The Spoof Is Out There

Crashed Flying Saucer

THE IMAGE: An excellent, high-quality color photo that clearly and unmistakably depicts a crashed flying saucer being investigated by the U.S. military in 1947, which would settle the UFO debate once and for all if only it wasn't a screen grab from a disappointing and unnecessary "X-Files" revival miniseries in 2016.

THE BAIT: Irrefutable proof of alien visitation that you can forward to your smartass astrophysicist brother-in-law who thinks he knows everything but is actually a stupid jerk.

THE TARGET: People who are tired of being told "I believe that you believe it" by concerned friends and loved ones, people who think if there's one thing we really need right now it's another thing to argue about, people who've spent the last several years urging Congress to declare war on Zeta Reticuli, people who have stronger feelings about Kirk vs. Picard than about Trump vs. Democracy, the Roswell Chamber of Commerce, Gort.

THE STUPID: This isn't CGI -- a production company actually built that life-sized saucer for "The X-Files," at considerable expense, so I'm sure they really appreciate the fact that some internet scammer is misrepresenting a picture of it to sell a bunch of crap. Regardless, even as a purported alien spacecraft, the image makes little sense. The saucer is still smoldering, suggesting that it's just crashed -- so why does it look like the military has been on the site for days, with portable lights already set up around the craft and a well-used dirt road leading up to it from heavy vehicle traffic? Why is the damage to the saucer on the side that didn't impact the ground? Why does the alien vessel appear to have been built using Earthlike rebar and welded steel? Perhaps that's what makes this photo "disturbingly controversial," in the same way that trying to buy a home pregnancy test with Monopoly money might also be considered "disturbingly controversial." But in neither case do I have a particularly strong desire to know more.

They Couldn't Find a Virgin

Cruise Ship Passengers by the Pool

THE IMAGE: A 26-year-old Safelite sales manager slathered with deep fryer grease and fish oil being forced to jump into a swimming pool filled with hungry reef sharks after losing a limbo competition on the Carnival cruise ship Paradise.

THE BAIT: Stories about dismal, disappointing, and/or dangerous cruises that make you feel better about the fact that you haven't left your house in two years.

THE TARGET: Democrats entertained by the amusing calamities that disproportionately befall Trump voters, depressed women who dull their Instagram-induced FOMO with supermarket wine and late-night cable reruns of Friends, underpaid Filipino cruise ship workers hoping that none of the photos captures them raising their middle finger behind the sunburned backs of bloated American passengers complaining about the poolside buffet being closed between 3:00 and 5:00 PM so the staff can prepare for dinner.

THE STUPID: Why would photos showing the dark side of anything be hilarious? Are these photos supposed to be disturbing, or funny? The featured photo appears to be neither. A large group of young adults gathered around a cruise ship's swimming pool on a sunny day doesn't seem very dark; yet no one looks like they're having a particularly good time, perhaps because they've observed that the social distancing is about the width of a margarita glass and they know how easy it is to fake one of those COVID vaccination cards.

It Also Secretly Monitors Your Calls

Gigantic Birds Nest

THE IMAGE: Massive birds nest on a telephone pole, which the sponsor hopes resembles a giant hairy monster just enough to make you think that's the animal it's talking about and click on the link, whereupon you'll be inundated with ads designed to take full advantage your proven gullibility.

THE BAIT: Something to make your longtime fantasy about New Yorkers being mauled by resurrected woolly mammoths seem a little closer to reality.

THE TARGET: People who believe it's plausible that a species of gargantuan predatory beasts they've never heard of before resides somewhere in the mysterious, unexplored wilds between Buffalo and Westchester County, tech-addicted teenagers more perplexed by those strange elevated wires than the apparent rotting Wookiee corpse hanging on them, lazy line repairmen trying to bolster their argument for a raise.

THE STUPID: Surprisingly, this photo is not faked -- it's a picture of an impressive but non-lethal nest created by a colony of sociable weavers in the Kalahari Desert, which is almost as far away from New York State as is geographically possible. The only animals in the photo are the weavers, drab, five or six inch long birds whose sole victims are insects and grass seed. According to the CDC, the actual deadliest animal in New York is an exotic, terrifying creature called a dog.

