They’re called demolisticles. Or, at least that’s the name FiveThirtyEight editor Chadwick Matlin came up with for them. The idea is that you appeal to a limited target audience, but a large percentage will click on it and share it. “19 Signs You Went to Penn,” for example.
It’s no surprise Buzzfeed is best at these. Buzzfeed gets a lot of flack for lists, and I sometimes think it’s misguided: There’s nothing inherently wrong with a list. They can be fun to read. Readers clearly like them. Not everyone wants to read a 3,000-word essay all the time (or ever). I’m not even at 200 words yet and some of you have already checked out. Lists can be just as informative or witty (or stupid) as articles.
The problem is when Buzzfeed's lists are stupid as heck. This list about Penn explains that "you know not to sit and take pictures next to the Ben Franklin statue" but doesn't explain that's because drunk people pee on it. I guess the audience is just people who went to Penn and want to look at photos and GIFs and don't care if they learn no new information about their alma mater. But to me, though, the Penn article is boring — and not just because it says I should've been mugged on the block where I lived.
But that doesn't stop people from sharing them. No matter how lame, no matter the author, no matter how cliched a list about Philadelphia is, it will pop up in your Facebook feed. Repeatedly. Or someone will email it to me. "Hey, Dan," they write, "I know we haven't talked in a while, but I know you love Philly, so here's a list about cheesesteaks and Rocky." I'm getting angry just thinking about it! Then I feel like an asshole for getting irrationally angry at a friend of mine who was reaching out to say hi.
Clearly, much of this problem is my own. (Count to 10. Take a deep breath.) I have no power or wish to stop you from sharing stupid stuff on Facebook. But since I've seen so many bad Philadelphia lists this year, I decided I'd make a list of my own. Read on for a list of the Worst Philly Lists of 2014. By the end, you'll even have read another one.
Highlight: One of the stereotypes is our strong fanbase for professional wrestling. That's true!
Lowlight: "A heat map showing national use of the F word on Twitter had only one bright red circle on it, and Philadelphia was right in the middle of that circle." And no link! I had to search for a news story about it; it turns out Los Angeles and Philadelphia were both high in "good morning" and "fuck you."
Cheesesteaks or Rocky: Both! Apparently we're all obsessed with Rocky.
Movoto is a real estate brokerage that has expanded into demolisticles about cities where Movoto would like people to buy homes. I know it seems weird to criticize a list about Philadelphia stereotypes for being stereotypical, but, jeez. The bad sports fan one mentions Michael Irvin (cheering his injury), Santa (throwing snowballs at him) and J.D. Drew (the same, but a battery). C'mon. Flyers fans once fought players on the St. Louis Blues in the stands and then Frank Rizzo had three players and the coach arrested! There's so much to choose from.
Highlight: It links to a Daily News piece by Kitty Caparella about the mob softball team.
Lowlight: Item two is "Bing maps of the city apparently have gaydar," with the Gayborhood circled. About 0.71 seconds of searching would reveal that's the actual name of the neighborhood. (Here are my rules for downtown: It's Washington Square West from Washington Square to 11th, the Gayborhood from 11th to Broad and Midtown Village never.)
Rocky or Cheesesteaks: Rocky, but it's kind of a joke.
This is the problem with a 36-item list. It's hard to get that many! While some of these are interesting and required at least a little research, a lot of them clearly didn't or were done by scanning Reddit for funny Philly photos. We get Santa, J.D. Drew, the late Pukemon, et cetera. And, of course, "Some mystery person keeps putting insane 'Toynbee tiles' over the city." But, hey, no cheesesteaks at least.
(Yes, my name is in this one, in a screenshot of my retweet of the Philly Police Twitter's response to Tug Haines. It's sourced to Reddit. Thanks to the Reddit user hilwil, who apparently follows me on Twitter.)
Highlight: It makes fun of lists that mention cheesesteaks.
Lowlight: It also says you're not allowed to order provolone on your cheesesteaks. Also, this is the image for "Philly fan loyalty":
Rocky or Cheesesteaks: Both, but only Rocky is done in a positive light.
This list gets some points for originality: "Love 'em or hate 'em, it wouldn’t be a morning in Philly without a Wawa coffee and Preston & Steve." It also talks about having to drive to New Jersey for liquor and beer, which is something all non-teetotalers in Philadelphia would understand.
Highlight: This one isn't baffled by the Gayborhood nickname and uses a photo of Dali's face on the Art Museum steps for its requisite Rocky items.
Lowlight: A lot of this list is touristy stuff: Museums, historical sites, the zoo, Elfreth's Alley. This is nice and all, but how are newcomers to Philly going to understand our state's insane liquor laws? Oh, duh — that other Movoto list.
Rocky or Cheesesteaks: Both, obviously.
The final item begins with, "To truly appreciate this city and find the best place to visit or call home, explore the different neighborhoods and discover what each has to offer." Pfft, I just read 29 other items that are supposed to be telling me what I need to know before I move here. Now I need to actually explore it myself? Too much work.
Lowlight: Item number 11 of this 10-item list, "Because Philly has Uniqlo."
Rocky or Cheesesteaks: Cheesesteaks.
This is the most recent list that's been going around Facebook, and, yes, it is from a Buzzfeed's "brand publisher." Have people even read it before they share it? (Probably not.) Uniqlo has compiled this list of reasons to live in Philly — at least once, so maybe twice! — and it's pretty much nonsensical. I love Federal Donuts but that's not a reason to live here, clothing company.
I particularly enjoyed local comedian Jim Grammond's response to this piece: 10 Reasons Why Everyone Should Live In Philly At Least Once (but not from a Corporate Marketing Account). "Because we have an old white people version of Kim Jong Il," he writes of the Frank Rizzo mural.
Highlight: Um, The Wistar Institute's Facebook account felt the need to comment on this post.
Lowlight: I knew 49 things in this list already. I didn't know that 1 in 6 U.S. doctors receives training in Philadelphia.
Rocky or Cheesesteaks: Cheesesteaks.
Wait, is that doctor thing true?
Highlight: The first item is how pretty Addison Street is. Where did that come from? Of all the lists I read, this was the item I liked best.
Lowlight: In addition to oversimplifying Albert Barnes' feud with Philadelphia's art establishment, one of the items you'll only experience in Philly is the Naked Bike Ride. C'mon. Plus, two entries on Eastern State Penitentiary?
Rocky or Cheesesteaks: Cheesesteaks
This list is also by Uniqlo, and it's worlds better than the previous effort from the brand. Almost makes me want to buy some clothes from a Japanese clothing brand! If only I knew of one…
Philadelphia, Birthplace of the American Weird, Digital Nomad
Highlight: A discussion about Grip the Raven, Charles Dickens' pet that inspired Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven." The Free Library has it, and we learn Grip was an asshole. "Grip was a jerk, you know," librarian Caitlin Goodman explains. "He bit Dickens’ children."
Lowlight: Reminding us Benjamin Franklin is a Bostonian.
Rocky or Cheesesteaks: Neither!
This is cheating, because this piece from National Geographic's Digital Nomad is done as an article. But it is a list that guides you though weird things in Philadelphia, and it's delightful! I learned a lot about my city, and this article even prints Tommy Up's full name (Updegrova). I recommend it highly.
Follow @dhm on Twitter.