Competing Spectacles by Tony Reinke, Free for CAPC Members
Reinke wants to help readers not be manipulated and enthralled by the spectacles of our media age. Instead, he shows that we see the greatest spectacle of all in the Cross.
I hate flying.
No, I am terrified of flying. It’s a completely irrational fear. I know all of the statistics about how safe flying is compared to driving and how more than 95% of people involved in some sort of plane crash survive. But I have absolutely no control over the success of a particular flight, not to mention the fact that I’m in a giant man-made hunk of aluminum sailing miles above the surface of the earth. (I mean, really, what could go wrong?) So every time I fly, I talk myself through the worst-case scenario. I force myself to think about the one thing the majority of the human race spends their time actively avoiding: dying.
The truth behind the humor of Clickhole is that we’re not okay. And maybe that’s right where we need to be.Not many of us like to dwell on the inevitable reality that we are all, without exception, moving toward a headlong collision with death. It makes us a bit nauseous. “The feeling is common to all of us,” wrote Albert Camus in 1938. “For most men the approach of dinner, the arrival of a letter, or a smile from a passing girl are enough to help them get around it. But the man who likes to dig into the ideas finds that being face to face with this particular one makes his life impossible.”
Humans are distractible creatures. Our attention spans vary, but there are few things that I enjoy dwelling less on than my own mortality. It’s much easier to distract myself with various tasks, technology, and daydreams than to think about the fact that, one day, I am going to die.
As I am writing this, I have wasted at least forty-five minutes mindlessly skimming Twitter, BuzzFeed, and other sites in the last two hours. We find ourselves drifting into this distraction amidst stressful deadlines (me, writing this article) relational and work stress, even family time.
With the number of likes, shares, and reposts (and the amount of time that I have mercilessly killed), it’s not hard to deduce that BuzzFeed and its copycat sites (LifeBuzz, Distractify, and all of those clickbait-y sites clogging up Facebook like bacon grease in your plumbing) have made an art out of distracting the world.
What’s behind that, I would argue, is not only a society with more distractions available to it but a society with a lot to be distracted from. Pinterest makes us covet like crazy. Facebook and Twitter make us crazily self-obsessive. And blog comments just make us crazy.
BuzzFeed is my internet happy place—and I’m not the only one (the numbers don’t lie). It distracts me from everything else in my life that frustrates me.
But BuzzFeed et al. make us happy. They invite us to craft a narrative out of our experience and the experience of others. They are existential Instagram filters telling “twentysomethings” like me how to process our experiences, our childhood, our government, and our surroundings. They distract us from our distractions, and we give them money through our clicks. We give clickbait our existential dread, and they give us videos of cats.
And then comes Clickhole, The Onion’s answer to our obsession with the Buzzfeed phenomenon.
And it’s perfect.
Clickhole is a ruthless satire of Buzzfeed, Upworthy, the Huffington Post, and all of their copycat sites. While The Onion exists to mock current events, politics, and the state of the world, Clickhole exists to mock what we use to distract ourselves from those things. Clickhole exists to remind us that we are taking the clickbait hook, line, and sinker—and ruthlessly heading toward a nihilistic confirmation of our ultimate meaninglessness and depravity. The site doesn’t let us get away with crafting an alternative narrative of reality to distract us from the cold harsh reality that things are not okay. We are not as happy, moral, kind, put-together, crafty, or thoughtful as we think we are. Thanks, Clickhole.
The content that Clickhole pushes out is carefully designed to get us to mock ourselves. It wants to show us how insincere and inescapably mundane the clickbait junk food that we consume really is. Clickhole knows what it’s doing. Better yet, Clickhole knows us.
Are you a good person? How can you know if you are? I mean, you probably feel like you try to be. But that nagging guilt doesn’t go away easily. We want to have a secure, consistent, tangible identity. We turn to these BuzzFeed quizzes, as Amy Peterson writes, “out of the desire to be known and named.” While we may take BuzzFeed quizzes and the like with thoughtless impulse, we want to know and understand ourselves.
Clickhole lightheartedly confirms our deepest fear: maybe we aren’t okay. We laugh about it at the time because we know Clickhole doesn’t really think we’re bad people. They’re just being funny. But we know our own hearts.
Is what I’m doing right? Are my parents proud of me?
We may mindlessly take these identity-assigning quizzes but deep down, we take them because we want to know ourselves. We are afraid that we are failing and will die unfulfilled. We are not Don Draper; we aren’t even Joan. We want to find ourselves in a narrative—even a trivial one—that offers fulfillment and identity. These quizzes offer to quiet the suspicion, if only for a moment, that we are not okay and we will not make it. Clickhole lightheartedly parades our insecurity in front of us by mocking the absurdity of this seemingly mindless pursuit.
For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. (Ecclesiastes 3:19)
Like Solomon, we strive after something to satisfy—a job, a paycheck, recognition for a job well done, a relationship—and always comes up unfulfilled. But we distract ourselves with visions of the good life.
The truth behind the humor of Clickhole is that we’re not okay. And maybe that’s right where we need to be.
Thanks again, Clickhole
The reality of being human is that we are not okay. “All have sinned,” and we feel the fallout of that sin. We live in confusing times. Life is hard in general, and on top of that, institutions that have stood for generations no longer seem to hold our identity. A generation of people are reinventing themselves, coming of age, and stepping out into a world full of oppression, greed, hate, death, and brokenness—and all of it just a click away. Every generation goes through something like this process, and every generation copes with the existential dread. In Camus’s time it was the “approach of dinner, the arrival of a letter, or a smile from a passing girl ” (as it still is), just as for the baby boomers, it was often rock’n’roll music and television. For us, the Internet both presents the existential dread and distracts from it.
Sometimes we need to be distracted because life is unbearably hard. But we don’t need endlessly to run from this existential dread. Instead, we need the courage to acknowledge that as a society, we’re not okay! Right-wingers, left-wingers, evangelicals, atheists, hipsters, and everyone in between are all broken. Thank God for humor like Clickhole that winsomely and convincingly articulates how not okay everything really is.
In fact, if we don’t come to terms with the truth that we are not doing okay existentially, Christianity makes no sense. To accept the gospel narrative and the Bible’s account of salvation, we have to “get on the airplane,” so to speak. Our mortality and immortality are the soil in which the gospel grows. Since the gospel hinges on humans being unable to create “the good life” for themselves, Clickhole can serve as a wildly funny Ecclesiastes for the mid-2010s. If you don’t start realize the vanity of the pursuit of the world, you’ll never realize the unfading goodness of pursuing the Kingdom. So thanks, Clickhole.
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