Recently, I tweeted that all information literacy programmes should contain a section called, precisely, ‘Haterz gonna hate’. The term ‘haterz’ is useful because it draws attention to how a new language – symbolised in the use of the suffix ‘z’ – reflects a relatively new phenomenon: ever since anyone with a computer and a net connection could publish their thoughts and feelings, we’ve had haterz.
Of course, critics of culture have been hating (and loving) ever since there has been a culture to hate. This is an extract from Steven Sondheim’s new book, in which he writes about how he deals (or doesn’t deal) with critics:
It takes a long time to learn not to pay attention to critics, or at least not to let them distract you. For the young writer, critics have a number of destructive effects. If they praise you, you suffer afterwards by disappointing them; few writers who have a smash hit the first time out survive to be more than one-trick ponies. When the critics pan you, your confidence is shattered, but you gain a certain resilience, if for no other reason than there’s nowhere to go but up. It isn’t necessarily the criticism that hurts, of course, because you can choose not to believe it; it’s the fact that it’s out there in public, that thousands of people are witnessing your humiliation.
Critics and haterz are different, we might feel: one gets paid, the other doesn’t. Does AA Gill, an infamously harsh critic of television and food, feel differently because he is employed to critique? Perhaps. But I would say there’s another key difference. Critics can be useful and necessary in opening up a work and even improve our appreciation of it. But haterz don’t aspire to these lofty (and perhaps illusory, since my definition is riddled with counterexample) aims. Their objective appears to be to create pain and misery alone, for whatever reason.
Perhaps this is an artificial and meaningless distinction, as least for those whose work is under scrutiny: one might feel the same when at the sharp end of a both the critics and the haterz, and it’s potentially culturally elitist to define them as inherently different. But people who publicly publish their thoughts and feelings online, even in the neglected or rarely visited cobwebby recesses of the internet’s dark basement, would be wise to remember how to deal with both.