July 29, 2013
Buzzfeed ruins the written word for everyone forever
by Dustin Kurtz
Last Monday, growing internet force Buzzfeed rolled out their new Books page, thereby ruining books for everyone, everywhere, for the rest of human history.
The launch was relatively unheralded, in part because it simply gathered articles that would have gone up on the site in any case. As Summer Anne Burton, managing editorial director at Buzzfeed, said to Andrew Beaujon of Poynter “pretty much everyone who works here is a reader, so it was a natural fit.”
It’s a remarkably blithe reason to launch a project that spits in the face of literary history and seems set to burn down book media as we know it. In spite of the calm front that Burton and Doree Shafrir, also of Buzzfeed, have put up, many on the internet were quick to decry the new page, and we applaud their strident, necessary opposition.
For instance, the first three posts on the page as I type this are lists: one about book jackets, another about Beatrix Potter, and the next some kind of ad meant to look like the other two lists.
Even the worst books surely deserve better than such superficial treatment—to be reduced to an item in a list. That’s why all reputable newspapers adamantly refuse to list bestsellers, instead printing the titles of popular books in a big circle so that everyone feels included. It’s the same principle that led Melvil Dewey to create his now-ubiquitous “Put ‘Em All in a Pile” system of library organization. It’s why every holiday season magazines and book blogs summarize a year’s worth of reading with something along the lines of “they were all okay, I guess.” Books do not belong in lists, and for anyone to make a list even touching on books, as Buzzfeed seems set on doing, is outrageous in the extreme.
The other sort of post that seems to be carried on the new Books page is perhaps even more shocking. There are posts about Stephen King, Franz Kafka and, as I mentioned, Beatrix Potter; not about their work, but about the authors themselves. The problem here should be apparent to all. It’s as if American Critic Laureate in Perpetuity Monroe Beardsley had never brought us the gospel of New Criticism, as if we were still stuck in those pre-Wimsatt dark ages when we were forced to take authors into account, as if knowing things about the scribblers behind our favorite books held any sort of appeal. Just imagine, if Buzzfeed had their way we might not only know what our authors looked like, we might also see excerpts from their correspondence, or even be tempted to write biographies of them. It’s more than shocking, it’s rather gross.
And so I welcome the outcry over this new act of aggression against literature, this page full of lists and pics and also Middlemarch for some reason. I hope all of our readers will join me in asking Buzzfeed to stop this madness they’ve foisted on us before too much damage is done. After all, it’s not as if we can simply not read it.
Dustin Kurtz is former marketing manager of Melville House.