It's OK to Hate-Watch ‘Peter Pan' (Even Though No One Really Hate-Watches Anything)

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There are at least two Internet writers I "hate-read" on occasion. I do not enjoy their writing styles or their opinions, yet I read. I legitimately hate-read them. I read, then I stew quietly, thinking, This guy has a lot of nerve. It’s not an enjoyable experience and it’s certainly not healthy. I don’t make these opinions public because my feelings are embarrassing. It’s not a good trait in a human being to actively display feelings of hate against people who (A) have shown no real aggression in return or (B) if they have, to give them that satisfaction. It’s all very ugly.

The term hate-read or hate-watch (I suppose there is hate-listening; I have my doubts on hate-smell or hate-taste) seems a little too all-encompassing. I can only remember knowingly hate-watching something once. That is, I purposefully sought out a television show that I knew I would hate, just so that I could hate it. That was the show ‘Stalker’—I only watched it once because it’s not fun to legitimately hate-watch something.

Sometimes, on Twitter, people will ask me why I continue to watch ‘Gotham’ on a weekly basis even though I dislike the show. The truth is, yes, I think that ‘Gotham is a bad show, but I still enjoy watching ‘Gotham.’ It honestly makes me laugh. I like laughing, ergo, I am having a good time while watching ‘Gotham.’ I am not hate-watching ‘Gotham.’ I am watching ‘Gotham’ because it brings me pleasure, even if those reasons were unintended by the show's creators. And considering recent events, anything that brings me pleasure is a welcome respite. Why would I actively seek out more misery?

And that brings us to Thursday night’s broadcast of ‘Peter Pan Live,’ starring Allison Williams and Christopher Walken. Earlier this week, Williams said this to The Daily Beast,

I will say this about last year: today’s audiences like to watch things cynically.

[…]

Hatewatching is a thing, it’s a whole way of watching something, and it’s not an audience that’s natural to a non-cynical performance. ‘Peter Pan,’ you cannot watch cynically. If you do, you’re going to hate it, no question. It falls apart instantly.

There’s some truth here, audiences do like to watch things cynically. I am guilty of this all the time. But I think that’s different than hate. Yes, I watched last year’s live performance of ‘The Sound of Music’ with some cynicism, but, by the end of the show, it won me over. It was fun! I suspect a lot of other people who could be accused of being cynical would also admit they had fun. Human beings have a way of avoiding things that they hate. Even when I feel compelled to hate-read, it’s only for a short amount of time before I start feeling terrible and do something else. So I’m not going to go as far to say hate-watching doesn’t exist, but I don’t think it exists in the way we use that term. I bet the people who watch all of ‘Peter Pan Live’ live tonight, no matter how much they tweet to the contrary, are actually enjoying their experience.

I am genuinely looking forward to ‘Peter Pan Live.’ Live television used to be common practice, but is now rare. (Which is why ‘Saturday Night Live’ is still so special.) In an age where television advertisers can’t figure out how to get people to actually watch their commercials, live television is a somewhat ingenious way to get people to actually watch as the show is being broadcast, as opposed to on DVR. It becomes a community event because it’s live television and anything can happen.

In a 2011 essay, Chuck Klosterman sums up why we like watching sports live,

If I record Thursday’s Mavs-Heat game and wait until Friday morning to watch it, will I be able to avoid discovering that Miami won in overtime? Probably […] What if a bear broke into the stadium and started attacking players on the court, forcing Shawn Marion to tackle the bear and break its neck? Is there any chance I could avoid hearing that news before pressing “play” on the DVR remote? No. No way […]We don’t crave live sporting events because we need immediacy; we crave them because they represent those (increasingly rare) circumstances in which the entire spectrum of possibility is in play. They’re the last scraps of mass society that are totally unfixed.

And the same holds true for watching ‘Peter Pan Live.’ What if a bear got loose on set? What if Christopher Walken had to fight the bear? The thing is, it’s not cool to watch ‘Peter Pan Live,’ but yet we want to feel like we are part of a community, all doing something at the same time, so we make jokes on Twitter. And, honestly, reading some ‘Peter Pan Live’ jokes and taking a break from the world around us for a couple of hours doesn’t sound too bad. And just because people make jokes does not mean what they’re joking about is something they hate. I make jokes about ‘Star Wars’ all the time and I love ‘Star Wars.’

I will be watching ‘Peter Pan Live’ tonight and I can’t wait. Yes, I might make a joke. I can’t help it sometimes. But that doesn’t mean I’m hate-watching. If I'm truly hate-watching, I'm miserable. I’m watching because I assume the experience will bring me pleasure. I’m expecting to like ‘Peter Pan Live,’ even if it's bad. And, right now, more than ever, it really feels good to like something.

Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and GQ. He is the senior editor of ScreenCrush. You can contact him directly on Twitter.

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