Justin Ross Lee: Why it’s Best To Be 50% Loved and 49% Hated [Book Excerpt]

The following is an excerpt from “Don’t You Know Who I Think I Am?” by Justin Ross Lee, a New York-based internet celebrity socialite known for his travel industry hacks.


HOW TO BE HATED.

OR, WHY ITS BEST TO BE 50% LOVED AND 49% HATED;

AND WHY THE REMAINING 1% IS WHAT MATTERS MOST (OBVIOUSLY).

There are some people out there, sanctimonious types mainly, who consider goodness to be a virtue. There were a slew of them populating my hometown growing up—my mother included.  Sorry mom, love you!  They perpetuate the idea that if you can’t say anything nice, you don’t say anything at all.

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I always tell my mother that I’m in the day’s newspaper, and she always asks me the same question.

“Is it good news?”

No, Mom. Its never good news. That’s not the line I’m in.

[pullquote]Most people don’t want to make waves—it seems unnatural. They want to drift through life without pissing people off, avoiding conflict at all turns. It’s a great way to have zero drama and absolutely no intrigue in your life.[/pullquote]

I don’t mean to say that being good—whatever that means—is not a virtue.  Of course it is.  But this book isn’t about being virtuous within the narrow parameters of New Testament morality (or whatever Eastern conception of morality you’re absorbing at Tuesday-night Bikram).  Machiavelli conceived of virtue not just as classical “goodness,” but as virtús, the ability of a leader to command his territory.  Welcome to The Prince updated for the age of Instagram.  Your fiefdom is your followers.  Grow your realm.  Got to battle.  Sack, pillage, and plunder.  Now lather, rinse, and repeat.

But for my mom, this is, of course, something of a harsh toke. Most people don’t want to make waves—it seems unnatural. They want to drift through life without pissing people off, avoiding conflict at all turns. It’s a great way to have zero drama and absolutely no intrigue in your life. If they were to appear in the press, it would be for a kidney donation or charity run. The thought of hitting the headlines and being featured negatively would break their hearts. From the second we squelch out all over the delivery room floor, we’re looking for love and acceptance. Positive reinforcement. Not to be yelled at.

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[pullquote]Being nice and being liked is incredibly easy. You just basically have to stand there, smile, and not stab anyone. You have to model yourself on Mother Theresa, who I’m sure was a wonderful broad, but would never get a reservation at Smith & Wollensky.
[/pullquote]

But once you clamber over that mental hurdle of acceptance—it is just that, a mental hurdle—and realize you don’t have to be liked, it’s incredibly liberating. The old adage that all press is good press holds up to a certain extent (unless you’re caught trying to lure kids into your van or you’re Mel Gibson). If you get in the paper for reaching your goal for the United Way, they’ll be a thumbnail-sized image of you lost on page fourteen, and that’ll be it. If you’re appearing due to some obnoxiously shitty thing you’ve said or done, it’ll run and run—especially if you keep adding fuel to the fire.

Being nice and being liked is incredibly easy. You just basically have to stand there, smile, and not stab anyone. You have to model yourself on Mother Theresa, who I’m sure was a wonderful broad, but would never get a reservation at Smith & Wollensky. But to be hated and not immediately dismissed is a total tightrope walk. And it’s a much, much harder approach to instigate and pull off. For every one Howard Stern, there are a dozen Charlie Sheen’s.

Machiavelli understood something akin to this.  He said that love and fear could not easily coexist, so a prince must choose, and that since love was a fickle state—and fear far more enduring—the prince should choose fear.  But this is different.  For one, if you include both Facebook and Instagram, I have way more followers than any sixteenth-century Italian prince.  For another, it’s not love versus fear; it’s love versus hate.  And each of us has an ex that proves they can coexist; hell, love and hate together make for the orgasmic bedfellows.  That’s what I’m after.

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[pullquote]People might think I’m a complete ass, but they’ll engage. They’ll want to read to the end. That’s not hate; that’s love-hate. Gold.[/pullquote]

My golden ratio is 50:49:1. That’s fifty percent liking me, forty-nine percent hating me, and a single percentage point comprising individuals who seem to do both. That’s where I want to do all my business, in that one-percent of Venn-diagrammatic overlap of the love-me circle and hate-me circle, the people driven crazy by my antics but who daren’t look away. The gawkers. The ones who just can’t put me down. I get under their skin and live there. Drives them crazy. I’m that ex boyfriend or girlfriend (I hope she was hot) who you try to forget but whose taste you remember so well. Fifty who love me, forty-nine who hate me, and one who does both—those are my alchemical proportions.

Of course, there’s more to me than being a simple hate figure; any douchebag could do that. I’m perambulating social satire, the reflection of our millennial obsession with ourselves, and if you don’t get it you can just keep strolling. Youll never have a reservation at Dorsia, anyhow.  

But it’s so hard to balance. It’s what I spend the majority of my time trying to decipher. Push things too far, pick on the wrong person, say the wrong thing, and people will just walk away. Tweak their buttons in just the right way and they’ll sit up and beg. Here’s an example. If I’m spotted inside some ridiculously luxe nightclub sipping Cristal with some twenty-one-year-old Swedish Instagram celebretress turned model on my lap, the populous will just snort, roll their eyes, and bail. But show me getting kicked out of same nightclub, or refused entry because the doorman hates me and he pushes me over and steals my phone, I call the paps, cops, and it creates a narrative. People might think I’m a complete ass, but they’ll engage. They’ll want to read to the end. That’s not hate; that’s love-hate. Gold.

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[pullquote]Everyone loves to take sides in a fight— it makes them feel smart. Like they have an opinion and, consequently, a personality.[/pullquote]

Generating this type of love-hate has been made so much easier thanks to social media. It’s the perfect platform for picking bullshit fights. And people love it when you tackle the famous, even if it’s completely manufactured. They don’t care: they just want to see some blood on the canvas. It all has to do with pitch. You have to pick the right person to do battle with and you need some evidence that it took place. A picture means everything. I can say I’ve picked a fight with whomever, but if there’s a picture of me standing next to them, it adds legitimacy. You choose someone that people have heard of, but don’t care too much about. If they are beloved, they’re instantly going to get all the sympathy. If they’re despised, it’s too easy a target.

If there’s some perceived slight and I go after the latest scumbag bolstering TMZ’s ratings, it’s win-win. If they engage and respond, fabulous. I can spin that out to a healthy amount of quotes and coverage. If they ignore me, even better. I can keep picking at that particular scab and have the focus be completely on myself. People make up their own minds about the celebs, their stance, and their particular peccadilloes. Everyone loves to take sides in a fight— it makes them feel smart. Like they have an opinion and, consequently, a personality.

I knew I’d made it in the love-hatred stakes, when I started to be invited and uninvited to the same event multiple times. First I’d be asked to attend, then someone else would call and tell me my presence would not be appreciated, then the first guy would call and apologize about the second guy, then I’d get a terse email urging me to stay away, and then a limo would arrive to pick me up. And either way I’d get paid. I was just turning up to drink the champagne for fuck’s sake.

It was then I knew I was doing something right.

You can preorder “Don’t You Know Who I Think I Am?” on Inkshares.com


About the author: Justin Ross Lee is an internet celebrity and socialite based in Manhattan. He owns Pretentious Pocket,  a silk pocket square brand.

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