This week, Esquire magazine joined the proud tradition of media trolling with its Sex Issue, a cocktail of self-aware misogyny, arm-chair sociology, and pinup photos that engendered near-universal disgust, resulting in lots of ”buzz.” The publishing world’s intentional plot to “stir up the shit” and get some attention is nothing new, but every time a media organization goes trolling, it seems to get exactly the response it wants, inspiring more blatant attempts at manufacturing pseudo-controversy.
But how is it done, you ask? Here’s a short guide of the most common techniques for raising outrage (and traffic):
This Person Who Just Died Was a Piece of Shit Ah, the timely anti-obituary. Some are more justified than others but it’s clear that the quickly-written character assassination of the recently-departed has become something of a trend. Whether it’s an assault on Christopher Hitchens, Steve Jobs or the creator of the Berenstain Bears (for Christ’s sake), we can all admit that the routinized dancing on the graves of public figures could be scaled back just a tad.
Is the Opposite of What You Think True? Counter-intuitive writing is a blessing, and Slate has published many great works in this vein, but it’s also taken this editorial approach to levels of almost comical parody. William Saletan’s “Bush the Liberal” and Christopher Hitchens’s “How Did I Get Iraq Wrong? I Didn’t” are splendid examples.
This Famous Person Is Crazy, Just Look at This Crazy Picture of Them Many examples abound but troll queen Tina Brown took this age-old technique to new heights (or depths?) last August with a withering cover story of Michele Bachmann promoted with a photo of her looking absolutely insane. The reaction was harsh and mostly deserved but the cover itself wasn’t terribly outside the bounds of what happens regularly with public figures who controversy-seeking editors have millions of photographs of. Sure it’s a low blow but it’s also a technique that prone to over-reaction (see: Washington City Paper’s famous “antisemitic” cover of Dan Snyder).
This Terrible Mainstream Artist Is Great When a trite mainstream artists reaches commercial success, it doesn’t deserve to be defended for its latent (read: non-existent) merits. See: Jonah Weiner’s defense of Creed in Slate and my good friend Derek Thompson’s defense of Coldplay.