This Thanksgiving, let’s finally agree it’s not soundbites killing our culture
Headline culture has come full circle.
Read a few, and, even here on Medium, you’ll see that hard hitting power phrases are not just a must for a headline, they are driving the media culture. Rather than a poignant, concise bit if information, as they were once intended to be, headlines have a new function. We’ve heard the term clickbait, as a reference to the disconnection of the body text of an article to its title. But for at least sometime in our somewhat recent past, one could differentiate a clickbait title from an informative one. Now, you’re lucky if you’ve deciphered the writer’s connection between their text and their title at all. Take a look at my title. It deliberately misdirects you to a question rather than information. “Well, if soundbites aren’t killing our culture, then what is?” I’ve already obfuscated the entire article’s central massage with lazy assumptions you may or may not hold yourself, but because there’s information LEFT OUT, this actually draws us to want to know more, which may be why you’re reading this at all. But now, this device has been employed to a much higher, or maybe we should say, lower, level. The “best” headlines, or titles, are written to appeal to something more sinister than our curiosity. You might say this appeal is to our angst over, or our rage over high stakes pet issues, but it’s more than that.
Headlines are now meant to fit (or attack) our own personal narrative, and moreover, it’s one we got from following, (or attacking the opposite of) the story lines we have been fed already, to satisfy this angst. In fact, the whole text of a piece might now be shaped to conform to the desired headline, instead of the other way around. The article used to be the point, but now the point IS the headline. Our marketplace of ideas is now so flooded, we barely have time to even read the headlines that support our own, pet agendas. The poisonous aspect of this type of convenience is the loss of any chance we’ll read details that challenge our worldview, or at least take these into consideration. Everything has been whittled down into a phrase, a meme, one that makes us happy instead of thoughtful. At least clickbait turned out to have a deceptive trap we could untangle eventually. With headlines that are just ads for a selling point in the article, the deception is now that it’s not an ad at all, but literal truth.
However, one cannot derive ownership for these motivations from a piece that has purposefully ejected all contrary views from its selling point. This is the true nature of advertisement. The negative about the product is simply derided as the thing the customer doesn’t want, and if the writer can get your to agree, you buy the product. But, truth, I’m afraid, was never meant to be a product to sell. What is being sold to us, then, is our own, sheltered, hand-fed, version of the truth we want to hear. This is a vicious circle that brings us right back around to precisely no solutions at all. Isn’t this pretty much all that can be contained in a 10 to 15 word mini-essay that satisfies our need to have our pet issues confirmed in one tiny, bite-sized, instantly digestible thought? This, then, is what drives nearly all messaging of any sort today. It’s instant gratification in the form of a literary snack. The cure? There is one, and only one.
You may have guessed by now what I’m going to say. If your one defense to the views you hold is only that you don’t have time to read anything besides your two favorite sources, you can’t lay claim to a world view, any view, that you don’t ever, honestly, challenge. This world is now an ad-based world. If the only information you seek out comes from not only headlines, but the articles that were written only to support them, you are INFORMATION STARVED. This is the final deception. You think you’re informed, but you’ve only been eating candy and junk food. Go find a restaurant you’ve never tried before, and order something you never thought you’d like. How else can you say you have a favorite food if you’ve only settled on your usual, and it’s cream puffs and chardonnay every meal? It may be your favorite, but your not a Greek god. This is how we live, though, feasting on our nectar and ambrosia. And it’s all, in the end, just teeth-rotting, gut-eating trash in the form of icing without the cake. Tell me that’s not the car dealership world we live in now, and I’ll sell you a clunker. This Thanksgiving, take a lesson from that meal you see laid out before you, and try something a little new, without prejudice. Deconstruct the table before you and truly grasp why it is that you choose what you choose. Otherwise we’ll perpetuate this hamster wheel culture and never realize there is a world out there we’ve never seen, waiting to be explored and enjoyed. That’s how they get us, when they make us take ourselves too seriously. Look down at your clothes, emperor, they may be just a bit, uh, lacking.
Two things. How many article links do you follow after reading the headline on your Facebook feed before you hit like? And, how many articles do you either read OR skip over just because you don’t like the headline? Maybe, just maybe, we’re digging way, way to deep into actually trivial, repetitive points these days. I mean, how many articles on Trump’s latest tweet did we really need, seriously. No, you want to jump to the comments, to be included in the conversation. It’s a pure epidemic, the true epidemic. But, all time spent indulging your own pet issues just to wreck people you don’t like, is wasted. Please. Start choosing material that will change you, not fooling yourself into this fantasy that we can get the slightest attention from anyone who is literally doing the exact same thing, ever. This is the heart of the issue. You are either a listener, or you are a clanging cymbal. This is why the truest picture of our culture today is that of a room full of screaming and yelling stock traders trying to unload useless stock, and finally snapping and resorting to other forms of persuasion, like doxing, cancellation, defamation, legal harassment, physical violence and property destruction. Where else is all of this coming from? Thinking you’re making a difference, you are only making yourself a part of the noise. Being better, maybe, is truly working on yourself rather than thinking you can change others. Change comes from within, only. Change yourself, and then you can be thankful for what you’ve accomplished, and see others as a they are, not a target or a trophy, but a gift to be treasured.
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