You're being manipulated.
You probably even know you're being manipulated. I'm sure that you've had a little itch in your brain that you can't quite scratch late at night or on long walks, when you're away from your computer and have a moment's respite from the deluge of bullshit that hits your face day in and day out via Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr. The feeling that somehow, somewhere, there's this huge machine that keeps generating crap that you can't help but react to, because if you don't, OMG who will get all the important things out there for everyone to know?
But the itch goes away when you fire up your phone or sit down in front of your laptop and the hooks get set and the reel begins to spin and you're back on the line, thrashing and wailing about the latest injustice to whatever social group you belong to, regardless of how oblique and made-up it might be.
The manipulation is the simplest there is. It's been around since the dawn of the written word. Every writer knows that the best way to build character in any story is to introduce conflict. In fact, I've already done it to you. Twice. I'll explain how, but first here's an ad:
First, I take something of societal interest that people are discussing that has merit. Next, I attach it to a "peg" -- a topic that's generating a ton of societal reaction. In this case, Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. I can do this with literally any topic. Racism. Feminism. Equality. Or made up bullshit like beauty standards or how unfair it is that George Lucas, this poor abused bazillionaire, isn't getting his fair share of credit for the latest film's success.
It's such low-hanging fruit, I should be ashamed of myself for even bothering. But I'm not, because it works. Each and every time. It's so easy. This thing you grew up loving that betrayed you and now has come back for redemption in the form of a billion dollar opening week and nearly a trillion dollars worth of merchandise sold because you love it. You can't resist reacting when I slam together the words "Star Wars" and... Oh, let's see... Feminism:
- "Is Rey From Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens a Mary Sue? This Hollywood Hack Who Copied Akira And Passed It Off As His Own Work Thinks So" (That's you, Max Landis)
That's just the first five things I saw on my Facebook feed when I opened it up just now to find examples of Star Wars and Feminism. It's like printing money. I just cough up a few thousand words about the hot topic of the day, tie it to a cause, and thinkpiece my way to likes and shares and retweets.
It's a space movie with a ball-shaped robot following a super-powered mythical character into adventures that were caused by other super-powered mythical characters. And we're tying it to massive narratives that shape and change our society for... What, exactly? ATTENTION. That's it. That's all.
I can invoke the holy name of Star Wars and get you to click ANYTHING. And when you're done clicking, you'll react. My God, it's almost like these big traffic-generating sites are evil when they manipulate you this way! But you know what? They're not. It's not them that's the problem. It's YOU. And me. And everyone else.
Look, here's the truth: your life is boring and lacks meaning. You're aching for something to do that means something. Reacting to injustice from your phone and your laptop and your computer feels like it has some sort of value, because otherwise you're playing Fallout 4 or working a shit job you hate, and life can't be just paying bills and dying, can it?
So, there are legitimately terrible things going on out in the world. People have needed to talk about it for decades, and change has been slow and difficult. Actual minorities have been subjugated and disenfranchised throughout history by those in power, and that is truly upsetting. Real people are being really hurt. But all these problems are so large and so big and so powerful, you can't see how you could change it by, say, voting. Or demonstrating in the street.
But look... Here's this injustice pegged to this other thing you care about! And that's just SO RIGHT I MUST TELL EVERYONE / SO WRONG THEY CAN'T GET AWAY WITH IT!!!
You have to click to read it. You have to react and share it to discuss it. Everyone else clicks and reads and reacts. And because it's tied to a thing that actually matters: racism, feminism, social injustice, war, terrorism... You react. Over and over, feeding that bullshit machine with your interaction.
And when there isn't a huge peg like a space opera with made-up people and a ball-shaped robot doing fantasy things that you've decided to take seriously and yell about on social media instead of just eating some popcorn and enjoying it (or deciding it's not worth your time and moving on with your life instead of yelling about it for days on social media), we make up more shit for you to react to:
- 8 Things Only Introverted People Can Relate to
- 12 Things Only Secretly-Introverted Extroverted People Understand
- 104 Reasons Why Left-Handed People Are Oppressed
- Curly-Haired People In The Age Of LGBT Awareness
- I Can Link Any Behavior To The Autism Spectrum And You'll Blame It For Your Bad Manners
- Literally Any Article Written By White Straight Males About Inequality That Doesn't Explicitly Blame Themselves Without Caveats
It all feels like you're participating in the greater societal discourse. But all you're really doing is generating traffic and getting revenue for the publishers from ads and placements. If you really wanted to make a difference, you'd go out and make a difference. But feeding this machine is easier, and hey, you need something to do while you poop.
Look, don't get me wrong: I don't think I'm telling you stuff you don't already know. I fully understand that YOU LIKE THIS SHIT. It gives you something to do on the bus and the train and the toilet and when you're supposed to be working. I'm just as bad. I do the exact same thing. I don't expect this article to stop you.
I just have this strange moral code that forces me to make you aware of the situation before I use you to make money. It's my dad's fault. I can't knowingly steal from people, and I feel like it's better to at least put it out there what the situation is before I use you for clicks, likes, traffic and money.
So now that it's all out there, here's a goddamn quiz, feel free to share it on your social medias:
Or you can go listen to the latest mashup which uses absolutely no skill or talent whatsoever to simply put two things together that make no sense but generate lots and lots of traffic and shares, like Kendrick Lamariokart.
Or, I can go write that book I keep putting off instead of wasting my time reacting to nonsense clickbait bullshit and feeding the machine.
Wait, YOU. I meant You.