Friday, December 12, 2014

Dear Internet Writers, Please Stop Pretending You Know Me

Headline writing has always been the redheaded stepchild of literature, but the internet (which freeing us from typographic constraints, ought to have made things better) seems to have brought out the worst in headline writing. Or maybe it's even deeper, since the problem seems to afflict the entire article.

The formula that goes "Something Bland. You'll Never Believe What Happens Next!" was a lousy one the first time it was used. It has now been used 5,403,243 times. It really, really should never be used again. Yes, *I* will believe what happened next, because *I* know exactly how oversensationalized internet stories work. Everyone will burst into dancing, somebody will do something really nice without an obvious reason, and/or a crafter will make something quite clever. If it were something truly unbelievable, like a visitation from Narn or a rift in the space-time continuum, you wouldn't need to jazz it up with such a lame headline. "Giant lizards from space in awesome leather coats visit Munich" just doesn't need anything more.

It's probably the need for constant content. We just can't have these massive bandwidths of information and let them go empty, can we? Yet, giant lizards so seldom visit. So we must pretend that the adventures of our pet cats are Every! Bit! As! Exciting!

(You know another meme that needs to die now? "Keep Calm and . . . " Yes, it was a fine wartime slogan and the first 15 iterations were mildly amusing. It's done now. Let it die. Stop making t-shirts.)

But the *really* annoying thing is when this presumption moves from doubting my ability to believe completely believable things and begins making moral assumptions. Such as this article, titled "5 Ways You Are Unknowingly Destroying Your Husband and Killing Your Marriage." Well, I surely did not know I was killing my marriage in those ways, especially since the first one on the list was "Living beyond your means" and mentioned how I might have to suppress my desire for a Kate Spade bag. (Actually, I have no idea what a Kate Spade bag is, but I was pretty happy when my friend gave me a bit of silver wire so I could rewire the handle on the purse I got from the thrift store a year or two ago and hopefully get another couple of years out of it.) Without this article, I definitely would not have known my rampant spending was threatening my marriage, although I had noticed that at times the dry heaves I get at the prospect of ever spending money on anything do seem to cause a bit of a strain.

OK, at some point the article did throw a "might" in there. As in, you "might" have these problems. But, you know, let us not let the possibility that different people struggle with different things (and, oh, that not every minor stress in a marriage is sending it into a death-spiral) keep us from writing a sensational headline.

Why is it so difficult to just write what you mean? What is meant appears to be, "Here are some attitudes that can cause more problems in a marriage than first appears." Nothing's wrong with that.

Of course, once an internet article writer faces up to an honest, straightforward assessment of what they have to say, they might just discover that . . . it's not much. And that would let all that bandwidth go empty. We couldn't have that, now could we?

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