Contemporary Christian theological analysis tends to steer clear of fly-by-night trends, but there are times when something appears that is so irresponsible and disingenuous that it must be called out for its failures. The focus of such attention in today’s article is the humor website, Cracked.com. It is a cliché of banality, the mustard of a million mediocre minds– cured, repugnant and tangy. It serves no purpose but to spread the disease of misinformation like a cheap, venereal streetwalker. And our young people, its faithful patrons, walk away from that fetid whore with a grin not unlike that of every self-righteous unemployable immature deadbeat of America.
For those in the Christian community unfamiliar with this crudely-designed website, it borrows from the playbook of gossip page Gawker.com with servicey “listicles.” First theorized by blogger Choire Sicha, the “listicle” is the bastard child of Harper’s Magazine front of book “Harper’s Index.” Essentially, it extracts significant bits of information from news articles and essays and lays them out in brief bullet points. This format appeals to those with short attention spans and others who want to appear intelligent without actually being so. The subtext of the listicle is irony, one bullet point is meant to contrast the next. These juxtapositions– such as in Cracked’s recent “Creepiest Places on Earth” article which pits a medieval church filled with skulls against a town decimated by nuclear radiation– may seem intriguing at a glance but ultimately they are intellectually tepid, factually questionable and morally vacant.
INTERNET HUMOR: WHY DO WE HAVE SUCH LOW EXPECTATIONS?
Words like “creepy,” “lame,” “awesome” and “hipster” appear frequently throughout Cracked.com. But like these keywords, the content of the site is neither fresh nor exciting; rather it exudes the rank stench of 1990s blogospheric conspiracy theories. Regular writers like Chris Bucholz craft nonsense out of thin air, “how to” articles that will never be used like “How to Form Your Own Cult” or “So You’ve Been Challenged to a Duel.” The trick here is that his readers are so irrational, they imagine that some day they’ll need these tips in their pathetic lives, and it further adds to their delusions of grandeur. In practice, Cracked.com exploits the mental weakness of its readers. Its blog posts become building blocks in the fortress that teens construct to separate themselves from reality. It would not be wrong to say that the people funding this site are directly complicit in the spread of unrealistic childhood expectations and later adult employment failure now plaguing America.
Other site contributors like the man who goes by the name Cody exhibit a pedophile’s fascination with little children and scary monsters, great wit Ian Fortey sees everything in lists of five (try counting with both hands, you imbecile), and sex-obsessed Gladstone sadly fails at generating traffic no matter how lurid his content. Daniel O’Brien takes a different route, aiming for the intellectual with pieces entitled, “A Textbook for Juggalos,” and “Bill Clinton’s Badass Equivalent: Bond or McClane?” But they just don’t connect to his high school zit squad audience. And then there is Jacopo della Quercia who rapes history for laughs and has no concept of fact checking. Maybe this is an Italian thing.
As a whole, Cracked.com is only perpetuating our young generation’s addiction to “factoids” and not real facts. It enables attention deficit disorder and discourages deeper thought. It is the antithesis of faith and study. Mock science, poor history and blog mythology is promoted on every page, setting a dangerous example for today’s students (imagine if your children were writing homework essays with titles like “History’s 10 Worst Royal Nicknames” or “A Day in the Life of a Scratch-Off Ticket Purchase”?). The whole presentation of this information is taken to unbearable extremes with big typesets, excessively large page layouts, distracting advertising and a breakdown of these lists into tiny sections that beg you to click and click some more so that this failing business may generate some semblance of web traffic to keep its finances afloat.
As a place of humor, Cracked represents the very worst of internet content (see “A Golfer Rings Steven Seagal’s Doorbell,” “White Ninja Is Very Flexible,” or “Shockingly Evil Things Babies Are Capable Of” for typical examples). It is never funny, never enlightening. They aim for the simplistic “Oh gosh, that’s interesting” short flash of interest. It is the sort of garbage a blinking ad of an old man exasperated about mortgage rates will make you quickly forget (if you’re looking at Cracked right now, there is probably that old man ad on the right hand side now. Interesting, isn’t he? What is wrong with his face, those eyes? What were you reading again?).
“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” –Proverbs 17:22.
The internet once promised to be a place of honesty and integrity. When it came to humor, we were expecting genuine wit and laughter. Some combination of Jonathan Swift, the clowns of the Ringling Brothers Circus and the unscripted children laughing on YouTube. Instead, we get this factory punching out a stream of insipid “oh gosh!” moments, too embarrassingly juvenile to share with your friends and co-workers. Yet maybe our empty lives of poor public schools and pointless corporate jobs demand such equally meaningless escapes? Is Cracked a mirror to America’s own shallow soul, something that states since our lives are devoid of love and compassion, truth and intelligence, our humor should be the same? Even if, on the other hand, we are a people who have suffered and struggled, a people who have been hurt and beaten, shouldn’t our humor reflect a dark but humble wit, something that says we can laugh at our selves fallen down in the mud, broke and bleeding?
The time has come for internet users to move on from Cracked.com. Short attention spans and flashy content can equal page views, but their model is fussy and dated. Reddit, Digg and Fark are replacing their insipid constructions with more relevant digests of truthful and inspiring information. Their irritating Web 2.0 design has long been bypassed by far superior websites. Their authors are experts at auto-fellation, but have no clue about the average internet user who is seeking real expertise and thrilling, original content. Simply put, the demographic of Cracked.com is pre-teen boys who have just given up watching Disney’s the Suite Life With Zack and Cody and who have not yet discovered FailBlog. That is their g-spot of traffic but unfortunately for Cracked.com, those boys are now growing up.