Being Modern: Hate-watching

  • @montyhugh

So what were you doing on the first Saturday of 2013? Don't tell me: having peacocked your way round the local park on a 500m run, you were about to settle in for a night inhaling seaweed snacks in front of a BBC4 documentary.

Only for all those New Year's "amazing person" plans to come to a halt when you flicked on to ITV's celebrity diving comp Splash! – a veritable floater in the lido of the schedules that you found physically impossible to switch off, your remote-control fingers having mutinied as soon as the first contestant turned out to be a Sugababe who "couldn't really swim".

And how to explain the cultural spasm that led to you and 5.6 million hauling the belly-flopping show to the top of the ratings? Put simply, "hate-watching". The activity first came to the fore last year in a New Yorker article, "Hate-watching Smash", which detailed the writer's compulsive need to watch the Broadway drama dud. Nine months on, and the phrase has become common currency among large swathes of the English-speaking world with a talent for lying on the sofa and a capacity for snark.

And what is it exactly? Well, it's not, repeat not, watching something as a "guilty pleasure". After all, "guilty pleasures" tend to be things you like, however difficult it is for the cowardly conformist in you to admit. No, it's far bleaker than that: revelling in something you find incontrovertibly awful, largely so you can slag it off.

You can hate-watch series (2 Broke Girls, say, or Mr Selfridge) or whole sub-genres (Laadz-abroad docs or things with "Big Fat" in the title). And when it comes to reality TV, you can complement your hate-watching with some hate-voting (not to say the X Factor success of Christopher Maloney was the result of anything other than an appreciation of emotive 1980s classics).

Just watch out that the "hate" prefix doesn't colonise other parts of your routine. Currently, I am hate-listening to Britney and Will.I.Am's single while preparing to hate-eat an Innocent Vegetable Pot so I can wither about its resemblance to a small compost bin on Twitter.