I See Dead Hippos

Hippos in Deep Water

THE IMAGE: Two partially submerged hippos that look like they're fighting for life after being dropped into the Arctic Sea, but instead are enthusiastically mating during a thunderstorm in Lake Victoria.

THE BAIT: The reason why this random nature photo is supposed to be so unsettling, followed by the realization that nothing impacts you emotionally anymore.

THE TARGET: People who habitually mark down "Shark Week" in their otherwise empty calendars, people who wouldn't survive more than 30 seconds in any kind of natural setting, people worried that they're not existentially tormented enough to be as insufferable as their overwrought, angst-ridden friends.

THE STUPID: Who exactly will be "haunted forever" by this photo? I want fucking names. If there was even the slightest possibility that someone actually could be haunted forever after reading the story behind it, why the hell would they? Who in their right mind wants to be haunted forever? If anyone does, there are plenty of things more haunting than the plight of a couple of hippos -- just ask a refugee from Afghanistan, or a pediatrician in Florida.

That'll Never Come Out

Vintage Commercial Art

THE IMAGE: Left: Best picnic ever. Right: A power-washed happy family watching an atom bomb test from a nearby public viewing stand one-tenth of a second before becoming permanently blind.

THE BAIT: Delightfully sexist, racist, and/or culturally offensive print ads that harken back to halcyon days when white, middle-aged men with undiagnosed heart disease told American consumers what to buy, how to behave, and who to objectify.

THE TARGET: Your increasingly vulgar grandfather, people who are astounded that social mores change over time, Larry Tate.

THE STUPID: The two separate pictures in the teaser image are cleverly paired to look like they're connected, as if Mom, Dad, Becky Sue, and little Jimmy are all enthusiastically leering at the 17-year-old condiment-challenged sweetheart next door lifting up her dress, ironically making the sponsored content more inappropriate than the outdated ads it's showcasing. The picture on the left isn't even an ad at all -- it's a 1966 painting entitled "Red, White, and Blue" by celebrated pin-up artist / pervert Gil Elvgren. Also, who exactly is the "we" supposed to be in the sponsor's assertion that "we can't believe someone wrote" these ads? I mean, it's not like there's an impressionable group of people behind this who sit around all day getting amazed by random things and eagerly want to share them with the world. It's just some guy who hates his life emotionlessly composing clickbait headlines for an obscure internet marketing company you've never heard of, and the only thing he can't believe is that this is what he's doing with his MFA degree.

Might Be Overselling It a Bit

Representation of Bermuda Triangle

THE IMAGE: Let's see, a lot going on here ... we've got a chain of jagged, towering islands that look like something from Myst; the suggestion of a hidden city tucked behind a mountain; a giant, electrified triangle standing vertically on one of its pointed ends; something that looks like a concentrically radiating force field; a commercial airliner about to collide with the aforementioned force field; and a merchant ship that appears to have run up against a gravitationally impossible water wall. Maybe bigfoot's in there somewhere, too -- I'm not sure.

THE BAIT: News of the shocking discovery of a secret, guarded, hyper-advanced civilization just off the coast of the United States, responsible for hundreds of air and sea disasters that have cost thousands of human lives, that's somehow deemed not interesting enough to report by any mainstream media outlet on Earth.

THE TARGET: People planning their next cruise, maritime insurance company executives, Aquaman.

THE STUPID: Has anyone told the sponsor that the "Bermuda Triangle" refers to a triangular area of the Atlantic Ocean, not a triangular weapon? Also, isn't "real truth" redundant? Isn't the truth just ... the truth? Is there such a thing as fake truth? (Please don't ask Donald Trump). Regardless, the real, totally true truth about the Bermuda Triangle is that it's simply a part of the ocean where it's difficult to navigate and there are lots of dangerous storms, which is why a large number of ships and planes have been tragically lost there. Now we can all get on with our boring, force fieldless lives.

Quarter Past Stupid

U.S. Bicentennial Quarter

THE IMAGE: The two sides of a purportedly super-valuable 1976 U.S. Bicentennial quarter casually displayed against the backdrop of a lawn chair on the fingertips of someone who doesn't seem overly concerned about losing it.

