We teach small children to form opinions on the world around them through discussion and questioning, to constantly explore the boundaries of their developing minds. Small folk come with an inbuilt preset to repeat ‘wwwhhhhhyyyyy?’ on a loop, but this is how they learn. An inquisitive kid is the hallmark of good parenting. So why do adults like their opinions neatly bundled up into 500 word, easy reading essays, via a clickable link from a minor celeb?
The rise of clickbait headlines has unarguably changed the shape of popular media. In a fast moving world where shareability is king, nobody has time to digest the facts, debate the opinion, research the semantics, and settle on an informed view anymore. Attention grabbing headlines are nothing new, but the structure of such headlines has fundamentally changed. In an 140 character world the now infamous ‘THE SUN BACKS BLAIR, Give Change a Chance’ would read ‘You’ll never guess who The Sun are backing – this one will blow your mind!’. An over saturation of information has lead to the need for a ‘curiosity gap’. You might follow The Sun on Twitter, but you probably also follow The Daily Mail, the Daily Mirror, Heat, OK, and Sky News. And they’re all competing for your clicks. The more clicks they get, the more money they make. You can’t give the consumer all of the information they need to know, why would they then click through?
The Think Piece is just long form clickbait. It lacks a discussion of facts, and crucially it often lacks credibility. Why ask an expert when asking a semi-famous tweeter would get you more page views? Don’t provide both sides of the argument, just provide the most controversial. People on the internet love to be angry, it’s almost a sport. Instead of debate, encourage rage commenting and Facebook sharing. ‘I can’t believe this person thinks the war on Syria is because of climate change!’ Not ‘I can’t believe the war in Syria has deep seated roots with climate change, let me research that further’. By making things personal, it provides commenters and consumers a figure to project their views upon and allows readers to engage with the article without ever really engaging with the content. Think Pieces do not encourage an environment of discussion or questioning.
The beauty of Think Pieces is rooted in the idea they can cover any subject in the world. Serious politics lies alongside bra chat (we all hate them) and rants about the Cereal Cafe (whatever it’s a good idea). This often means the serious weight of situations is lost in the ether. And THE KILLING OF INNOCENT PEOPLE IN THE MIDDLE EAST BECAUSE OF OUR RELIANCE ON SAUDI ARABIA TO PROP UP OUR ECONOMY is actually a *tad* more serious than that flipping Cereal Cafe (we get it, you don’t like cereal). But the two are presented on equal footing.
The way we consume media changes how our brain processes it. To borrow terms from Aristotle, more commonly used in fiction, Think Pieces are a classic example of Diegesis – narrative explanation. The opposite of this is Mimesis – direct imitation. The term ‘Mimetic Imagination’ refers to the ‘shaping of the human psyche’. It is often used when talking about the way children learn via story telling – the way they climb inside a narrative and explore various character view points; allowing them to develop opinions and empathy. This is different in Diegetic works as the narrator is already presenting you with a view point, their view point. You explore the story through their bias, without being allowed to explore other angles. And adults are former children after all.
And so in conclusion, something Think Pieces don’t have to bother with cause that’s just your opinion, man, Think Pieces are inhibiting our ability to think about peace and also pretty much anything else.