Act Four: Anne Hathaway’s haters in the wild

An Internet phenomenon turns out to be real.
 
Act Four
Alyssa Rosenberg on culture and politics
 
 
Anne Hathaway in the film “Colossal.’ (Neon) Every week, I answer a question from the Monday Act Four Live chat in the Wednesday edition of this newsletter. You can read the transcript of the May 15 chat here, and submit questions for the May 22 chat here. This week, a reader encounters an Internet phenomenon in the wild. I used to think that Anne Hathaway being hated by the public was just invented. Just some trolls online over-represented [in entertainment coverage]. “Real people” are concerning themselves about paying the bills or even what’s for dinner tonight to think about [the] “likability” [of] Anne Hathaway. But I was surprised to overhear a real in-the-wild conservation at work between a couple of young women who really, really hated Anne Hathaway. Just this or that got under their skin about her or bugged the crap out of them. I guess it was a lesson in “pop culture” isn’t a narrow thing that only concerns itself only with certain topics? I think the reason popular culture endures (and the reason I’m interested in talking about it) is that it gives us tools to work out ideas we’re wrestling with. People’s feelings about Anne Hathaway are about her specifically, of course. But talking about Hathaway has also become a way to talk about naked female ambition, especially when that ambition is presented in girlish terms, and how we feel about women when they openly want to be liked. Hathaway works hard, but somehow people don’t seem to find that hard work admirable; it’s as if once you see the effort, it doesn’t count for anything anymore.
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(I like Hathaway’s acting a whole lot. In movies such as “The Intern” and “The Devil Wears Prada,” she’s good at bumping up against older actors with a ton of gravitas (Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep, respectively) without either being squashed or seeming disrespectful. And as Dr. Brand in “Interstellar” or Selina Kyle in “The Dark Knight Rises,” she summons two very different kinds of melancholy.) The corollary to real people using actors as a way to talk indirectly about big questions is people treating fictional characters as if they’re real people, whose actions have real implications for the world. Take, for example, this extremely weird post on Pajiba, which acts as if “Parks and Recreation” is somehow ruined because the events of the show overlapped with Vice President Mike Pence’s political rise. The thing is, while that show’s main character, Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) was, like Hathaway, an interesting way of exploring female ambition and persistence, she is not an actual person with a political career that either enabled Pence or was somehow squashed by him. There’s got to be some balance here. We should recognize that the career of someone like Hathaway and the reactions to her might tell us something about women without mistaking Hathaway for a fictional person without feelings or agency. And we should be able to enjoy Leslie Knope (or hate her, whatever floats your boat) without mistaking her for a real person. Pop culture can bleed out into the real world, but we should maintain the ability to be sensible and realistic about it.    
 
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