The Lowest Common Denominator

The effect of easy publication on contemporary writing

I am a writer, and like all writers, I want people to read what I write. Twenty or thirty years ago this was a truly difficult task; one had to practice for years, doggedly self publish one’s work and interview for one of only a few major print publications. It was a painstaking process that virtually guaranteed that the author was not a complete idiot, and at the very least, was committed to his or her craft.

Fast-forward to 2012 and the game has changed completely; Easy-to-create, free blog platforms have allowed anyone who so desires to have his or her own little place to publish. With the advent of the Internet, print publication saw barriers fall as well – they began to carry larger staffs while using the Internet to publish more content. The upshot of all of this is that it has become far easier than ever to get your work read.

The issue that has come as a result of this is that for every smart, insightful article today, there are one hundred manic blog posts threatening Kate Upton for dating their favorite member of One Direction. It has become desperately hard to be recognized for one’s work, and I feel therein lies the rub with contemporary writing, especially when it comes to amateur or student publication.The best way for someone to glean readership is controversy. Readers will always be drawn to a story of conflict or controversy over something comparatively boring.This is simply human nature.But though the world is fraught with issues, there will not always be a truly controversial topic on which to write.

This is where the great McGill University comes in, for McGill publications and writers are amongst the greatest in the world at overreaction – employing hypersensitivity as a tool to get more press. Everyone knows there are topics that will generate more hype than others. I am as guilty as any in this regard. I wrote my first article for this magazine criticizing the Avengers because I knew people would react strongly. When it comes to the home of the Redmen, the most ready sources of readership arise when someone accuses a McGill institution of being racist, sexist, intolerant, encouraging of debauchery, supportive of rape culture, celebrating of alcoholism or being vaguely insensitive in any number of ways.

The best example of this hysterical sensationalism is the recent send-up of engineering frosh; “Ro-dee-no”. The article criticizes the theme choices on the basis that cowboys were generally not good people, the frosh materials fail to account for transgender peoples, and accuses everyone who has ever chanted at frosh of sexual assault.Political correctness is one thing, butthis smacks of finding the 3 bullet points for an article rather than legitimate concerns over Frosh’s institutions and I find it distressing that the former takes precedence over the latter.

Now let me stop for a second and explain. My issue with these matters is not the content or topic of each, it’s the way these situations are conducted. I find it hard to believe that someone looked pictures of the General Lee and the fact that Frosh features drinking and was moved enough to write a 1000 word article. The issues raised are not important or divisive enough to be featured such, however, I do believe they are incendiary enough to provide a greater number of hits to one’s websitethan something requiring a good deal more thought.

This hypersensitivity does not truly benefit anyone besides the people whose respective egos swell as a result, but nonetheless I do understand the inclination to write on controversial matters. Every writer these days is awash in a sea of other authors, so if you point a spotlight at an easy target you’re much more likely to get noticed.

My aim here is not to start a passive-aggressive fight amongst the McGill publications, but instead to inspire a divergence from the sensationalist, hypersensitive writing tactics we see so often these days. We’re all better than that, guys.

And yes, I am very much aware of the hypocrisy.

(an old article about sensationalism at McGill, still quite apt even if the Kate Upton/One Direction thing blew over pretty quickly -WH)


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