Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Listicles, Testicles, and the Slow Death of Thought

* This picture has nothing to do with the blog. I'm a big Cheers fan and well, just thought it was funny...

OK, an admission: I do not have a deep, thought-provoking blog to go along with the title to this blog. Well, truth be told, I rarely have deep, thought-provoking blogs, anyway, but I really lack one today. I just thought it was a funny title and decided to throw it up there before I forgot about it. So I guess now I'd better write something about it...

At the end of my Abbey blog (which was a bit tongue-in-cheek, and deep in length only) I alluded to a curious journalism term, the "listicle" as it's known to journos. You may not know what a listicle is, but I promise that you're very familiar with them, because they've pretty much taken over the world.

Basically, a listicle is a list, but with just enough copy to make it not seem like a list, but a story. Which it isn't. And that's it, truly. Listicles have been around for a while, mostly to catalog and aggregate random and mostly worthless web crap (Top Ten Bouncing Boobie GIFs!) but it seems that in the past year or so listicles have invaded, and subsequently infected - terminally - every corner of the journalistic world.

In the pre-listicle world I suppose they'd be called sidebars, and contained all the snippets of related, but extraneous and easily-digestable shit you couldn't shoehorn into your feature story. Now, they ARE the feature stories. And these new-style newsy listicles are - as befitting their nefarious origins - almost without exception excruciatingly stupid and utterly worthless, the demon spawn of a detestable new journalism trend known as "news snacking" wherein, the theory goes, today's busy, on-the-go consumer simply doesn't have time to read stories beyond the first paragraph or so, instead preferring to "snack" on the high-fructose corn syrup of "new media stories" like listicles. 

So in essence, the media has rushed to trade out the big, juicy steak of real story, with its meaty, filling textures and flavors and nuance of reporting and writing and structure and narrative, for the crappy, ersatz information equivalent of a bag of Cheezy Poofs. Of course it's an insult to our intelligence, but it's becoming increasingly clear that we're just too goddamned stupid to recognize it.

And if it's not listicles we're snacking on, it's...testicles.

OK, so I just made that word up, but you know all those polls and quizzes and bullshit personality tests designed to tell you who you are? You know, "27 Questions to Determine Whether You're An Introvert Or Merely A Cranky Asshole", that kind of crap?

Those are what I call testicles: tests and quizzes with just enough copy to make it look like a story. They're just as useless as listicles, and just as rampant. I suppose I could have dubbed them "quizzicles" but I prefer testicles. Wait... what I mean is, I prefer the word testicles, not actual, you know, testicles. Just to clear that up. Not that there's anything wrong with that...

Anyway, any dolt can see how truly worthless these things are. You are not going to determine whether to leave your husband based on the results of a compatability test you took on Huffpo. And you are are not going to go shell out two grand for a new shotgun because you saw that it was featured on an "8 Best Plastic Shotguns for Newly-Bearded Wankers With Too Much Money" listicle. You are not going to go out and buy a Chesadoodbrador pup simply because some listicle told you it was one of the top five gundogs for hunting snipe in public parks.

It's just stupid. Astoundingly so. If it were possible to ascribe negative numerical values to the concept of "meaninglessness" as applied to listicles and testicles, we'd be down somewhere in the realm of "coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth" territory. And that's pretty damn negative.

 It seems to me that the entire concept of the listicle is based upon the presumption that we cannot or will not think for ourselves, that making choices based on parameters specific to you and you alone is...too hard? Takes too much time? Involves too many brain waves? I just don't understand the appeal or the worth of applying specific recommendations to laughably subjective topics. It's like proclaiming "Top Five Ice Creams To Eat During An Emotional Crisis". It means nothing. I like butter pecan, by the way.

Or, can this Rise of the Testicles be attributed to something a little easier to comprehend, a little more cynical, like maybe, oh, I dunno... a cheap and easy way to boost pageviews and therefore ad rates without having to pay real writers for real stories that actually have something to say?

Maybe it's not all on readers, after all maybe they're "snacking" because it's the only damn thing they can find to eat any more? It's a real causal relationship dilemma, isn't it? What came first: the stupidity of the reader or the greed (or perhaps desperation) of the publisher?

Who knows? All I know for sure is, if you consume too many testicles and/or listicles, your brain simply stops working. It's like a literary lobotomy. So don't be lobotomized. Refuse to snack. Eat more story.


  1. Ok, I'll fess up. After the Abbey post, which I loved by the way, I Googled listicle. Proud to say I didn't have to Google testicle, though. Until I read this post.

    By the way, if you think someone won't leave her husband based on the results of an online compatibility test, well, you're just not watching enough Springer.

    1. "Post" is another symptom of the Internet-spawned brain disease the author is addressing. It's not a post, it's an article. Brief, but with more substance and brains than any listicle. Or testicle. Or "post."

    2. "Article," "commentary," "essay," "thesis," "discourse"---and many more, all dying words now, replaced by the well-nigh-universal "post," a word that is, except for brief comments, as dumb as a post.

  2. Rage, rage against the dying of the light... etc.

  3. Did you see Harlan Ellison on the YouTube on mine? They don't want to PAY THE FUCKIN WRITERS.

  4. Actually Mark, I'm not sure testicle's an actual word (well, in this context...) I just made it up because I'm lowbrow...

    Phillip, rage is all I've got any more...

    Steve, yes, did see that. How true...

  5. EAT MORE STORY! - A t-shirt that needs to be made.