Player Haters

There is a woman in Buffalo, N.Y., apparently starving herself right now in an effort to get Sanjaya Malakar kicked off "American Idol."

Yep, that's right, a hunger strike -- just like Ghandi.

Only it's not the fate of a billion Indians she's worried about, it's the fate of just one. And to be fair, he's actually Indian-American.

Identifying herself only as J on her MySpace page and in a video she posted to YouTube, the 23-year-old woman says she's sworn off food until Malakar, 17, is voted off the hit talent show.

"I'm going on a hunger strike," she says in a video posted March 16. "I'm doing this because I believe other talented contestants who deserve a chance to win are being eliminated."

With his boyish smile, eclectic hairdos and mediocre singing, Malakar is this year's "Idol" cause celebre. He is loved by some -- take 13-year-old Ashley Ferl, known as the "superfan," who was seen sobbing during one of his performances -- and hated by others.

J has spawned at least one other hunger-striking imitator and the show's toughest judge, Simon Cowell, has vowed to quit if Malakar wins.

Love him or hate him, Malakar has shown staying power. He narrowly beat elimination in the first weeks, but has since developed an ever stronger fan base. Some attribute his success to an Indian-American voting bloc, and others to a Web site devoted to destroying the show's credibility by encouraging people to vote for the program's least worthy contestant.

A young man, who has also pledged to starve until Malakar is voted off, posted a video on YouTube under the handle Idolmatt21.

"I'm not going to eat at all until he's voted off," he says in the video. "All I can say is," he says as he rips a photo of the singer in half, "Sanjaya, you're going down."

If you think these people are just bored with their lives, you're right, says one expert.

"Idle minds" -- that's idle, not idol -- "are the playground for the devil," said Stuart Fischoff, senior editor of the Journal of Media Psychology and a specialist in fan obsessions.

"A celebrity becomes a star to focus on with the telescope of boredom," Fischoff said.

Idolmatt21 didn't indicate there was a whole lot else going on in his life.

"I'm thinking," he says of starving himself over the outcome of a television show, "this is the best cause around."

Obsessive haters, or anti-fans, share many of the same traits as obsessive fans, Fischoff said.

"People need something on which to focus their attention. … The adrenaline gets pumping for hating as much as loving."

"The hate-love situation are two sides of the same coin," he said.

Being an anti-fan, he said, has one advantage over being a fan: It's more fun.

"Coteries on the net can join together in hating and dissing, and that's much more fun," he said.

If a celebrity is big enough to have a fan club, she's probably big enough to have an anti-fan club as well.

The Web is filled with anti-fan sites. More than 1,000 people regularly complain about the cooking-show host Rachael Ray at Rachael Ray Sucks Community on the social-networking site LiveJournal. The first rule for the site is "You must hate Rachael."

In the lead up to last year's new James Bond film, "Casino Royale," starring Daniel Craig, thousands of people flocked to to gripe about letting a blond play the British secret agent.

The Love Behind the Hate

According to Joshua Green, a postdoctoral researcher in the comparative media studies program at MIT, anti-fans are much more motivated by love than hate.

The people, he said, who complained about the Jar Jar Binks character in "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace" were motivated not by their hatred of the character but by their love of the franchise. They worried he sullied the franchise. Fans were similarly nervous about Craig playing Bond.

Green said J "really loves 'American Idol.' … She doesn't just dislike [Malakar]. These actions are motivated by the fact that she really loves the program. … She is worried about the detrimental effect his success has on the program."

Green believes J's extreme decision to stop eating is a reaction to the hype surrounding Malakar and the artifice of the media machine in the face of authentic talent.

The format of "American Idol," he said, allows someone like J to believe she can make a difference.

"The idea that she can make a change by starving herself is part of the way 'Idol' works. … People believe their actions can influence the program's outcome. … Starving is an extreme way to go about it, but she believes the 'Idol' machine will respond because that's the way 'Idol' works. It's different than if she decided to starve herself to get someone off a soap opera."

J was contacted by ABC News through her MySpace page. She would not further identify herself or supply any additional information confirming her hunger strike, but she agreed to answer questions via e-mail.

She said she didn't "hate" Malakar as a person, but resented efforts by some to sabotage the show by voting for him.

She really believes in the power of "American Idol," she said, and in its ability to connect Americans to their musical past and make stars out of worthy young people.

"With 'American Idol' younger viewers have a chance to experience the best music of the past with an updated style and fresh faces which are sometimes nice to look at. I've always loved that aspect of the show. I also really like how it can take an ordinary person and turn them into a superstar. Take Clay Aiken for example. Here is a guy who had a very hard childhood, got picked on constantly, but because of 'American Idol' discovering his amazing talent, he is now loved by hundreds of thousands," she wrote in an e-mail.

If fate has anything to do with the show's outcome, J is going to be hungry for at least a little while longer. Sanjaya, in Sanskrit, means "victory."