Lena Dunham. Taylor Swift. Anne Hathaway.
If you cringed at the prospect of reading, thinking, or wasting any more of your mental energy on these women… well, sorry ‘bout it.
Okay, so maybe it’s super dumb to hate on, or even have any strong feelings whatsoever about celebrities. Plus, shouldn’t we be talking about why there aren’t more powerful women in pop culture? (Yes. The answer to that is yes.)
But back to being a bitch: those of us who continue to harbor strong feelings about a certain female pop culture icon know that the general reaction tends to be something along the lines of, “well, you’re just jealous!” Let’s be clear: jealousy has a lot less to do with that icky, irksome feeling we associate with these women than… something else. Something a lot less easy to explain. Because if it were simply envy, we’d all be reading passive aggressive articles and tweets about Kate Middleton or Kristen Wiig, and we’re not. At least not in the same way.
There are a few women in pop culture who are not simply powerful, not simply beautiful or wealthy or intelligent, but who represent ideas that we’re uncomfortable with. They bother us not exactly because we envy them, but because they’ve taken something we thought was ours, be it our desires, anxieties, alter egos, past selves, observations, diary entries, dreams, nightmares or fears and parade them around in the glory of media spotlight. They’re confronting what we’re unable to face in our own lives and achieving success and attention for it. But most of all, they’re taking something we feel is raw and real and making it palatable and sellable to everyone — not just us.
Remember that song you fell in love with way before it was on the radio and a few weeks later your 11-year-old cousin knows all the words? It isn’t so different from the bitter annoyance we feel watching Anne Hathaway accept her Oscar like it’s a fucking baby wrapped in doilies or a flower crown-donned Zooey Deschanel playing the ukulele with Joseph Gordon-Leavitt.
Because yeah, a lot of women would probably love to win an Oscar for their amazing performance in Les Mis, and I’m pretty sure I know people willing to stab a bitch for the chance to make a YouTube video with JGL. But their successes aren’t what make us hate them. We hate them because they fail to do our ideas justice. It’s our ego shouting, “I SEE THROUGH YOU! YOU AREN’T FOOLING ME!”
So on that note, let’s stop calling some blogger’s critique of Girls envy for Lena Dunham’s creative control. Let’s stop saying it’s anti-feminist to dislike Rihanna for her choice to collaborate with Chris Brown. It’s not. It’s human. And it’s not simple contrarianism when we defend these women against the haters — that’s human, too.
Maybe it isn’t so dumb to explore what we talk about when we hate on celebrities. In a way, they’re acting as mirrors, exposing our deep-seated personal and cultural anxieties that we’re already so practiced at hiding.
So what does your own precious celebrity hate-crush say about you? A lot, probably!
P.S. I think all of the women listed here are extraordinary and fascinating. The exception is Taylor Swift, whom I viscerally detest.
If You Hate… Anne Hathaway
Anne Hathaway is only the latest in a long parade of hateable women of the past few years, and she’s sparked tons of recent discussions about what it means to despise an otherwise ordinary celebrity. Important News Website CNN said people hate her because she doesn’t have a round face, which is obviously super scientific and therefore definitely accurate. New York magazine described her as “that theater kid with good intentions but secretly annoys the shit out of you,” which makes a lot more sense. She’s the girl who always got the lead role — because DAMN she rocks that cryface — but whose voice is just enough off-pitch that you’re not sold on whether or not she deserves the spotlight.
But as you watch her clutch her chest and tear up as she discusses what it was like to play Fantine, you’re almost sold that she really feels it. Almost. Because she’s so practiced at being the best, she knows how to do what most people can’t: accept a compliment. And we hate her for it.
If You Hate… Lena Dunham
There are some decent reasons to feel iffy about Lena Dunham on principle: the whole nepotism thing (although she’s clearly not the first celeb to take advantage of sort-of-famous parents), the lack of diversity on Girls (okay, a much more noble reason), and of course the fact that her character, Hannah Horvath, has referred to herself as “the voice of a generation,” (which was satire, anyway.)
But I think our culture’s Lena complex has less to do with all that and more to do with the fact that she represents the triumph of the Millennial Dream: achieving success and power in a creative field while simultaneously breaking a few boundaries (like putting an average-looking female body in front of a camera.)
Americans paradoxically both adore and despise young people, just as they both adore and despise the trope of the artist/bohemian/”fauxhemian”/hipster, a category to which Dunham seemingly belongs.
To be widely celebrated by mainstream culture as an artist, one cannot be wealthy, educated, or privileged. One must be starving. Lena Dunham has grown up not only with plenty of food in the fridge, but evidence of that food right there on her body. We’d all be more comfortable if she’d just done us a favor and failed, and she didn’t.
But hey, who knows. Maybe we just hate her because she doesn’t satisfy the almighty penises of 17-year-old boys.
If You Hate… Zooey Deschanel
Remember when Zooey Deschanel used to only play dark, funny roles? Back then, no one gave a shit about her except for people who liked her hairstyle. Then, after 500 Days of Summer she became this unattainable fairy who broke Joseph Gordon-Leavitt’s heart and for some reason, people stuck her with the label of ultimate “manic pixie dream girl,” a trope that is absolutely nothing like the character of Summer? It was weird. And then when New Girl premiered, she was your mom’s favorite thing on TV and once again nobody gave a shit anymore.
