When Did We Start Writing About Nothing? On Modern Apolitical Journalism

Thomas Donovan

Charlie Schine

Charlie Schine

An article popped up on my Facebook feed last week titled, “These 3 Dudes Drove 1,000 Miles to Try the Only McDonald’s Pizza in America”. It was posted by Vice Media’s primary account, and was linked to their food-themed subsidiary, Munchies. My initial instinct was to click and read, just to spite the writer with how pointless their pseudo-investigative journalism about “these 3 dudes” was.

As I read about these privileged “dudes” who had the resources to waste on their stupid journey, I became frustrated with myself. Why was I wasting my time reading this when, if I point my eyes just 20 degrees up from my computer, there is an ever-growing list of books I want to read? While sometimes it’s okay to not be immersed in a serious and intellectual reading experience, I wonder why this content was created in the first place. In what way is the production and my consumption of this article good?

I do not mean to disrespect human interest stories in general, nor could I possibly say that my feed is representative of everyone’s feed, but these types of articles have become pervasive across platforms and mediums.

It’s not just that I don’t care, I think nobody should care.

Vice Media is a journalistic force that was founded on creating hard-hitting, muckraking content, which led to its widespread proliferation over the last 10 years. But one cannot ‘like’ Vice’s Facebook page without also being berated by articles like, “Melting Candy Set to Classical Music is Extremely Weird and Satisfying”. When the media company’s income passed $1 billion, did it not remain imperative that they continue to use their cultural influence to resist the seemingly too-big-to-fail mainstream media organizations? The rebellious attitude on which Vice used to thrive has been utterly ruined by articles that do something even worse than trap people in an echo chamber.

They hide from readers the reality and severity of our society altogether. Constantly.

The large community of cultural critics (art, music, movies, etc.) has also experienced this spread of purely distracting articles. The AV Club, a subsidiary of The Onion devoted to cultural journalism and some political musings, is the most guilty of this. More than ever, articles like “12 foods (and 1 unpleasant-tasting liqueur) forever synonymous with Chicago” and “New Girl finally gave Schmidt a first name” plague the website.

I categorize these last two articles under the same category as the Pizza Journey: useless clickbait. The only places suitable for this kind of meaningless regurgitation of facts are casual social encounters and websites based on user-generated content, like Reddit.

The purely benign quality of mainstream nonpolitical cultural critique is detestable in that it occupies what has become precious social media real estate with “journalism” that only serves to waste the reader's time.

It is more important to have an opinion on the implications of culture than on something which simply lies within it. But when we are presented with a plethora of worthless content, it is natural to take a stance and absorb it. I cannot help but to click on something like “Remembering the Man Who Took a Selfie with a Bomb Belt-Wearing Plane Hijacker” and then proceed to not only have an opinion about the contents, but also the existence of the article itself. I tell people about this and then we talk about the absurdity of it. During this whole process of information absorption and sharing, I have gained no further understanding of the culture and society I participate in every day. Complacency is reinforced.

Cultural journalists continue to abuse their platform while real, damaging ideas go largely unquestioned. There needs to be a reallocation of energy in the community of cultural analysts towards a more progressive and self-critical ideal, so that content generated by employed journalists makes social media a more productive and challenging space.