Lists

Listlessness

listiclock-large I tried to mess with BuzzFeed earlier this summer. I created an account in their Community section and wrote a series of posts that were alternately silly, surreal, or sad, depending on my mood and the kind of point I was trying to make in that moment about the utter awfulness of the dull-eyed list culture that's pervaded the Internet, thanks in large part to the efforts of BuzzFeed. I had fun doing it, but I also ended the experiment slightly more depressed than when I'd begun it. Part of it had to do with the realization that my jokey posts, for whatever complimentary things some people had to say about them, were grains of sand on the endless beach BuzzFeed is building, and that there would be no feasible way for humor posts or inside-job takedown to even remotely match the pace with which BuzzFeed churns out content. [footnote]And what BuzzFeed is doing is very much "content" instead of, say, humor or essays or think pieces or something. It is slick beyond measure, designed to feel like nothing else but a cog in a machine.[/footnote] Their main site is a monster, they've got multiple offshoots, and the Community section now outsources content creation to users while still making money off what they produce by selling ads against it and reaping the financial benefits. I felt I'd made my point, and that I'd found ways to address what made me sad about list culture: the way it distracts us from real emotion; the way it encourages disposability, shorter attention spans, and emotional distance from the media we choose to consume or create; the way it can so easily lower our standards over time, boiling the frog until we can't remember the way things used to be. I was fortunate to receive some kind words from friends and colleagues for the posts, mostly in the form of them saying (basically) "Me too."

The thing is, it's not just a few people here and there who are growing disgusted with the braying, empty clickbaits that lack voice, tone, insight, a real sense of humor, or anything else that would make them worth reading. [footnote]Worth mentioning here that lists don't have to be empty-headed and bland, and that many authors out there can use the form in entertaining and enlightening ways. It's just that, traditionally (meaning in the past few years of the web), lists have been used to pick up traffic and nothing more. As someone who's actually written lists about, e.g., a TV show's defining moments, I can reassure you that there's nothing scientific to the assemblage of the list, and that the authors know that you will read the list and either feel rewarded that it includes something you'd have chosen or angry that it omitted something you'd have made sure to include, and that those emotions will hopefully in turn lead you to comment, share, and return as a regular reader. The sausage has to get made.[/footnote] It's more widespread than that. College Humor posted a pseudo-clickbait list in late August, a few weeks after mine, that used a headline to tease sexual images but then used text to shame readers into thinking about what they were doing. The Onion has been doing anti-BuzzFeed posts for a while (examples one, two, three, and four of many), and writers like Kaleb Horton and Joe Veix have been doing them, too. [footnote]It was Veix's brilliant takedown that helped galvanize my disdain for BuzzFeed's m.o.[/footnote]

Even The New Yorker has been exploring what list culture might mean, and this piece on the odious ListiClock is so good it deserves to be quoted at length:

The seconds flip by with such remorseless speed that it’s almost impossible to read the title of one listicle before it’s replaced by another. The result is an endless succession of half-glimpsed enticements: “18 Things You Probably Didn’t …,” “11 Reminders That …,” “29 Most Interesting …,” “20 Breathtaking Photos of … .” If you watch any clock for long enough, especially one that displays the seconds as they pass, a particular kind of despair sets in. Here, now, is a time that will never be again; and now—this exact moment—is already gone; and you are now one second closer to death, etc. The ListiClock, with its unceasing enumeration of enumerations, heightens this anxiety. It not only becomes an intense reminder of the ongoing depletion of our store of moments but also points to a means of depleting them that is, arguably, among the most fruitless of all: diversion unto death. This is probably not the kind of brand extension that Pepsi Next had in mind with their sponsorship of the ListiClock.

I wasn't at the forefront of anything. My percolating frustration got a boost from people like Veix, but it feels safe to say that Onion and New Yorker staffers have little or no social crossover with us. This isn't a random thing, and it's not a chain reaction. It's evidence of a growing fatigue with list culture and the transience it encourages. We're all of us tired of thin, forgettable, bland, unfunny, deadening, worthless links that don't do anything but provide a 15-second distraction from whatever we were just doing. It's not that these pieces take the form of lists that makes them bad; it's that those lists lack any remotely identifiable personality. They smell like stale air. They have no point of origin, no intellect, no insight, no worldview, and nothing to offer the reader but the promise of glazing over for a few moments. They're the worst kind of product because they have no reason for being. Their goal is to exist, period. They aren't meant to entertain, not really, not the way you think of being entertained. They're strips of GIFs and movie quotes, images from reality shows and location-based inside jokes (because if you can't be funny, you can always try to trick people into confusing nostalgia with humor).

