At the risk of sounding captious, one difference between articles and essays often seems to be that articles tend to the more solicitous. This can lead to incongruities between the promises of a splashy headline and the fulfillment of a less-than substantive report or argument. Being less overtly useless than other articles is not a virtue either, in most cases. Sometimes, one finds himself disappointed for the intricacies of an article’s evasiveness.
An article titled, “Hunger Games,” found in The New Republic (1/6/14), does a reasonable job of tracing correlation between the propensity to obsessively count calories and the emergence of mobile fitness apps. But in these types of articles, correlation is nearly always an equivocal sub-in for causation. To the dismay of the reader, the most rigid piece of causally significant data was rendered in an appeal to the singular authority of Dr. Kimberly Dennis, where she roundly “estimates 75 percent of her young patients use their phones in a way that enables or encourages their eating disorders.” This is insufficient source citation, especially after pondering the vague nature of Dr. Dennis’s assertion.
The way in which the article went on to emphasis that “we” are becoming a numbers-oriented society was, at once, both banal and constructively affirming. If the suggestion was that rationalism, taken to extreme, is dangerous, one would have liked the author to just come out and state this thesis. The piece did a fine job of painting a picture of the app-centric future with quantified projections, but fell short in tying app-use to “purging.” Alas, “Hunger Games,” is again rendered a sappy, impractical appellation.
As the subtitle of the piece and the opening sentences describe anorexia and bulimia, a more thorough establishment of relevance would serve the reader well indeed. “The list of ‘safe’ foods was shrinking,” and “[now] everything ‘counts,’” do not at all strictly predict the compulsion to regurgitate. With no speculative editorial submissions at the end, no strong linear backbone and a few whipping loose ends (e.g. “…declare themselves…are more often than not male.”), the article broke contract with tremendous downward force.
Being able to accurately appraise an article’s take-away value within the title does not require dullness; it merely requires that we stop relying on shiny titles and vulgar puns. We rely on these novelties at the risk of over-promising what the article claims to know. Annoyingly, my anticipation of “Hunger Games'” self-resuscitating had been coaxed into a perpetual subsistence; next time, I’d prefer it be squashed in the first paragraph.
(If you’re wondering whether or not I’m aware of the ironical, treacherous waters through which I drift, I am; I’ll probably address it in a forthcoming piece.”)