Misery Porn as Clickbait

The craziest damn thing has started happening to the stuff I write about Venezuela abroad...people are clicking on it.


So obviously I’ve been writing a lot for international media in the last few weeks: the moment seemed right to try to catch people who maybe read one or two Venezuela articles a year on what’s been going on.

The strangest thing has happened, though. People are clicking. Big time.

Take my Vox.com piece. It spent two days ranking first, second or third spot on the Vox site. And it was up against a new Game of Thrones post, and several Trump pieces. Tens of thousands of people shared it in Facebook. Now five days old, it’s still in the Top 20.

Something similar happened to that Atlantic piece I did with Moisés Naím. Clicks. Lots of clicks. Crazy.

I’d love to flatter myself that there’s something special I’m doing as a writer to get all these clicks. But let’s get real: it’s just the magnetic allure of misery porn driving these stats. People really can’t resist.


It’s an important realization, because hard though it is for us to wrap our heads around it, now is the moment when international public opinion is finally getting the memo about what’s been happening to our country.

By “international public opinion” I don’t mean people abroad in general. I mean that relatively small segment of people well enough educated and curious enough to form an opinion about things that happen in other countries. People who actively seek out international news, who listen to the BBC World Service or buy the quality paper where they live and don’t just skip the international pages. That’s never going to be a mass audience, 5% of the population? 10%? I have no idea.

For our purposes, the important thing is that they’re by far the most influential 5%-10%: active, engaged, opinion-forming, and often broadly left-leaning and susceptible to chavista framing. Those are the people we’d had a hell of a time reaching. Those are the people now grasping what’s been happening in Venezuela.

It’s maddening, we’ve seen it so clearly for such a long time. But the world is a big place, the share of international attention Venezuela commands is a tiny sliver, and so the Conventional Wisdom about us moves with a considerable lag to events.

It’s taken a lot – way too much to get to this point. But we’re here.

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  1. Look at the positive side: Nobody is buying what lying assholes like Cicahello-Maher, Eva Golinger or dumbass celebrities like Sean Penn are selling.

    Can’t believe that I’m typing this, but is preferable to read “They deserve it for voting for socialists”. At least the latter is an honest opinion.

  2. If this post reaches 20000 likes this week, starvation in Venezuela will end. Like if you have a soul

  3. Venezuela has become emblematic in western culture for a country where progressive revolutionary ideals go horribly wrong , the terrible hardships of a country once reknown for its wealth and prosperity is a kind of morality lesson , a rich paradox which strikes the eye and draws people fascinated attention ……it also helps that we ve had so many great journalists and opinion makers that know the ropes of describing the situation for all the world to feel and understand…….!!
    We have become a moral CAUSE while before we were just a joke …about a funny obstretous guy and his quircks…….but basically full of goody goody morallly lofty intentions. !!

  4. I’ve recently seen a lot of articles concerning Venezuela in The Guardian, which is left-leaning, and even they aren’t praising the “revolution” anymore (they used to so). But then you go to the comments section, and, oh boy!, so many idiots defending Maduro. You tell them all about how the expropriations destroyed many companies in the country, about how the economy was freaking mismanaged, about the incredible levels of corruption, and then they keep saying the same old tirade about this being the USA and the CIA repeating Allende all over again.

    Man! Ideology turns some people autistic.

    • Not sure I get the use of the word “autistic” in this context. As I see it, their “Ideology” has gone from abandonding their “rose-colored glasses” to getting “rose-colored corneal implants”.

      • From the Merriam Webster dictionary:

        Autism: a condition or disorder that begins in childhood and that causes problems in forming relationships and in communicating with other people.”

        I certainly cannot communicate with these people. They don’t listen. I can almost see them yelling “economic war, economic war, economic war”, while they hit themselves in the head with their hands, if you try to tell them something.

    • The Guardian’s comment section is no more than a readable septic tank and does not represent the views of many of its readers. Don’t waste your time there, it’s like trying to clean sewer walls: no matter how hard you scrub, it will still be covered in shit.

      What’s enfuriating, as I’ve mentioned here before, is that they managed to sow approval of Chávez in educated, moderate liberals, as Quico points out… Many don’t have the time/aren’t interested enough to go in depth into what has been happening in Venezuela over the years. They were happy with the opinion their go-to news source provided: ‘there’s this President over on the other side of the Atlantic doing good for his people’.

      Can we blame them for this? Absolutely not… blame the stupid, effing pseudotabloid that calls itself ‘The Guardian’.

  5. Your Atlantic piece was very well written no matter how much Venezuelan porn people want, way better than that long one about the 2002 coup where three people are talking at the same time and one can only read it “a trompicones”.