So You're Saying She's Available

Maria Sharapova in Paris

THE IMAGE: Five-time Grand Slam singles champion, former No. 1 women's tennis player, and memorable Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Maria Sharapova, photographed in a city you've never been to, holding a trophy awarded for a sport you can't play, and smiling at someone you don't know.

THE BAIT: Some racy secret about Maria Sharapova that explains why she hasn't gotten married, other than because, like millions of other women who have the freedom to make their own decisions, she doesn't fucking want to. "I've never had a boyfriend who could keep up with my incredible sex drive," Sharapova laments. "If only a creepy stranger who reads this online and believes he has what it takes to satisfy me would give me a call." Something like that.

THE TARGET: Men who don't venture onto a tennis court but do spend a lot of time in family court, men who induce women to re-press their already lit-up floor buttons in elevators, men who like ogling female athletes from a chair they sit in eleven hours a day, men who think every woman wants to have sex with them or will retroactively decide that she did, Matt Lauer.

THE STUPID: Although the headline correctly gives Sharapova's current age as 34, the featured photo was taken in 2014, when she was 27 (don't worry -- she still looks amazing). But it's not even a headline as much as an unremarkable statement of fact. Maria Sharapova has never been married. Great, thanks for letting me know. Why is a photo gallery necessary to illustrate this simple proposition (no pun intended)? How exactly can photos depict Maria's non-marriedness, anyway? Are they pictures of her not arguing with someone in her kitchen about what can go down the garbage disposal for the hundredth goddamn time? Regardless, I hate to break it to discerning readers of "ItsTheVibe" (move over, New York Times), but Ms. Sharapova has recently gotten engaged to British businessman Alexander Gilkes, who, notably, isn't you.

But Still No Cure for Stupidity

Strange Natural Object

THE IMAGE: What the fuck is that? A squid's eye stuffed pupil-first inside a diseased strawberry? A discarded sour ball mutating into a deadly new life form? An alien invader's right testicle sliced off with a machete by a Florida sugarcane farmer?

THE BAIT: A way to miraculously restore your diminishing youth and attractiveness that doesn't involve Botox or posting decades-old pictures of yourself in bike shorts on eHarmony.

THE TARGET: People who are mortal, people who refuse to take a thoroughly researched and medically approved vaccine that would help prevent them from being infected by a horrific virus but have no hesitation ingesting some weird-looking plant they saw on the Internet to try to reduce their wrinkles, people who believe ancient texts written at a time when the average life expectancy was half of what it is today are a more reliable guide to mitigating the effects of aging than modern science.

THE STUPID: So the secret to eternal youth was discovered by a historian? Maybe now they can finally pay off their student loans for that ill-advised master's degree from Tufts. But what exactly is "the old book" where this incredible information was hidden? The Bible? The Kama Sutra? Lyndon Johnson's autobiography? And why hide it? Why not just come right out and say, "If anyone's interested, you can reverse the human aging process by [eating/drinking/doing] X." Even if the remedy was kept under wraps, shouldn't there be some conspicuous 2,000-year-old dudes out there playing racquetball, pretending not to remember final days of the Roman Empire, and bragging to their friends that they're dating chicks 1% of their age?

Food, Clothing, and Shelter Not Included

Woman Near Ocean

THE IMAGE: A free-boobed 44-year-old woman celebrating her early retirement from Kohl's by walking briskly across a barren landscape toward a cliff hanging over a frigid ocean that will kill her in minutes if she falls off.

THE BAIT: The ability to quit your low-paid, soul-crushing job and live out your remaining days as a carefree homeless immigrant in some magical foreign land where you never get sick, the IRS can't find you, and self-entitled Americans too broke to pay bribes don't get tortured by the secret police.

THE TARGET: People who think being able to retire with $150,000 sounds great until they remember that they only have $1.50 in their bank accounts, people willing to make critical life decisions based on advice from something called "Crowdy Fan," people who equate financial freedom with partial nudity.

THE STUPID: I suppose this chick is saving money on shirts, but despite the sunshine, her retirement venue still looks pretty bleak. Where the fuck is she? Atop the Rock of Gibraltar? On an iceberg? In an apocalyptic waterworld caused by runaway climate change that no one saw coming except every minimally intelligent person on Earth? I think that's some kind of sea bird perched on the edge of the cliff, directly in front of her, which she may be desperately attempting to capture as her only chance of avoiding starvation. Retail sales in Ohio must be looking a lot better right about now.