But as one of the weepy teenagers who watched 500 Days and vowed to avenge my precious JGL, I, too joined the Zooey Deschanel hate parade. I hated her because she didn’t look like the typical cinematic love object and didn’t act like it either. Why wasn’t she a superficial, blonde Kate Hudson who worked at a magazine? I’d never seen anyone like the characters she played, and it made me uncomfortable. She was the person high schoolers like me imagined ourselves to be at 25 — the girl who was incomparable to the Kate Hudsons we saw growing up. And then, all of a sudden, there Zooey Deschanel was, stealing this abstract image we had in our minds and making it concrete. How dare she? we thought.
But at this point, Zooey Deschanel is more of a parody of the image she’s cultivated than an actual person. Her name alone conjures images of notebook doodles and friendship bracelets, which we’re probably uncomfortable with considering the fact that she’s in her thirties. Perhaps it’s the childlike aura that comes with wearing absurd clothing and having a young-looking face that we simultaneously admire and are annoyed by.
If You Hate… Kristen Stewart
The genius of K-Stew comes from the fact that she just. won’t. engage. She’ll never let us see her experience a genuine emotion other than “I’m super uncomfortable” or “I’m super high.” She’s the bitch in black who’s over it before it began.
If Kristen Stewart and the rest of pop culture were dating, Kristen Stewart would be the one who, after a while, would stop responding to texts, go to parties alone, maybe make out with a stranger, and then act surprised when pop culture got upset. She’s spared the heartbreak simply by caring less. And as frustrating as it is, everyone knows pop culture will never be the one to break it off.
If You Hate… Gwenyth Paltrow
Gwenyth Paltrow has two children as well as a weekly newsletter (?!) and a cookbook (?!) Can you guess which name belongs to which?
d) My Father’s Daughter
If you guessed that Gwenyth Paltrow has a newsletter named Apple, a cookbook named Moses, and two children named My Father’s Daughter and Goop, you’re still less insane than Gwenyth Paltrow.
Gwenyth Paltrow is basically the Alex from Real Housewives of New York of actresses. She’s the skeletal blonde slouching in the corner of the party, sipping an outrageously expensive glass of white wine while shooting glares at whoever just walked in. Two hours from now she’ll be tipsy and talking too loudly about things that “aren’t classy.” She once said, quite seriously in an interview, “I would rather die than let my kid eat Cup-a-Soup.”
It’s almost too easy to hate Gwenyth Paltrow, and it’s basically a given quality in a person unless you a) have been a billionaire for decades and b) are part of Gwenyth Paltrow’s immediate family. Actually, Apple and Moses will probably at some point realize their mother is a total bitch. So basically if you aren’t Lead Singer of Coldplay Chris Martin, you hate Gwenyth Paltrow.
If You Hate… Lana Del Rey
Regardless of what people say in conversation, they don’t hate Lana Del Rey because her dad’s rich, or because she’s had plastic surgery and changed her name, or because they don’t think she’s a good singer, or because her image is so heavily curated, or even because her Lolita complex makes them feel icky. They hate her because she used all of that to trick the cool hunters into thinking she was the next big thing to come out of the indie scene.
Lana Del Rey didn’t go through the usual steps to becoming a major pop star, nor does she fit our idea of a musician organically working their way up the subcultural or indie status ranks through hard work and genuine talent. Instead, her extremely wealthy father hired a team of creative professionals to formulate a certain look, sound, and brand that would appeal to the hipster crowd and the advertisers trying to anticipate their tastes, and then paid for her to be on iTunes without so much as a full record out yet. She used capitalism, connections, and a professionally cultivated image to beat pop culture at its own game by making indie music fans believe they “discovered” her, therefore suggesting to the mainstream that she was cool because she’d already earned her fame in the underground.
We’re uncomfortable with the fact that cool can be fed to us by the capitalist machine, that we’re not always the ones deciding what we listen to or what we wear for ourselves. Lana Del Rey, with her music videos that look like every sort-of-artsy teenage girl’s Pinterest board, her inability to articulate her own creative process in interviews, and her passive sexuality makes for an easy scapegoat.
If You Hate… Taylor Swift
It would be easy for me to say that I hate Taylor Swift because we share a few superficial qualities and that she’s better than me at all of them. We’re both blondes with bangs (although I got mine first) who grew up in seemingly quaint environments (she on a “Christmas tree farm” in Pennsylvania, I in snowy Vermont.) We both like playing acoustic guitar and wearing sundresses and sweaters. Worst of all, we’re both emotional, sensitive, and a little boy-crazy.
There are a million other reasons why we can all agree to hate Taylor Swift: her music is pretty bad (for the record, I like her hits but think the rest is super meh), or that her songs, videos and even her “brand” completely lack creativity or relevance. After getting famous doing the “slammin’ screen door” country thing, she became a corseted princess with daddy issues, then a bumbling nerd girl wandering around forests after Zooey Deschanel had already made the quirky thing cool, then a Kennedy-era wannabe after Lana Del Rey had already made the Americana thing cool. And anyone who’s seen the video for Calvin Harris and Rihanna’s “We Found Love” will find some cringe-worthy similarities to the narrative in Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble” video, which turns the chilling portrait of an abusive relationship marred by fame and drug use into a PG-makeout session between a knockoff Adam Levine (who is clearly supposed to represent “danger” — LOL) and the version of Taylor Swift who has just returned from a Ke$ha concert. Basically, Taylor Swift and her team of whatevers are in the business of making us believe that this is artist growth and not cheap rip-offs of stuff other pop stars have already proven bankable.
This isn’t really why I hate her. My reasons, like everyone else’s with their celebrity hate-crush, are entirely personal. I hate her because it seems like she’s a mean girl masquerading as a nice girl. I’ve been a cruel bully and I’ve been cruelly bullied, and nothing makes me angrier than a bully playing the victim or a mean girl who lacks guilt.
But then again, that’s just me.