The Hate Show

24 February 2017

In George Orwell's novel 1984, people assembled each day for The Two Minute Hate. For two minutes, those gathered would feel and express their hatred of those whom they had been led to hate, by those whom they regarded as their guides. Orwell did not invent the idea of an interval or gathering for the purpose of hating. Such things are probably ancient, and were certainly called hates earlier in the 20th Century. Orwell hypothesized the formal institutionalization of scheduled rallies whose sole purpose was for hating.

Such gatherings are now routine, normalized. Some take place on a national or international level, on weekly or even daily bases. Others are smaller or less frequent. People collect in theaters or around television sets, and they hate. But few observers or participants see these gatherings for what they are, because the hatred is packaged as comedy. During these gatherings, there is very little in the way of clever violation of expectation, which is essential to intelligent comedy. Instead, there is ventilation — of disdain, of anger, of hatred, sometimes of fury — at those outside that group with whom the performers and audience identify. Treatment of hatred as comedy is not something new, but the acceptance of unacknowledged hatred as comedy has become commonplace. Gatherings for what most of us once would have called comedy have been increasingly displaced; our comedy shows have been replaced by Hates. We have Thirty Minute Hates, Sixty Minute Hates, Ninety Minute Hates.

The institutionalization has largely been private, but it has had something degree of state sponsorship, as when President Obama grinned broadly in response to Wanda Sykes' expressed wish that the kidneys of Rush Limbaugh should fail, during the 2009 White House Correspondents Association Dinner.

When I last visited my parents, who willfully live in an ideological echo chamber, they made a point each week of sitting together and watching Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. They laughed at nothing; they smiled at nothing; because nothing on it was funny. Nor did it deliver any fresh insights. What it delivered was hatred. But that was apparently what my parents wanted — a Twenty One Minute Hate.

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2 Responses to The Hate Show

  • kpm says:

    I catch myself grinning broadly sometimes, not because anything is funny, but because I'm socially uncomfortable. It feels like a reflexive don't-hurt-me gesture.

    • Daniel says:

      Indeed, what we take for smiles can be very ambiguous. As well as signalling delight or being gestures of friendship or of appeasement, they may signal aggressive intent.

      There are interesting differences in the rest of the expression. You've probably heard or read of what is called the Pan Am Smile, which is an expression in which the mouth is pulled into a smile but everything else is without content.

      (I was thinking this morning of a particular cat, and of the first time that he smiled at me. Tales of Cheshire Cats not withstanding, when a cat smiles it is with his or her eyes.)

      We can extend that to laughter. It may express more than one emotion. But it's harder to distinguish the underlying emotion because laughter is more idiosyncratic than is smiling.

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