Hate-stalking: Why do we waste our time binging on people we really can’t stand?

On Saturday night I did something I’m not proud of.

There is a female person I have come across on Instagram. Let’s call her Sally. I stalk Sally regularly. I engage in what I have termed the ‘manual stalk’ which means I don’t ‘follow’ her because, well, that would be weird. I just search her every few days to see what she’s been up to.

But the thing is, I can’t stand Sally. She posts selfies constantly. She shares videos that make me cringe so hard I feel like I’ve pulled a muscle. Her face IRRITATES me. In terms of Sally’s values and what she stands for, she is my total opposite. So WHY can’t I stop stalking Sally?

kardashian selfie 2 via @kimkardasian
The Kardashian’s love a selfie. Note: Sally is not a Kardashian. Image via Instagram.

On Saturday night, I went beyond my average manual stalk. After watching a handful of videos on repeat and even calling my sister over with the promise of “Oooh I have a good one!” I came across some new information.

Sally. Has. Snapchat.

I don’t know how it happened, but let’s just say I now have Sally on demand.

I cannot even put into words what the hell I have been consuming. I have spent at least 20 minutes of the last two days watching some person I have never met mime to songs and film herself from 300 different angles. And the worst part?

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I bloody love it.

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Pfft. Who would ever take a selfie? Image supplied.

I am having so much fun. Why do I get this sick twisted pleasure from engaging with someone I can’t stand? Why can’t I look away? Why am I not reading a book or, I don’t know, calling my mum, who I actually like?

Last year, Elle magazine called the ‘Cringe Binge’ or ‘Shame Following’ “one of the most socially acceptable forms of insanity.” They aptly described it as like picking a scab or watching a really bad TV show.

Urban Dictionary defines the practice as “following someone…because for whatever reason they annoy you enough for you to care about what they say.” In their example, the hate-stalker explains “I like to keep track of his self centred views, they annoy me so much I can’t help but read his self-promotion of a blog no one will ever read.” Ah, have I deep dived into a blog or 50…

Here’s one to hate-stalk ^^.

It would appear that I am not alone. Hate-stalking is a cultural practice that is commonly performed and rarely talked about.

We often think that millennial behaviour is new, prompted by the forms of technology our ancestors never had access to. But this isn’t entirely the case.

My grandfather used to get up every morning and turn on the radio. After a few minutes his rants would start: “I bloody hate this guy” “Who does he think he is?” “How could someone possibly say that?”

I’m pretty sure my Nan used to yell “YOU’RE THE ONE THAT TURNED IT ON – IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT CHANGE THE STATION”. But that’s not what I’m interested in. I want to know why we do it.

There’s a difference between hate-stalking in private and straight up bullying. Listen to these kids talk about what bullying means to them. Post continues after video… 

I have a theory. Let’s call it ‘deidentification’.

You know how as a society, we are fascinated by serial killers? And…hoarders? And adults that dress up as babies for fun?

There is something within the human condition that finds ‘the other’ appealing. It is upon this premise that the seeds of history were sewn. Herodotus (the man who invented history) said, I quote, “omg the Egyptians are super weird, they embalm their dead and remove all their organs, W.T.F.” The less he liked them the more he wanted to know. We are fascinated by that which is not much like us.

But there’s more to it.

We set ourselves and our identities up against what we are not. As much as we draw inspiration from role models, we also learn through people around us who we do not want to be. In ancient Greece and Rome, there were always gods or deities that were designed to be hated. They existed so we could hold them up against ourselves and say “let me remind you of what I am not.”

So, perhaps there is a (very unintentional) method to my madness. Perhaps we engage with and consume things, people and ideas we do not like as a way of exploring our identity.

And maybe I don’t hate Sally. I learn from her. She represents values that I am uncomfortable with, and I traverse them through staring at her Snapchat story in disbelief for 10 minutes. Just like my grandpa did with the annoying guy on the radio.

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