A Blue One Means You're Gay

Plastic Cup Under Toilet Seat

THE IMAGE: A red plastic Solo cup carefully placed upside-down between the bowl and seat of a residential toilet by the man of the house for some unexplained reason shortly before his wife angrily emerges from the bathroom and declares that she wants a divorce.

THE BAIT: A clever solution to a pressing household problem you didn't even know you had because you've been spending too much time thinking about your child's upcoming heart surgery.

THE TARGET: Fraternity brothers who overbought for beer pong, people who like a challenge when peeing in the middle of the night, thirsty dogs frightened by bright colors.

THE STUPID: This prompts so many questions. Why a red cup? Why only at night? Why would someone so obsessive about their toilet fail to hang their toilet paper in the proper overhand fashion? Someday, a few decades from now, when Chinese history teachers are trying to highlight the moment when the United States lost its last, quivering grip on reality, they might present this craptacular "content" to their incredulous students in America Province.

He Lost His Tip When He Couldn't Explain Inception

Leonardo DiCaprio as Pizza Guy

THE IMAGE: Former internationally acclaimed Academy Award winning actor / current Domino's Pizza delivery driver Leonardo DiCaprio.

THE BAIT: Stories about talented, rich, and famous people losing everything to cheer you up about the anonymous misery of your own disappointing life.

THE TARGET: Everyone who voted for Donald Trump, the 1,089 super-hot women who slept with Leonardo DiCaprio before fully realizing the scope of his ambition to sleep with super-hot women, Domino's customers who adamantly insisted to their disbelieving spouses that Leonardo DiCaprio delivered their Ultimate Pepperoni Pizza and Stuffed Cheesy Bread last week, Billy Zane.

THE STUPID: So what exactly makes one a "failed celeb"? No longer being celebrated? Accidentally contributing something valuable to society? Hosting the Golden Globes? Whatever the definition, I'm pretty sure that Leonardo DiCaprio, one of the most successful entertainment figures of the last 25 years, whose films have grossed over seven billion dollars worldwide, doesn't qualify. Just a few days ago he appeared with Robert De Niro at a major event in New York City to memorialize the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He must've somehow managed to squeeze that in between guaranteed 30-minute deliveries. Oh, also -- those Domino's "Heat Wave" bags were used back in the late 90s; they're selling them on eBay now.

Finally, Something Useful

Ancient Ruins

THE IMAGE: An archeological site that conceivably could be ruins from the Byzantine Empire -- but, honestly, would you have any clue if they actually were from the Roman empire, or ancient Greece, or some new antiquity-themed Disney attraction in Orlando, Florida?

THE BAIT: An answer to the burning questions about the fall of the Byzantine Empire that consume you day and night.

THE TARGET: People older than 45 who watch the 30 minutes of weekly programming on The History Channel that are still devoted to history, genealogy freaks who think they're related to legendary Byzantine emperors but actually are the descendants of drunken Cypriot sardine fishermen, Ottoman Turks surfing CNN during the siege of Constantinople.

THE STUPID: This is clickbait? Seriously? How many people who saw this know or care what the Byzantine Empire was? I bet I could strike up a conversation with ten random strangers at the airport, then cut it short by saying, "Sorry -- I have to catch my flight to the Byzantine Empire," and nine of them would reply, "Have a good trip!" But my favorite part of this is that the sponsor is "Maternity Week," LOL. That's right, an online publisher whose Twitter page describes it as "the go-to site for everything to do with births, families and parenting" is also your number one source for information about the Byzantine Empire. Because public surveys consistently show that one of the top concerns of today's expectant mothers is the geo-political makeup of Asia Minor in the Middle Ages.

That Doesn't Look So Bad

Uniformed Women at Restaurant

THE IMAGE: Three young, non-malnourished women in smartly fetching uniforms getting ready for what looks like a fun evening at a bustling outdoor restaurant in an unknown Asian country that is definitely not North Korea.

