Since 9/11 (and long before, actually), the world and our nation have been obsessed with a collective hatred of individuals who threaten our ways of life and promote hatred of it. But now that bin Laden, Hussein and Gaddafi are dead, who will be the object of our obscenity-laced scorn and agitation? Whom can we hate when three of our biggest adversaries have been taken out?
Maybe it's no longer about hating or fearing individual leaders; maybe entire nations will be our targets of contempt. With China rising and America (and the world) watching, will our xenophobia ground itself in all things China? As an emerging world leader, it's kicking our butt in just about everything, and I'm wondering how long it will take for a leader to emerge from either business or politics in that country to be the victim of our distrust, fear and hate.
Then again, maybe we'll get distracted from our loathing of evil politicians and turn to the vapid reality TV stars who seem to be getting so much of our collective attention now anyway. I wonder if our hate will be focused less on someone capable of killing thousands and ruling unfairly and more on someone whose spending habits and lack of talent -- and seemingly utter disconnect from America's and the world's problems -- compel us to drink some serious haterade? Kim Kardashian, headed for divorce after a $10 million wedding brought to you and me by E! only 72 days ago, seems a likely choice. (Although it's really uncool to hate Kim, or any of the ever-so-persuasive Kardashian/Jenner family, since they have kept us consuming even in the face of economic ruination. But those preoccupied by Wall Street, the hardest-core among all haters, probably do hate the Sisters K, curves and all.)
Sure, it seems unfathomable to compare a reality star with a dictator or a terrorist, but that's not really the point. We have all grown so accustomed to hating of late that it seems all this anger needs to be redirected to someone, even in smaller doses, now that the big guys are gone.
What's especially fascinating about our culture of hate is the simultaneous "like" culture -- wherein we like everything from a video of piano-playing cats to status updates about cooking the perfect Bolognese. The lines between love and hate are becoming waify thin, but it's clear that the people, issues, places and public figures in our lives are beyond divisive, with everyone from family to co-workers to ex-high-school boyfriends chiming in on everything we say (like it or hate it).
We certainly have a lot to complain about in the U.S. right now -- presidential candidates, the Tea Party vs. Occupy Wall Street, the economy, etc. -- and many of us are reaching for a permanent "dislike" button. Take the Tea Party, which has more than a mild dislike for our current president and sends jabs at Obama that feel more hateful than helpful to anyone but its own members. Spreading this kind of hate is completely antithetical to what members of the Tea Party claim to subscribe to: a love of God and Christian values. I can't even handle a simple "God bless you" anymore after I sneeze, because I'm becoming more secure in my senses that tell me hate and extremism and addiction are all blended into a recipe for disaster in America.
We attempt to cure alcoholics with a 12-step program that has religious overtones and uses a higher power to replace the powerful lure of the martini. We have people maxing out their credit cards despite talk of double dip and more housing woes, because they believe "God will provide," as if God is a big lender in the sky. But, worst of all, the haters bubble up when they try to stop progress in favor of some moral code--and thus don't adopt new medical protocols or embrace new information compiled by leading-edge scientists, because these facts challenge their status quo. Living adjacent to a state where newly legalized gay marriage has restored the wedding industry, I ask, how could we hate anything that puts a skip back into the economy while providing something quite the opposite of hate? (I'm talking about love. Remember that?) I don't think there's any prose in the Bible that espouses hatred, but fanatics can twist the words of (insert religious tome here) to justify hatred of everything from big government to abortion to gay marriage--or is it all really about self-loathing, where "self" is the country in which they live?
But on foreign soils, our hate probably won't be in limbo for long. Regardless of our history, there has always been some "other" who is the object of our hate; whether Stalin or Hitler or bin Laden, there has always been a perceived enemy who gives us something to hate, who makes the cover of Time with an ominous close-up complete with crazy eyes, who is a subject of political speeches and rhetoric regardless of which party you party with.
Maybe we need to arrange interviews for our next national object of hate to see who gets the job, with likely candidates being Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, Fidel Castro's brother Raúl (who has already taken the reins, with no signs of trade relations with the U.S. in sight) or Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the most likely heir to the throne of U.S.-based hate. Washington is worried about Iran's support for terror groups in the Middle East but more concerned about its nuclear aspirations, which Iran reportedly says it wants only for peaceful technology reasons. Hopefully, we won't have to send any more young men and women overseas to decide, but count on Ahmadinejad to get the job of America's most hated man.
Admittedly, it's more fun to hate the Situation or Ms. Kardashian, but I wouldn't count some world leader gone wild out of the hate mix just yet. And like most reality stars, you never know where the next one could come from, causing an instant sensation and inspiring hate and becoming the newest leader we don't love to (but have to) hate. After all, hate mongering is what sells news--or, rather, raises ratings.
Follow Marian Salzman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mariansalzman