Remember that montage at the end of "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back," when the title duo find the names and addresses of trash-talking online commenters from a movie discussion board, track down the offenders, and proceed to pummel each poor dweeb into oblivion? That was a fun bit of fantasy catharsis for director Kevin Smith, but no one in the media would be stupid enough to try that in real life, would they?
Well, last week CW announced its new reality show "H8R," that's more or less going to take that "Jay and Silent Bob" premise, remove the physical pummeling, and stick it on prime time. In each installment, according to TV Guide, a celebrity like Snooki from "Jersey Shore" will ambush and confront one of their online "haters." The sales pitch is that the show will contain a strong anti-bullying message and empower victims. However, anonymous online vitriol-spewing trolls are not bullies. They're trolls. The insults they lob are meant to entertain themselves and those like them. Their rants are never meant or expected to be seen by the celebrities in question, and are easily ignored. Moreover, celebrities are public figures by nature of their profession, which makes them perfectly legitimate targets for public criticism and discussion. Snooki and Kim Kardashian aren't some poor high school freshmen being harassed by the cool kids all over Facebook, but well-compensated TV starlets who play up their own bad behavior as part of their public personas. So when they single out some poor inconsiderate schmuck for belittling them online, that makes them the bullies.
And that's not even getting into the power imbalance that's inherent in the show's setup. Each target who appears on "H8R" thinks they've been recruited for a different reality show. They have no warning before they're suddenly getting lectured at by some indignant C-lister who wants to make it clear that "rich and famous people are really wounded and hurt when they hear someone hating on them," according to executive produced Mike Fleiss. And of course, we know whose side the cameras and the editing folks are on. The goal is to get the hater to renounce his or her hating ways and make up with the celebrity browbeater in a round of hugs and apologies. The setup is so absurd that it doesn't always go according to script, and those behind the show have admitted that sometimes the haters refuse to be intimidated and just go right on hating. Will these segments go to air, I wonder? An average schmoe shouting down and knocking one of these celebrity accusers off their high horse sounds a lot more entertaining than the other way around.
The only reason I can imagine that any celebrity would want to appear on "H8R" is for the network screentime and a chance for a little "image rehab" as the producers put it. Snooki's episode has already been shot, and apparently gives her a chance to talk about her charity work. Of course, this begs the question why, if Snooki wants to come off as a better human being, why she doesn't just change her dim-bulb party-girl act on "Jersey Shore" or in any of the other media arenas she already occupies. Talk about wanting to have your cake and eat it too. If Snooki complains to the hater she confronts that he's not getting the whole story about her, that's not really his fault, now is it?
On a meta level, maybe this is some indication of the growing influence of the Internet and Twitter, arenas that the traditional media gatekeepers have found they can't control as much as they'd like to. "H8R" feels like an attempt to counterbalance the collective power of the anonymous masses who hold sway on message boards and discussion forums and now play a big part in shaping attitudes toward media. A crucial part of "H8R" is taking away that anonymity so that a single identifiable individual can be held responsible for the negative views expressed by many. In an odd way, the entire show is actually an admission that the trolls and the haters have a certain measure of real clout, and that Hollywood may be secretly scared to death of them, hence the ridiculously overblown celebrity reactions to what some nobody said on the internet.
Is anyone going to watch "H8R"? Initially, there's sure to be some curiosity over the concept, but I can't see an audience sticking around once they realize how one-sided the farce is. Will the show actually change any attitudes? Of course not. This might actually create an uptick in celebrity-targeting takedowns by people looking for their fifteen minutes of fame. And though the show's creators might be able to pressure their targets into renouncing trolldom, there are millions of others who will go right on mocking Snooki and the Kardashians, then mock the reformed haters for caving, and then mock "H8R" for trying to shame them with such obvious tactics. I am already anticipating the parodies and send-ups that are sure to come.
And though I am blogging with a pseudonym, I'll be quite happy to tell anyone involved with the show to their face that "H8R" is a really stupid idea.