THE BAIT: Secret photographic evidence proving that the world's most isolated, impoverished, and authoritarian police state has a surprisingly vibrant social scene.

THE TARGET: Sexually rejected American men who get turned on by the idea that lots of attractive, compliant women are available to ruling elites in oppressive foreign regimes, people who think North Korea has gotten a bad rap from unbarbaric nations, grown up frat boys who like beer and coerced female attention, Brett Kavanaugh.

THE STUPID: I'm not sure where this photo was taken, but my best guess is that it's Burma, because that writing on the pavilion directly behind the three women in the foreground appears to be Burmese (and certainly isn't Korean). As for the women themselves, though it's possible that they're unusually fashionable waitresses, they look more like tired flight attendants who know how to make the most of a layover. Given the casual, innocuous setting, it's a bit unclear why the photo would have to be "snuck out" of anywhere. But if anyone really believes that life in North Korea is remotely like this, I've got an abandoned pyramidal hotel in Pyongyang I'd like to sell them.

At Least the Weather Was Nice

Giant Wave Striking Beach

THE IMAGE: Either an excellent example of patently obvious photo manipulation, or a large crowd of beachgoers enjoying a sunny day in the Gulf of Mexico 3.2 seconds after a massive, dinosaur-killing asteroid slammed into the ocean just off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, circa 66 million B.C. -- you decide.

THE BAIT: Horrific scenes of a deadly seaside disaster, and maybe some chicks in bikinis.

THE TARGET: People who have no sense of scale whatsoever, people who are entertained by the tragic misfortunes of others, people deeply concerned about rising sea levels, Molly-tripping surfers, excitable starfish.

THE STUPID: A wave this ridiculously high would kill everyone in the featured image, and plenty more besides -- perhaps thousands of people -- and cause epic physical destruction many miles inland. Don't you think you probably would've, you know, heard something about that before now? Regardless, this picture, which has been kicking around the Internet for years, is a well-known fake -- a fake of a fake, actually, utilizing an earlier photoshopped image of the same giant wave wiping out Honolulu (if you look very closely, you can see faint vestiges of city buildings at the base of the wave, on the right). But put that aside for a moment, and imagine that the image captures a real catastrophe. What's with the lighthearted headline? A horrifying, mass-casualty event is "a day at the beach gone wrong"? That's like showing a dramatic photo of the World Trade Center burning on 9/11 with the caption, "Worst Workday Ever." But I probably shouldn't give these guys any ideas.

And He's Got Two More Wishes After This

Scene From I Dream of Jeannie

THE IMAGE: Remarkably undead actress Barbara Eden as a genial genie named Jeannie in the ingenious "I Dream of Jeannie" (NBC, 1965-1970), shown in a screen grab posture that is meant to look sexually suggestive, but actually isn't.

THE BAIT: Interesting anecdotes that shed more light on this vitally important inflection point in American cultural history that are also weirdly titillating to boomers.

THE TARGET: Heterosexual men aged 50-70 who remember when a young woman's navel couldn't be displayed on television without offending network censors and Almighty God, gay men of any age who've latched onto this screwball sitcom for some strange reason known only to them, feminist activists trying to cancel a show that was already canceled during the Nixon Administration, the Taliban.

THE STUPID: I love the uninspired word-mush of the meaningless headline. The sponsor blandly promises "facts" that "change how we feel," without characterizing those facts or describing the way we're supposed to react to them. They're basically just phoning it in. Will the new information make us feel conflicted? Outraged? Horny? "Definition" doesn't want to tip its hand. And what are these feelings supposed to be about? The TV show? The carefree sexism of the 60s? The real-life struggles of genies? Call me cynical, but I highly doubt that any facts I might learn from the "article" about "I Dream of Jeannie" will change how I feel about anything, other than the five minutes of my day I'll never get back. But here's a noteworthy fact that I uncovered all by myself: Barbara Eden is now 90, and yet she appears to be in better physical shape than at least 90% of the nostalgia junkies likely to click on this idiotic pap. Which probably makes her feel pretty good.

Can't Wait for the Gender Reveal

Graffiti Covered Pickup Truck

THE IMAGE: A white pickup truck spray-painted with a memorable pregnancy announcement.

THE BAIT: The hilarious bitterness and emotional devastation of other human beings.

