Living the Writer Life has its struggles.
And dealing with Internet A.D.D. is one of them.
How many times have you seen a title like the one you just clicked? Seriously – How many times a day do you see a Facebook or Buzzfeed list catering to an interest group, itemizing the grief of such a lifestyle?
As writers, we have a duty. A mandate. A mantle of responsibility to tackle life’s problems with Story, not lists of “Struggles”.
And in this noisy, base world of Exclusion Lists, it’s only getting harder.
“12 Signs Your Town is Probably Racist,” by Harper Lee
Every day, we’re swarmed opinions.
There’s no escaping that once-taboo political table-talk. Doesn’t it seem that the moment Barack Obama sneezes, someone has to post a diatribe about the socialist microbes in his spittle?
Certainly, widespread issues are brought to light that need to be – police brutality is the most obvious recent example. And it’s good that society’s passion for justice is finding a voice to be heard by those in power.
But the world is a complicated and unfair place to exist. The victory against injustice is still a long way off, if it is ever to be won at all. A more perfect form of society probably exists – but it is unlikely that a perfect society will exist at all, ever.
Yet if you read your Facebook Newsfeed, it seems if everyone could just stop being a bigot, then all of life’s problems will disappear.
“7 Signs You’re the Ugliest Sibling,” by Hans Christian Andersen. I totally agree with #4!
It seems that bullying will never end.
You know what I’m talking about – if you were “different,” then you had 12 years of adolescent hell to look forward to.
And while I’m all for ending bullying, it all seems to be relative.
We’ve entered a new era: the Time of Shaming. Should one dare to share an opposing opinion on some lifestyle or lifestyle choice (including addictions, beliefs, or – frankly – acts of blatant stupidity) that person becomes a “Shamer.”
Facebook is full of people guilty of “Fat-Shaming,” “Skinny-Shaming,” or the more general “Body-Shaming”. And again, I’m not suggesting anyone should continue bullying, but this is a perfect example of relative bullying.
That, by the way, is known as a double-standard.
It’s a wonderful thing that people of all shapes and sizes are finding their voices to speak out against cruelty, especially the suicide-inducing schoolyard variety. But to counter that with more name-calling is hypocritical and entirely unproductive to ending injustice.
Instead of calling the behaviors what they are – “cruelty,” “hate,” “condescension,” “evil,” – we descend into labeling these people, vilifying them for being so socially undesirable.
And instead of identifying cruelty by name, and teaching these people how to build bridges of understanding, we use terms like “Shamer” or “racist” or “bigot,” praying this will scold them into disappearing.
And that’s where Exclusion Lists come in.
“15 Problems Only Rich Guys in the Friend Zone Deal With,” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
We all want to feel special.
We crave praise for our uniqueness and forgiveness for our flaws.
Which is why these Exclusion Lists are such a base approach at reaching an audience. They are pure click bait, designed for the sole purpose of lassoing traffic from the rampant herd of internet readers.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with creating content with a target market in mind. In fact, if you don’t market your work to a specific group of people, you might as well be marketing it to no one at all.
Yet this particular style of list creation – the “Exclusion List” – is a stain on society because of its blatant promotion of victimhood.
Why use an exclusive word like “only”?
Why use absolutes and superlatives, like “most” or “worst” or “best” or “stop” – you know, the very language of judgment?
These words are divisive and damning. They suck the reader in through a narrow straw of isolation. Rather than functioning like a Myers-Briggs personality profile, which helps explain how one relates to others, these Interest Lists only seem to affirm ones deepest suspicions.
I’m not getting enough respect, and that’s discrimination.
People had better start respecting me, or they’re prejudiced.
Rather than encouraging readers to reenter their relationships with new hope and a heart of mercy (or at least empathy), these lists merely pad the ego and add to the ever-growing number of groups that count themselves victims of “discrimination.”
Don’t get me wrong. Racial discrimination is real. Gender discrimination is real.
And orientation discrimination is horrifyingly real, especially for those who are terrorized in their youth.
But being tall, sporting piercings, or choosing to only eat sea algae does NOT make one a victim.
Let’s say a person has a tattoo. Is he treated differently due to displaying the tattoo?
And you can find an Exclusion List for that here. Or here. Or here – (The 3rd link is one of those “Things You Should Stop Saying to ___________ People” lists, the kind that remind everyone else that they’re bigots and if they break one of society’s precious rules, then they are a bigot forever).
But the thrust of these lists is narrow exclusivity. ONLY people with tattoos get it. EVERYONE else, people without tattoos, needs to get with the program. MOST of them are probably judgmental, awkward assholes, and can go f—themselves.
Which is fun to say within the tattooed community, I assume, but at some point in life, folks who have tattoos will have to build a bridge with folks who don’t, and those other people might not be so enlightened.
Should curses blaze?
Shall we shout about “disrespect” and “hate” and “Tattoo-Shaming?”
“24 Reasons to Date Your Minister,” by Nathaniel Hawthorne. #5 made my jaw drop!
I’m sorry, tattoo-people. I picked on you.
But it could be anything.
There’s many more, but I’m afraid of getting malware from Buzzfeed.
So how does this all funnel back to story-telling?
Well, first of all, don’t you dare write an Exclusion List post on your blog.
You’re better than that. You’re a bridge-builder, not a stroker of egos or pleaser of whiners.
Second, tell stories with Unique Characters who seek Empathetic Goals for Unique Reasons – all with Familiar Themes.
That sounds wordy, and it is – and I explain it better in this post.
But here’s an example.
My favorite film company hands-down is Pixar. And perhaps their most courageous film is Up.
The protagonist is Carl, a widowed retiree slowly dying of old age and guilt. But he flies his house, via balloons, to Paradise Falls. During the journey, Carl discovers that his true adventure was daily life spent with his wife, Ellie. Freed from the guilt of thinking he had disappointed her, Carl finds the energy to live joyfully in the present in Ellie’s honor.
What a story! And what a unique take on perhaps life’s greatest tragedy, the death of dear loved ones.
We can easily see Carl as a victim. Life took his unborn child, his hard-earned money, and finally his beloved wife. It left him with nothing, and then decided to take that too as urban development demanded he give up his house.
Can you imagine if Carl had Facebook!?
“12 Struggles of Elderly Life Young People Can’t Understand.”
“22 Things To NEVER Say To a Widower.”
Yet Pixar crafted a beautiful story out of agonizing tragedy. They took Evil and pushed their characters through it into Good. They managed to take a man crushed by Death and help him find joy in Life.
Not everyone can work for Pixar (unless you’re reading this, Ed Catmull, you handsome devil….)
And we all have to pay the bills and occasionally write that click-baity list post.
But our highest aspiration should be to tackle the limitless complexities of life with powerful, boundary-breaking STORIES, not damning and isolating lists.
If every list-post writer chose to use his/her time writing a short story, or even a chapter of a story, two things would happen:
1. There’d be fewer posts.
2. There’d be better posts.
We can ALL be okay with that.
The Internet is already a loud, clamorous, paranoid, defensive, accusatory, and unbridled zoo. Let us, as story-tellers, do our part to tame it and focus it with stories that take steps toward building bridges between vastly different people.
Let’s tell stories of would-be victims who fought the good fight and, for better or worse, strove for victory up to the end.
That’s an all-inclusive formula for life’s many messes.
Cover Image: Steve Depolo, Creative Commons