can’t stop. “James Corden turns up like mold in your apartment; somehow everywhere despite how much you bleach.”