The Problem With Thought Catalog, And The 53 People Who Stopped Writing There

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It is well-documented in the comment sections here – and to a larger extent through posts at Gawker and Salon and Slate – that the general quality of Thought Catalog has been declining over the last year (or long before that, depending on which blog you’ve been reading).

Reasons for the downfall, the canaries in the coal mine would point to, are the obvious things: the proliferation of listicles, the endless posts about heartbreak, the think pieces about political causes the author knows little to nothing about.

Gone are the “good old days,” some will repeat, of Ryan and Gaby and Stephanie and other names now lionized into Myth. Even if those writers wrote similar pieces to many of the ones published this very day, the TC pundits will tell you that without the founding fathers we are now just dumping thought trash into a landfill of Millennial navel-gazing (as an author’s note, I would contend that in a year, or less, another group of people will be coming to the comment sections to say the exact same thing about the good old days of Brianna and Ella and whoever else, and places like Jezebel will complain about how much worse Thought Catalog has become).

An example of this downfall syndrome is the case of Kovie Biakolo and Oliver Miller. When Kovie Biakolo first began writing for Thought Catalog, she quickly gained an audience, but with every post of hers pushed to the homepage, Oliver Miller – a picketer against the erosion at the time – would come to the comments to deride whatever she had posted and pontificate about when writing for Thought Catalog “really meant something.”

Mr. Miller’s criticism was misguided, for one, because Thought Catalog was never that eminent. And for two, Ms. Biakolo’s writing, the more populous, feel-good sort had been around since the beginning. The real problem for Oliver – and the rest of the downfall contingent – are not the lists, or the posts of warm fuzzy platitudes, or even the horror stories, what really began eroding at the spine of Thought’s Catalog’s reputation, if ever it existed, was the hatching of a newer breed of writers. Their arrival to the site is the true genesis for why 53 people recently asked to have their writing taken down from Thought Catalog. The place had become a business, and happily accepted the clicks which came with the writing from a new crowd, those like Gavin McInnes and Jim Goad and Anthony Rogers and Nicole Mullen and Raul Felix and a whole bunch others I probably don’t know about. Thought Catalog thrives on the clicks of debate-hungry (see: troll-loving) readers that the libertarian, sometimes kinda sorta “satire,” writers bring in.

In the beginning, I’m sure, Thought Catalog’s motto of “all thinking is relevant” wasn’t meant to encompass articles about how transphobia is natural. Back then, Tao Lin wrote about the times he had sex with Megan Boyle, or Megan Boyle wrote about taking mushrooms with Tao Lin, or whatever else. The site had no aspirations, I don’t believe, to be the place where the entire internet came to salivate over hot button issues.

When it first started, I knew of Thought Catalog because of HTML Giant, which at the time was aesthetically and substantively similar to Thought Catalog. Both catered to the alt-lit community. Both offered confessional blogging. Both were a little gossipy. A few years later, HTML Giant and Thought Catalog could not be more different.

None of this is particularly groundbreaking. Thought Catalog has been, more often than not over the years, juvenile, even trashy. Judging by me saying that, you might guess I’m unpopular around here, so I may as well say something that will make me even more unpopular: Gavin McInnes is not the problem. The man can be vitriolic but he was following the rules. Thought Catalog allowed him, and many others, to write whatever they wanted to write. The people in charge here more or less endorsed his shtick. The real problem lies somewhere within the 53 people who requested their work be taken down after the McInnes article.

Their protest, being so sudden, begs the question: Where were they a year ago? Three months ago? Even two weeks? Where were they when Thought Catalog published all sorts of sexist or racist or whatever else-ist pieces of “thought”? A large majority of the 53 did not make a peep. Why? Simply, they wanted the publicity having their work tweeted out by Thought Catalog gave them. They were okay with whatever anyone else wrote, as long as the followers kept rolling in for themselves.

Let me be clear on this. There are a few good apples in the group of 53. Parker Marie Molloy would be one. I believe she did what she did because of a true tug on her heart. It genuinely seemed like her conscience guided her decision.

But the troubling thing is, the reason most – perhaps not all – of the 53 writers joined in her fight is because they saw the chance to have their work scrubbed from the place they finally realized was working against them, not for them. They didn’t like how easy it had become to get a byline on the site, or how the entire internet was finding out there are no editorial parameters here. They lunged at the chance to pretend they were ahead of the game. Oh no, I would never write for that place.

Along with these self-serving warriors, we can sit here and point the blame directly at Thought Catalog for what it is. I just say, save some fingers for the martyrs. We wouldn’t want to run out too soon. TC mark

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