Let us begin with a quote from William Shakespeare:
Love me or hate me, both are in my favor…If you love me, I’ll always be in your heart…If you hate me, I’ll always be in your mind.
Ugh…Love that, right? It’s so edgy. You do something shitty or just plain boring and all of these people come out and hate you on social media or talk behind your back at work. And you should probably, like, apologize or at least be aware that you have stuff you could work on but instead you’re just like, “well, love me or hate me, either way, I made an impression.”
People always assume I love this quote because it’s so edgy and badass. I do not. Reason one: I never advise beginning with quotes. Quotes are gimmicky. Unless you have a very cool thing to be done with said quote, which I do. Reason two: the quote is nowhere in Shakespeare’s writings, confirmed by Esther French of the Folger Shakespeare Library. Hell, most of it doesn’t even SOUND like Shakespeare. If it were Shakespeare, it’d be like, “whither thou lovest or hatest mine, twixt the favor I lie.”
Reason three: it. is. a. cliche. People aren’t supposed to hate you! If people hate you, then you’ve done something wrong! Now some people can hate you; but even they probably have something you could learn.
Take Mitt Romney for example. Recently, Mitt Romney, a Republican, was the only Republican who voted to impeach Trump because Romney is a Christian and Trump is the antichrist. Those are my words, no Romney’s. Here is actual Romney:
Prior to this announcement, I would describe my relationship with Romney as moderate dislike. He ran against Obama in 2012 and I was not a fan. He’s just such a 1% and alo total milquetoast. He was in favor of universal healthcare until it became synonymous with Obamacare. I found that a real downer.
Fast forward to February 2020 though, and I am…well…I wouldn’t say pro-Romney, that’s way too binary. Let’s say my feelings are now complicated; I guess the best way to put it is that I’m picking up what he’s laying down at this specific moment in time. As MSNBC’s Andrea Klein put it, whether you agree with Romney or not, he seemed to have stood up for what he was right and, given how unpopular Romney’s position currently is, it’s pretty courageous.
In this case, I do not love or hate Romney. I love AND hate him. I love him because he took an action with which I agree. I hate him because I hate that religion–the same religion responsible for a bunch of other bad shit–is the reason he did it. I love him because he stood up for what he believed in rather than party affiliation. I hate him because he’s still a Republican.
I know that what Romney did was interesting, unique, and worth doing because my response to him is simultaneously like and dislike. It is, in rhetorical terms, NON-binary.
A binary is an either-or language choice. It’s this or that. Black or white. Democrats or Republicans. Trump or bust. You love Romney OR you hate him.
The reason the non-Shakespeare quote is appealing is because it seems to be rejecting the love/hate binary because it re-articulates both love and hate as manifestations of investment or attraction. Now, normally, I like a deconstructed binary, which is what that is. But this particular deconstructed binary still leaves the cliche-ness in place because it depends on strong emotion being the ultimate proof that what you’re saying is worth saying. But if a bunch of people HATE you, and they’re not just internet trolls, I do not advise you to be like, “well, love me or hate me, I’m still your obsession.” Unless, of course, you are mid 2000s British grime rapper Lady Sovereign. Cue musical break!
I will admit to having vibed with this particular cliche for quite a while. If both love and hate are signs that I’m, quote, “doing something right” then I literally can’t do anything wrong. “Anything but apathy!” I would tell myself. But that’s stupid. Because people who feel “menh” about you don’t go up to you and tell you. Only people who love what you have to say or really, really hate it ever reach out. If you take both of those responses as signs you’ve got it all figured out, then you will never receive any critique because the “menh” people aren’t going to bother.
As I’ve taught longer I have changed my perspective. As a teacher–and I guess now a podcaster–I’m responsible for other people’s brains and comfort levels and self-development. I don’t want them to hate me. If they hate me; at least not if they’re hate is rooted in a somewhat reasonable reaction to a choice that made. For example, if someone hates my voice, I can’t really control that. That said, if I’m going to be a speaker, then maybe not controlling my voice isn’t really an option, in which case, even “I hate your voice” becomes kind of valid criticism IF I don’t brush it off with, “well, love me or hate me…” munh munh munh.
A student told me recently “my roommate is taking your public speaking class and they really don’t like it. I told them, Lee is one of those teachers you either really love or really hate.” My roommate said, “yeah I don’t love her,” which, based on the binary, left only the other option.
I could feel my brain getting all defensive, like, “well anything but apathy! Love me or hate me, right?!”
No! NO! Not love me or hate me. I don’t want people who spend 16 weeks doing what I say to hate me. It would be a cowardly and irresponsible move to pretend like that’s some kind of mark of virtue.
Instead, I actually want people to love AND hate me, just like, right now, they sort of love and hate Romney. No binaries, just contradictions. Maybe you love and hate this podcast. But I’m certainly accomplishing nothing if you just hate it. If you just love it, that’s great I guess, but then that probably means I haven’t actually challenged your intellectual or presented a new perspective. I certainly WANT everyone to love me, because I’m a narcissist, but as a rhetorician I also realize how limiting that would be if that were the primary goal.
Trump is the kind of person who stands up and says, “well, love me or hate me, I’m still your obsession.” Most people feel very binary about Trump. Romney did something complex and interesting enough that many people now feel two very conflicting feelings at once. That’s the sign of a rhetorical act that was worth something.