A while back, I wrote an article about great ideas that the Internet ruined by using them wrong too much. And if I can be honest, I thought it was pretty good. "You really hit the nail on the head," I said, referring to myself in the second person. "What?" asked a passing stranger. "No no no," I said, looking up from my phone, "I was talking to the digital version of my past self on the Internet." "Oh," he replied.
But since that article ran, I've noticed a lot more great ideas that have been hijacked by the dumbest among us and turned into cruel parodies of their former selves. This wanton intellectual irresponsibility made me greatly sad, so I wrote an article about it. Twist: You're reading that article right now.
Sergey Nivens/iStock/Getty Images
So you're scrolling down your social media feed, like you tend to, clicking on dicks and boobs. But then you see a headline that stops you dead in your tracks. You blood turns to ice in your veins, your face goes white, and you shit out an actual living baby elephant. You have to click on this link. You physically can't stop yourself.
Perspiration streaming down your noggin, you click the link. The webpage opens. You read, and within seconds, realize you've been had. The article is nothing like what the Bolded, Underlined, And Title-Cased Words promised you. It's some cut-rate version of that promise. It promised "mind-blowing facts about Back To The Future" but then it just tells you that Eric Stoltz was first cast as Marty McFly, which you already knew. It's like cracking a bottle of Laphroaig and finding it's full of Cutty Sark, or opening up your John Wick Blu-ray case to find a DVD of The Equalizer. In short, you've been fooled. Your brain has been violated. Now you don't know what to trust anymore. You're angry and scared and naked and there's a baby elephant. That is clickbait.
Anup Shah/DigitalVision/Getty Images
Cute? Yes. Harbinger of evil? Also yes.
Or at least, that's what I always thought clickbait was. Apparently, everybody else thinks it's something different.
How We Ruined It:
Whenever I see the word "clickbait" now, it's just being used to mean "something on the Internet I don't like." Pandering is now clickbait, but writing something incendiary is also clickbait. Racists write clickbait for other racists, whiny liberals write clickbait for other whiny liberals. Someone put a joke in a title? Gah, you bastards, you clickbaited me! The term has become so broad that it's effectively meaningless. And I know why.
The word "clickbait," outside of context and any meaning we give it as a culture, describes every title for every piece of content on the Internet. Most traffic for a given anything comes from social media, so the title and maybe an image is the only thing people will see when they're deciding whether to click. So the title is literally bait for clicks. That's its function: It's an ad for the entire article. Not unlike how front-page headlines were ads for the entire newspaper, or magazine covers were ads for the rest of the ads that are found inside of magazines.
Don't forget: this system overwhelmingly benefits the consumer, because we get to customize our social-media feed and then sit back and watch as people pitch us, in just a few characters, something they hope we'll like. "Entertain me!" we say, leaning back and eating a peeled grape like Egyptian royalty. "OK, how does '26 Harry Potter Quotes Made Hilarious By Replacing 'Wand' With 'Penis'' sound?" The internet asks. "Stop trying to make me click on you!" We screech. Right, okay.
DAJ/amana images/Getty Images
Does "6 Kinds of Makeup I Smeared On My Face To Make You Pricks Laugh" please you, master?
And this diffusion of meaning actually bums me out, because the kind of clickbait I pointed out at the beginning -- the kind with the lying -- is actually pretty dangerous. It threatens the foundation of our entire clickbait-based media economy. And if that falls apart, what system will we use instead? I can't think of a better one. Can you? Let me know in the comments, but give me a 60-character summary or your idea before you give me the whole essay-length explanation. I want some sense of whether what I'm going to read is any good before I start.
#3. Plot Holes
Pointing out plot holes is fun. And I do it a lot, because I see everything. And when I'm leaving a theater with some friends, whether what we just saw was good or bad, the first thing we do is kick around the details of the story on the way home -- a conversation that involves (but is not limited to) plot holes. "I feel like there was so much detail put into the spikey murder cars that Mad Max drove," we might say. "So how exactly did Han Solo find the Millennium Falcon so quickly after it left Jakku?" someone might ask. "When Alvin cut his nose snorting coke off a knife, did he know that Simon was trying to resuscitate the OD'd Theodore in the bathroom? Were we supposed to understand that he was just too far gone at that point?"
20th Century Fox
Seriously, I see everything.
Only one of those things is a plot hole. And that's the point, because there are always so many different kind of observations and points to make, and that's part of the fun of seeing movies with friends.
How We Ruined It:
This is less about the technical definition of the word "plot hole" (which we could debate all day) and more about how people react to them. Somewhere along the line, people decided that plot holes were important problems in storytelling. Like if they point out that in Jurassic Park, the iconic T. Rex attack doesn't make any sense because the rex would have to scale a 100-foot wall, then they've defeated the movie and it sucks now.
Alex Wong/Getty Images News/Getty Images
You and your Presidential Medal of Freedom can blow me, Steven Suckberg!
I'm sorry, but that's not how it works. The reality is that the logic of a story is just one of many ingredients that make that story fun. It's the sauteed garlic in the great big ratatouille of adventure. That garlic may taste wrong and overly garlicky if you eat it on its own, but once you stick it in there with all the other ingredients, it's delicious. Plot holes can exist and be fun to talk about and still not actually affect how good the movie is at all.
Do you think that nobody involved with Jurassic Park realized this problem? That movie had 25 goddamn months of pre-production. They knew the logic didn't make sense, but the emotion of the scene does. The sense of peril and excitement works fantastically. If they had restructured the movie so that it logically made sense, Spielberg wouldn't have been able to get the shots he wanted. If you have to sacrifice logic for a sense of adventure, then that ain't exactly Sophie's Choice.
Let's compare two totally different plot holes in totally different movies. In Citizen Kane, Kane says "Rosebud" as his dying words, which kicks off the whole plot. But if you watch the scene carefully, you'll realize that it's impossible for anyone to have heard him. So technically, the whole movie can't have happened. Similarly, in Fast & Furious 6, Brian O'Connor flies from Europe to America, gets arrested, gets incarcerated, and breaks out, all in a span of 24 hours. Just like the opening scene of Citizen Kane, this is physically impossible. But nobody notices (or if they notice, they don't care about) those details when they're watching the movie. Because we're too caught up in the story. Do you understand my point? It's that Fast & Furious 6 is just as good as Citizen Kane.
Universal Studios, RKO Studios
Note the similarities in shot composition.