THE BAIT: The possibility of finding a life-altering million-dollar coin amid the change you got back from purchasing a Mega Size bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos at a 7-Eleven while too high to successfully insert your debit card into the chip reader.

THE TARGET: People who wistfully dream of an early retirement despite never having actually gotten a job, people who own metal detectors, people who remember what a "coin" is.

THE STUPID: A grand total of 1.7 billion Bicentennial quarters were released into circulation in 1975-76. Today a circulated Bicentennial quarter is worth ... a quarter. An uncirculated Bicentennial quarter is worth maybe a couple of bucks. Of course, as is the case with any coin, certain extremely rare minting errors can make a tiny fraction of Bicentennial quarters worth considerably more, sometimes as much as tens of thousands of dollars. You don't own one of those quarters. However, if you're willing to live in poverty, you can always retire whenever the hell you want, regardless of whether you have a Bicentennial quarter or not. So, technically, the sponsor's exciting headline is true! Hurray!

It Appears I've Been Greatly Misinformed About the Amish

Amish Woman in Lake

THE IMAGE: A soaking wet young woman wearing a ceremonial white vestment that clings tightly to her curvaceous body as she emerges from a lake with ten grinning older men looking on from the waist-high water behind her.

THE BAIT: A list of secret sexual obligations that surprisingly hot Amish chicks must fulfill in order to continue to enjoy the privilege of having no electricity and churning their own butter.

THE TARGET: Evangelical Christian men who regard photos like this as a less sinful alternative to outright pornography, envious male Quakers and Mennonites hastily double-checking their own rule books for women, Catholic guys who are weirdly turned on by group baptisms and have a high threshold for creepiness, Brett Kavanaugh.

THE STUPID: How many non-Amish folks confidently think they know anything about Amish social precepts in the first place? I mean, is someone going to click on the link, carefully review the fourteen "rules," and then exclaim, "Wow, that's totally contrary to my prior understanding of Amish communities!" But if the Amish happen to be short on aging, lecherous men, this would make a great recruitment poster.

Couldn't You Just Walk?

Curved Trees

THE IMAGE: Whimsically shaped trees in a peaceful, sun-drenched forest that somehow put you in mortal danger.

THE BAIT: Confirmation of your long-held belief that every living thing on Earth is trying to kill you.

THE TARGET: Amazon warehouse employees on their ten-minute food and urination breaks who haven't seen a tree of any kind since they drove to a nearby office park last month to cry, the 27 people in North America who sat through The Happening all the way to the end, meth addicts, paranoid beavers with Internet access.

THE STUPID: These are pine trees in Poland's "Crooked Forest," a well-known regional tourist attraction. It's thought that their strange shape was caused by some human technique used to induce the trunks to bend, possibly to create curved timber for furniture or shipbuilding. According to botanical experts, the trees are not evil, do not strangle unsuspecting visitors, and will not chase you if you run away screaming to the befuddlement of your Polish tour guide.

I Predict This Dude Will Be Driving for Uber Next Year

Stock Market Forecaster

THE IMAGE: Some guy you've never heard of who's supposed to be a financial genius but actually just had to sell his boat to make last month's alimony payment.

THE BAIT: A life-changing stock tip that will allow you to join the top 1% in America who you despise with every fiber of your being.

THE TARGET: Day traders so clueless about the market they're down to either this or consulting a fortune-teller, Gen Z'ers who dream of becoming millionaires by age 30 but still will be living with their parents at age 45, anyone who's ever had a partial lobotomy or attended a Tony Robbins seminar.

THE STUPID: The sponsor doesn't want to reveal the actual name or vocation of this purported stock market guru, so they'll just call him "Man." We're supposed to be blown away by the fact that Man predicted the "2020 Crash," which approximately one billion other people also uncannily predicted after, you may dimly recall, a global fucking pandemic exploded early that year. Now, we're told, Man "quietly predicts" another "massive stock market event" (the upward arrow on the image graphic suggests that this time it's good news -- BUY!). Strangely, though, in the headline, with respect to Man's new forecast, "predicts" is in quotation marks; but with respect to Man's 2020 warning, "predicted" is not. Does this mean that while Man actually predicted the 2020 selloff, his current advice isn't really a prediction at all? What is it then? A hunch? A haiku? Maybe that's why he's saying it quietly, so as few people as possible are lulled into believing that he knows what the hell he's talking about. The sponsor, however, appears untroubled by any such concerns.

