“Listicle.” A term I thought a web editor had uniquely coined when I read his e-mail response to me saying I did not want to write the piece he asked: X Things Parisians Say vs. What They Mean. Turns out the word already has momentum and is gaining on us. Another editor found me and asked if I would be interested in contributing to his website…listicle.co. For those of you not familiar with the struggle of trying to get just a little bit of writing shine, listicles are about the easiest, most sure-fire way to get it. But at what cost?
Imagine you could see a statistical report on the correlation between use of “buzzwords” in an article title and the amount of internet traffic it gets. Would you be surprised to find that we a majority of us are clicking on things having to do with “twenty-somethings,” “born in the 80s/90s,” “open relationship,” “being skinny?” Of course not. I do it too, I’m not faulting anyone here. What I’m doing is asking you….do you really feel more fulfilled after you read that kind of article?
84% of listicles offer highly subjective life guidance that treats readers like one giant, affirmation-seeking, homogeneous blob. I made that number up, but you can’t believe everything you read, right?
These articles are rarely informative think-pieces. Mary Poppins once told us a spoonful of sugar will make the medicine go down. If listicles are your sugar, just make sure you take in something that will actually make you wiser, better, more capable, and more enriched along with it.
From a writer’s standpoint, this is one of the lower forms of prose. It is BEYOND easy to write listicles. Anyone can do it, and quite frankly, it’s frustrating to me that I can sooner get compliments or new writing opportunities for publishing these articles than I do for pieces I truly care about. This has become the name of the game for writers and as a result, bad writers are starting to have more success than good ones. It also makes us worse readers. Because the list format is so easily digestible, perfect for skimming on a smartphone, we may be losing out on basic reading skills like understanding narratives and seeing thesis statements argued through to a conclusion. Literary critics are now becoming apprehensive about the over-use of irony. As a device, its purpose is only to negate something, but rarely does it offer suggestions for improvement. In fact, it arguably makes us afraid to really believe in something, lest we see ourselves being mocked in a snarky listicle about “those types” of people.
Aside from ethical arguments made against listicles, they can actually be pretty boring. After a while, you start to feel like you’ve read the same listicle over and over again. It has made a cliché out of many of our shared experiences. Sometimes the opinions and advice in them are just flat out wrong. There is nothing you HAVE to do or own by the age of 25. There is no formulaic way to get the guy. You don’t know me!
I am by no means condescending readers and/or writers of listicles. I have published a few myself, I read them, and once in a blue moon I actually find one I want to share. I do feel the need, however, to make a case that we should try to responsibly balance fun and substance in our media intake and that other forms of writing should be equally recognized, if not more, for their merit.