Lately I have been thinking a lot about social media content creation as it is one of my personal everyday modes of creativity where I work. When we think about content that goes “viral” on social media, we often talk about YouTube videos, memes, gifs, infographics– all fascinating forms of visual remixing. I want to examine the creative merits of the “listicle,” also known as the list-article. These are quickly consumable stories, written with a list as the structure, usually remixing already produced material (primarily images or gifs) into a new contextual narrative. Buzzfeed publishes many such articles because they are popular, easy to read, easy to share, and often very funny (see one of my personal favorites, titled “21 Pictures That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity”).
Listicles have been subject to a lot criticism, as many believe these kinds of stories lack substance and are only designed as “click bait” to attract site traffic. They are deemed as empty distractions, “content for the sake of content” that does not serve any artistic or journalistic value. While Buzzfeed is slowly improving their media reputation, many still frown upon their listicles as cheap, quick, easy to make, and unoriginal. At first glance, these descriptors seems to be opposite of what most people think when they define “creativity.” But I will argue, using some of the ideas about creativity that we discussed in class, that we can think about listicles as a form of remix art that should be defended as unique and creative forms of expression in our new media landscape.
Like almost all creative works in current popular culture, listicles are a built on piecing together pre-existing ideas and material into a new product. Songs, movies, books, or other artwork that seem completely new and original these days are also usually remixes– they exist within our current cultural and social moment which values the hybridization of genres and reusing familiar narratives. Furthermore, it’s not difficult to become an artist these days; learning how to photoshop, create a gif, or edit video is available to anyone on the Internet with motivation and a clever idea. In our digital age, “little c” everyday creative expression for many may come in the form of photoshopping the heads of their friends onto characters from “Game of Thrones.” The Internet has given rise to the practice of remixing because of how easy it is to access information and material, to repurpose it, and to share it.
It’s also interesting to consider that writers of popular listicles are productive and knowledgeable of their craft, much like more historical conceptions of creativity. We know that creativity is rarely the productive of one light-bulb moment from a genius, but rather, it comes from the hard work and productivity of an artist that is experienced with the craft of their medium (Sawyer 18). Buzzfeed has published tens of thousands of these short works, making it a highly productive form of writing. Listicle writers are very familiar with the “rules” of the form, such as the importance of a catchy title, positioning the subject in a recognizable category, and using an odd-number of items in the list to optimize digital performance. Not all works become the most successful pieces, but many of them do go viral and prove to be clever forms of parody.
It is important to note that most published listicles that piece together existing artistic works do so with proper attention to copyright– attributing the various works to their sources or original authors. I will admit, I am not entirely familiar with the intricacies and legal parameters of fair use of digital images. Buzzfeed has argued that their “listicles are transformative, because they storify the images, sequencing and framing them in a different way to their original context, thereby transforming the nature of the photo.” I am not certain how this argument will stand up in the legal system should listicle writers fail to properly use preexisting material (like in a July 2013 case when a photographer sued Buzzfeed for $3.6 million). But I feel confident in agreeing that many listicles beautifully and hilariously transform and repurpose other works in a way that speaks to the very creative nature of different forms of digital artistic expression.