The Top Ten Think Pieciest Think Pieces on Think Pieces
Ah, the think piece. We may not have invented the form, but our generation has turned think pieces into a whole new beast.
At their best, think pieces provide an in-depth discussion of a topic that is thought-provoking while elaborating on an insightful point of view. At their worst, think pieces are solipsistic and masturbatory pieces of flagrant click-bait riding on the waves of a viral hashtag. And let’s not forget the ensuing shit storm of words spilled online every time a problematic episode of Game of Thrones airs. As blogoprofessor Jeff Jarvis notes, there’s even an Internet law relating to the propagation of think pieces:
Newton's law 2014: for every thinkpiece, there will be an equal and opposite thinkpiece. CC @yayitsrob
— Prof. Jeff H Jarvis (@ProfJeffJarvis) May 1, 2014
From Beyonce to Girls to Macklemore to literally anything Thomas Friedman decides to prattle about on any given day, no subject in our popular culture is safe from long-ish form essays riffing on that subject to make a broader argument about our society. But what about think pieces themselves? If a New Republic blogger writes a think piece about the role of think pieces in our modern culture, then does the entire Atlantic staff issue a nocturnal emission?
What follows is our definitive power-rankings (in listicle form), of the top ten think pieciest think pieces written about think pieces. They will be judged on a scale from 0 to 10 according to the three most important qualities that designate any proper think piece: tl;dr (was the article annoyingly long/could you understand the author’s point without reading the rest of the piece, 0 being a Tweet and 10 being The Fountainhead), speculation (how much of the piece is pure personal opinion that rests on little more than a quick Google search, 0 being this article and 10 being a master’s thesis on modal logic), and contrarianism (did the article take a stance contrary to the dominant popular opinion of the day regarding the subject at hand — in this case, think pieces, with 0 being a Diane Sawyer interview and 10 an apoplectic Alec Baldwin). Is the system arbitrary? Of course. But so is pretty much anything in The Daily Beast that clocks in over 500 words.
10. The Think Piece: A Guide
Analysis: Richard Cohen, Associate Professor of Literature at UC San Diego, was kind enough to share his prompt outlining his expectations for his class’ assigned think piece essays. The prompt is concise, couched in authority on the subject matter, and almost completely devoid of snark — in short, it’s a terrible think piece. Best money quote? “One might observe say that Dr. Frankenstein analyzed the bodies of several corpses which gave him the raw materials with which to synthesize the body of his monster. Indeed, analysis must always precede synthesis.” Tell ’em, Prof. Cohen.
9. A Think Piece on Think Pieces
Analysis: I read this entire piece and instantly felt more bored than Jay Cutler looks on the sidelines. John Boehner at the State of the Union probably appeared more rapt than I did as my eyes scanned back and forth across the screen. If the main criterion for what makes a piece result in a “tl;dr” classification is if it makes watching C-SPAN 2 on mute while listening to a Sting solo album sound intriguing, then this article is the gold standard.
8. How To Write a Think Piece
Analysis: Writer Dave Schilling fuses empty observations about the think pieces saturating the internet with the brociopathic style that is apparently expected of all VICE writers. It takes a special mix of hubris and douchebaggitude to toss out the Merriam-Webster definition of “think piece” and replace it with your own: “a piece of writing on Salon.com.” Although to be fair, maybe VICE just doesn’t want to pay its writers enough to put much thought into their musings about think pieces.
7. A Think Piece About Think Pieces
Analysis: It’s a ballsy move to publish an article on Longreads that criticizes think pieces for forcing readers to arbitrarily choose sides while simultaneously picking sides in a silly pro/con debate about think pieces. As author Sam Stecklow asks, “Why are we being asked to participate in some imaginary game of Risk where we have to take a side?” So why am I being asked to give up on self-righteous rumblings about Donald Sterling?
6. How To Write a Thinkpiece Without Doing Any Work
Analysis: Charles Firth’s criticism-of-a-think-piece-structured-like-a-think-piece (!) would be perfect if it wasn’t just so… Australian. Stopping every couple of lines to do my own research into Firth’s references is far more work on the reader’s part than a think piece should ever entail. Props, though, for the line “The thinkpiece world is a vicious world, subtly accusing your competitors of doing too much research, and ultimately being a paedophile, is a good way of standing out.”
5. Think Before You Thinkpiece
Analysis: Michael Arceneaux’s article is everything a think piece should be: snarky, condescending, and opinionated without citing literally any actual articles. Best line? “I’d be remiss if I did not acknowledge that some of y’all are annoying as all hell when it comes to adding commentary to an event that probably doesn’t really need your pennies, nickels, or dimes. Like, it’s getting to the point now where a reality star could trip and fall on a reality show while cursing out a cast mate and there will be someone bound to write a 1000 word essay about the struggles women face in their oppressive stiletto heels. Son, she was drunk and that’s that. Move on.”
The only thing working against the think pieciness of Arceneaux’s think piece is its brevity — he could easily have beaten the same point to death a good five more times, possibly even adding in a page break since, in his words, “we all face pressure to get those hits like a stripper needs tips.”
4. How to Write a Thomas Piketty Think Piece in 10 Easy Steps
Analysis: Writer Carlos Lozada must have consumed an entire Costco’s worth of Fiber One because in one brief Washington Post listicle he somehow manages to shit on two Nobel Prize winners, three Pulitzer Prize winners, a murder of Ivy League professors, and David Brooks. Although let’s be honest here, Brooks had it coming.
3. Think Piece Thursdays
Analysis: Wait. Hold up. Holy shit. Did Thought Catalog actually just post something that was not only clever and insightful, but also a well-structured piece of meta-humor? It can’t be. It just can’t be.
2. Best Thing You Never Had: 30 “BEYONCE” Thinkpieces We Could Have Written But Didn’t”
Analysis: Sure, Complex‘s article is more a list than a long-winded and self-important essay, but it nonetheless manages to toss out some critical insights into the thinkpiece-industrial complex taking over the Internet. All 30 faux-headlines are great, but the title has to go to “How BEYONCE‘s Social Media Marketing Doesn’t Change Anything for Artists Who Don’t Have 53 Million Facebook Likes.”
1. How “Think-Piece” Became a Dirty Word
Analysis: Slate‘s David Haglund pulls an impressive move, publishing a contrarian piece that fights against the rising tide of criticism, arguing against the idea that think pieces are necessarily a new or a troublesome trend. If anything is dragging Haglund down it’s his extensive primary research into the origin of the term “think piece” as well as the rising popularity (and ensuing reactions against) of the think piece. If I wanted that to see that many citations at once, I would have just hung out with the Portland Trail Blazers in the early 2000s. Congratulations Haglund, and may they forever write think pieces about your ascent to victory as the author of the greatest think pieciest think piece about think pieces ever made.