There are a lot of reasons to be scared these days, from mass shootings and terror attacks to the prospect of a nuclear North Korea. What truly keeps me up at night, though, is the rise of the internet list and its impact on you, me and everyone else with a web connection and a few minutes to spare.
Why are online lists, or listicles, so terrible? So many reasons. So many reasons, in fact, that the best way to present them to you, the oh-so-busy, modern multitasker, is in a fun, easily digestible format you can read on your phone or computer at work.
This calls for a list!
1. They’re Lazy
Speaking as someone who’s been paid money to write web-friendly content, I can confidently tell you listicles are incredibly easy to write. Based on what I’ve seen, many writers like to tackle them because they require very little effort. No interviews necessary and you never have to go too deep, as each section on the list is so brief. The deal gets even sweeter if you can rely entirely on your own knowledge and experience!
“15 Most Powerful Members of the Justice League!” “10 Best Spider-Man Toys of All Time!” “Top 10 Top-10 Lists of 2016!”
Worst of all – they help encourage laziness among readers. There is so much quality journalism on the internet and in actual magazines and newspapers (remember those?). Sure, a list with big, colorful pictures or funny gifs is easy to breeze through, but what are you actually learning? Certainly, this isn’t true of every listicle, but you’ve got to admit, a lot of them regurgitate facts we already know. Take the time you spend clicking those “Next” buttons and read an actual article.
Believe me, it’s far more rewarding than getting to the end of a disappointing list. Unless learning Superman’s greatest love is Lois Lane truly is a shocking revelation to you.
2. They’re Pointless
Perhaps the worst kind of list is one that features fan theories and nothing more. These require no actual research and would be more at home on LiveJournal than the front page of a news website.
You know the type – “5 Ways Avengers: Infinity War Could End!” “10 Deceased Actors ILM Should Bring Back Next!”
“3 Ways Star Wars: Episode IX Could Deal With Carrie Fisher’s Death!” And then, #1 is “She died off-camera between Episodes VIII and IX!” Bravo! Someone get the Pulitzer Prize ready!
Not news, and very often, the ideas are uninspired.
3. They’re Tacky
You know what, forget what I said in that last point. The worst kind of list is actually the one that shamelessly chases page clicks, even if it means ruining regular visitors’ experience. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to a website the day a major film or comic comes out, only to find a list with a thumbnail that spoils a major surprise. So even if you don’t click, what could have been an amazing discovery has been spoiled.
It’s really sickening on the parts of editors who allow that kind of thing to happen. And no, I don’t agree with those who warn to “stay off the internet” the day of or even days before a major release. Spoilsports can’t hold the internet hostage. Websites need to respect their visitors. Sure, they want views, but they’re going to lose more than they gain by being so transparent with their greed.
“10 Things That Surprised Us About Doctor Strange,” and there’s a preview thumbnail of Thor. Thanks for ruining the surprise! Here’s a list for you – “1 Way to Regain Your Dignity” – Stop spoiling major releases with your lists!
4. They’re Everywhere
This is especially of comic book websites, where lists are spreading faster than M-Pox. Before online comic journalism was a thing, I read Wizard Magazine religiously and very much enjoyed its list features. And when they’d occasionally pop up on a site I visited, sure, I’d click through them. They were fun!
But now they’re everywhere. In some cases, multiple lists go live in the same day – on the same website! Whatever happened to quality over quantity? Clearly these websites didn’t learn from comic publishers in the 1990s – oversaturating the market with mediocre content eventually blows up in your face.
I’m sure that list exists, too. “10 ’90s Marketing Gimmicks That Almost Killed Comics.” Read it!
5. They’re Playing You
Do you seriously think websites that pump out list after list are doing so to keep you informed? To teach you some obscure facts you never knew? No, they’re chasing website visitors. They want your clicks.
Listicles are the equivalent of fast food. You think you want them, but 10 minutes later, you realize the error of your ways.
Stop clicking on those lists. Send websites a message that you’re going to a comic website – or any news site – for actual journalism. Interviews with creators that relied on thought and actual effort, or analysis of stories that aren’t condensed so as to not lose readers with zero attention span.
Of course, websites will say lists pay their bills. It’s what people want. So, let’s become better so the sites we visit can do the same. Don’t we want to be better anymore? If we, the comic-site visitors, want quality articles, let’s stop reading subpar lists and show websites they can focus their efforts on crafting truly great work.
For so long, intelligent comic readers had to defend their love of the art form from those who viewed the books as being less-than literature. They had to deal with criticism from those who felt comics were reading material for those who still needed pictures to accompany their stories.
Isn’t it ironic that today, even non-comic fans are the ones who can’t read something unless it’s short and overflowing with gifs?
Don’t Let Journalism Die
I know, I broke the numbered list format. Also, I don’t care.
Journalism is in danger. The recent presidential election made that very clear. We have an incoming president denying facts in 140 characters or less and news anchors getting drunk live on New Year’s Eve and chasing ratings while actual news is breaking on another continent.
Maybe I’m in the minority. Maybe I’m alone in wanting to know more about the men and women who write my favorite characters more than how many times Spider-Man has changed his costume. Maybe I’m wasting precious time reading through Marvel’s April solicitations instead of the much more convenient list of 10 key takeaways.
You know, back in the mid-90s, when I started to get into X-Men comics, I didn’t have high-speed internet. I had the X-Men animated series and trading cards that featured characters, costumes and storylines I’d never seen before. To fill in the blanks, I hit the back-issue bins and read, read, read until I was caught up. It took a long time to catch up with decades of convoluted X-Men history, but every step of the journey was so much fun. I can’t imagine condensing that entire experience into a breezy list that takes five minutes to read.
So, as someone who cares about comics – and the world (crazy, I know) – I’m going to skip the lists and get the facts on my own. I hope you’ll do the same.
TL;DR: Yeah right! This encourages just as much laziness as a list! Want a TL;DR? Here: