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.
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.
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.
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.
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?"
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.
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.
Note the similarities in shot composition.
Way back in 1973, a fanfiction writer named Paula Smith wrote a parody Star Trek story about a young girl named "Mary Sue" who was the most outrageously badass person in the world, despite being 15. She was making fun of writers who, as they're learning to write, insert idealized versions of themselves into their stories. It's a common mistake (anyone who's ever taken a creative writing class has seen someone do it, or done it themselves), and it's definitely worth pointing out to people. At least, when that specific thing is happening in their short story and they're asking you for feedback on it. If you bring it up out of goddamn nowhere, then it's sorta meaningless.
How We Ruined It:
Somewhere along the line, people decided that any character in a story who is good at everything and doesn't have an obvious, crippling flaw is a "Mary Sue," and furthermore that this is a bad thing. Which is insane to me, because doesn't that mean that most characters in fiction are Mary Sues? Captain Kirk would be a Mary Sue. Steve Rogers is a Mary Sue -- if nothing else, he's from the goddamn '30s and he isn't even slightly racist. Odysseus from the Odyssey? Total Mary Sue (I'm not going to call him a "Gary Stu," because "Gary Stu" isn't a name). Bruce "Billionaire Playboy Genius Detective Martial-Arts Master" Wayne. Marty McFly in the first Back To The Future movie (before they gave him the "can't walk away from someone calling him chicken" flaw) is a total Mary Sue. He's sweet at guitar, rides around a kickass skateboard, and gets to date Claudia Wells and Elizabeth Shue at the same time.
As I'm writing this article, there's big online complaints about the new Star Wars hero, Rey, being a Mary Sue because she learns the Force really quickly and knows how to fix the Millennium Falcon. But without even getting into the plot of the movies -- jeez guys, this is Star Wars. Doesn't anybody else remember how Luke Skywalker became the best pilot in the galaxy and blew up a Death Star the very first time he flew an X-Wing? I'm also worried that people have forgotten the scene where Rey goes running into the woods to cry because a lightsaber gives her some brief, mild visuals.
And I don't think Rey qualifies as a self-insertion character, unless J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan fantasize about being teenage British girls.
"You Had One Job!"
In Ocean's 11, Don Cheadle robs a bank, but when he walks into the vault, an alarm goes off. Angrily, he turns around and says, "Aww, you tosser! You had one job to do!" Right then, thousands of people in the audience had a moment. They grew very still and realized that this was it. This was the last time they ever had to think up a new joke. Because from then on, whenever they saw someone fail at something, they could just say "You had one job!" And then people would laugh. Just like when they laughed at Don Cheadle.
The joke here is that "The Cheads" gave that guy one simple task (apparently, deactivating bank alarm systems is really easy -- I dunno, I've never tried), and he somehow managed to screw it up without even realizing that he'd done so.
Years later, some brave genius realized that the "you had one job!" quote was pretty funny, and meme'd it.
He didn't know. He couldn't have known. But this was the beginning of the dumbest fucking trend in the world.
How We Screwed It Up:
Here's a video called "Best Work Fails Compilation -- You Had One Job!" I realize that this might be a bit of a nitpick, but not a single person in it has only one job. So while it's funny when the people screw up (because it's always funny when someone screws up) I just don't think it fits the premise, here.
"You had one job: Managing the thousands of working parts in this massive construction project."
Let's not get me started on the people on Twitter who think winning a game of football is "one job."
"I did my one job, which was to sit on my ass and watch it!"
And I can't even begin to explain some of the other things Twitter thinks is only "one job" without threatening things that would get me executed for war crimes.
Not to mention the "You had one job!" Twitter account, which as far as I can tell has never used the joke correctly, ever.
I understand that this is a stupid thing to get hung up on, but it honestly bothers me more than anything else on this list. Especially when it comes with the insane assumption that certain kinds of jobs are simple. Does anyone really think that the guy who paints streets has one simple task in front of him?
Or that the most important part of making ice cream is making sure it looks like an evenly-excreted turd?
Or that restaurants keep someone employed at a full-time, livable wage while telling them: "The only thing you have to do is make sure that the napkins in our napkin dispensers are facing the right way"?
Because they don't. At least, none of the ones I ever worked at. Even if you're the owner's kid, you still need to figure out how to cram "steal liquor from the basement" into your rigorous schedule of "smoking pot all day" and "trying to steal my tips."
Here's one that I think actually works: You saw a stupid mistake and decided to make a joke about it, but instead of coming up with something original, you just said "You had one job!" and called it a day. Goddammit, guy. You had one job.
Cracked is doing a live podcast at the Upright Citizen's Brigade Theatre this Wednesday (1/6/16). You should come. It is literally Daniel O'Brien's birthday. Tickets are HERE!
The misused ideas don't stop here. See how we've lost the meaning of "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" in 4 Great Ideas That No One Uses Correctly Anymore. And learn that free speech doesn't mean protection from ridicule in 5 Things Everyone Gets Wrong About Free Speech.
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