The people we hated in 2010
Thursday, December 23, 2010; 7:00 PM
Until May 30, Tony Hayward was mostly a figurehead, a knobbly Keebler elf of a man with a posh drawl and a big, big oil spill. On May 30, the millionaire chief executive, whose company had just ruined the livelihoods of thousands of Gulf Coast residents, told a reporter, "I'd like my life back."
With that, he became a total troll.
Year-end lists are usually devoted to celebrating the people we loved. But so much more could be gleaned from studying the people we hated - those who sparked the moments of righteous indignation that made the entire country squeeze onto one creaky soapbox and bellow, "What is wrong with you?"
Jesse James cheated on Sandra Bullock. After she said such nice things about him in her SAG Awards acceptance speech. With that scary woman who has a facial tattoo.
Jay Leno returned from his unfunny 10 p.m. show to reanimate his unfunny "Tonight" show, booting Coco in the process.
Mary Bale threw a cat in a trash can - it was caught on camera - and for this there are no words, just a business-class ticket on the train to hell.
As if following a calendar of loathing, these figures arrived at regular intervals, giving their audience time in between to catch its breath and stockpile new rotten tomatoes. Somewhere, in the green room of skulduggery, the suits from Goldman Sachs rehydrated with water bottles and fist-bumped Hayward for good luck, before he entered stage right as the villain of the month.
All were despised for different reasons, welcomed as scapegoats to relieve larger roiling tensions in an unsettled America.
Leno represented the establishment, an insider blocking the rise of the new entertainment class. James and Bale? At a time when people felt abandoned by suits who didn't understand their needs, when Americans were struggling to figure out their place in a new world order, James and Bale were abandoning . . . America's Sweetheart and a defenseless kitty.
Loathing specific individuals works like a pressure valve, a collective whoosh for the populace to release some inchoate anger. When issues are too morally ambiguous to grapple with, hate is an organizing principle, a way to start sorting out what we think about things. When national emotions begin to spiral out of control, hating is an act that ultimately contains them, creating definitive boundaries between when we'll be tolerant and when we've had about enough of this nonsense.
Should an Islamic cultural center be built near Ground Zero? Dunno. The issue was huge and unwieldy. But while everyone else was picking through the elaborate minefield of politics and principles, Florida minister Terry Jones thought he'd just burn a pile of Korans. Everyone else still didn't know what to think, except this: That man had gone too far.
Let us hate him. But briefly. Brief hate was one of many varieties we experienced in 2010. There was divisive hate, applied by half of the population to either Nancy Pelosi or Sarah Palin; the unifying hate of Hayward (the whole country came together on that one); and the conflicting hate of John Edwards, who cheated on Elizabeth but then looked so bereft at her funeral, holding those little kids' hands. There were nice people who made colossal mistakes, and there were Bernie Madoff types whose moral makeup did not include remorse.