A Think Piece About Think Pieces

Always pick sides! Team Aniston!! The internet demands it, even if it’s only half-thoughts it wants, thoughts like, “This, just this” or “This is everything.” “This” is not a sentence. Nor is “Best. Thing. Ever.” Nor “!!!!” But worse than inchoate enthusiasm is the “think piece” at the other end of the spectrum, a form of recreational sophistry usually in the service of some bullshit. Was Proust a Urologist? Girls, Not Bloomberg, Evicted Zuccotti Park. Does Breathing Make You Smarter? What Breaking Bad  Teaches Us About Building Brands. What Breaking Bad Teaches Us About the War on Drugs. What Breaking Bad Teaches Us About Toxic Relationships. (Those last three are real.) It makes you appreciate the listicle’s honest hypoambition; it’s the true slacker of internet forms. “13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” is a good listicle. It announces up front how little of your time it will waste.

We assert our right to not care about stuff, to not say anything, to opt out of debate over things that are silly and also things that are serious—because why pretend to have a strong opinion when we do not? Why are we being asked to participate in some imaginary game of Risk where we have to take a side? We welcome the re-emergence of politics in the wake of the financial crash, the restoration of sincerity as a legitimate adult posture. But already we see this new political sincerity morphing into a set of consumer values, up for easy exploitation. We are all cosmopolitans online, attentive to everything; but the internet is not one big General Assembly, and the controversies planted in establishment newspapers aren’t always the sort of problems that require the patient attention of a working group. Some opinions deserve radical stack (like #solidarityisforwhitewomen), but the glorified publicity stunts that dress up in opinion’s clothes to get viral distribution in the form of “debate” (Open Letters to Miley Cyrus) do not. We ought to be selective about who deserves our good faith. Some people duke it out to solve problems. Others pick fights for the spectacle, knowing we’ll stick around to watch. In the meantime they’ll sell us refreshments, as we loiter on the sideline, waiting to see which troll will out-troll his troll.

-The Editors of n+1 on Internet rage, American rage, and Constitutional rights. Read more from n+1.

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Sam Stecklow is a contributor to Longreads' blog, an editorial fellow at The Morning News, a contributor to The Airspace, and has seen every episode of 3rd Rock From the Sun.
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