I’ve been sitting around for the better part of three months attempting to critique listicle articles and whether or not they’re a relevant art form. If I critiqued them in list format, it would be like, Wow kill yourself. There is not a creative bone in your body, so I’m not about to do that type of contrived, trite analysis. I use “art form” to describe a listicle article because I believe that there is some art in creating a successful list that people would want to share and read. The whole point writing listicles is for others to share the piece and relate to it. So really, isn’t writing out your thoughts in that form making it a bit of a popularity contest?
There was some controversy floating around the internet that the founder of Buzzfeed was a Marxist because of an undergrad paper he wrote. The coverage and evidence was very shoddily reported, but basically the theory was of bringing on a “schizophrenic” (the meaning is used incorrectly) type state by preying on those with little personal identity by forming it for them by planting shared things they could supposedly relate to. It’s very confusing, but basically the state is brought on by the sharing of lists of things like “35 Things Only Campers Know” and making the reader nod in agreement at their .gifs and points in order to brainwash them.
As a result of Buzzfeed’s skyrocketing to popularity, there is a lot of grumbling about how listicles are leading to the downfall of quality writing, and I disagree. There is a definite place for lists on the internet and for the evolving forms of how we read. I classify internet reading into several categories: waiting in line reading, aimless scanning while you’re half into a conversation reading, awkward silence scrolling through your phone reading, toilet reading, depressed on a Friday night in with a glass of wine reading, and bored list readings. The internet is such a constant companion that all of this writing needs to exist in order to keep up with the demand.
Not a lot of people think about how much content other than porn has to exist in order to keep the internet afloat. Especially now that the internet is advanced enough to format multiple pages into just seamless scrolling. If you were to compile the average amount of pages a person reads a day online, including Twitter, Facebook, Buzzfeed, etc., it would be a staggering amount. A basic format for writers to quickly and efficiently deliver content needed to exist, and that is where the listicle comes in.
One can argue that writing a listicle is kind of a way of cheating. It structures an argument better or allows a topic to be discussed more clearly. Plenty of respected writers use predetermined forms to generate writing. Does that mean the sonnet form is cheating? The classic five paragraph essay of high school? A list article should become its own genre and have writers who are masters of it. Even if it is a specialty it should not become a form of legitimate journalism or reporting. It just wouldn’t work if the Huffington Post, or NY Times came out with “25 Ways the Malaysia Airlines 370 Flight May Have Went Down” or “15 Ways You Know You’re a Child Prostitute at the World Cup” — that’s not how it would ever be reported. Putting a hard news story into a list like that feels disrespectful.
A list article shouldn’t be completely vapid and fluffy, but so much of the internet now is just about entertainment. The internet has picked up from where the TV left off and gone through similar phases.
What was just basic functionality and news is now reality TV and endless GIFs. Just as there is a place for traditional, “respectable” programming on television there is also a large audience that wants reality trash TV. So on the internet there are the people who want Email and Articles from hard news sources, and then there is everyone else sitting on the toilet waiting to pass a turd reading about the hottest guys of the World Cup.
There is a time and place for a list and because the internet is so much more accessible to non writers than print media we are open to more viewpoints. It’s no longer this elitist system of people with degrees influencing our world. Anyone could write a list about any topic in the world, it’s just a matter of skill that makes it readable.