We live in the golden age of television. TV is not just on our, well, TVs, but also on our laptops. Our phones. Our tablets. Even my projector is ‘smart’. We can consume content in different screen ratios, in different languages, and watch at the speed we prefer. We can download it and keep it for years, we can share our screens from across the world, we can watch something on the big screen while keeping one eye trained carefully on our smaller screen.

And yet somehow, amidst all this, we have the time and ability to ‘hate watch’. Hate watching is when we watch something for the purpose of mocking it.

But is it?

When I was growing up, a common get-to-know-you question was, ‘What is your guilty pleasure?’ At age seven, it confused me because if something brings you joy, why does it also come with guilt? Decades later, it still does confuse me, but I think I have some answers for it.

At the end of the day, we are social creatures and we abide in our society by law. Law predicates our actions and behaviour. But not all law is written in a book. Some laws are unspoken, developed over time, and you just gotta know them.

Laws like watch ‘meaningful’ movies. Read ‘good’ books. Have ‘deep’ discussions. Eat ‘healthy’.

Since we are meant to follow these laws, automatically it presumes that everything and anything that we do outside of these become ‘cringe’.

But you and I and your mother are all aware that no one can follow these unspoken rules all the time. It’s impossible, especially now with how much access we have to things we just didn’t have as recent as 15 years ago.

You are inundated with options upon options the minute you open up any food delivery app, shopping app, and not to be left behind, OTT platform.

And from all those options, you choose what you like best and watch it, simple right? Just within the last week, I have had these verbatim conversations: “I love watching Bigg Boss, I know it’s so bad.” “I used to be obsessed with Twilight. Not anymore though.” And it begs the question, why do these two people, and let’s be honest, the rest of us, feel this need to gaslight ourselves and our viewing choices?

Bigg Boss

It’s because of The LawsTM. The ‘laws’ that say your content has to add depth to your life. The ‘laws’ that say your life must be productive and accounted for all the time. The ‘laws’ that make you feel bad for doing, or in this case, watching something just for the fun of it.

Somewhere along the line, we transitioned from ‘guilty pleasures’ into ‘hate watching’. Of course, keeping it edgy. But conceptually, we remain trapped in the same cage. That our content viewing habits have to meet some invisible standard. That it must match a metric that validates how we have chosen to spend our time.

But who sets these standards? Unfortunately, the blame is also on us.

Centuries of being fed The LawsTM means we have internalised it. To such a degree that we don’t even require outside influence anymore to feel bad about what we’re watching. So, we readily jump on the bandwagon or ‘hate’wagon ourselves.

We judge ourselves for what we watch and then we make excuses or jokes about it publicly so no one can call us out for it. We say, ‘Ugh, Kapil Sharma is so annoying but I can’t avoid watching it because I live with my parents and they watch the show’. We say, ‘I thought High School Musical was cool when I was a teenager but like, I didn’t know any better then lol’

We say whatever it takes as long as in the eyes of peers and our own internal compass the content that we are watching doesn’t make us look ‘bad’.

We jump in front of the content train, invent the term ‘hate watch’, all to appease our own critic. Never forget that it was ‘hate watching’ that made Tiger King one of the most popular Netflix shows of 2020.
Herein lies my dilemma. If it brings you joy, why feel ashamed of it?

Tiger King

It is called the Productive Couch Potato Paradox. Research by Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz in Germany suggests that humans work themselves ragged, but still struggle with a sense of ‘not being productive enough’. But being able to reward themselves with some mind-numbing TLC show is both desirable and shameful. Because you want to do it. But are also ashamed to want it. Why watch Real Housewives of Beverly Hills when you could read Kafka on the Shore instead?

The Real Wives of Beverly Hills

You don’t owe anybody or even yourself productivity (unless you’re getting paid for it, that’s a different discussion). You don’t always need to be consuming ‘deep’ or ‘moving’ content.

You are allowed to watch what you want, when you want, not feel ashamed for it and definitely don’t need to talk it down in front of your peers.

Don’t make excuses for watching something that brings you joy. In the crisis prone world we live in, getting joy also feels like a big ask. Even if it brings you quiet, relief, or just helps you decompress from your day, that’s still a good thing. Time is our greatest enemy. We feel the urge to not ‘waste’ time, but somewhere along the capitalist highway, fulfilling the need to provide ourselves with good old entertaining content fell by the wayside and became a ‘wasteful’ endeavor.

So perhaps it’s time for the ‘guilt pleasure viewing’ to ‘hate watching’ to further evolve to just ‘watching’? Think about it.

Lead Image: L to R; High School Musical and The Twilight