Headline construction is, in and of itself, a skill. There are entire branches of academic thought dedicated to the analysis of tag-lines and story titles, even going so far as the establishment of reductive metrics like the “Emotional Marketing Value” (EMV) of the bold-face text at the top of a piece of writing. Which, not so coincidentally, explains why perhaps only a small percentage of readers will have even gotten this far into this one. Still there? If not, who could blame you?
In the Internet Age, we are bombarded with content at every possible turn. There is thus so little value in any one particular piece that it is an entirely natural reaction to view most writing as little more than noise. It’s easily dismissed spit in a blaring ocean of talk and text where a protracted attention span not only goes unrewarded, it is often actively discouraged. Hurry up, people! Click-thru means commerce, a projection of crucial revenue.We’re all participants in this capitalizing upon the rules of capitalization, up to and including right now.
Medium.com acknowledges this inherent dichotomy with its separation of Views from Reads. The former is a stroll-by peek at the menu posted in the window of a restaurant, while the latter is a seat at a table, dinner and drinks all around. I’m no stranger to this ethic and am by no means immune. Put “porn star” in a title on the wrong literary café website and watch the Views dry up like a vernal pool after a long, hot summer. (Trust me.) The hard part is deciding whether or not I actually care.
The next dollar I make from projecting thoughts into this electronic ether will be the very first. I know what I am and, more importantly, that which I am not. As pretentious as it may sound, I like to write for me, as I have since a childhood’s worth of secret manifestos bound only for the backs of closets in buildings that no longer exist. Yet, this isn’t exactly a proper diary and, like it or not, one writes to be read. So, I found myself considering the EMV of the title of a piece about the titling of pieces. It’s somewhat like asking what color the vest is in the emperor’s new suit of clothes.
But, that’s what most writing is, isn’t it? An intellectual exercise in the exercise of intellect. And history proves that the best kind of such onanistic enterprise is that which lasts the longest. Topics come and go, with even the hottest, dirtiest, most shocking controversies fading into history with the inuring breeze of social change. A bathing suit that shows a Devil’s amount of ankle begets the micro-mini-thong-string-thing in a mere generation or two. Outrage over issues fades, but get the readers thinking about themselves and bang! You’ve got something there.
Shakespeare knew this. Dress up a universality of human experience in the clothes of the day and you have a hit. Then, keep the core of basically visceral thought, but change the costumes. Dress the actors in togas instead of Elizabethan bodices, but stay on message. Next stop, the pantheon of permanent literary prominence. It’s like a dinner date conversation wherein you purport to be sharing your interests, but are actually getting your companion to talk about himself. Maybe Andy Warhol knew it, too. After all, who doesn’t like Campbell’s Soup?
Sell me something I’ve already bought and you’ll never go broke. Show me something I’ve already seen and I’ll call you an artist. Provide me the means to agree with myself and I’ll call you a genius. If I like your headline, I already love your article. If not, well, TL;DR, LOL. Maybe next time. That’s why they call them Views, not Reads.