I have a severe and intense problem with listicles. As a former English major, and a reader of books that could be substituted for a yoga block, that particular format of so-called writing drives me up the nearest perpendicular surface, be it wall, fence, or side of a high-rise office building. They’re riddled with GIFs (more often than not the same set of GIFs), and the content in between a Real Housewife waggling her finger and a girl from The Hills sighing about some first-world-problem has been distilled down to nothing more than a sound bite. Listicles are quickly prepared, easy to digest facsimiles of insight or information, and I absolutely lament their overwhelming popularity.
But, for the moment, I’m going to celebrate their existence.
The life of the average twenty-something isn’t particularly pretty, or even plain and inoffensive. If you want an accurate depiction, ask one of us. Any of us. And please, honestly listen to the answer, without judgment or pre-conceived notions.
If we start at the beginning of the VHS tape that is your life, we’d begin at the prologue, sometime in the late 70s, you’ll see a relatively happy couple recreating their favorite positions from The Joy of Sex. Since these are your parents, we’ll fast-forward through their wedding, honeymoon, more joys of sex, and eventually – you.
When you were born, sometime in the late 80s, life was big. The beginning of the decade was marked by a fairly severe economic recession, but around the time that we made our first appearances, things were on the rise. Designer clothes and European cars came into style. Women wore shoulder pads and garish jewelry, men scrunched their suit jacket sleeves outside of the office, and everyone had bug-eye glasses.
But, most importantly, your parents, dazzled by this age of abundance, saw nothing but an endless parade of stockbrokers fueled by mounds of white powder, creating nothing but abundance for all. So they nuzzled their newborn babies, kissed their peach-fuzzed heads, and whispered, “I’m going to give you everything I never had. And when you grow up, you can be whatever you set your mind to. You can be whatever you want to be.”
That may be fine in infancy, but it was a message repeated throughout our lives. If you played softball, you were guaranteed a trophy at the end, even if you took off your glove and looked for four-leaf-clovers in the outfield (just me?). If your class did poorly on a test, they’d grade on a curve. We were encouraged to express our creativity. To chase our dreams. To be whomever we wanted to be.
And we grew up, and we believed.
Who were we to question? These were our parents, our teachers, our coaches – every adult we came across repeated the same message, and taught us that it was possible. All we needed was a BA. They laid out the prescribed method, and we followed along, applying to two safety schools, two reaches, and two good fits. We took the SATs, ACTs, and ASVABs. We filled out our FAFSAs and wrote our personal essays, but, most importantly, we confidently chose from unlimited careers and universities around the world, and decided our futures at the age of 17.
We also took out a lot of loans. It was the first half of the 2000s, and no one knew the crash that was coming. The stockbrokers had retired early, but the investment bankers were gambling on subprime mortgages, and money was still running fast and loose. Everything was going to be just fine.
So we went to college, put in our four years, smiled in the graduation photos, and held up our diplomas, our gateways to success, high above our heads. Maybe we hadn’t graduated with a job offer waiting, but we had reached the Promised Land. All we had to do was send out the resumes we wrote at the university Career Center, and soon enough we’d be making good money in the field we loved, just as we were promised all our lives.
Then the money ran out, and with it, the jobs. We sent resumes to our first choice companies, but we never heard back. We signed up for Monster, CareerBuilder, Indeed, and LinkedIn, and looked over our second-tier options, but they all required a minimum of five years’ experience.
We learned how to surreptitiously beg for employment by way of targeted cover letters. We showed up to any interview we were offered despite rejection after rejection, all the while waiting tables, selling clothes, slinging drinks, trimming shrubbery – we did whatever we needed to do to get by, and the things we were promised never came, regardless of how hard we worked.
One depressing day, we found a job, the first job we could get and the last job we ever thought we’d take, and we squeezed our hopes, dreams, and ambitions into a cubicle that was never made to fulfill them. We told ourselves that we could keep looking for the Dream Job, that we would only stay a year – long enough to make it worth putting on the resume – and that it wouldn’t become our lives. We believed our parents as they looked into our shining child’s eyes and told us the world was ours.
I can sincerely say that I did not get to be whatever I wanted. I wanted to be a writer, and when I realized that writing doesn’t pay until you’ve actually completed something and seduced a company into publishing it, I set my sights on working in Editorial. I graduated from a quote-unquote New Ivy university with an honors degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. I did a total of 14 months of internships with two different publishing companies.
And I’m sitting at my cubicle, typing this instead of doing any actual work, because what I do for a living does not require a brain.
Back to the listicles.
We’re all getting home at the end of the night, disheartened and exhausted by doing eight hours of unfulfilling work. The first order of business is to get out of business casual, flop on the first available squishy surface with your laptop and a glass of alcohol – beer, wine, whiskey; pick your poison – and start to completely check out of your life. There’s a certain amount of time to be spent on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram – that’s obligatory. But then you begin to binge on listicles.
They’re the potato chips of the internet: cheap, easy to get, and almost immediately satisfying. Charlie HebdoYou can get your relationship advice, your job hunting tactics, your new exercise routine, and your pearls of wisdom – all in 10 easy ways or less. And, as the cherry on top of your potato chip sundae, you get GIFs that make you smirk, or, if you’re lucky, laugh in one short exhalation.
This diet isn’t good for our generation. We’re college educated individuals – we’ve read Great Literature, watched Classic Films, and even forayed into a few Peer-Reviewed Articles. In other words, we know quality when we see it, and we know junk food. We know we’re reading junk food. We know these pieces are as nutritious for our minds as our beer is for our bodies. Or at least I do.
But I can defend the listicle – not in spite of its junk food status, but because of it. When you go through a bad break-up, you cozy up with a pint of fro-yo. When you’re stressed about finances, you pour yourself a stiff drink. And when the lifestyle you’ve been promised from birth turns out to be nothing but a pretty dream, when you come home utterly deflated and dreading waking up for more the next day, when you realize you don’t get to be whatever you want to be – you settle in for some listicles.
So if we can’t have the well-balanced meal we’ve been dreaming of for twenty-something years, at least allow us some potato chips. It’s the least you can do.