|—||John Ruskin, Preface to Lectures on Architecture and Painting, 16th April 1854|
Thought Catalog, the Slate.com of urban 25-year-old creative writing majors (and their spiritual kin) who are incapable of being boring, is redefining the art of blog post writing for a new and vibrant generation.
Do stop reading Thought Catalog. Right now. This instant. I mean it. This is self-indulgent fluff dressed up as cultural critique. You’re smarter than this.
Don’t mistake being insipid for being thoughtful. Recycling tired social situations like “displacement,” “anxiety,” and “uncertainty” with a smattering of colorful details doesn’t make for original thought; meeting life’s ambiguities with a plethora of specifics doesn’t create order, only the sense of it.
Do notice that every one of those moving morsels of soul-capturing self-reflection appears at least once a week. The advice seems to be the same, centered on distilling solutions for the existential anxiety wrought by any major transition (in most cases “growing up” or “falling in love” or, in the space between the two, “fucking”) into a sequence of obsessive-compulsive, material therapies (Do away with that IKEA furniture! Drink all the booze!) The goal, of course, is never to actually achieve some sort of growth, but rather to induce episodic outbreaks of angst with the passage of time. You’re grown up now, isn’t that weird? Except I don’t feel grown up, isn’t that weird? But I’m supposed to be grown up, how weird is that! And so on. But life is rarely orderly, or coherent, or linear, so why bother tying yourself to someone else’s business cycle of post-graduate angst? Embrace the chaos.
Don’t mistake the presence of nouns and adjectives for writing. Sure, this is an age where we no longer need the rubber stamp of some nameless feature editor at a New York-based general interest weekly to validate our creative impulses, but just because something exists does not make it good. Look past the smattering of banal idiosyncrasies (having sex while watching Gilmore Girls?) that may resonate with your personal quirks (wow, you’re weird? I’m weird! Let’s be weird together) and look for a message, some message, any message. If you can’t distill the point of an article into a few sentences and distinguish it from every other article about happiness, find yourself a new source of leisure reading. Poor ideas are often dressed up in a smorgasbord of shiny adverbs and fleeting anecdotes designed to distract you from the truth: that there’s nothing here worth learning, or gleaning, that will really challenge you to think critically about yourself.
Do learn to loathe (excessive use of) listicle. I would have titled this “Five Reasons to Hate Thought Catalog” but Gawker already beat me to it. A list isn’t inherently bad, but their repetitive use is the trademark of the intellectually lazy.
Don’t live, laugh, love. See what I did there? Humans can’t live by slogans and aphorisms alone.
Do be interesting, but if you’re going to, don’t write self-indulgent shit about what life would be like if you were boring, because nobody gives a fuck:
We were talking about relationships in my living room, over Aperol drinks with ice cubes and cigarettes off the fire escape. The ethereal echo of something lo-fi and chillwave set the mood. The heat lifted its oppressive finger, ever so slightly, in the early evening glow.
“If only we could be boring,” she said, wistfully, smiling in between sips.
Are you kidding me with this shit?
Don’t be fooled. Thought Catalog is, at its purest, the commodification and banalization of the human experience, of the anxiety and uncertainty and dread wrought by your passage from one stage of life to the next. Life is hard. They will always be hard, even as they get easier. But the benefit of their difficulty is that you get to work through them yourself, as an act of self-discovery. The purpose of narratives like these isn’t to find a silver bullet for your 20-something woes, but to challenge yourself and your perception of yourself. These stories don’t offer moments for self-reflection, but the continued argument for a narcissism of small differences, a world where, as Sigmund Freud described in Civilization, Society, and Religion:
“the phenomenon that it is precisely communities with adjoining territories, and related to each other in other ways as well, who are engaged in constant feuds and ridiculing each other’ - ‘such sensitiveness…to just these details of differentiation’.”
The comfort offered by Thought Catalog of embracing those small differences in the form of material idiosyncrasies, the shiny baubles that signify difference and forcefulness to others and, in turn, to yourself. Don’t allow the narcissism of small differences to encircle your life; you’ll find yourself only circumscribing the problems within, the concerns, anxieties, and fears that push every last one of us to adulthood. To allow a platform designed to make money off of spoon-fed post-graduate advice to define the path and approach to making ourselves happy is more poisonous than existing transitional unhappiness. The temptation to fall into the sweet embrace of comfortable banality is strong, but we are only avoiding the inevitable confrontation with your own ennui that can be filled by no other 20-something, articulated by no other author of any age. Words, well-written or otherwise, will only take you so far when couched in the language of small differences and retail therapy.
Do remember that you may not be a shoe-in for an extra on Girls or whatever cultural artifact is the exact personification of your life that week, but you have a mind and the ability to think. Don’t rely on outside sources, Thought Catalog or otherwise, to legitimize your malaise, to tell you who you are, or even to shape the course of your introspection. Nobody knows you better than you, you just don’t know it yet.
Don’t read Thought Catalog. Even if you went to NYU and double-majored in media anthropology and radical feminist ecosystems. Just stop.