You'll Be Back to Storming the Nation's Capitol in No Time

Wrists Bound by Zip-Tie

THE IMAGE: A law-abiding citizen-patriot with his wrists bound by a plastic zip-tie to prevent him from exercising his constitutional right to harass mask-mandating school board members, create a private border patrol, or attempt to overthrow the federal government.

THE BAIT: Incredibly useful information that could help get you out of a real jam.

THE TARGET: Every adult American who owns at least one article of merchandise that non-derisively utilizes the word "Trump," people who suddenly deleted all of their social media accounts on January 7, sexually frustrated misogynistic men who believe the Deep State rather than their own overt loathsomeness is preventing them from getting laid, Steve Bannon.

THE STUPID: I love the tactful way the headline is phrased -- "If you're stuck in a zip-tie ..." No judgment here. Like this is a common, everyday situation you might find yourself in; a confounding, almost amusing accidental occurrence. Seriously, for how many people out there is defeating a zip-tie restraint a pressing concern? Maybe it's better not to know. Regardless, the sponsor has no qualms about aiding potential criminals by sharing the secret vulnerability of all zip-ties ever devised: a friend with a good pair of scissors.

Sometimes a Champagne Bottle Is Just a Champagne Bottle

Scene From The Love Boat

THE IMAGE: A still photo from an episode of the iconically absurd cocaine-era TV series "The Love Boat" (ABC, 1977-1986) showing the large cruise ship's only bartender and non-white crew member, Isaac, fumbling with a bottle of champagne while a shapely female passenger in a form-fitting ballet dress who looks like Judith Light (but, alas, isn't) watches with horror in her well-ventilated cabin.

THE BAIT: A little-known account of some ribald sex scene in a cornball television show that somehow slipped past censors and caused a storm of controversy.

THE TARGET: People over 50 who know what the hell "The Love Boat" is, people who have boxes of old TV Guides stored in their basements, Scott Baio.

THE STUPID: So what made this scene so scandalous that a TV network with the lowest programming standards of the 80s (and that's saying a lot) almost cancel one of its highest-rated shows? Is it the female passenger's mildly revealing outfit? The fact that a black man managed to get inside a white woman's room without someone calling the police? The, um ... provocative symbolism of the spurting champagne bottle? Whatever it was, thank God it didn't sink "The Love Boat," or else countless washed-up actors wouldn't have gotten one last guest starring role before having to hawk life insurance, commemorative coins, and orthopedic bath pillows in Sunday morning infomercials.

Will Do, Thanks

Strange Weather Phenomenon

THE IMAGE: Take your pick -- is it (A) a meteorologically impossible cluster of eight simultaneous tornados coming from a single storm cloud; (B) an enormous airborne octopus wreaking havoc in eastern Kentucky; or (C) the long-awaited arrival of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, reaching down from heaven to touch His Pastafarian followers with His noodly appendages?

THE BAIT: An explanation for what the fuck you're looking at.

THE TARGET: People who don't believe in climate change but do believe in octnados, people waiting for someone to tell them when they're going to die, people who spend 75% of their waking lives warily peering out of windows, Rand Paul.

THE STUPID: A catastrophic pandemic is rampaging around the world, killing over a thousand people in the United States each and every day [YAWN], but look -- here's something really terrifying in the sky that's coming to get you just as soon as it figures out how to exist. Honestly, though -- if this ridiculous thing was real, wouldn't the sponsor make its clickbait more effective by suggesting some helpful avoidance measures, rather than advising us to "just say goodbye"? If simply seeing the thing spells our doom, then there's no reason to click for more information, is there? Giant tornado creature = instant death; got it.

Ironically, He Spent It All on Booze at a Roadside Bar

Man Showing Driver's License

THE IMAGE: A purported New York motorist who looks like Mr. Magoo proudly displaying his California driver's license while a bunch of people who are all exactly the same age, race, and size wait in line behind him to try to enter the rear service door of a petrochemical storage facility.

