Clickbait – Its Predecessors, Uses, and Abuses

· Comment

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here, to any excitement, unless the powers that be rescind the prohibition against clickbait – that is, if it really is blacklisted.

Rather, expect an anodyne treatment of the topic, because if it were interesting, many would want to read it, and this writer would have been guilty of steering readers to his web-site.

So, while I would prefer to give a narrative, I become semi-clinical, and show that any word which would be connected to “clickbait” in a contemporary thesaurus, points to its original forms – all of its related words, people, places, or things which have existed since our original ancestors came down from the trees, or ate of the apple, according to one’s beliefs about creation.

Clickbait has its antecedents. If you believe in the Garden of Eden, the lure was speech of the serpent, even more than the forbidden fruit, as its status up to that point had been respected.

If the preceding is discounted, before the click, there were gestures, grunts … and clicks … of the tongue – the so-called click languages.

Imagine, if you will, this original member of the mammalian species, higher up on the intelligence scale than the ape. This member went out, alone, or with a gang, and put down some large beast. The beast was dragged to the cave, and the partner(s) considered to have been too weak for the chase, were made aware of the return of the hunters.

The latter point at the felled animal repeatedly, grunt in pleasure, point to their chests, which they end up thumping, as if to say, “I’m the one who did this”.

If not mated – this was clickbait. If paired, potential clickbait for an increase in the number of partners. If sufficiently partnered, a non-verbal statement to extend the importance of the Tarzan or the Amazon who achieved this in a most-primitive society.

The chest-thump – click bait! The bait might go in for some billing and cooing, the cooing otherwise having been the lure for the billing.

(Not to be confused with Kipling, as in the joke where a gentleman reading certain stories by the foregoing, asks his date if she likes Kipling. She didn’t know … And now you can be billed without any prior wooing, and woe unto you if no payment if forthcoming!)
Others may show that they have been baited by raising primitive spears up into the sky in approbation of the leader of the pack.

After the above almost perfectly politically-correct introduction to our first antecedent, I regret to say that not everything can be stated without reference to males or females. Of course, the above scenario played out in more animated terms once speech existed. Agricultural societies which replaced the hunter-gatherers of their forebears often created a segmentation of roles, though not uniformly throughout the world. I understand that Iroquois women farmed, not their menfolk. Elsewhere, the planting and reaping duties were shared equally. Yes, and sometimes, the women were kept at home. This is not the place for an analysis of whatever does not concern clickbait. Rather, we show that with women at home, and men having less opportunities to bring home trophies, women did now have some to get the upper hand.

There was also the expression, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”. Clearly, if a fellow was unwanted, he could be left to famish, thirst through overly-salted food, burn through overly-spiced food, get sick through tainted food, or eat without zest through a bland repast. He won’t come back for more, and “quoth the raven, ‘nevermore’”.

Well, now such partnerships can be started through true clickbait, a retouched, old, or false picture with accompanying flattering text on a dating service web-page. Some are one-hundred per cent bait, as in meet beautiful Russian, Philippine, Mexican, etc. women. Before the age of the Internet, “mail-order” brides of such nations were advertised in various magazines, not necessarily salacious ones.

In some of these cases, the women may have been true bait, as a German translation for this word, which also happens to be a grave insult. One famous man changed his surname on account of the connotation, even if the meaning were “bait”, it wouldn’t have been flattering to his cause.

A specific type of such bait were the “hard-currency” girls of the Iron Curtain. They served their country by getting tourists to spend a lot on them, so that American dollars, British pounds, Francs, or Deutschmarks would help their weak economies.

There’s one born every minute … you know what I mean … these were named after a fish allegedly so easily duped that anyone could catch it. Some men are like that.

The word we did not use in the preceding paragraph is not used in the same sense for women, but in both cases, we can see that when someone sees something they would like to acquire, often as the result of advertising, something in their minds clicks, and they’ve been baited, and hooked.

Opening gambits for a conversation may have a similar role. “You’ll never guess who I saw today!” “You’ll never guess what happened today!” We might call this paranews, in the same sense we have paralegals and paramedics. It’s a step below the required level, but in the case of the excitedly intoned question, the listener is expected to respond with interest. Rarely, as it would almost be rude, would the reply be, “I don’t know, and I don’t care”, or something to that effect.

When print media came along, even in the days of high illiteracy, the idea was to write about something that would get readership. Obviously this does not refer to the Gutenberg Bible. Polemical religious tracts came first. Dubious literature was not far behind. Think of Rabelais’s potty-humour literature. Boccaccio. Even Erasmus’s click-bait title of “In Praise of Folly”. All this without illustrations, which would then capture the imagination of the semi-literate.

Newspapers would put in large headlines. Then there was the lead, now written “lede” [(rhymes with “deed”) by insiders], to entice the gawker into being a purchaser. Slowly, even the most conservative newspapers brought in something to entice the less-highbrowed. Not to mention the out-and-out tabloids, with their special audiences interested in the latest UFO sightings, and the spotting of Elvis Presley here or there. The click in the mind was the reaction to the bait.

Putting such publications onto the Internet, of course, perfected the idea. The mind goes “click”, followed by the click of the mouse.

But if the mind finds what it is looking for, and has its happy-chemical reaction at that moment, we must discern whether the effect was caused by a more-or-less legitimate offer, or pure garbage.

Literature classes used to teach that the opening sentence of something written should make the reader want to continue. That sounds a lot like click-bait. Without knowing the content of an article, it would not be fair to judge by such an opening, as little as it is valid to judge a book by its cover (another type of temptation to bite!)

We can assume that anything to do with skimpy clothing (said euphemistically) is click-bait of the bad sort, as is anything offering a get-rich-quick scheme. Spammers are experts at this. It is possible to be a victim without even trying. Case in point: about a year ago, I was asked, on this web-site, by this web-site, to take action on someone who wanted to connect to a certain article of mine.

I looked at the IP, did a who-is?, and while it seemed strange that someone in the U.S. would want to connect to an article on Canada, using a separate tab, I wanted to view the web-page of whomever it was.

Big mistake! I was immediately transferred to a site which told me I had a certain number of viruses on my computer. These are very nasty sites. By refusing to let the action be taken that was offered me, I could not use the computer any more, without shutting down and restarting.

More than once have I heard of intelligent people who have allowed themselves to be enticed by dubious advertising or spam. Can you believe that at least one partner of a global accounting firm has answered one of those e-mails about the fortune that was left to him by a long-lost relative?

So we see, there is the enticement which represents good writing style, and which I believe I did not use here. Then there is the malicious angle which intends to hijack, corrupt the computer or the mind, or just waste time.

My concern is that these may both be lumped together.

I was in the 4th grade when, in a speller, I found an interesting history – who knows what it had to do with English spelling – about the legal principal of “caveat emptor”, that is, “Let the buyer beware”.

The idea is that before we purchase something – or, in this case, when we let our mouse have us enter a certain web-page – we should exercise sound judgement, and not complain if we were careless. When someone else comes along with regulations which interfere with our free exercise to buy, or to peruse, costs go up, freedom is restricted. Unstimulating reading or looking at images may be a cheap substitute for more expensive entertainment.

Criminal click-bait, of course, should be punished; anyone who writes in a catchier way than I do, should not.

October 14, 2017.

© 2017, Paul Karl Moeller

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: