See that headline up there? We’re pretty sure that you clicked on this piece out of a sense of outrage. See folks, we can do what VICE, the snarktacular international media outlet, does, too.
Last week, VICE published a piece with the title, “Reasons Why Austin Is The Worst Place Ever” by Luke Winkie (disclosure: Luke is a friend of mine), which set the Internet ablaze in various parts of Central Texas. It was shared over 4,000 times on Facebook, with another 36,000 “likes,” and a thousand tweets; it inspired over 1,500 comments on the VICE page, not to mention the endless discussion on other Austin media outlets—all of which further drove thousands of visitors to share content on the Austin Chronicle and Culturemap Austin.
In short, being in the “does Austin suck or not” business the past few days has been good for everybody, so you can’t really blame us for wanting to get a piece of that sweet, sweet action. And if you feel manipulated by our headline up there, well, just be glad that we didn’t actually force ourselves to make the argument that the title promises—because that’s serious manipulation.
Everyone who got outraged reading VICE’s reasons why Austin sucks (which covered a predictable list of grievances: yuppies, hipsters, weather, traffic, etc) got took for a pretty serious ride. But not only is the list deliberately silly (the third item is: “Nobody has a clue what his or her job is”), it’s also not even unique to Austin: VICE published “Reasons Why San Francisco Is The Worst Place Ever” in April, and “Reasons Why Washington DC Is The Worst Place Ever” earlier this month. The format is the same in all three cases—an opening paragraph designed to outrage locals, a list of common complaints, and a bunch of jokes built around those complaints. The visible traffic stats on all three stories make it clear that this is a formula that works.
One could make the same argument about literally anywhere—no place is perfect, and if you take a half-dozen of the most common complaints, hand them off to someone who can speak snark like a second language, and give it a title that triggers defensiveness—boom, instant outrage! You can play at home: “Reasons Why Houston Is The Worst Place Ever” would probably include traffic, humidity, smelly water, the Astros, etc. San Antonio? Maybe something about the Riverwalk, some Charles Barkley jokes, that “Keep San Antonio Lame” sticker, and a handful of other cheap shots. Dallas? Sprawl, silicone, hipsters in Oak Cliff, Jerry Jones. It’s easy, and if you can’t find enough legitimate complaints, you can take something genuinely nice—as Winkie did when he listed Barton Springs—and make a counterintuitive argument for why it’s actually secretly awful. “Reasons Why Hawaii Is The Worst Place Ever”? Probably that it’s expensive, there are surfers everywhere, sand gets into everything, and the sound of the ocean gets soooo annoying after a few minutes. Heaven? All those buzzing angels, man, and doesn’t anybody play anything besides the harp?
All of which is to say: Of course Austin is not the worst place ever, and all of the strident defenses penned about why Austin is great miss the point. Everybody who shared the link with outrage in their hearts, meanwhile, only gave the people who published the post exactly what they wanted. You can read VICE or you can hate-read VICE, and it all looks the same to advertisers.