THE BAIT: Important information about an unexplained financial windfall you'll be receiving on some unspecified Saturday just for living in New York and not being an alcoholic.

THE TARGET: Crochety seniors who always think the government owes them money, right-wing conservatives who hate socialism until they're the ones getting a handout, drunk drivers involved in auto accidents who convinced their sober spouses to switch seats before the cops arrived.

THE STUPID: I guess the sponsor was too lazy to use a state-specific image to match its state-specific text. But we can still learn a lot about this phony New York resident from his fake California driver's license. His name is John Doe. His address is 123 Sample Street, Sacramento, California 01234. His hair is listed as brown, notwithstanding the fact that it is clearly white, and his eyes are listed as blue, despite their being hazel. He's five feet, six inches tall, and weighs 170 pounds. And he somehow convinced the DMV to take his picture with his hat on, in violation of its own regulations.

I Can't Believe That People Actually Do Things Like This

People Walking Dogs on Beach

THE IMAGE: Astonishing secret aerial drone photo of two people walking their dogs on the beach.

THE BAIT: Pictures of topless women sunbathing and hot couples having sex outdoors.

THE TARGET: Men who are convinced that all kinds of brazen public nudity and sexual intercourse are constantly occurring just out of their sight, men who own a pair of night vision goggles, men currently subject to one or more restraining orders.

THE STUPID: So, no one was supposed to see two tiny, indistinct, silhouetted adult figures and their dogs walking along the ocean on a bright sunny day? I guess technically it's true, if the people (and the dogs) didn't know that someone was photographing them; but that's a bit disingenuous, isn't it? By the same logic, I could say that no one was supposed to see me putting out the trash last week, but other than the conspicuous number of empty liquor bottles in my recycling bin, any photo documentation of that event wouldn't be particularly scandalous. Also -- "drones captures"? Hmmm ... seems like "BetterBe" better be double-checking their grammar. Maybe no one was supposed to see that, either.

Maybe Not So Much Weed?

Woman Slumped in Shower

THE IMAGE: A dead-eyed, defeated young woman hiding from her creditors in her dingy walk-in shower. (Not pictured: repossessed Honda Accord).

THE BAIT: Clever budgeting tips that will make your rampant fiscal irresponsibility slightly less ruinous. (Tip No. 1: If you shower fully dressed, you can save money on laundry detergent).

THE TARGET: Millennials who ... well, actually, every millennial in the United States.

THE STUPID: The sponsor chose a pretty dark photo to try to entice people to seek its upbeat financial advice. Is it only me, or does this bleak chick look like she could have a loaded gun in her hand, just below the camera frame? Did she have to sell her shower curtain for quinoa? At least she can still squeeze a few drops of drinking water out of that damp washcloth.

I Think I'll Stay Inside

Demon With Snake

THE IMAGE: A giant eared, modestly horned demon wrestling with or deploying a fire-breathing serpent (also with ears) while trying to catch springtime raindrops on his pointed tongue.

THE BAIT: Critical information about how the stock market will perform through the end of 2021 in the face of continued COVID fears and the Fed's response to rising inflation from a 16th century French astrologer who wrote weird poems and failed to predict the severe gout that ultimately killed him.

THE TARGET: Upper middle class housewives pining for the return of "Long Island Medium," jittery retirees thinking of converting their entire financial portfolios to gold bullion, doomsday preppers living in decommissioned nuclear missile silos, William Devane.

THE STUPID: So Nostradamus not only specified the exact year in which portentous events would come to pass, but also the exact quarter? Who knew that a guy who lived prior to adoption of the modern calendar could be so precise? Hopefully his predictions include Tesla's fourth quarter earnings report, because I'm really on the fence about whether now might be the time to sell. Also, if the near future somehow involves that Satanic dude with the snake, I'd like to find out before I make my holiday travel plans.

For Some Strange Reason Medicare Doesn't Cover This

Woman Using Lung Cleaning Device

THE IMAGE: A middle-aged woman inserting something into her mouth that looks like a cross between a pencil sharpener and a crack pipe.

THE BAIT: A revolutionary new at-home device guaranteed to effortlessly reverse lung damage that the money-hungry medical establishment doesn't want you to find out about.