THE TARGET: People who've traded romantic disappointment for crushing loneliness, country music songwriters, divorced women in Tennessee.

THE STUPID: This is not a "break up note" -- it's a dramatic act of vandalism apparently committed by a woman who discovered that her husband and the father of her child impregnated his mistress. So not exactly a laugh riot, either. What's next from "Crowdyfan" -- America's funniest autopsy photos?

Wait, Let Me Guess

City in Flames

THE IMAGE: An unidentified city one can only hope is Jacksonville, Florida completely engulfed in searing flames. Interestingly, despite being immolated by a massive firestorm, the city still has electricity. So we know it's not New Orleans.

THE BAIT: Potentially useful information regarding the impending incineration of all life on Earth.

THE TARGET: People behind on their taxes, COVID deniers looking for a way to avoid oppressive mask mandates, Armageddon-craving Christians considerably more eager to see Jesus than He is to see them, Pat Robertson.

THE STUPID: It's only fitting that this combustible content comes from The New York Post, which ardently supported the combustible presidency of Donald Trump. Here we have what might be the most shameless clickbait of all time. An apocalyptic mass extinction will begin ... when? In two billion years, when the Sun's rate of nuclear fusion increases to the point that its intense heat boils away the Earth's oceans and sterilizes the planet? In two thousand years, when a recently discovered asteroid slams into the Earth and sets off a global conflagration? In two minutes, when Russian computer hackers trying to steal customer account information from Costco accidentally initiate a full-scale nuclear war? The Post won't tell you until you click on its link and read past its Labor Day mattress sale ads. As if you'll be able to sleep now.

Just Like the Zapruder Film

Woman Lying in Sun

THE IMAGE: A young woman lying in the sun with her eyes closed, dreaming of becoming the uncompensated subject of a deceptive pictorial advertisement on a fantastic global information sharing network 55 years in the future.

THE BAIT: Something to look at other than your immediate physical surroundings and the annoying biological life forms that make them intolerable.

THE TARGET: People determined to avoid engaging in any socially or economically productive activity for the entire span of their adult lives, pet chimps that have snatched away their owners' cell phones and are randomly tapping on the screens to mimic human behavior, internet bots not yet sufficiently advanced to detect worthless crap.

THE STUPID: How can there be such a thing as an "off camera photo"? Isn't the scene depicted in every photo, by definition, on camera? Were these photos produced by telepathy? Or, pursuant to the principles of quantum theory, do they only come into existence at the moment they are observed? And who exactly is engaged in an ongoing discussion about the teaser image shown here? Is there some annual symposium of academic experts trying to figure out the historical significance of this mystery beach babe, and whether that's her erect nipple, or merely a pointed crease, protruding from her cute bikini top? Hopefully they'll publish their findings in a peer-reviewed journal soon.

Meanwhile, Burger King Is Livestreaming Your Shower

McDonald's Drive-Thru Customers

THE IMAGE: Left: Some dude grabbing his feed bag at an exhaust fume choked McDonald's drive-thru from an underpaid employee hoping that she can survive another day without catching COVID-19 from unmasked assholes who shout out demands for extra ketchup over right-wing talk radio blaring from their SUVs. Right: Some other dude sitting in what appears to be a different vehicle getting ready to wolf down a literally balanced meal from what looks like another restaurant chain when he suddenly realizes he's being watched for reasons that are impossible to fathom.

THE BAIT: Stunning exposé of the secret surveillance practices of fast food companies eager to record their customers stuffing cold, soggy French fries into their faces.

THE TARGET: People who harbor the misimpression that their private lives aren't as breathtakingly boring as their public ones, people who've recently purchased a home security system despite residing in a neighborhood that hasn't experienced a crime of any kind since 1973, people who wrap their phones in tinfoil before they go to bed to keep the NSA from reading their illicit text messages to their dog sitters, Tucker Carlson.

THE STUPID: You want to know how McDonald's employees see inside your car? They look into your open window as they're handing you your crappy food and anxiously awaiting the end of their joyless four-second interaction with you. On a different note, is it just me, or does it seem like that slack-jawed customer on the right probably lives in Barcelona? And why is he wearing white fingernail polish?