My Date with Drew: TCM, Twitter, and Hate Watching

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I never would have assumed that tweeting “With all due respect to the #TCMParty folk, Drew Barrymore deserves more respect” would have cost me five hours of my life and brought me the attention of a cyber stalker.  On the evening of May 11th, I fired that tweet off into the digital ether after watching my feed fill up with TCM watchers spitting venom at Drew Barrymore for being an incompetent host of the TCM program The Essentials.  When I did so, I inadvertently became the guy holding up a Barack Obama sign at a Tea Party rally – or, as to avoid a political slant with this analogy – the Tea Party member at a Barack Obama fundraiser.  The difference between what happened on Twitter and the political analogy is that I didn’t crash an event looking to antagonize its constituency.  I merely critiqued the practice of hate watching  (“the act of watching a show that you claim to dislike with the sole purpose of mocking it”) and questioned what it really provided to a community I was (formerly) a part of.

Now, it is important to add a couple notes of clarification before proceeding.  First off, #TCMParty is not a hashtag driven by a mission to destroy Drew Barrymore.  #TCMParty is merely a hashtag that many of live-tweeting viewers circle around.  Over time, it has gradually flowered into a digital community.  Thus, it would be unfair to depict all users of the hashtag as hate watchers.  Moreover, I was not trolling the hashtag to stir up some shit.  I’ve actively taken part in live tweets around TCM programming using the hashtag because – generally – the group members express their love of a given film and embody TCM’s ability to stoke the fires of cinematic nostalgia.  What initially surprised me about the Barrymore bashing was it seemed so out of step with the tweets that are normally associated with the hashtag.

Finally, one more note.  I do not practice hate watching.  Admittedly, there are times when I’ll snark about a program (normally a program like the Oscars or the Grammys) but I do not intentionally sit down to watch the show “with the sole purpose of mocking it.”  The reason I do not abide by hate watching is because I generally find it to be a waste of time.  I don’t even watch Mystery Science Theater 3000.  Why would I devote time and energy to such a practice?  I’d rather be productive with my limited amount of time on this Earth and actually consume a piece of media I have the intention of enjoying.  In my opinion, hate watching is an exercise in sadomasochism that is clothed in the fabric of irony.

Now that I’ve laid some of the contextual groundwork for this analysis, let me start with this particular Barrymore case before branching out to approach hate watching amongst this community in general terms.  Most folks who felt confronted by my tweet argued that Drew Barrymore is an incompetent host whose lack of film knowledge doesn’t lend anything to the brand of conversation that TCM normally nurtures.  Several members argued that there were other Essentials hosts who were superior and that Drew’s insights into the programming were fairly superficial.  There isn’t anything inherently wrong with this interpretation.  You’re free to dislike Barrymore.  However, I would argue that your expectations are unfounded.

Drew Barrymore has been on The Essentials for a year now.  It’s not as if her presence and the type of conversation she engages in have been dropped upon the unsuspecting TCM audience.  My point is that if you’ve been watching The Essentials, you know what you’re getting and yet, if you’re actively hating on Barrymore, you’re trying to pretend that you’ve been conned.  Essentially, getting pissed at Barrymore is like getting pissed when you go to a Chinese restaurant and try to order a Italian food.  Or, getting pissed at Glee for being Glee.

Now, are you free to be offended by Barrymore’s run in the context of The Essentials more broadly?  Sure, but being passive aggressive and snarking on your Twitter account isn’t going to change the situation.  Why not write a letter to TCM?  Start a petition?  Or, better yet, actually talk to someone that works there.  Many members of the #TCMParty community went to TCM Classic Film Festival and some of them had the opportunity to talk with TCM hosts and executives.  Did anyone actually tell Robert Osbourne that Drew Barrymore  sucks?  Doubtful.  But one community member was evidentially impassioned enough to track down my private work e-mail and to send me a piece of hate mail, so the ability to write an e-mail is there and it shouldn’t take a whole lot of work to change the e-mail address in the TO section.

And do you know why most Barrymore haters wouldn’t write that letter, start that petition, or actually complain in person?  Because there wouldn’t be anything to hate watch that way.

When I called out this exercise in hate watching, several folks tweeted that they wanted to actually learn something about the movies they were watching.  Let me take that on.  First, I would doubt the ability of any host to get communicate any profound knowledge regarding film history in such a short period of time.  For example – and this isn’t a slight directed towards TCM – Robert Osbourne’s introductions, while being a treat, aren’t exactly deep.  On a general level, this has nothing to do with the host and everything to do with the format.  After all, you can’t expect Rick Bayless to prepare an amazing Mexican feast in 30 minutes.  Instead, you’re given an hors d’oeuvre.  Again, this is an issue of false expectations on behalf of the audience.

Secondly, if you desire a film education and you’re spending your time criticizing Barrymore, you’re doing it wrong.  Why not use that time to pick up a book?  Better yet, bring that knowledge back to the community.  Find an article or book to read about the main film that is being screened that night, read it, and tweet about it during The Essentials.

Many folks claimed that they were merely voicing an opinion.  Well, my point is that it isn’t wrong to voice an opinion but, at a certain point and certainly from the hate watching approach, it isn’t productive or constructive.  In fact, you’re ripping apart a digital community that is supposedly united in their admiration of a film and a cable channel.  You can call me the troll, you can write that I was rude, provoking a fight, and insulting people.  The paradox apparent in that gap in logic is wide enough to drive a truck through.  My cyber stalker wrote, “I hope in the future you will NOT try to provoke fights by insulting people for their personal opinions” while, at the same time, insulting Drew Barrymore for her personal opinions.  Huh?  How can a troll pass the buck on their trolldom?

If you want to wallow in the swamp of hate watching, that’s fine.  I’m learning to follow my own advice, to step back from this meta-exercise of hate watching a conversation illustrating hate watching, and creating something productive from the situation.  I’m team #TCMDrumCircle from here on out.

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