As print newspapers die out, maybe you held out some hope that the ubiquitous horoscope columns would have died out along with them. Unfortunately, they’re still as popular as ever online. Amanda Hess of the New York Times notes that you can still find astrology columns on “every cool-girl online brand.” Why? Because people click on them.
It’s worth asking: Why the hell is this brand of (literal) fake news so popular?
One reason may be that, even though Americans are drifting away from organized religion, spiritual nonsense is as popular as ever. Horoscopes have always walked that line between acting as if some Higher Power knows what’s best for you and saying that Higher Power has a name. If people have abandoned the kind of religion normally found in church, it’s easy to see why they may find comfort in some stranger’s vague ideas about how to make their lives better.
And that, says Hess, is another reason horoscopes remain popular:
Astrology checks several boxes for viral-happy content: It provides an easy framework for endlessly personalized material, targets women and accesses ’90s nostalgia. It’s the cosmic BuzzFeed quiz.
She adds that astrological phone apps are customized for users, too, allowing predictions to tailor themselves to you instead of everyone whose birthday is kinda sorta close to yours.
What’s really strange is that many of the people writing the horoscopes don’t even go through the motions of saying they have psychic powers. They just put the affirmations out there, knowing readers will enjoy them.
… The Cut’s resident astrologer, Claire Comstock-Gay, goes by the kicky name “Madame Clairevoyant.” The poet and essayist Melissa Broder offers “Lennyscopes” on Lenny Letter, which read like a slyly sarcastic version of the Zodiac that undercut the practice even as they reinforce it. There’s a silly kind of pleasure to be taken in twisting scientific data points — birth dates, orbits, planetary alignments — into little morality plays about our inconsequential personal dramas.
It might be “silly” if people understood they were all made up, but my fear is that readers, desperate for good news, believe there’s some truth to the suggestions. It may be harmless in many cases, but it sends the wrong message: That something printed online, by the very fact that it’s up on otherwise legitimate websites, has validity to it. At a time when our nation is struggling in part because people can’t tell the difference between real news and fake news, horoscopes that offer generic messages of hope under the guise of supernatural predictions aren’t helping.
They just contribute to people believing even more irrational nonsense. We don’t need to reward people like that.
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