By Howard Hecht
Trigger Warning: This Article was Indeed Written by a Heterosexual, White Male
Those reading this serial may have realized I’ve contradicted myself. Though I once stated people who enjoy BuzzFeed aren’t “degenerates,” I recently went as far as to call them: “infantile adults.” That was rather “savage” of me, as BuzzFeed would say. It was never my intention to judge those with interests that differ from mine, and instead, only to expose BuzzFeed for its self-serving perversion of journalistic integrity. In that way, I’ve failed my original purpose. And yet, here I am again, ready to take my stand upon a soap box, with a tinfoil hat soldered right onto my goddamn skull.
Directly criticizing those who enjoy BuzzFeed bothers me most because, if BuzzFeed can be trusted, they boast a “global audience of more than 200M.” That’s a lot of people. That’s like, the current population of Brazil. Try to imagine if this serial was written to exclusively make fun of Brazilians. I’m sure the Binghamton Review would shut me down immediately, unless my articles were totally focused on arguing against Brazil’s complete ban on cannabis.
I shouldn’t try to generalize an entire population of people, and so neither should I pretend BuzzFeed’s entire audience is dead inside. I’ve come to this conclusion not just because, logically, it makes the most sense, but also because I too am a part of BuzzFeed’s 200M.
Regardless of whether I want to or not, I’ve given BuzzFeed a small amount of traffic every time I’ve written one of these articles. My investigation of their worth is at once both a harsh critique and a type of advertisement. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that I rely on BuzzFeed more than most people. Without it, this serial wouldn’t exist.
I recognize that I’m not the first to identify this kind of contradiction in purpose, nor do I share these sentiments with you, my kindly reader, in an attempt to appear intellectual in any capacity. I’m writing about BuzzFeed, for fuck’s sake. This is the same website that published an article titled “26 Men Who’ll Make You Pregnant Without Even Touching You.” Thanks, Ellie Woodward, by the way, for letting me know just how “dangerously perfect” these handsome celebrities really are. I think the last thing I’d ever want to do as a male is give birth to a child I didn’t even conceive through intercourse. That’d be, like, totally awkward, if nothing else.
And so, even if I don’t want to be, I must consider myself one of BuzzFeed’s 200M by consequence of viewing the website at all. As Kenneth Bainbridge, Director of the Manhattan Project’s Trinity nuclear test, said after witnessing the explosion: “Now we are all sons of bitches.” At the time of writing, I’m not exactly sure what the consequences are of identifying my apparent reliance on BuzzFeed. Maybe, in time, I’ll be inspired to make my own grandiose statement concerning BuzzFeed’s existence on this earth.
If that came off as a bit extreme, here’s an alternative for you – in the words of Kanye West: “Nothing in life is promised except death.” Damn right. Thank you, Kanye.
Though I may be overstepping my bounds, I now feel that it’s appropriate for me to share a story of sorts. I don’t want to come off as if I’m targeting a single individual, or to seem as if I’m shaming said individual for what she was doing. But my totally innocent, not creepy or strange, observations of her are completely relevant to what I’ve written thus far.
Before I’m crucified for looking at someone else’s laptop, I want to point out that I know every single one of you does the same exact type of thing. Don’t pretend you’ve never taken your boyfriend’s phone and read through his texts, just to discover that all he talks about with his friends are video games and food, you sick hypocrites. Oh, and as if you haven’t ever had the urge to look through all of your friends’ messages when they forget to logout of their social media accounts on your computer. You’re all narcissistic, self-righteous, and probably even a little bit, dare I say it, privileged.
Just kidding. That’d be fucked up if I really meant all that. But it doesn’t feel so good to read, does it?
Anyway, to get back to the point at hand, before I was about to be ruthlessly judged – a few weeks ago, I encountered a fellow member of BuzzFeed’s 200M.
I was struck with a kind of morbid curiosity when I saw what website this person was looking at, and though I tried not to pay it any attention, I quickly gave up. I won’t pretend that I tried very hard, or dramatically insist I didn’t want to watch. That sort of denial, in my mind, would be a sign I actually like BuzzFeed.