THE TARGET: Defiant smokers who always knew that it was just a matter of time until cutting-edge technology swooped in to rescue them from the consequences of doing something incredibly dumb for decades, anti-maskers looking for a back-up plan in case COVID-19 turns out to be real, people who take Prevagen.

THE STUPID: This pallid broad definitely looks like a smoker (she's even received several medals for smoking, proudly displayed on the wall behind her), but the crystal clear exhaled air in the transparent receptacle of her "lung cleaning" device seems to indicate that her lungs were already pristine. Why the quotation marks around "lung cleaning" -- does the sponsor think that will ward off a consumer fraud action? How is this thing "all-natural" -- is it made out of all-natural plastic? And if a miracle health device really was "taking [the] United States by storm," don't you think you would have been aware of it before spotting a badly disguised ad below the text of a CNN article about the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan?

Not Suitable for Chris Hemsworth

Female Warriors in Video Game

THE IMAGE: Three sultry warrior-princesses from the planet Boobulon ready to slay, obey, and/or lay the misleading avatars of socially awkward Earth men unable to score with non-imaginary women.

THE BAIT: The unparalleled thrill of partial animated nudity mixed with cartoonish graphic violence.

THE TARGET: Fantasy-prone incels waiting for Mom to call down to the basement for dinner, wistful teen boys who dream of entering an alternate reality in which precarious breastplates are standard female attire, anyone who has ever uttered the word "cosplay" non-derisively.

THE STUPID: You must be over 40 to play this game -- that's how "adult" it is, LOL. You only have to be 18 to watch a porn movie, but this dumb game is too mature for 39-year-olds refinancing their mortgages. Even the name is stupid. "Raid Shadow Legends" -- what the hell does that mean? It sounds like the result of a Lord of the Rings random word generator. I just hope too many innocent young people born after the Carter Administration aren't corrupted.

Grandma Mulls Withdrawal From Paris Climate Accord

Elderly Woman Making Call During Hurricane

THE IMAGE: An elderly Florida woman calling for some nice young man to replace her solar panels during a Category 5 hurricane.

THE BAIT: A cheap home energy solution to help you live out your golden years without relying on disappointing grandchildren or the Earth's undependable sun.

THE TARGET: Vulnerable seniors on a fixed income whose top concern is the cost of solar energy.

THE STUPID: You have to wonder if the good folks at Generark accidentally inserted the wrong image into this content. I mean, where are the solar panels? Did they blow away in the storm? Could a wind turbine be the answer -- is that what they're getting at? And why the pitch to seniors? Isn't that the least likely demographic to utilize unconventional power sources or give a flying fuck about their carbon footprint? They're the generation that got us into this climate mess in the first place.

At Least We Still Have Santa

Jesus After Resurrection

THE IMAGE: Super-white Jesus, displaying a part of his body that God forgot to resurrect, waves goodbye to hell-bound historians.

THE BAIT: Rage-inducing claim by atheist liberal elites that the supernatural offspring of an invisible deity who defied numerous laws of biology and physics might not actually have been real.

THE TARGET: Hobby Lobby shoppers, Caucasian Christians who think this is what a Middle Eastern Jew from the first century A.D. looked like, Laura Ingraham.

THE STUPID: Calling Jesus a "famous person" makes him sound more like Ryan Seacrest than the reputed son of God and savior of mankind. Most prominent historians don't doubt that Jesus existed, but only that he performed the cool magic tricks his followers seem to remember better than his actual teaching. Jesus' hair and teeth look pretty good for an era that predated shampoo and dental care.

That's a Good Boy!

Scattered Pieces of Glass

THE IMAGE: Something that looks a lot like broken bottles of Heineken swept into the dirt outside a Tucson Walmart.

THE BAIT: Irrefutable proof that drunk aliens have visited the Moon.

THE TARGET: People who think the Moon is the same color as a basketball, gullible idiots wondering why the mainstream media is covering this up, Mike Lindell.

THE STUPID: If you take a moment to glance at the Moon, you'll notice that it is not orange. The only rover currently operating there is China's Yutu-2 (there's video from Yutu-2 on YouTube, too), which has yet to uncover anything "inexplicable" other than the fact that America is apparently ceding the Moon to China. Also, I'm not sure if "Pets Fanatic" is the most reliable source of space news, unless "Rover" is actually an intrepid lunar bloodhound, in which case, he clearly deserves a treat.

