Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Schadenfreude Click-bait Is Always Thus

New York Magazine recently published an ass-ey (my neologism for an essay allowing the author to make a complete ass of her or himself).

I won't link to it or name its writer (who surely has a Google Alert for all such mentions), but must ask:  Is this the apex of editorial cynicism?

The rambling piece had no focus, and seemingly no editorial oversight, save perhaps some horrible person whispering in the psychosis-inclined ear of the writer, "Yes, do add another un-self-aware anecdote that makes readers loathe you. Show – and tell – us your wreckage without being interesting. Folks love to be enraged by privileged twits. Be bold. Everyone will be trying to decode what the hell you're talking about. And the clicks will be mine, mine, mine!"

I fell right into the trap. 

I sent a message to a writer-friend immediately after choking down all 5500 words. "Be sure to read this before I see you tomorrow. I need to process." She didn't wait. Couple hours later, my Gchat went ding with her shared gobsmackitude. "I don't know where to begin with the WTFs."

The publication had us just where they needed us:  Engaged, enraptured and pissed off. 

As we tried to understand what the hell the writer was getting at, and wondering if ALL the editors had taken Xmas break and simply hit publish upon receipt, I felt a thud hit my stomach. 

Jeezus. They meant it to be this way. The editors wanted to cause a disgusted tizzy. They don't care if this writer never works again, or worse, goes to the end of what appears to be a dangerous downward spiral.

They absolutely don't care about us, their readers. Or our time. Or our mental health being put on a one-way bus to Frustration Crazytown. 

Trust me, read this book
I know this because I read TRUST ME, I'M LYING, Ryan Holiday's excoriation of digital media, blogs and citizen journalism.

Now, Mr. Holiday is no puritanical scold. He rolls with some questionable characters in his professional and personal life. He knows dirty tricks and has perpetrated them on behalf of clients. 

The man is also no dummy, crystalizing the issues better than anyone else I've read. A typical passage, from page 104:

Pageview journalism treats people by what they APPEAR to want – from data that is unrepresentative to say the least – and gives them this and only this until they have forgotten that there could be anything else. It takes the audience at their worst and makes them worse. And then, when criticized, publishers throw up their hands as if to say, "We wish people liked better stuff, too," as if they had nothing to do with it.  Well, they do.

And, ahem, page 138:  ...the best way to make your critics work for you is to make them irrationally angry. Blinded with rage or indignation, they spread your message to every ear and media outlet they can find. 


So how can a media-junkie help turn things around? Or at least not exacerbate the situation?

Holiday suggests asceticism:  The second you stop and walk away, the monster will start to wither, and you will be happy again. (p.236)

I have not yet succeeded in refusing to click the culture-warpers. But I do not trust them. My laughter and interest now tinged with skepticism. 

It's sad. And it's good.