An ever greater number of people are discussing that website Thought Catalog. I’m not sure anyone really knows what to make of it. On the one hand, it’s got some great articles. On the other hand, it loves itself, and it wants you to love it too.
I discovered Thought Catalog a few months ago, in one of my manic submit-something-everywhere phases. It seemed like the kind of place that would be interested in what I had to offer, so I sent them a short text to test the waters. The text was rejected, and that’s fair enough — I hadn’t done enough research, and it turns out that they simply don’t publish the kind of writing that I had sent them. At their best, Thought Catalog publishes touching articles aimed at the twenty-something market, articles concerned with breakups, passing time, solitude, contemplation, the modern world. I have read five or six really wonderful things on Thought Catalog. What I had sent them was nothing of the sort. Lesson learned, and no hard feelings. You can’t have thin skin when it comes to editorial rejections, especially when you have thin skin the rest of the time.
Sadly, the more I read on Thought Catalog, the more I wonder who it’s trying to fool. From what I understand, the editor is also the most prolific contributor there. So far he has published over 400 of his own pieces. That’s way more than most of the other contributors. These pieces are often weak, but that’s not even the point. Simply put, it’s puzzling. It’s puzzling to see how repetitive, how self-indulgent the articles are. They read like Cosmo titles: 5 things you should X before you Y. Or 7 signs that you are from X generation.
It’s a lot of lists. Listing things that you remember from television is not as interesting as it might seem. Nostalgia can only be milked so much. But there are so many of these list articles on Thought Catalog that you’re left wondering what any of it has to do with the little manifesto you’ll find on their About page:
4. We’re nobrow and nonpartisan. We don’t take any of this or ourselves too seriously. Culture is our politics.
5. Reading Thought Catalog will probably make you more interesting. You’re going to find out about stuff here you won’t see in the mainstream media. Thought Catalog will open new perspectives.
6. We’re avant-now. But our mission is also archival. We plan on sticking around for a longtime.
What… does any of this have to do with listing things that show you’re from the 90s? How does publishing a bunch of articles of the “A Letter From Your Ex” variety make Thought Catalog “avant-now”, and for that matter, what does avant-now mean? Doesn’t “avant” mean “before” or “at the fore”? Is Thought Catalog heralding a new style of journalism, or is it simply in love with empty rhetoric?
Thought Catalog calls itself “nobrow” and “nonpartisan” — fair enough. But it is unquestionably geared at a very specific demographic. It often reads like a series of fragments scrawled on a spiral notebook in college. Little observations about what it means to be young and intelligent in our century. You know, what it means to have had a threesome, or how it feels to face the future after a breakup, or why the six most important things about being caught between childhood and adulthood always involve the most narcissistic part of you.
10. In a small way, you’re supporting the future of journalism.
Is the future of journalism a turn to this kind of self-involved nostalgia? It’s hard to see exactly how the articles on Thought Catalog count as journalism. Have a glimpse at some of the recent articles by the aforementioned editor:
What happens when you get into a relationship
8 things that are unintentionally gay
The secret lives of gay men
5 telltale signs that your relationship sucks
How to date someone in 2011
How to tell if somebody loves you
Things I will do if I have a crush on you
If I were a girl
Ten flawless indie rock albums
Five things you should know about people
And so on. This is the future of journalism. It is also remarkably banal. But that doesn’t matter, because as long as we keep having crushes on our exes who introduced us to our favorite indie rock bands, Thought Catalog will continue to exist. And for some reason, I will keep checking in, to see if anything changed, to see if it’s still 2011 and the 1990s are still dearly missed in a half-ironic way.