TV

Hate Watching Is Still Watching: Why We Need To Stop Giving Bad Shows A Chance

Outrage has become a tool to make TV shows popular.

Hate watching: Heathers, Insatiable, 13 Reasons why

Content Warning:  Discussion of rape, eating disorders, animal slaughter, murder.

Heathers, the TV show remake of the 80s film, launched on Stan last week — and I gots issues.

Heathers has already had a troubled run, being cancelled by its network due to its depiction of school violence, particularly in the wake of the school shootings happening in the US recently. But strangely it’s still being shopped around so that the producers don’t have to axe the show completely.

The show itself fails to be any good, and doesn’t really offer anything new, nor build from the foundation the original movie lay. And you have to wonder how much of the bad publicity around school violence correlating with this show is being leveraged for marketing, all to keep a sub-par show on the air.

Similarly, the widely criticised Insatiable has been renewed for a second season, despite the huge backlash about that came after the first season. Before even premiering a petition signed by over 100,000 people was launched to prevent it from airing. Billed as a ‘dark revenge comedy’, Insatiable features the story of “Fatty Patty,” a high school student who is bullied and ridiculed for her weight. After having her mouth wired shut one summer, she returns to school as a thin person and decides to get revenge on her former tormentors.

This review in BuzzFeed summarises the issues people are having with the showing, claiming it “reinforced the same tired old jokes about fat people’s toxic relationship to food,” and that it’s “sad that it’s 2018 and fat people are still treated as less than human, as something monstrous, as the villains in our own stories.”

Producers, directors, even the actors, urged everyone to watch it first, claiming that what you saw on the trailer was taken out of context of this satire.

As many people realised once giving it a chance, was that Insatiable had little more to offer than what the trailer had portrayed. For something to be satire it must be able to stand on its own and criticise what it’s satirising — Insatiable does not. What does it offer its viewers if not that? But so many people tuned in!

And what’s coming about now is that hate-watching is still a means of engagement. And whether people liked it or not becomes less of a problem when Netflix sees how much excitement has built around a show that perhaps wouldn’t have succeeded had we all just switched off.

Hate Watching Is Still Watching

Hate-watching, aside from getting bad shows renewed, also has consequences that we need to question.

13 Reasons Why is another show that has been able to proceed even after two concerning seasons. Moving into its third it still receives wide criticism for romanticising certain problematic aspects of the show, such as themes of suicide, rape, substance abuse and self-harm.

Critics believe the show managed to break many of the accepted rules for portraying suicide on screen, such as featuring a graphic, prolonged scene of the main character’s death and showing the suicide as a force for positive change and catharsis in the narrative.

Netflix’s solution to this was to film a content warning that will air before every episode of the second season, as well as other various resources that came along with the show.

Aside from that just being bad storytelling, there’s something to be said for the fact that it continues to use graphic stories filled with trauma to make a buck under the guise of being a “conversation starter.” 13 Reasons Why had the potential to be just that, and perhaps had better measures been taken with season 1 this could’ve happened.

The bones of 13 Reasons Why and — I’m being generous here — what it’s trying to say, is important.

Young people get bullied, sexually abused, develop drug problems, commit suicide, or contemplate suicide — nobody is denying that this happens, nor that these stories need to be told. But when a girl being raped and killing herself in one season can only to be followed by a boy being raped in public and attempting to kill everyone else in a very graphic way, you have to step back and look at the narrative being forced on you.

There is a dangerous trap that producers, and we as viewers, are falling into —  that everything must one-up itself lest it be boring.

And if that’s the case, how far will the bar have to get moved in order for something to stay watchable?

The Case Against Looking Deeper

There’s a review that Forbes did last year after an infamously violent episode of The Walking Dead, stating that it “made the leap from contextual violence… to torture porn that took away from the moment and the characters being lost.”

That’s an important thing to remember, that for a lot of us who watch TV, it’s an escape, and it’s there to incite at the very least a feeling of enjoyment. You become invested in these characters and their lives. To have very little resolve after giving up an hour of your life to something, it feels like you’ve been cheated out of something that’s pretty valuable to the act of watching TV.

When a bull got slaughtered as part of Dark MOFO in 2017, festival organisers urged the public to “look deeper” when they faced backlash. Art, in all its shapes and forms, should be interpreted and appreciated by everyone differently.

But telling people “give it a chance,” “you’re missing the point,” or “look deeper” cannot be the get out of jail free card when you get called out for being problematic. There is something changing in how we consume media and art, and we need to be able to question it rather than just take it at face value.

I can “look deeper” at your shitty TV show or piece of art or whatever, but maybe it’s not that anybody is missing the point, maybe it just ain’t that deep bro.

Vanessa Giron is a freelance writer based in Naarm/Melbourne. She is a member of the West Writers Group with Footscray Community Arts Centre, contributor for Djed Press and critic for The Big Issue.