Seven Things I Hate About List Articles
As an unintentional student of the internet, there were many things I didn’t get a chance to talk about in our latest episode. It’s surprising how often that is the case for all of us, really. We’ll wrap up recording full of ideas that regrettably didn’t breach the semipermeable membrane in our skulls. In this particular case, I was torn between addressing why weather.com is my least favorite website (and it is; seriously, how did they manage to fuck that one up?) and talking about content creation trends, particularly lists.
We’ve all seen them, skulking around our Facebook feeds like trench coat-clad watch salesmen. We’ve also certainly clicked on them (lord knows I have). Deep down, though, I think I’m not alone in hating the ever living crap out of them. Here’s why:
1. They present opinions as facts
Seriously, Kim Jong-un could learn a thing or two from how these articles impose thought pollution upon our brains. We look at them when we are bored, when we are tired, when we don’t WANT to think, and that’s how they bypass defenses like rationality and critical analysis. Are they mostly harmless? Maybe, but they may be a strong contributing factor in our collective dumbening (is dumbening even a word?). Imagine if Buzzfeed were a despot, some Orwellian face on a screen decreeing all the garbage it propels into your brain as imperatives. What would society look like?
2. They rely almost exclusively on reinforcement of prejudice, ego massaging, falsified camaraderie, or cheap nostalgia
The first list articles I’ve found while writing this article were, in no particular order: “10 Feelings all NYC Girls Have at Least Once”, “22 Things That Can Easily Ruin Any Man’s Day”, “28 Things That People With Big Boobs Can Simply Never Do”, “36 White People That Need To Be Stopped”, and “25 Things You Didn’t Know About The Movie ‘Titanic'”. Looking at these, or just about anything in the “Hot” section at Buzzfeed, betrays a few unfortunate similarities with, say, cheap beer.
Like cheap beer, they trick you into feeling better about yourself. Like a cheap beer commercial, they describe you through association with a large group. You male? We got you covered? Female? Sure. Black? Latino? Filipino? There’s a list for you. Like getting drunk off cheap beer, they make you irrationally judgmental, then force you to weep about the “good old days” that, let’s be honest, never really existed.
Most of all, they hurt your brain, just like cheap beer.
3. They use arbitrary numbers to reinforce credibility
We couldn’t possible come up with five or ten items. No, that would seem contrived! Curve ball, let’s use an out of the box number. Thirteen? No, that’s loaded. How about 17? It’s PRIME, bitches.
4. They include random multimedia, sometimes with no relevance to the topic at hand
5. They have no consequences
When has someone ever redacted a list article? Moreover, have you ever read a really awful one and then wanted to complain about the time it cost you? Guess what, the author probably doesn’t give a shit. Even if they did, the editor and site administrator sure as hell don’t. These articles tend to be one and doners, viral linkbait trying to drum up as many pageviews as possible with minimal effort. Are you a valued reader? Will your post in the comments section be taken into consideration? No, all you are is 1/1000 of their CPM. Maybe 2, if you’re willing to hit refresh.
6. They often repeat the same point twice, usually in a row
I’m actually sympathetic to the list writers on this one. After those first few bullet points it can be hard to keep the fresh ideas coming. I often wonder if there’s some quota they have to reach in order to avoid some archaic punishment, like flogging or hot tar. Regardless, list articles have a habit of retreading their own steps. Let’s be honest, I think we’d all prefer a shorter list to one cluttered with excess bloat.
7. They can be redundant
Look, I’m just following the rules, here.
8. Bonus Item: They obnoxiously include bonus items
The title says seven, so why are there eight items? It’s a rhetorical tactic, you see. I’m convincing you that you’re getting something extra like you’re some sort of slobbering little puggle that I’ve just taught to roll over. Here’s a treat! Never mind the fact that I could’ve just said “Eight” in the title like, you know, a writer with some manner of integrity. Integrity isn’t the point, though. The point is for you to look at this journalistic equivalent of a doodle and think, “Yeah, that’s so true!” so quickly that you don’t have time to second guess yourself. Even better, think about how your friends would absolutely also think that it’s so true and post it on every social media outlet you frequent, encouraging the cycle to continue.
Are there list articles immune to what I’ve described above? Sure. Have we done list articles on this site? You’re looking at one. Do I still think these things needed to be scrawled out and published for people to see? Absolutely. It’s a bit snide, but damn it someone (other than maddox) had to do it.