It Actually Gets Quite a Bit More Awkward

Older Man and Young Woman on Couch

THE IMAGE: An older man who is not Andrew Cuomo making a helpful young woman uncomfortable in his well-appointed home.

THE BAIT: The end of the sponsor's suggestive headline -- what could it be? Hmmm ... It doesn't get more awkward than a family member asking ... for a kidney? For help hiding a dead body? For a date?

THE TARGET: Um ... white people?

THE STUPID: The fact that the sponsor is MassMutual should tip you off that whatever being asked in this inane hypothetical has to do with personal finance, and not some crazy shit going on in some family even more messed up than your own.

Something to Pass the Time Until Your Next Killing Spree

Pig Man and Raining People

THE IMAGE: Left: Butcher wearing rubber pig mask (or horrifying human-pig hybrid life form accidentally created by overzealous genetic engineers at Smithfield Foods) guarding slaughterhouse men's room door. Right: Literally raining men in Eugene, Oregon.

THE BAIT: More interesting nightmares.

THE TARGET: Creepy weirdos, fans of the "Purge" movies, bored Capitol insurrectionists awaiting trial.

THE STUPID: "Mysterious Photos That Cannot Be Explained" -- isn't that a tad redundant? I mean, if the photos could be explained, then they wouldn't exactly be "mysterious," would they? Spoiler Alert: the one-word explanation for most of these pictures is "Photoshop." Mystery solved.

It's NBC, Not the Spice Channel

Heidi Klum on The Ellen DeGeneres Show

THE IMAGE: Affable tyrannical egomaniac Ellen DeGeneres, on the set of "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," watching a celebrity Ellen fan reveal her "Ellen" underwear from The Ellen Shop, because, Ellen.

THE BAIT: Uncensored video of washed-up supermodel Heidi Klum stripping naked on syndicated daytime TV.

THE TARGET: Horny men who grew up drooling over the Victoria's Secret catalog but don't realize Klum is now 48, undiscriminating lesbians who still own VCRs, Seal.

THE STUPID: So, yeah, Klum kept those shorts on. Also, dudes, in case you haven't heard -- the Internet is literally awash in free porn.

Gay Men Are Totally Fine With Ted Cruz's Heterosexuality

Ted Cruz

THE IMAGE: Universally reviled slimeball Senator Ted Cruz, in a photo that accurately depicts him as an ass, but which the sponsor thinks makes him look gay.

THE BAIT: Shocking revelation that "traditional family" conservative Cruz is actually gay, providing what would be the 10,089th example of his shameless hypocrisy.

THE TARGET: People who hate Ted Cruz, equivalent to every person on Earth minus Ted Cruz.

THE STUPID: Ted Cruz is not gay. His "partner" is his well-oiled Stepford wife, Heidi, who Ted chivalrously defended after she was attacked by Donald Trump in 2016, then threw under the bus along with the rest of his family when he was trying to deflect blame for fleeing to Cancun during last spring's deadly Texas deep freeze. No response from Lindsey Graham.

It's Funny Because She's Stacked

Hot Woman Holding Big Fish

THE IMAGE: A big-breasted woman holding a big-sized fish, diligently maintaining the American Sportfishing Association's recommended boob-to-gill size ratio. Although she looks vaguely like Sarah Palin, she's actually a real estate agent / glam social media fishing queen from Fernandina, Florida.

THE BAIT: More photos of similarly endowed women that provide additional angler-themed leering opportunities.

THE TARGET: White beer-drinking men over age 30 who've visited a Bass Pro Shop in the last 12 months, the TV audience for "Last Man Standing."

THE STUPID: There's nothing "hilarious" about the teaser photo, except perhaps that the fish looks a bit embarrassed to be part of the humiliating scene. Nor does the photo appear to be "perfectly timed" in any discernible way. Pity the impressionable redneck who thinks he might see that fish swallow the woman whole in the next gallery picture -- or, better yet, somehow take off her top -- only to be bombarded with ads for testosterone pills and sketchy timeshares.