In the desperate contest for online attention, hate is a tempting weapon. But it comes at a cost.
Do we use the word hate too lightly today? I hate this book, we say of the discarded paperback. Being a less than compelling story seems a minor crime to punish with hatred. Hate comes tattooed on the knuckle beside love. Unfaithful friends. Cheating partners. The colleague who achieves the ambition you are still dreaming of. However hard we shout our denial of the fact, the things we truly hate are also the things we truly love.
It’s because we love them dearly that books so frequently become an arena for hatred. Introverted souls are drawn to the peace and solitude that escape in to a good book offers. But those who go on to create books find themselves drawn in to the cacophonous, sharp elbowed contest to be heard in a world filled with far, far too many writers. There’s only so much attention to go around, and what writers will do to get it sometimes beggars belief.
“if they are hateful enough, a smart writer can climb the online status hierarchy with the attention such reviews gain.”
Take #HaleGate for example. Novelist and confessional journalist Kathleen Hale scooped up a huge serving of attention this week when she detailed the obsessive relationship with her “number one critic”, Goodreads book reviewer Blythe Harris. Hale’s tale tells of a savage campaign of hatred conducted against her debut novel, painting Blythe as part of a culture of intensely hateful critics who perform for a a hooting mob of online haters. Blythe’s defenders, many of them members of that hooting mob, respond that she was merely an innocent consumer. Her negative book review was no different from downrating your local McDonalds on Tripadvisor, Hale’s vengeful behaviour the equivalent of finding an armed attack team of Ronald McDonald’s on your stoop.
Alternatively, both Hale and Blythe are participants in the endless war for limited human attention being waged online. Blythe’s hateful book reviews garnered her a loyal following on Goodreads. Reading an entire book is a hard sell in this age of diminishing attention spans. But a venous review of the same book can make a delicious snack between checking your Facebook status and that next crazy cat video. If published authors are the aristocrats of Goodreads, then hateful reviewers are the voice of the mob baying for their blood. And if they are hateful enough, a smart writer can climb the online status hierarchy with the attention such reviews gain.
The aptly pseudonymous hate reviewer Requires Hate did just that, before apparently disappearing from the community of sci-fi and fantasy writers she had so brutally critiqued. To call the RH reviews scathing would be to downplay their sheer vindictiveness. Their favourite target were white, male authors of “grimdark” fantasy, whose general incompetence at writing female characters, and frequent dependence on sexual violence to power their plot lines, made them sitting ducks. When I wrote at the time that this kind of aggressive reviewing was here to stay, precisely because it was a guaranteed way of grabbing attention, I didn’t know precisely how accurate I was.
“I suspect those most deeply hurt by such hatred will still be harbouring hate of their own.”
The short stories of Benjanun Sriduangkaew began finding publication and widespread acclaim in 2012. This year Sriduangkaew was nominated for the prestigious John W Campbell award for Best New Writer of SF and Fantasy given at the World Science Fiction Convention. After many rumours it was recently confirmed that Sriduangskaew was none other than the author behind Requires Hate, who had dropped from public sight just as Sriduangkaew appeared. Would Sriduangkaew have climbed to such rapid attention without first courting the clique of writers and editors who also loudly cheered her hateful reviews? Readers will no doubt judge the merits of her writing for themselves.
Of course, hate as a publicity strategy has some rather profound consequences. It does, after all, beget more hate. Rightly or wrongly, Blythe’s hateful reviews were ultimately turned to the advantage of one of their targets. Hale’s adept exploitation of her haters has in turn made her the target of intense outrage online. And Requires Hate / Benjanun Sriduangkaew this week issued not just one but two public apologies for her hate filled reviews. I certainly hope that’s enough for a young writer to be allowed to get on with their career, but I suspect those most deeply hurt by such hatred will still be harbouring hate of their own.