    I first read the expression “misery porn” (a good one indeed) in the article of Raul Stolk but he is not mentioned here.

    I am Spanish and I started to read about Venezuela around two years ago. I am above those who “seek out international news, who listen to the BBC World Service…”, because I don’t depend on English to read the local newspapers or listen to their radio stations but I am not an influential person, not even a little bit.

  6. I’ll confess. I think that I’m one of those 5-10%ers. I ran across this site after reading an article somewhere else (can’t remember, perhaps Vox, or Vice, or BBC, or The Guardian) and found a plethora of well written articles describing the ongoing train wreck VZ finds itself trapped in.

    To be honest, VZ is not on the mainstream news here in the US. Perhaps because it hasn’t erupted into full archany or revolt yet. Still, I find it mind blowing how incompetent and corrupt the current government is. It is almost in NZ portions of personality cult, incompetence, and paranoia right in our own backyard!

  7. I believe that we actually owe a bit of it to Bernie: All these “Is Venezuela what the US will turn into under Sanders?” posts might have made people interested in what is happening here, either to use it as political ammo or just to try distance away from it.
    So this election cycle was in fact a godsend for us, and this time there’s no Ucrania to steal our spotlight:
    Now we just net to get Captain Sulu on board again so we can become a global trending topic.

  8. Yes, M. Toro, You’re here. As Venezuela implodes, there’s a new and urgent demand for credibility, and you have that market cornered. You know in detail what’s wrong. Soon your own people will notice that, and ask you to rescue them with a shiny new approach, while the NeoCarmonas are as ready as the NeoPeronistas to fill the growing vacuum. I sure don’t envy you, but I sincerely wish you well.

    As Always,


  9. The situation has gone from bad to alarming. That explains the clicks. That Venezuela has a relatively large (for the size of the country) and well educated diaspora magnifies the interest, no question. I don’t think most people pay attention because they derive pleasure or have a prurient interest in the suffering of Venezuelans, though, or even a prurient interest in the fall of a “red” state, which no doubt attracts some. When alarming things happen, people want to know what is going on, and in particular, they want to know what is going on in the world of their Venezuelan friend or colleague.

  10. Parto of it is morbo but another part of it is ideological. Venezuela is being used by plenty of hard right-wingers to oppose any sort of policy that may be an inch left of centre. Don’t be surprised if pictures of Venezuelan hospitals are being passed around as examples of what will inevitably happen with Obamacare/universal healthcare.

  11. As mentioned by many some months ago, the pueblo and ANC are hamstrung to exert change on the Maduro government because they are in full dictator mode. This business of having Spanish et at moderators negotiate with the government is just silly – they are constitutionally incapable of democratic principals, and any suggestions from the outside is branded “meddling.” So at this point the power of public, international opinion is crucial because Maduro’s outfit is at the total mercy of outsiders per imports and survival. If they default on the bonds soon coming due, change can be imposed, and this is such a fuse-blower to the gov they presumably will let the country starve to death before doing any such thing (though the new economic dude holds some little promise). But once the public knows the crisis in on and the country is in fact a failed state, then Delcy and com. swearing otherwise will not wash in the UN or anywhere else and pressure can be brought to bear. “Meddling” is direly needed. Waiting for a famine or epidemic or for the grid going down is waiting too long in my opinion. I still have half a dozen family members in country and all of them are in full survival mode. The pubelo is so run down they might be too sapped to do much. Help, is seems, will come from the outside. Hope it doesn’t come too late. Obviously, military invasions are absurd, but the importers, in a sense, hold all the cards. Wonder what pressure can be exerted on them?

  12. “well enough educated and curious enough to form an opinion about things that happen in other countries”

    We are allowed to form an opinion now? Before, when we did, and it was an opinion you didn’t like, you called us PSFs.

    Now, while I’m still open to forming a different opinion, and to acknowledging that the situation might not have been what I thought it was, and that I might have been misguided in my past support for the Chavista government, you are the person least likely to convince me.

    • Mr. Rayburn,

      The fact that someone you don’t like gives you a verifiable fact does not detract from the truth the fact contains. So hate who you may, you cannot escape the fact of an imploding Venezuela and if you ever supported Maduro and Chavez you were at best a useful idiot.

      BTW, your argument makes you sound quite petty.

      • Someone calling me a “petty”, “useful idiot” (“at best”) is pretty much the response I expected. Thank you for showing me the persuasive power of insults! You’ve won me over to your side!

    • People in Venezuela are dying for lack of anti-malarials, but let’s not lose sight of the REAL victims here.


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