We want an end, a break, a way through. And we have to take ourselves there.

The Searchers

Here are the latest keyword searches that led people here. Some of them make sense. Some of them, I don't know what to say.cruelest comics xxx why is steve lacon bald actors going bald speed racers girl friends photo in movie refreshments the bottle fresh horses blogspot choreoanimator is charlie kaufman going bald im 22 and going bald law & order da's perfect stories bald girl fifth element what does a bean mean the office video quickly become balding fictional characters on twitter pros of going bald bald girl terry o'quinn bald responses to teasing about going bald law and order assistant district attorneys my tv favorites friends

Subject Lines To Spam Emails I Have Recently Received

I wish so much that I were making these up:• You won't find even the traces of your small miserable and retarded friend in pants. • Do you really trust her? • Our product equals great boner plus great stamina! • Revealing the secrets of pornstarts! • Leading supplier of Canadian chemists in now available for you. • Celebrate your victory in love. • With such powers you will be able to make your woman really satisfied. • aid your lover couch experience • boost your belove bed adventures • 15 Mistakes Every woman made! • The best way to drive her crazy. • The world's largest online health shop. • Fill in your medication subscription. • Break lovemaking world records • Crazy wholesale • hoist your sweet night event (This one is just amazing.) • There will always be a moment in your life that can change everything, insure yourself with blue-pill! • Lost way to her G spot? • Want to get harder and stay up longer? We know how.

Things That I Am Giving Up For Lent

• Sleeping until 1 p.m. when 12:30 p.m. is perfectly acceptable. Be more proactive!• Drinking three nights a week. Come on, you never want to be hungover for work. Two nights a week won't kill me. (Be strong on this one!) • Using my turn signal when there's no one there. It wastes electricity, and I think we should be good stewards of our environmental resources. • Washing underwear more than once a month. Again, this goes back to wastefulness, which is something I think we can all do our part to help reduce. Together we can do it guys! • Paying attention when people talk to me. I need to do more for myself or I'll never feel like I'm centered, you know? • Reading the news. It changes every day, and people tend to tell me when something happens that affects my life. Plus this will give me more time for reading for pleasure (currently on the nightstand: Shopaholic Takes Manhattan NO SPOILERS PLZ!!). • Dogmatic Catholicism.

Songs For The Passing: An Open Poll

For my funeral, I'd like these songs to be played:• "Please Tell My Brother," Golden Smog • "No Depression," Uncle Tupelo • "On Your Porch," The Format • "Will I See You in Heaven," The Jayhawks • "Into the Mystic," Van Morrison • "Casimir Pulaski Day," Sufjan Stevens • "Sin Wagon," Dixie Chicks • "Green Pastures," Emmylou Harris • "Return of the Grievous Angel," Gram Parsons • "Long Black Veil," Johnny Cash • "I'm Going to the Place," Lyle Lovett • "Softly and Tenderly," whoever you can find • "I"m Good Now," Bob Schneider What do you want at yours?

What I've Learned, 2008

"It's always something." You can't save anyone.

Always try to get a nonstop flight. Always. Also: If a first-class upgrade is available, you should take said upgrade.

Never go to Target on a Saturday.

"This is water. This is water."

You can't go giving a f*ck when it's not your turn.

"Anna Begins" is still really good. Just ... damn.

If a bar has free hot dogs, then it is a good bar.

The likelihood that you will wind up sitting next to someone who talks in the theater is directly related to your anticipation level of the film in question, the film's potential for quality, and a general X factor that's impossible to define. E.g., You can wander into an Iron Man matinee and have a good time, but you will be forced to listen to conversations about redecorating the sunroom during the final scene of There Will Be Blood.

I can drink more than I ever thought possible.

