Last week Anne Hathaway gave an acceptance speech after she won the best-supporting-actress Oscar for her performance in Les Misérables. You’d think she committed mass murder.
What began as the “cult of Hathahaters” two months ago has simmered, bubbled over, and formed a zeitgeist-seizing, rage-fueled movement against the actress, peaking with a series of think pieces examining what Hathaway has done to trigger such a response. As if it’s some major social or political question that must be answered—like how to prevent the sequester or who should be the next pope—these essays explore every facet of Anne’s very Anne-ness in an attempt to get to the root of the problem.
People are stronger in their convictions on the issue than they are on most platforms that determine presidential elections. Now a hatred has arisen that’s typically reserved for celebrities who go on anti-Semitic rants (hello, Mr. Gibson) or hit their girlfriends (bonjour, Mr. Brown). Hathaway, by comparison, gave some speeches that were kind of annoying. Forget media frenzy. It’s a media pile-on, and it’s out of control.
So what are we supposed to think about her?
“She’s got this theater-kid thing where she adopts the mood of every situation she’s in ... but wildly overcompensates every time,” writes The Atlantic Wire’s Richard Lawson. CNN quotes an oratory expert who tells us that Hathaway’s “just one of the people who just doesn’t come off as sincere.” The New Yorker’s Sasha Weiss posits that it’s because the actress appears too happy.
Salon brings in the scientists, who tell us we hate her because of her face. “When times are good, we prefer actresses with rounder faces,” psychology professor Terry Pettijohn says. “They convey these ideas of fun and youth.” But Hathaway’s face is bony and slender! “As the economy improves, Hathaway—whose peak of fame, post-boyfriend, pre–Oscar hosting, came amid the 2008 crash—may just be a reminder of bad times.” Science.
After a report came out that the star rehearsed her Oscar speech to sound less annoying, Rich Juzwiak at Gawker wrote: “It creates a new reason to be mad at Anne Hathaway. It’s one thing if she’s just being herself; it’s another if she’s trying to be likable and failing.”
Over at The Cut, Ann Friedman examines what we perceive to be Hathaway’s most egregious crime: she’s not Jennifer Lawrence.
What if Twitter had existed when Sally Field bragged about how we really like her?
The culturewide attack on the Hathaway is utterly bizarre—except that it isn’t. It is the rawest example yet of our 2013, Twitter-loving, insta-pundit, mountain-out-of-a-molehill media culture. It’s not that we judge stars more than we used to. It’s that we now have the platform to do it in real time and expect those being judged to care enough to respond and take action, again in real time.
It’s not only changed our relationship with celebrities but the notion of what we want celebrities to be. The picture of practiced perfection that Hathaway puts forth is becoming increasingly antiquated. Look at how celebrated stars like Lena Dunham and Jennifer Lawrence are, or how popular the Honey Boo Boos and Teen Moms have become, for proof that we now prefer to see our celebrities warts and all. It’s no longer unattainable perfection that our society is admiring. It’s relatability and fallibility we adore, and we adore it in 140 characters or less.
“Stars, they’re just like us” is no longer just a cute gossip-rag feature. It’s a societal demand. Even the word “diva,” once used as a respect-demanding label for female celebrities who have earned through fabulousness and talent the right to be fawned over and catered to, is now applied almost exclusively as an insult. If we can’t imagine ourselves being like a celebrity, at least we’d like to imagine they’re someone we could hang out with. Lawrence, for example, seems like the girl you could have a beer with. Hathaway seems like the girl who says she doesn’t drink beer.
And, yes, that is an absolutely ridiculous judgment. So why are so many people making it?
Ta-Nehisi Coates, writing for The Atlantic, puts it perfectly. “I recognize that there is an entire publicity industry designed to get us to ‘like’ people whom we essentially pay to see work,” he writes. “And perhaps it’s fair to judge whether or not that industry has been effective in making you think you know Hathaway in a way that you probably do not. But the fact remains that you don’t really know any of these people.”
“Anne Hathaway is an actor,” Coates continues. “This is not a synonym for ‘Homecoming Queen’ nor ‘special friend.’ She does her job better than most. That should be enough.”
But again, in the age of Twitter and a culture that fosters opining and encourages more than ever the sharing of opinions, that’s not enough, and the growing “Hathahate” movement is the best example of that yet. It used to be that stories like this had blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shelf lives. Now they explode into weeks-long debates on social media, then online media, and then news media. It’s not just a few people asking, “Isn’t Anne Hathaway just a little bit much?” It’s a few people asking that and starting a national conversation.
What if Twitter and the blogosphere had existed when Sally Field bragged about how we really like her? Would she still even have a career?
Hathaway has breathlessly thanked every member of her “team” during her countless awards-season acceptance speeches. (And we mean every member.) Have they failed her by not “fixing” whatever this likability problem is?
Perhaps. One thing is clear: Hathaway was superb in Les Misérables. She seems like a sweet lady. Maybe now, with our collective obsession over how much we hate her, we are the ones who are being just a little bit much.