At first glance, it's difficult to understand how Bob the Wonder Poodle shot to stardom. The canine with a dead stare in his marble eyes has more than 270,000 fans on Facebook, yet he wasn't in a film or TV show and he's no viral video sensation.
His claim to fame? He's a magnet for anti-fans of Glenn Beck, a controversial Fox News personality.
Bob's Facebook page is titled "Can this poodle wearing a tinfoil hat get more fans than Glenn Beck?" It's one of the latest manifestations of a meme that has taken over the world's largest social network in the past few months. The formula: "Can this [benign object]get more fans than this [mainstream person, film or band]"
While distaste for mainstream pop culture icons or products is nothing new, most anti-fans had no way of organizing until recent years. Now, such communities thrive online; some are clever pages on Facebook, while others are elaborate, vitriol-filled websites. Experts suggest bonding over a shared dislike can be just as rich or even richer a social experience than doing so over a mutual interest.
Rob Walker, the Savannah, Ga.-based author of Buying In, who has studied consumer and fan culture, says, "Defining yourself in opposition to something and bonding over that - it's part of the human condition."
Dale Blank, the 50-year-old from Milwaukee, Wis., who created Bob the Wonder Poodle's page on Facebook, says he set it up to capitalize on the strong opinions many have of Mr. Beck's argumentative style.
He took inspiration from the onion ring that drew in more fans than Prime Minister Stephen Harper (it has proven to be a powerful food - it also trounced teen pop star Justin Bieber's fan count).
But Mr. Blank insists his page "is not anti-Beck, it's pro-intellect." He just knew an earnest "pro-intellect" page probably wouldn't attract as many fans.
In fact, many of the creators of such pages on Facebook explain that they were forced to set their pages up that way - as opposed to explicitly against the mainstream individual or product in question - because Facebook only allows pages that promote a legitimate individual, group or cause.
"Facebook gives you all these things to define your identity but they're all positive," Mr. Walker says. "It seems almost inevitable that it's not the only way express our identity. We also express it by what we don't listen to or don't watch or reject."
Coral Anne, a 20-year-old retail employee in Hamilton was taken by surprise when her "Can this pickle get more fans than Nickleback [sic]" page soared past Nickelback's official fan page in just 16 days. Now the total fan count is more than 1.5 million.
Anti-fans of the band have used the wall of the Facebook page to trash the ensemble's songwriting and melodies, but they've also sent a torrent of personal rants to Ms. Anne directly.
Her page is just one of hundreds of outlets for Nickelback haters. The site isnickelbacktheworstbandever.com answers the question posed in its URL with a simple "YES" in a large, white font on a black background. Another site simultaneously plays the video for Nickelback's 2005 single Photograph alongside a group of squawking chickens. The cruel suggestion, of course, is that they sound alike.
Jonathan Gray, an associate professor of media and cultural studies at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, says there is a science to when these groups spring up.
In Nickelback's case, the group was named band of the decade by Billboard at the end of last year. It was a high point for the band's fans - and a low point for those who did not like Nickelback's music.
For those in the latter group, Dr. Gray says anti-fan communities offer "a great way of changing hyped culture that we despise into something we can accommodate."
Nickelback is in good company. Seven of the top 10 artists on the Billboard chart have similar pages on Facebook, points out Chris Menning, a Minneapolis, Minn.- based researcher with Knowyourmeme.com. To name a few: "Can these Black Eyed Peas get more fans than the Black Eyed Peas"? "Can this penguin get more fans than Rihanna?" "Can this potato chip get more fans than Ke$ha?"
While most people seem content to create low-maintenance Facebook groups and pages for the objects of their revulsion, that wasn't enough for Halifax student Vincenzo Ravina.
When he first noticed Crocs on a classmate's feet, he didn't like them, but didn't think much beyond that. As the shoes became more popular, however, his passing distaste blossomed into something stronger.
He registered the domain ihatecrocs.com as a test, he says. "I was just kind of looking for validation in me thinking that I'm the sane one."
It didn't take long before traffic to the site exploded. He had created a popular forum for trashing the shoes, and sold more than 1,000 "I Hate Crocs" T-shirts.
Crocs have since declined in popularity and so, in turn, has Mr. Ravina's passionate opposition to them. But he still remembers what fuelled the site at the peak of its popularity.
"With disliking things, people get more worked up than when they do like things," he says. "It's more antagonistic. People feel more encouraged to kind of fight for their opinion."