When Gawker posted their analysis of Clickhole last week, titled “The Onion’s New Website Seems Silly, But it Makes a Good Point,” I immediately thought endtimes are near. We’ve reached a surreal apex of digital content sharing that’s so absent-minded and shallow that we’re letting ourselves be defined online by the links we share and don’t share (share this one). And Clickhole posts are pretty much the perfect red flag for folks who can’t tell the difference between what’s real and what’s really stupid.

Clickhole, for those new to the scene, is The Onion’s brand new parody site. It’s a strange trip that blends Buzzworthy, The Onion’s own brand of sadistic satire, and manages to capitalize on the listicle fever that just won’t break.

And it’s dead on. Capitalizing on crumbling web content standards and the dopey mentality that comes with glibly sharing garbage on Facebook to make your day pass more quickly, it’s a somewhat terrifying sign of the times and may just be a sign of the coming apocalypse.

The highlight of the Gawker post is an incredibly bizarre “Racism is bad” video created by Clickhole. In it, a dragon-dino hybrid stomps through a psychedelic wormhole to video game bedding with a finale text of “Nelson Mandela was a good person.” No, it doesn’t make sense, because it doesn’t have to. It’s a perfectly absurd 35-second mind fuck.

Now, I don’t want to get deeply philosophical about “click-baiting” sites and headlines created by the likes of Upworthy, ViralNova, and Buzzfeed here and now, but it is something we’ll be talking about endlessly for the next decade. As evidenced by Gawker’s — and Gawker’s commenters’ — take on the whole situation.

Readers, as it happened, noted that Clickhole parodies Gawker, too. And to that, the Gawker post’s author, Jordan Sargent, piped up with this gem:

“I’m not making a moral judgement on which “viral content between Gakwer and Buzfeed and Upworthy is “better” or “worse” (though Upworthy is definitely the worst, obviously.) But very clearly the form being satirized by Clickhole is 98% Buzzfeed and Upworthy and 2% “the rest of the internet” (in which Gawker is included).”

The fact that we’re arguing about the value and methodology behind viral content is good, I think, but someone else needs to be thinking what I’m thinking:

This is making us all dumber.

I’ve bemoaned the annoyingness of our quiz infatuation, and the seemingly unquenchable need to chime in with your social media voice to honor the passing of a celebrity that had, in all honesty, very little impact on you  (all those Maya Angelou quotes were really over-the-top).

Facebook reminds me of that time-old phrase “If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.” And I try not to let Facebook run my emotions up and down (though it has in the past) and use it as a tool for spreading writing, worthwhile arguments on current events, and keeping in touch with friends through messages.

But we’ve arrived at a point where a scroll through many of our Facebook “News Feeds” presents quiz after spoof article after click-bait headline leading us to a misleading story (or video) and a page of ads.

We end up developing a heightened sense of values for our digital content. We’ve always held a few internet content providers in higher regards but even that seems to be blurring – everyone’s moving towards the middle.

Click-baiting, in general and in a theoretical sense, doesn’t have to be ill-natured or dishonest. Crafting compelling headlines is a game. But my hope is that compelling headlines come from compelling content. Clickhole is certainly worth a scroll that yields a handful of chuckles. Doesn’t it seem disconcerting to you that your friends, without the nuance of voice and body language, seem to be passing around the results to quizzes like “Is your Dad Proud Of You?” or “If I Ordered Fries, Would You Have Any?

I won’t lie – I’ve been paranoid about the dumbing down of our media landscape for a good decade. I was a fascinated Neil Postman fanboy in college and I started to question what would happen to our intellectual climate as people stop reading things that are “long” (TL; DR) and stop thinking critically for themselves (Rachel Maddow can do that for you). It hasn’t gotten as bad as I thought it would yet, but we’re still hurtling towards that inevitable cesspool of lowest common denominator entertainment.

I have no solutions — not yet, at least. It’s just horrifying to watch it all unfold over time. We’ve become experts at blocking, following, unfollowing our “friends” because of the way they choose to craft and hone an online identity, which, let’s be real, is extremely difficult to differentiate from our own In Real Life (IRL) identities.

I’m confident and hopeful that the brain-drain that swirls around quiz culture is a fad that’ll pass eventually. But as newspapers and books and letter-writing dissipate into nothingness, so I fear, does our collective intelligent consciousness.

About The Author

Staff writer

Bill's a small town, public school boy that grew up in the Hudson Valley of New York and attended Hamilton College and the University of Oregon. In New York, he interned for Next magazine, Out magazine, and Flavorpill.com. As soon as he got to Philly he sent about a dozen emails to then-music editor Brian McManus, begging for an internship. Six years later he's the Senior A&E writer for PW and the Staff writer for the South Philly Review.

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