(Ethan Gates)– There’s a website that some of you might be aware of, called Cracked.com. If you’ve never been to Cracked before, I’m sorry. You will probably not get any more schoolwork done tonight. Or tomorrow. Or ever again.
Cracked was, apparently, a humor magazine along the lines of MAD. It ran for about 50 years until its last print issue in 2007, at which point the brand completely shifted over to its website. They specialize in humorous lists, satirical countdowns on all sorts of cultural topics, generally focusing on movies, television, music and video games, but also spending a good deal of time on psychology, astronomy, history, technology, and general esoterica. I knew none of this when one of my study abroad roommates showed me a post from their site about a year and a half ago. I think the article was the Top 5 Reasons George Lucas Has Gone Insane, or something like that. Needless to say, I was on board. And now every damn day for a year and a half I’ve gone back to Cracked to see what new content they’ve come up with today. It’s an Internet addiction almost as bad as Facebook. Even though I have completely mastered the Cracked post format, and can predict the exact comic timing and the EXACT PLACEMENT OF CAPS LOCK in just about every article, I still mindlessly click over. Why, do you ask?
5. Lists are the greatest mind-suck on the Internet
People love lists. Our little OCD brains can’t handle the idea of seeing the number five and then NOT proceeding to four, three, two, etc. They’re the perfect example of how the Internet has stolen our brains: Arguing Over Arbitrary Rankings has pretty much surpassed baseball as our national pastime. Hey look over there, someone online thinks that Amherst is only the second best small liberal arts college in New England!
Lists are why Internet blogs have pretty much destroyed arts criticism – why read a well-thought-out, thought-provoking article when you can look at a slideshow with pretty pictures?
Cracked is a little different – the actual numerical order of the rankings hardly ever matters. It’s more a method of dividing up each article into discrete parts, and clumping together a bunch of information around a general theme. But seriously, once I’ve read the first 2 of “5 Life Lessons Learned From Old School Cartoons,” how can I not continue on to the last 3?
4. The sheer amount of content
If you were to go to Cracked’s home page and never, ever scroll down, you would still be able to view at least four new articles every day. Their layout design is ingenious in that way. God forbid you do scroll down, and you’ll get to see all the new content posted in the past week. That would be enough to distract you, but oh look at the sidebar: there are links to five or six of the most popular articles ever posted on the site. Which refresh and show you new options just about every time you visit. Keep scrolling down even further, and you’ll be greeted with five or six of the top articles in fourteen distinct categories, like “Movies and TV,” “Sports,” “Tech,” or “Sex.” There is no overlap in ANY of the different interfaces just mentioned.
So let’s say you’ve finally picked one article to read. Say, “The 5 Most Stastically Full of Shit National Stereotypes.” Oh look, before I’ve even scrolled down to the actual article, it’s giving me the option to link over to other posts that are “Trending Now.” Scroll down a bit, and you could also check out the “Flashback” sidebar to see articles written on this same day of the year over the course of Cracked.com’s five-year life. Scroll down FURTHER, five more of the most popular articles from the site. Scroll down EVEN FURTHER, and you get five recommended articles based on the topic you’re reading about right now. And again, no overlap in any of those sidebars. Oh, and I’m not even getting into all the videos, Photoshop contests and other features Cracked does. This is just the lists we’re talking about here. I have seen actual news websites with less content.
3. Images You Won’t Believe Aren’t Photoshopped
The single greatest ongoing entertainment feature on the Internet, with the possible exception of My Drunk Kitchen. It’s a fabulous collection of absurd art projects, the craziness of the natural world, and incredible (or lucky) photography. And the greatest part is there have been so many editions of this feature, by the time you’re done looking through them all, you’ll probably have forgotten what the ones at the beginning looked like, and you can go through them all again!
2. They are my people
I concede that a lot of you readers probably won’t be as enthused about Cracked.com as I am. But this site was designed for me. “The 6 Most Accidentally Creepy Movie Romances?” How did they not include the Star Wars prequels? “The 7 Most Horrifying Moments in Children’s Video Games?” There’s an alternate ending to Myst sequel Riven that haunts my nightmares to this day. “The 5 Most Pointless Abilities People Love to Brag About?” I love feeling superior to others!!
The latter point is my one problem with Cracked – too many bizarre subjective articles that amount to little more than rants about certain author’s pet peeves. But then they show me 11 Deep Space Photos That You Won’t Believe Aren’t Photoshopped and everything is right with the world.
1. You actually can learn a LOT
I’m not talking about the useful sort of “learning how to learn” stuff that liberal arts college mercifully grants us, of course. But lordy, Cracked is an incredible depository for forgotten pieces of bizarre and fascinating historical/geographical/random information.
“The 5 Creepiest Unsolved Crimes No One Can Explain” will confound you. “The 5 Most Terrifying Supreme Court Decisions” will freak you out. “7 Mind-Blowing Easter Eggs Hidden in Famous Works of Art” will…well, blow your mind. Cracked is often crass and juvenile, yes, but become a regular reader and you’ll have cocktail party material for the rest of your life.
Last Thanksgiving, Cracked did an article of common myths about the discovery of the New World and the (more) historically correct versions. Did you know that Squanto, that benevolent, helpful Native American from all our lessons about the Pilgrims and turkey, had previously been kidnapped by one of John Smith’s lieutenants (yeah, like Pocahontas John Smith), was sold into slavery in Spain then rescued by Spanish monks, sailed to Newfoundland then BACK ACROSS THE ATLANTIC to England, then back AGAIN to the site of his original village… where his whole tribe had been wiped out by smallpox and a bunch of Puritans had settled in a town called Plymouth? With absolutely nothing else to do with his life now, he helped the Pilgrims survive some of their rough first winters.
All those years, I had never thought to question where Squanto came from, how he knew English and why he bothered to help the Pilgrims anyway. Thank you, Cracked. Now I know. And so do you.