Perhaps this has not been the most representative week in the media, but did you know that there have been 51 articles in the British press in the past seven days with the word “hate” in the headline? Some of them have been about the “hate cleric” Abu Qatada. Others revealed “phrases that women hate to hear”. One was about hating a neighbour’s patio. Of course, there were many about hating Margaret Thatcher, and more about hating people who hate her. There ain’t much love in Britain at the moment.
As English speakers, we are all attuned to the nuances of our fine language. We know that we can hate bigotry and also hate mushrooms without one hate belittling the other (though we may disagree about which is worse, mushrooms or bigotry). But last week’s list of the “20 Most Hated Celebrities in Tinseltown”, as published by Star magazine, really did test the limits of the pertinence of that word. “Hate” Anne Hathaway? Really? Granted, she does have a disconcertingly symmetrical face, but she’s not Mussolini. She’s not even chanterelles.
Nonetheless, the magazine claims to have polled its readers, and says that most people who took the trouble to vote chose Gwyneth Paltrow as their most hated celebrity. To put this into context, Chris Brown was at number 20. Hatred of Paltrow seems to be something to do with her vegan diet, whereas Brown once beat his girlfriend until her face was bloody. Who knew that so many people get so wound up about somebody else not fancying eggs much?
This has also been a week in which we have analysed the legitimacy of hatred and discussed how civilised people might display it. Is it OK for a grown-up to hate a recently deceased old woman? So much so that he burns her effigy on a pyre? What if that woman once destroyed his family’s livelihood? You can at least empathise with that sort of hatred. (Though obviously not if you’re a Tory politician.)
Star magazine does not say how many people took part in its survey but clearly a couple of hundred people felt strongly enough to register their vote. Assuming for a moment that Gwyneth Paltrow isn’t devastated about being named as the most hated person that anyone could think of … what makes these people care so much? If she’s that awful, can’t they just not buy her books, read her blog, watch her films, or work in the coal mine that she’s about to close down? Oh no, hang on, that was someone else.
Is it the immediacy of the internet that persuades people to register such extreme opinions so publicly? Is it something to do with advertising that polarises our opinions? Or are people really this angry? I may be sorry when somebody comments online that they hate this article and hate me. But bless them, if they’ve gone to so much trouble....
I really wish there were not so much overt hatred, though, everywhere we look. In fact, I’d say that I really hate it. Not as much as mushrooms, of course. I mean, we’ve got to hang on to some sense of proportion.