Within the world of television sitcoms, the dreaded family slideshow has long served as a reliable punch line — a sort of domestic shorthand for boredom-inducing self-indulgence. (Think of Selma and Patty inflicting slide-show torture on Bart et al. on The Simpsons.)
Yet, at the moment, outside the small screen, the slideshow is enjoying a cultural renaissance. Recently, Al Gore has spun his slideshow about global warming into a much-lauded movie, An Inconvenient Truth. At the same time, Slate continues to use the slideshow format to explore the aesthetic terrain of interesting cultural phenomenon, ranging from historical representations of Helen of Troy, to college football art, to marijuana photography.
But just as various people have begun to elevate the slideshow’s reputation, one publication continues to drag it down. These days, on a fairly regular basis, BusinessWeek Online tosses up such a lousy array of slideshows that its Web site is bound to reflect badly on the entire medium. If there were such thing as the Slideshow Anti Defamation League, it would be well advised to devote its efforts to shutting down BusinessWeek Online’s entire operation.
Witness yesterday’s effort, entitled the “Wimpiest Cars of 2006.”
The slideshow is accompanied by a meandering essay ostensibly summarizing the current state of horsepower trends in today’s crop of automobiles. From the outset, we learn that rising gas prices have done little to slow down automakers in their race to build more powerful cars.
“Even as gas prices soar, manufacturers large and small continue to up the ante, making engines bigger and putting more power under the hood,” reported BusinessWeek Online. “That’s having an impact on cars of every type.”
A few paragraphs later, however, we learn that rising gas prices have, in fact, resulted in a new crop of less powerful, more fuel-efficient cars.
“Easiest to peg as power-lacking,” added BusinessWeek Online, “are vehicles now arriving on American shores as part of a new class of small, efficient subcompacts — intended, no doubt, to be the answers to nationwide gas-price woes.”
Here, a thoughtful, analytic business writer might be tempted to praise the new crop of fuel-efficient cars as a rational response to a changing marketplace. Not so, the editors at BusinessWeek Online.
“With more and more cars packing a titanic punch, performance-oriented competition has increased,” reported BusinessWeek Online. “So much so that models that can’t keep pace run the risk of coming off, well, wimpy.”
At this point, we felt perfectly primed to sit back and watch a slideshow mocking pygmy-sized European imports. After all, whether you agree or disagree with ridiculing small, energy efficient cars, it’s easy to appreciate how their midget-sized proportions would lend themselves well to a visual send-up.
But what followed instead was a tedious slideshow half-heartedly criticizing a wide range of vehicles for a wide range of shortcomings, including the Jaguar X-Type (“the interior materials aren’t what you’d expect from the venerable mark”), the Chevrolet Malibu (“no optional manual gearbox”) and the Volkswagen Golf (“another case of manufacture neglect”).
The short critiques of the vehicles were accompanied by static shots of the vehicles’ exteriors — none of which looked particularly wimpy and some of which (like the outsized Mitsubishi Montero) looked downright manly.
In short, the photographs added nothing of interest to the overall argument (whatever that argument happened to be — we’re still not entirely sure). If anything the photographs detracted from the designations of wimpiness. So why turn the essay into a slideshow?
Apparently, at BusinessWeek Online, any subject, no matter how visually uninteresting, is fair game for a slideshow. How else to explain past slideshows on subjects ranging from tort reform, to Social Security reform, to blogs that have been turned into books?
What’s next? A slideshow on the pros and cons of blank wall space?
Other slideshows popping up on the BusinessWeek Web site are difficult to criticize for their aesthetic components — primarily because to do so, you would first have to get beyond the mind-boggling inanity of the subject matter.