My encounter with this person, who I’ve chosen not to identify, took place in a classroom that seats around fifty people. Students are only meant to use laptops for taking notes, but this particular student, like everyone else in the room, was doing something completely different. I was positioned beside, and slightly behind this person, watching as she half-heartedly clicked through articles on her MacBook Pro. The expression on her face was one of complete passivity – a total, horrible calm. There wasn’t a single identifiable emotion in her dead, little face, as she stared into the abyss.
While I observed this person exhibit motor function during what appeared to be a waking coma, I quickly realized she wasn’t actually reading anything in its entirety. She would move from article to article, perhaps looking at their titles, and little else. Some might say this is a rather smart thing to do, because instead of wasting time reading what you might not enjoy, you’re skimming for a worthwhile piece. I would argue this is not the case, and that there are only two explanations for this person’s behavior.
If I were giving BuzzFeed the benefit of the doubt, I would say it’s entirely possible, though unlikely, that this person may have believed she was getting enough information out of each article by just reading their titles. As I look at BuzzFeed now, the first thing I see is “SO EASY. SO YUMMY. 7 Healthy Eating Tricks To Try This Week.” Unless clickbait is going through a fundamental change in its attention grabbing tactics, this first option is impossible.
That leaves only one, slightly comforting, explanation: the articles themselves, for whatever reason, weren’t interesting enough to keep this person’s attention. With that in mind, I think I understand why she may have been looking at BuzzFeed in the first place.
BuzzFeed doesn’t exist because 200M Brazilians enjoy its content. As was observable for me, BuzzFeed articles can only really produce a type of dissatisfaction that promotes continual viewership. It’s this sort of modern, clickbait induced ennui that drives BuzzFeed’s existence.
With titles that immediately catch the eye, clickbait provides a spark of interest in learning whatever information is being teased. This phenomenon, partnered with dissatisfying, trivial content within the article itself, could explain why this person I observed appeared as if she were just barely holding it together.
It was apparent to me that, regardless of what this person was looking for in BuzzFeed’s articles, she wasn’t able to find it. I would go as far as to state that, if you’re looking at BuzzFeed for extended periods of time, you probably don’t even know what you want. Will knowing why “We Need To Talk About Guys Wearing Basketball Shorts” make you a happier person? Will it satisfy you in any sense of the word? If you’re me, the answer is no, probably not. But I am slightly curious. And I would imagine most people feel the same way. Click.
I won’t exaggerate and call us all victims of BuzzFeed’s influence. People are fully capable of avoiding the website altogether. As I reflect on my own experience with BuzzFeed however, I see that, while I may criticize those who enjoy it, those people can’t, and hopefully don’t, exist in the way I’ve been envisioning them. It would seem illogical to me that anyone could actually enjoy BuzzFeed for extended periods of time, or feel fulfilled by what it has to offer.
Now, before some of you try and tell me I’m wrong about labeling BuzzFeed as pure clickbait, let me make it clear that I agree. I do recognize, despite my bias, a type of BuzzFeed news that does actually hold value. This “news” section of the website was opened when, according to Wikipedia (That’s right, what’re you gonna do about it?), “in late 2011, Ben Smith of Politico was hired as Editor-in-Chief, in a move to expand the site into serious journalism, long-form and reportage while maintaining its popular fun and entertainment-oriented content.”
My limited experience with this segment of the site was actually rather pleasant, but I still think it’s important to remember that what BuzzFeed promotes on its homepage and through its various Facebook profiles is how it wants to be viewed. If I were to kick a puppy in front of someone, and then try to save face by saying “I run an animal shelter,” I don’t think that would go over very well. The damage has been done, and no real effort to reform has been made. Though BuzzFeed may have a real news section, they’re still predominantly clickbait. With this in mind, I stand resolute. BuzzFeed, despite its benign, news oriented growth, remains rotten to the core.
Rather than continue to tease BuzzFeed for being “The Media Company for the Social Age,” I would like to offer a different approach. They don’t deserve that title, and I propose that we, as individuals in their 200M traffic statistics, take it back from them. I will no longer stand by and simply write about BuzzFeed’s journalistic sins. This is war in a very real sense, and I will begin my attack with a single goal in mind:
The complete dismantling of BuzzFeed.com.