"Nothing's easy."

All you can do is do what you can.

"A newspaper can't love you back." And it never will.

Sometimes — not all the time, not even half the time, but sometimes — leaving your iPod on shuffle will open up your soul. You'll hit a run of three or four songs you would never think to put together but whose combined effect is the perfect reflection of your mood, your day, your life. And when that happens, just keep driving.

No one will ever stick around forever, and things will never not change. The tighter you hold on, the faster it goes.

Never underestimate the idiocy of the elderly, the confused, or hardcore conservatives.

A hooded sweatshirt is 12 of the smartest dollars you can spend.

Life is too short to watch bad movies or TV, listen to bad music, or read bad books. Yes, we all need escapes, little breaks between the serious stuff. But even trying to ironically appreciate crap still means watching/listening to/reading crap. It's not worth it, and it never will be.

If you think you should stop, keep going. Something interesting will probably happen.

All is fair, etc.

When you're lying about your profession, never say "reporter."

"Being single is like a fun nightmare."

The best hangover cure is preemptive: When you get home at the end of the night, pop three Tums and three extra-strength Excedrin. Let the pills work their magic while you sleep. Pop another three of each with/for breakfast and you're good to go.

"Hold on tightly, let go lightly."

"It's all happening."

Seven Strange Ones

I usually don't participate in blog surveys or tag games, but I respect Pastor Kes and have decided to play along. The rules are these:• Link to the person that tagged you and post the rules on your blog (done); • Share seven random and/or weird facts about yourself (see below); • Tag seven other people at the end of your post and link to their blogs (see next); • Let each person know they've been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog (that seems like a lot of work, but I might do it anyway). 1. As a child, I was obsessed with even numbers. Completely and fully obsessed. The sidewalk leading from my elementary school to the neighborhood out back and then home had pretty standard slabs of concrete, and I stepped on every slab twice: left-right, left-right. When I reached the longer slabs, I shifted to three steps: left-right-left, right-left-right. It wasn't until the end of middle school that I could walk normally down a sidewalk and not worry about where I'd stepped or how many times. I needed everything to balance out, to be even, to have the kind of symmetry some part of me demanded of the world. I don't know why. 2. I'm not embarrassed by the mole on my left cheek, but I'm also not disappointed that my beard hides it. 3. I have relative pitch and a healthy respect for harmony. This probably explains/is explained by the 9.5 years in which I was involved in the school choir, two years of which also included participating in a barbershop group. 4. I dream about flying a lot. 5. I have never left the continent. 6. I feel like a failure if I give up on a book. Even if it's bad. 7. I haven't felt at home anywhere in years. Bonus fact that proves I was raised in Texas: I can sing all or part of more than 40 George Strait songs. I counted. As for the next seven I'm supposed to tag, I'm opening it up for anyone to feel free to respond however you like, or to do it on your own blog. I'm easy.

Ways In Which I Am Like A Bear

• I scratch my back on vertical surfaces.• I emit large, powerful yawns. • I have a low metabolism and often need to nap after eating. • I killed a park ranger. • I'm covered in coarse fur. • I'm not that dexterous. • I can be taken down by a tranquilizer dart. • I can run for a short burst, but after that, my speed drops to zero. • I'm fiercely protective of my young. • I like fish. • I can climb trees, though only to a certain extent. • I can be scared away by loud noises. • I like pic-a-nic baskets.

Courses My University Should Have Offered

Understanding the Debt You Didn't Know You Signed Up ForExplaining Religion to Everyone Else Coming to Grips With Your Poorly Chosen Major Hanging Out With Women Who Won't Sleep With You, Ever, No Matter How Often You Hang Out or What Kind of On-Again-Off-Again Thing You Delude Yourself Into Thinking Exists: Practicum Nailing Those Really Quick Green-Orange Jumps on the Hard Setting of "Rock Band" Paying Your Dues: Economic Lessons in Why That Dream Job Won't Happen Until You're Too Old to Like It

