For Halloween this past year, I dressed up as shitty content. What I did not do is deliver a deep explanation pertaining to what I meant by shitty content. Rather, I just wore an all-brown ensemble and clipped a large list of ridiculous headlines to my sweater. These headlines — the ostensible shitty content — are the precise mechanism that move the wheels of digital media in 2016. They’re manipulative in that they drive traffic (how come no one has ever punned about how much traffic we are supposed to drive when by definition, traffic stops you from driving, for heaven’s sake) under the guise of one thing and then hook you in as something that is often completely different.
Example: Business Insider is murdering the dance floor with the way their headlines are worded, which tend to read like this: “How One Person Drank Cappuccinos for a Year and Was Then Elected President of Bhutan.”
If you’re unfamiliar with that format, surely you can identify with this one:
“I Stopped Drinking Coffee and You’ll Never Guess What Happened to My Body.”
Spoiler alert: nothing happened other than fewer tooth stains.
Or this one:
“What I Learned from Refusing to Clip My Toe Nails for a Month.”
These stories seem manufactured as if only to elicit a rise out of the numb minds that navigate through the perpetual scroll of exhaustive news feeds and really make you wonder: what the fuck is your point?
Yet somehow, time and again, it works. We fall for it. We feed into it. Eventually, we even look for it. Call it the response to our collective pursuit for a no-frills, lay-it-on-me approach to cutting through the clutter of all the content that is being shoved in our faces, but my guess is that we’re hanging on to these headlines in anticipation that we’ll learn new things about ourselves to apply to the items on our self-improvement to-do lists. Except, guess what? There’s a better way to do that. Write your own headline.
It’s simple. Isolate one reason you might be able to fancy yourself newsworthy. Harp on that reason.
Now blow it out of proportion and attach to your clause an extreme that will be impossible to ignore.
I’ll go first.
“How One Girl Got Invited to Fashion Week by Wearing Birth Control on Her Person”
That was a cheap shot, I’m sorry. Let me try again.
“Daughter of Middle Eastern Immigrants Stalks Jewish Man from Brooklyn, Forces Him to Marry Her”
One more? Okay:
“I Saved $2,000 in One Year by Cutting my Own Hair and Refusing to Get Manicures”
Okay, you’re up!