If You Think DC Is Snobby, Wait Until You Read This

Did you appreciate that title? Well unless you are one of my subscribers, you had to click on it to get here, so we must suppose the answer is, “Yes.” As you‘ve taken my clickbait, let’s consider the issue of clickbait itself, in light of an article published this morning which is already causing commentary across the country. It’s a perfect example of why clickbait is so effective in achieving its ends, but also so ineffective in fostering higher standards of media creation and content.  

If you haven’t yet read the piece, today’s post from roadsnacks.net purports to list the “snobbiest” cities in the United States. Washington, D.C. turns out to be one of the worst offenders, based on the “science and data” which was reviewed in order to come up with these rankings. DC is the only city on the East Coast to make the top ten, coming in at #7 – just behind Irvine, California, and ahead of Costa Mesa, California.

A quick glance at the Road Snacks site reveals the sort of media content it produces. There are pieces such as “These Are The 10 Most Redneck Cities in Delaware”, which of course will encourage those individuals whom Road Snacks considers to be “rednecks” to read about how the places they live are terrible clichés. The same no doubt holds true for the residents of “The 10 Most Ghetto Cities in Florida”, who apparently also get their time in the sun. Not having taken the bait to click on these, or any of the other similarly titled pieces on the site, let’s return to the “Snobbish Cities” list in question.

In truth, the piece itself is a masterful example of what has come to be known as “clickbait”. By my reading about the controversially-titled piece on a mainstream media site, then clicking through to read the original post, and finally passing that post along to you, the owners of the site have made some dosh through my efforts, without their having to compensate me personally, and without their actually contributing anything whatsoever to a meaningful consideration of the question presented. This is, of course, precisely why these sorts of pieces are written.

The snobbiness or otherwise of Washington, D.C. is something which ought not to concern anyone outside of the D.C. tourism board, which no doubt will be preparing a press statement in response to the piece. True, the author states at the outset that, “[t]his article is an opinion based on facts and is meant as infotainment. Don’t freak out.” While I cannot speak for my fellow Washingtonians, I found little information and no entertainment in reading what, in the end, is little more than a Regina George “Burn Book”.

We may all very well say to ourselves, “Well, I don’t read clickbait,” and perhaps for the most part that may be true. Yet if a significant number of people did not read such pieces, at least on occasion, then they would not continue to be published. If we keep feeding it, we have an insatiable appetite for sensationalism, as evidenced by the media career of the entire Kardashian-Jenner family. And that nadir of media content, gentle reader, is most assuredly not a good thing.

Admittedly, taking the time to write about a piece of clickbait means that I, too, am contributing in some way to the cesspool from which it sprung. Yet perhaps by regularly questioning its value, we can at least try to recall what we are doing to ourselves when we break down and click. We may not be able to fundamentally alter human nature, but without holding up media providers to higher standards, we all end up rolling about in the gutter, however snobbish our zip code may be.


The Courtier And The Federalist: Seeing Sargent

I am pleased to share that today marks my first – and hopefully not my last – appearance in The Federalist, the well-known blog on culture, politics, and religion. In today’s post, “John Singer Sargent Reveals The Private Lives Of The Rich And Famous”, I take my recent visit to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and their current exhibition, “Yours Sincerely, John S. Sargent” as a touchstone, and invite readers to get to know the work of one of the greatest American painters. In the process, I ask that we reflect on what we think we see when looking at his art, and indeed at ourselves. My thanks to Ben Domenech and everyone at The Federalist for this opportunity to share my thoughts with their audience.

And now I must beg you a favor:

If you like or dislike what you read, gentle reader, please comment on the piece over at The Federalist site. If you think it a not-terrible bit of writing, do let the editors there know by saying so in the comments. Oftentimes the only comments one receives are criticism, but compliments can be just as helpful to the writer and his editors. Of course if you think the piece rather inferior, do please leave feedback as to how it could be improved upon. Interest drives page views in online media, and I can only improve as a writer if I am told what readers like and do not like about my work.

Thank you again for your support!


On Cowardly Lying

Yesterday at brunch, as my (most congenial) companions and I were nearing the end of our meal, I was disturbed by something taking place across from us. We were seated on a covered, outdoor patio at long tables with benches, rather than chairs.  A couple in their mid-20’s arrived midway through our meal, and sat on the other side of the patio from us. He was wearing a polo shirt and shorts; she was wearing a fitted, diaphanous skirt, whose hem touched the floor.

At one point I overheard her comment to him that she wanted to switch the bench she was sitting on for another. She then got up, dragged the bench she had been sitting on across the patio, and dragged another bench back to their table. Her skirt being less than ideal for performing manual labor, and the benches being rather heavy, this task was performed in a somewhat awkward, ungainly manner.

What I found particularly disturbing about this incident was the fact that while all of this was going on, her hale and hearty, sporty boyfriend continued to eat his appetizer, and did not make a move or even offer to assist her. Rather, he left her to do all of the work herself, despite the fact that he was in a far better position to lend a hand moving furniture about, given what she was wearing, and that the bench she wanted was one directly across from him.  One was tempted to comment to her, upon leaving the restaurant, “You know, this fellow is probably not someone you want to continue seeing.”

Now I admit, it’s entirely possible that the boyfriend did nothing because, based on previous experience, she may have informed him that she does not like men to do things for her, such as open a door or pull out a chair – a mindset which has its own set of problems. However I rather suspect, from what I observed, that he was quite the dominant person in the relationship. He was simply more interested in eating his boudin balls, than in attending to her needs.

Does this mean that I am judging? You bet I am. For as it happens, I’m not only judging this couple – I’m also judging myself.

When I saw that she was struggling, why didn’t *I* get up and assist her? Why didn’t I intervene, even at the risk of making him seem like the fool which he so clearly was? Couldn’t I have even voiced, “Would you like a hand?”

The answer is, sadly, that we have all embraced cowardice as the social norm, in our uncivilized culture. We roar and wail in our various forms of media about all sorts of perceived injustices and slights. Nevertheless, when we come face-to-face with a situation in which a wrong is taking place, chances are fairly good that we will do nothing. We lie to ourselves, and think that we are brave, because we post a comment that takes a stand on an issue, when the fact is that in the crunch, most of us back away. 

You’ve probably read or heard recent reports about a young man who was stabbed to death on the DC Metro a few weeks ago in broad daylight, on a train full of passengers, only one of whom even dared to say anything to his attacker. The commentariat’s outrage machine, full of armchair quarterbacks as it always is, exploded with nonsense along the lines of, “I would have done x, had I been there.” The truth is, upon finding themselves in a similar situation, most would have done exactly the same thing as the other passengers on the train: embraced their inner coward, sat there quietly, and done nothing.

I do not suggest that all of us need to jump into a knife fight, the next time we come across one in our travels. However I do argue that we need to stop lying to ourselves and recover our sense of courage, if we are also to recover our culture. There is little real bravery in hitting a “like” button, particularly if you never take any action in real life.

Sometimes, yes, it is wiser to keep our mouth shut, and our opinions to ourselves. It would be foolish to think we ought to do so ALL the time. Otherwise, we train ourselves and others to believe that intervention is always wrong, unless the circumstances are such that we will be quite safe, whether in real life, or behind an electronic screen.

We do not need any kind of bizarre, social vigilantism, in which we dash about spreading our jackets over mud puddles for perfect strangers or breaking up fights between drunken louts we see sprawling about in an alleyway. Yet we could make the effort to be a little bit braver, a little bit more conscious of those around us, particularly those in need of assistance. For while it is true that we must “Judge not, lest ye be judged,” it is also true that, “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren, you do unto Me.”