A Tabloid Kind of World

A Tabloid Kind of World

When I was a kid, I was always curious about the supermarket tabloids that shouted at me in the checkout line with promises that I wouldn’t believe what’s inside. They teased me with amazing discoveries. Bizarre details. Shocking revelations. The secrets no one knows. (Except the tabloid readers, of course.) And they were right that I wouldn’t believe what was inside. Even naïve kids can detect hype. But I did open them up every once in a while.

Of course, you couldn’t flip through and find the amazing discoveries, shocking revelations, bizarre details, and untold secrets very easily; they were scattered randomly throughout the pages, without a table of contents to guide you. Quick answers to those intriguing questions wouldn’t induce you to buy the magazine. Why promise a tell-all if it actually tells all while you’re standing there? No, all these teasers were designed for one thing: to get you to buy the rag.

Now the world has turned into one big tabloid. This once-a-week roll-your-eyes phenomenon from childhood has gone round-the-clock global. The same teasers scream at me from Facebook. From email subject lines. From the mouths of friends who have run out of adjectives in a world competing for attention. Everything is “amazing.” “Stunning.” “Inconceivable.”inigo-montoya

To borrow from Inigo Montoya, I do not think these words mean what you think they mean. Not anymore. They used to be perfectly good adjectives. Now they are too common to impress.

Here are a few phrases, for example, from recent emails and posts:

• “The shocking truth.” (I agree that it’s interesting, but it isn’t shocking. Shocking would be finding out I’m Middle Eastern royalty because of granny’s secret tryst with a sultan. This ain’t that.)

• “You won’t believe this!” (Why not? It’s a little unusual, but still plausible. I’ll admit I’m mildly surprised, but that’s not the same as dumfounded.)

• “A revolutionary technique!” (Well, yes—that’s a pretty good technique. I sincerely doubt it will start a revolution, though. But that’s okay. “Helpful” is enough for me.)

• "You have to see this with your own eyes!" (Maybe, but is that what you’re offering me? Or has our Photoshop culture convinced you that a post-processed presentation is reality? Because that’s really not the same as seeing it with my own eyes.)

• “Nothing could have prepared me for this …” (C'mon. Surely you go through life more prepared than that. Granted, it may have caught you a little off guard. But really, aren’t you just trying to get me to click? It won’t work.)

As an author/communicator/blogger, I’ve read plenty of how-to advice about capturing attention (use unexpected words), inviting your reader in (make a promise), and making it personal (use “you” in the subject line). I do that sometimes—when it makes sense and feels natural—because I want readers to actually read my material. The problem is that unexpected words are being so overused that they are no longer unexpected; teasers are so over-promising that no one believes them anymore (can I really guarantee you won't be able to stop laughing?); and not everything is about you. Sorry, but it’s true.

Listen, people. Can somebody please just tell the truth? Modestly? Can’t good news simply be good? Because in a world screaming for attention, you just might get mine if you don’t scream for it. That would be unexpected. And I might actually listen.

Click to tweet: The world has turned into one big tabloid.

Click to tweet: In a world screaming for attention, you just might get mine if you don’t scream for it. 

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