This is a cry for help.
There is something I just nearly did, just moments ago -- something weak and common. Somehow I managed to veer away at the last instant, but I don’t know how much longer I can resist. Is there some sort of sponsor I can call? Someone I can turn to when, at long last, I can no longer summon the inner strength?
My name is Bob, and I just nearly clicked on: Snooki’s Cellphone Hacked, Nude Pictures Hit the Web [REPORT] 12.
I was scanning Mashable and there it was: Naked Snooki. I mean, I was that close.
Can it really have come to this? At the urging of my adult children, who evidently don’t share my misgivings about minstrel shows, I did once view an episode of “Jersey Shore.” As you probably know, it features an ensemble of opportunistic Guidos and Guidettes perfectly willing to make spectacles of themselves so that cable viewers can laugh condescendingly at their fake dramas. Basically, it’s five Steppinfetchitinis in perma-tans and wife-beaters. The most famous is Snooki, who is both petite and top-heavy and also named Snooki.
I don’t care about this woman. She could be indicted for human trafficking or named poet laureate and I wouldn’t bat an eye. So why was my mouse poised, if only for an instant, over the link?
Look -- I don’t claim purity, moral or otherwise. Online porn. I’ve seen my share. I’ve also gambled in online casinos with servers in Malta or some such place. I have clicked straight past content warnings to view grisly images, such as Saddam Hussein being hanged. Once, in a moment of utter debasement, I navigated to Hannity.com.
Just out of curiosity, mind you. It’s not a bookmark or anything.
These are not media choices I’m necessarily proud of, but let’s just say I own up to them. The Internet is one-stop shopping for human frailty, and am I not but flesh and blood? Yes, even effete Eastern super elites such as myself -- people who listen to opera and buy local produce while conspiring to undermine mainstream values and surrender sovereignty to the UN -- sometimes also surrender to the basest common denominator. (Not to mention the hours squandered viewing baseball stats. Hours and hours and hours. Here I sit with a Eugenides and a Murakami unfinished on my nightstand, and two of my own books unfinished in My Documents, but I know Carlos Ruiz’s OPS to the third decimal place.)
Yes, your heroic correspondent has feet of clay.
But not on news sites. If there is one thing I am persnickety about, it’s click candy. Whether on Mashable or Huffington Post, MSN.com or the cleavage-intensive Philly.com sports pages, I take some pride in not being baited by the cheapest of come-ons. Not the celebrities. Not the missing blondes. Not the lurid trials. Not the boobage. Yeah, this fluff drives traffic, but not mine. You want to monetize the actual news with Justin Bieber’s secret crush, Casey Anthony’s new hairstyle -- you’re gonna have to force the mouse into my cold, dead hand. It’s a matter of principle. You’re either a news organization or The Police Gazette, but you can’t be both. If there are stripper poles in the main room, you ain’t running a restaurant.
So why did I, persnickety as I am, have to struggle with my conscience before wrenching my arm, Strangelove-like, away from the Snooki link? Was this my personal failure, in which case I’ll join the 12-step program tomorrow? Or does it possibly suggest something else-- something markedly worse -- than my own pathetic lasciviousness? Something such as the last gasp of futile resistance to the cynicism of the news-o-sphere.
There was a time when the Huffpos of the world had to apologize for the -- shall we say -- more populist content inhabiting the right rail. But not lately. It seems as if this matter has been litigated. A news site is not only free, but expected to provide big bowls of M&Ms on the tables where the steamed veggies are served. Because -- sigh -- that’s what the people want. And I don’t mean only from the yellowest players.
As I write this, the three top stories on The New York Times Web site concern Mexico’s drug war, restrictions on targeting Taliban fighters and Spain’s debt crisis. None of those stories had found its way into the top 20 most emailed. Those -- winners of the ongoing reader-popularity contest -- were about prep-school predators, escapes from Alcatraz, fat French women, "Mad Men" and, No. 1, “Risky Rise of the Good-Grade Pill.” We are interested in what we are interested in, and we vote with our index fingers. At the Great Gray Lady, Alcatraz escapees are the moral equivalent of Snooki disrobed.
So, yes, this is a cry for help. But skip the sponsorship, thanks; my personal weakness is the least of anybody’s problems. The tragedy is this: If I am the last holdout, and only barely hanging on, dumpster diving has become the norm. As the late Pat Moynihan put it, we have defined deviancy down. Next to the Law of the Sea Treaty and SCOTUS forever will reside Snooki and her friends.
Internet news can’t live without them, which is sad all by itself. But most likely the news can’t be monetized long-term even with them. Which means we lose what is precious to society, and our last shred of dignity in the bargain.