Metapost: Not all it’s Cracked up to be


Seven years ago, I was a bit of a different person.

I know, it’s a bit of a shock, right? But it’s true. Back in 2007, I was a college student who had just latched onto English as “maybe the major that I’ll actually finish and graduate with.” I still lived in on-campus housing despite being in my fourth year, and I’d been drawing the comic Torio for about two years and filling it with my regrettable opinions on politics and relationships.* I’d joined the medieval club and was about to spend a few years flirting disastrously with heterosexuality.

I also wound up spending a lot of time in the computer lab in the Lee Library, sometimes to work on papers, sometimes to avoid my roommates. And somehow I wound up reading an article on Cracked.com. I don’t remember what the article was, but it was funny enough that I clicked a few of their links to other articles and the next thing I knew, it was midnight and the librarians were playing Apocalyptica over the PA system to shoo everyone out of the building.** It became a daily (or nearly so) habit pretty quickly, reading the new updates and sharing various jokes with whatever unfortunate IM contacts were online at the time. And when I started up this blog, Cracked was one of the first sites I added to my links on the sidebar.

Seven years later, well … life happened. I ended Torio when the amount of writing I had to do in preparation for graduation became too intense. I somehow earned a degree in English with a minor in editing. I stumbled through a few jobs that, in retrospect, were probably bad choices on my part. I stumbled through a couple of relationships that, in retrospect, were terrible choices on my part.*** I got in a car accident or two, spent a little time participating in the Society for Creative Anachronism, resigned myself to being attracted to men, and learned to cook an omelet recipe that even my egg-hating mother can enjoy.

And today I’m removing Cracked from my link bar.

I’d like to claim that it’s not some big statement, but if that were true, I wouldn’t be writing an essay on my defunct blog about it, would I? I just don’t know what the statement’s supposed to be saying, other than that I don’t really enjoy Cracked as much as I did seven years ago. And it’s not because of some big change or something, just a bunch of little annoyances that built up over time.

It started a few years back when someone looked at the margins on the side of the page and said, “Wouldn’t it be more effective if all that white space could be replaced with enormous advertisements? I know I love it when I absentmindedly click outside the article and open up a new tab with something I wasn’t interested in!” It’s not exactly a high honor to be known as “the site that finally convinced me to install AdBlock,” y’know?

They started inserting more “Look at this article too!” links – not just at the bottom of the article, but now in the right margin, auto-scrolling alongside you as you read. And then at the top of the article to remind you of the new articles of the day. And then inexplicably on the left of the article in a separate frame. Add in the size of the title and the opening graphic, and the average reader is lucky if even the first line of the article is visible without having to scroll down. Wait, never mind, it got pushed off the screen by the two-inch-tall hidden ad for their T-shirt shop. (I should mention that this ad loads even with AdBlock installed.)

Then there’s the link bait. It was innocuous enough at first, just an extra set of links at the bottom of every article, inviting readers to look at “popular articles from around the web.” That would be great if it were more comedy articles like the content of their weekly LinkStorm feature. But it was mostly “Look at this celebrity’s breasts!” and “This one food will melt fat off!” which isn’t so much humorous as merely laughable.

But even that didn’t seem to be getting enough eyeballs to rake in enough ad revenue. The editors started tweaking the article titles, forcibly inserting “mind-blowing” and “horrifying” where they didn’t even fit, turning other titles into inaccurate but titillating husks of their former selves.

And this isn’t even getting into the content of the articles themselves. There’s always been a certain amount of topical articles, finding the humor or brief introspection in current events, and that’s not an intrinsic flaw or anything. But when recent article topics include “We use Redditors as a legitimate example of a movement” or “Here’s your comedy article about rape I guess” . . . yeah, not exactly reassuring. Half the articles have stopped attempting humor outside of an obligatory “ha ha, penis” before spending 2,000 words condemning the human race or talking about how everyone is going to die anyway. Or in one or two cases, attempting to condense a self-help book into that amount of space. The humor articles are slowly getting choked out by the sudden move toward activism.

For whatever reason, the last straw was, of all things, a couple of photoshopping (sorry, photoplasty) contests this week. On Monday, they posted the results of a contest with the title “18 Ridiculously Sexist Modern Ad Campaigns,” full of gripes and outrage about the awful gender stereotypes still present in society. Today, they posted the results of a contest with the title “27 Dumb Things Men Suspect About Women” and gleefully reveled in those same gender stereotypes.

I dunno. There is still the occasional funny article on there, but it’s becoming less and less worth it to slog through the little annoyances to find it, and it doesn’t look like the situation’s going to improve any time soon. It’s a pity, but I guess I’m finally going to have to spackle over Cracked.

* To this day I am torn between removing my old comics from the Internet to spare other people, or to leave them up as a reminder that I am an imperfect human being who has made some pretty spectacular cock-ups in his life.
** Insert joke about Mormon kids here?
*** A word of advice: Just because they claim to have the best intentions for you doesn’t mean they’re not abusing you.

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