American pop culture leaves little room for mixed feelings, thereby inciting mixed feelings every step of the way. No wonder filmmakers and TV producers like Steven Spielberg and Matthew Weiner have inserted the ambient glee of Saturday-morning cartoons and radio D.J.s gasping over sunny weather in order to conjure foreboding and suspense. The hopeful words of wisdom inscribed on a tea bag take on the weight of an omen; the funeral dirge and the bubbly pop anthem eventually start to sound like the same song.
BuzzFeed offers a transfixing cultural snapshot of our times because of its pure distillation of this American urge: the manic-cheeriness-at-gunpoint feeling that saturates our culture. The BuzzFeed formula — not just personalizing pop trivia, but treating it as an inexorable element of our emotional makeup — feels like the natural outcome of several decades of plug-in room deodorizers and Toyotathons and hamburger-slinging clowns. Our responses are predetermined and mandatory. Each button suggests the appropriate emotional reaction. And there are no buttons inscribed with the word “sad” or “unsettling” or “melancholy.” Wisdom, in our modern world, may boil down to recognizing that LOL and fail and trashy and omg don’t actually represent different categories of human experience.
Heather Havrilesky, “‘A Distinctly American Soundtrack of Mandatory Cheer’”, The New York Times Magazine (6 July 2014), 47.