Critiquing “How Many Bones Would You Break to Get Laid?” from The Cut: https://www.thecut.com/2019/05/incel-plastic-surgery.html
Does the feature work both in terms of concept and design? Why or why not?
The feature works fantastically in terms of concept and design. Reading the feature entirely on a mobile device is easy on the eyes and mind, something one doesn’t always find with features when digested on a phone.
The simple, white, graphic design is definitely just another example of minimalism for the sake of minimalism, but it works. The few injections of photos bring attention to only the faces of men – the models these incels wish to look like, the incels themselves and photoshoot images.
By letting the few design pieces feature only the men that the piece talks about, instead of also showing pictures of Eppley’s office or even screenshots of the forum, the piece takes on an almost eerie quality. The reader is peering into the eyes of all these men – beautiful, attempting to be, wishing to be looked at. At the same time, the men peer back. The design is reminiscent of a clickbait “Dermatologists hate them” style ad campaign, the kind you may find linked through on a forum.
The simplistic design, even with (or maybe because of) its deficiency of graphics to guide the reader through the blocks of text, keeps things flowing.
What are its component parts?
Hines brings scenes to life by weaving in messages from the forum into her piece. She doesn’t reconstruct whole messages on the page, but just writes out specific quotes in her grafs. She doesn’t use much description to bring Eppley’s office to life, instead allowing the reader to manufacture exactly what his office may look like from just a bit of description about its location and his appearance.
The biggest scenes she reconstructs with the most elements are those moments of insecurity the incels feel, as they post photos from Lookism. She uses their messages in the grafs while also reprinting anonymous photos within the story as well.
The story’s event structure switches between the past tense where the life of Truth4lie, one of the incels, is retold, and the present tense while Hines (and Truth4lie) visits Eppley in his office.
The event structure is almost entirely told through text, while the photos merely add some element of atmosphere to the piece.
Hines enters the viewpoint of incels by presenting their messages from the forum, unedited. At one point we get to read what Truth4lie wrote on the forum while he waited in Eppley’s office for his appointment: “I want to live in a plastic surgeon’s office. I just want to have a bed in one of his labs. Just a bed, a small kitchen, and an internet connection.”
The way he’s written this message of desperation pulls us into his world, his viewpoint, better than anything he could have shared directly with Hines. Then we read a lot of incel language as well, such as “supreme gentleman”, “gymceling” and “steroidmaxxing”. Through the use of language, Hines brings us into the viewpoint of incels.
We also quite literally see their viewpoint through Hines’s use of their photos from the Lookism app – these selfies that they post on the forums themselves. As we see pictures of these men in their mirrors, we’re literally brought in to see their changes faces from their angle.
What are the strongest components? The weakest?
The strongest components are definitely the sections where Hines goes deeply into the incel thread. Hines does bring Eppley’s office to life with words, but her bigger accomplishment is bringing life to the Sluthate forums. Frequently people will deny the possibilities in describing scenes that take place on the internet, but there’s a lot to be done with those worlds. Even though Hines doesn’t spend any time describing the layout or design of the website, she can bring it to life with just a few screen names and excerpts from chats. As she describes other users telling Truth4lie that he took the “black pill” and then immediately jumps back in time to his stint in therapy and in a psychiatric hospital, we can slip easily into the world of these incels without much description.
I think the weakest components are perhaps the actual event structure. As Hines jumps without giving much context on where we’re placed in Truth4lie’s story, it can occasionally be tough to follow exactly what point we are at in his journey. Because we don’t have a lot of structure for timing in the piece, we can sometimes feel as if we’re not sure how long his story actually takes.
What would you change to make it more effective?
Adding more interactive elements would make this piece more effective, although the thing to avoid would be making the piece cluttered at all. Sliders showing the difference between the unedited and edited Lookism photos would add an element of shock for the reader.
Perhaps dated messages from Truth4lie and from other users may add an element of time that could place the reader better and allow them to track his journey from a psychiatric hospital into Eppley’s chair.
Headers, as simple as they are, might add another organization element. The biggest issue with the piece is the difficulty of orienting yourself in time, and headers would help to space the piece out and give the reader a chance to know exactly where on the timeline they’re placed.