Forthcoming Entries In The Girls Gone Wild Series

Girls Gone Wild: Looking For a Father FigureGirls Gone Wild: Strippers, But What Do You Care Girls Gone Wild: Narrowly Avoiding Date Rape Girls Gone Wild: How To Maximize Your Tax Refund Girls Gone Wild: What If They Just Stayed Clothed Girls Gone Wild Re-Enact Classic Episodes of "MASH" Girls Gone Wild: Cage Match to the Death Girls Gone Wild Just Stare at You and Make You Think About What You're Doing

10 Truths

1. Sometimes I pretend to like movies or books that I don't actually like that much just to get along with people. I figure, I know I'm right, so why start trouble.2. If someone asked me to be in their barbershop group, I would probably say yes. 3. I don't have that much food in the house. I mostly live on sandwiches. 4. No matter where I go or what I do, or how my musical tastes temper themselves over the years, I'm pretty much always gonna like George Strait. 5. Sometimes I say I've seen a movie that I haven't just to fit into the conversation. 6. I quietly judge people based on what they say or do, and if I write someone off as the kind of former-jock-future-CPA character I can't seem to erase from my mind's central casting department, I will usually feel superior as long as I know them. It doesn't happen often, but when it does only large-scale revelations can reverse this. I know it's not good, but at the same time, I don't quite mind doing it. 7. I don't like wine. I feel this is one of those obstacles to adulthood I will never overcome: Eventually, everyone starts drinking wine and eating hummus and developing strong opinions about the housing market. But really, I'd rather just order a Newcastle and talk about TV. 8. I'm starting to think I picked the wrong major for someone who wants to be well-compensated for their talents. 9. Fried rice, orange chicken, and a chicken egg roll. Almost every time. 10. I hate cars. They're just these big damn worthless things that break constantly, and you have to take it everywhere you go. I just want to get from here to there.

Prophecies And Fantasies: A Keyword Analysis

Because I enjoy seeing what search terms led people to this site, and because I keep forgetting to check, and because John recently reminded me just how bizarre this can be — I present a list of searched phrases that, for whatever reason, brought people to this blog. Enjoy:"if i say i am an oil man" "cowboy sayings" "cowboy sayings about life" "bald and beards" "whatever doesn't kill you makesyou stranger" "if i say that i am an oilman" "stardust, yvaine, blue dress" "how do i know if i'm going bald" "dharma rambaldi" "slowly going bald" "if i say i'm an oil man, you will agree"

I'm Like Lightning On That Buzzer

I stole this idea from McSweeney's, but was actually inspired to steal it after seeing that Bells On also stole it. Plus, when you think about it, when's the last time McSweeney's was so consistently amazing you would feel bad stealing from them? They started out all Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, but have totally slid down into IV. Anyway, here's my list:"Jeopardy!" Categories In Which I'm Pretty Sure I Could Beat Ken Jennings: Living With Massive Debt Science Fiction Media Of The 1980s "Timing" And Other Reasons It Didn't Work Out How To Apprehend Livestock Arcane Country Bands Of The Mid-To-Late 20th Century Acceptable Reasons For Wearing A Shirt Two Days In A Row Without Laundering It Navigating Strange Neighborhoods While Mildly Inebriated The Oeuvre Of Luis Guzman A Walking Tour Of Quesadillas In The San Fernando Valley Dave Matthews Band Lyrics (Pre-2002) Indian Leg-Wrestling Stand-Up Comedians Below The Cultural Radar What It's Like To Think You're Original When Really, There Are A Ton Of Guys Just Like You Living With Sweat Possible Retro-Future Ramifications If Kirk Had Saved Joan Collins From Getting Hit By That Truck Hot Pocket Flavors

Your Questions Answered

[Wherein the author answers any possible/probable questions you might have. Who knows, one day I might even post the matching questions. But for now, on with the answers:]Brown Blue 6'2" More than I'd like Since I was 7 When I was 20 14 Third Maybe someday Possibly, but right now it sounds totally unappealing Sandwiches Two gallons a week, and right out of the carton Only during the playoffs, if at all More than 1,000 More than 40 About 200 To the right Newcastle Once, so far Grimace, Ray A few chords on the guitar Old 97's Probably blue [UPDATE: Peter Lynn has taken a stab at providing the questions. His responses for Questions 2 and 4 are way off, but everything else seems to match up. Damn him. Next time I'll have to be more elusive.]