‘Dirty Dancing’ adaptation set to become newest victim of ‘hate-watching’
Maybe it will be OK!
Sure! Maybe it won’t feel like sacrilege at all! Maybe this Colt Prattes fella playing Johnny Castle will be just as glorious, just as mesmerizing as Patrick Swayze was leaping off that stage at Kellerman’s!
It could happen! And yes, this new production of “Dirty Dancing,” airing at 7 p.m. Wednesday on ABC, is actually a musical, with characters singing the songs that in the beloved, iconic 1987 film were a soundtrack. It could be great!
But just so you know, that metallic grinding you hear is the sound of claws being sharpened in anticipation. Oh, people will be watching, all right, but they will tune in Wednesday night not with the purpose of seeing a cherished story revisited, but of hate-watching.
Yes, it’s still a thing, and actually had been long before the term “hate-watch” existed, and probably will be for as long as there’s a ready supply of electricity and actors willing to carry watermelons.
“I think we’ve probably been getting pleasure out of this kind of thing for a long time,” said Robert Thompson, founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture and a Trustee Professor of Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. “There used to be Vaudeville acts in the 19th century that were really, really bad and they were called net acts because people threw things at them and they had to perform behind nets.”
One such act was Marion, Iowa’s, own Cherry Sisters, a quartet of sisters whose variety performance called “Something Good, Something Sad” was so notoriously terrible that a New York Times critic was moved to call it “more pitiable than amusing” and opine, “The effects of poverty, ignorance, and isolation are much the same all over the world, and the Cherry sisters exhibited every one of them with a pathetic frankness that left no question as to their status or their character.”
And yet audiences turned out in droves. They came to hate-watch.
So this is nothing new. Heck, maybe audiences circa 431 B.C. attended performances of Euripides’ “Medea” and angrily unfurled a blank scroll to scribble, “Oh really, Euripides?? Jason’s going to fall for a Corinthian?” Then they showed their friends and everyone enjoyed a derisive snicker.
The point being, it’s long been an element of human nature to consume certain works of art with a goal of hating them.
But let us define what, exactly, hate-watching is. “Hate-watching isn’t about grudging enjoyment, or furtive pleasure,” wrote Charlie Jane Anders for gizmodo.com. “It’s about something being such a terrible mess, or so repugnant to everything we hold dear, that you can’t help but watch the disaster unfold. The experience of hate-watching is made especially pungent when the object of hate is something you have previously loved, or is associated with something you love.”
Both Thompson and Entertainment Weekly writer Darrin Franich point out that hate-watching is not synonymous with guilty pleasure: “You wouldn’t tune in every week to hate-watch a really ‘bad’ reality show — that’s a guilty pleasure,” Franich wrote. “Generally speaking, hate-watching requires a TV series with high ambitions and features a certain amount of aesthetic perfection… yet fails consistently and badly enough to make it compelling.”
Plus, with things such as the “Dirty Dancing” remake (or, for example, the 2013 live performance of “The Sound of Music” on NBC), there’s the added element of “how dare you!”
Remaking something that is loved to the point of veneration can be homage if done right, but more often the faithful are affronted it was even considered, and tune in with a view to hate.
Social media has added a compelling wrinkle to the hate-watch phenomenon. Now, everyone with a data plan or Wi-Fi access is a critic. It’s become something of a Twitter- and Snapchat-driven competition.
“Now the stakes of the competition are, if you can really win it, you might get your tweet on television the next morning,” Thompson said. “Before social media, it happened at the older watercooler. Everybody would watch something the night before and then they’d gather around the watercooler or the coffee machine, and there was that idea that you would jockey for who could be the most charmingly clever.”
He said that in hate-watching, there’s an element of self-definition, of establishing identity by publicly declaring what you like and, often more importantly, what you don’t like: Yes, you may still be hanging in there with “Grey’s Anatomy,” but as your angry tweets indicate, you don’t like it.
“What you announce that you hate-watch on your social media profile is just like the bumper sticker that you used to put on your car,” Thompson said. “It’s a short-hand way of fleshing out your identity. It’s like the first time you’d go out with someone and if you made it back to their apartment, you looked at their record albums and it told you a lot about who they are. Bookcases are the same way. Now with social media, you don’t have to make it up to the apartment, you can scroll through their Twitter feed and make a judgment based on what they hate-watched.”
There comes, however, a point of diminishing returns, wrote Hollywood Reporter critic Tim Goodman: “The essential issue here is time. We’re living in a TV world of unprecedented options. There are a staggering number of shows on television to choose from, and if you focus, like I do, almost exclusively on scripted series, there’s still an unholy, time-sucking amount out there to follow.”
Goodman added that a lot of hate-watching is based on establishing lofty expectations for a show then being angry when it falls short, and that to keep watching “just seems like a time-management mistake to me.”
Which brings it all back to the “Dirty Dancing” remake. Review copies have been sent out and a few critiques already published. Variety magazine’s Sonia Saraiya was unimpressed. Meanwhile, the hashtaggers of Twitter are gleefully rubbing their hands.
But who knows! It could be good!