Digital Culture

Has Colleen Hoover Murdered Intellectualism?

Isobel Webb-Pratt

If you have spent even a few minutes on BookTok it’s highly likely you will have come across some content related to Colleen Hoover and her works. There have been many, many strands of discourse on the internet about her books; from its potentially concerning content to anger at the casting for the film to the announcement and subsequent cancellation of her colouring book. One discussion that I found particularly striking surrounded the idea of critical reading. From tweets to videos, there were many readers of Colleen Hoover who felt there was no need for any critical engagement with her texts. In fact, opinions could be formed purely on ‘vibes’ as one commentator put it.

Now reading for enjoyment is important, it’s enriching and a great form of entertainment. But a disdain for critical engagement begets a larger issue. There has been a growing sentiment online, in America and the UK, against academia and ‘intellectualism’. It’s not unique to Hoover’s works but her case highlights perfectly some of the dangers of this point of view. Her Number One Amazon Bestseller It Ends With Us is a novel which is (spoiler alert) about ending the cycle of domestic abuse within a family. It’s sold as a romance novel, with two attractive male protagonists and raunchy sex scenes. Yet for this very reason it is necessary that the reader employ critical thinking when reading the book. In her novel Hoover attempts to display how difficult it can be to leave an abuser; someone you love, who can be charming, is desperately apologetic, and even has their own tragic backstory. But while the character is designed to seduce the female protagonist, he seems to have also seduced many readers. This is problematic in its own right, and it is only the tip of the iceberg.

Tom Nichols in his book The Death of Expertise argues that the US is ‘a country obsessed with the worship of its own ignorance’ and I feel this sums up a lot of the sentiment that was shared within the online debate. Many commentators made videos that stated that the idea of critical reading was ‘snobbish’ and ‘elitist’. A creator with the handle @astoldbyalahni endorsed this idea of ‘anti-intellectualism’ going so far as to call it the ‘Bimboification of Books’ before naming herself the “president of the movement”. Her video was clearly ironic however it demonstrates a mindset that Nichols discusses in his books in which ‘ignorance… is an actual virtue’. @astoldbyalahni also uses gendered language – ‘bimbo’ being a word that directly applies to women. Colleen Hoover’s audience is also predominantly female, as are the majority of the BookToker’s and their audiences. It denotes the start of a very slippery path in which women are criticised for attempting to critically engage or join an academic discussion.

The villainisation of perceived ‘intellectualism’ leads to hate for the expert, causing a problem that spreads far outside the confines of literature.

If people don’t want to think critically about the book they’re reading, why would they want to think critically about a concerning political manifesto?

If being an academic is elitist why would anyone read a scientist’s work on Climate Change?

Has Colleen Hoover murdered Intellectualism?