The minute December 1st was upon us, the Internet and print media alike began to fill its shelves and papers with content-heavy, link-heavy and rank-heavy lists, all of which give the reader some sort of guidance as to what actually happened over the past 365 days. Of course, we here at the Voice were guilty of it, too: we put together ‘Top 10 Films of 2012,‘ ‘Our Favorite Books Of 2012,’ and the like. And you should read every single one of them.
We love lists. They’re easy to digest, they’re manageable and they’re great for small talk. This is because you almost always disagree with them, making great conversation at parties – over this past weekend, my friends and I discussed for hours how Rolling Stone‘s ‘50 Greatest Hip-Hop Songs Of All Time‘ was invalid due to a lack of Big L. And this is because they’re almost always written by an authoritarian writer, who hands you his or her opinions on what he or she thinks you should know about this Year In Culture. Authority leads to competition: If you haven’t seen all of New York Times‘s film critic A.O. Scott’s favorite movies this year, then we should probably/maybe stop talking.
Post-modernism aside, the headline of this piece is a very serious question. As the Internet expands like the universe, the lists are never-ending galaxies that exist for the sole reason of existing; this week, Vice Magazine put together ‘The 25 Best Lists Of The Year.’ Why? Because why not?
Can you imagine December without them? What would we do? How would we understand what humanity accomplished (or really messed up) if we cannot number them 1 through 10? Better yet, and this is what’s most important here, is there any way to remember things that happened in 2012 without ‘Best Of’ lists?
The future seems bleak.
It’s wholly inherent of Man to categorize before understanding. And we access the Internet to understand Everything: there are googolplexes of information out there, let alone in the Deep Web. Therefore, naturally, it will be a hotbed for lists. It’s our defense mechanism of assigning pieces of culture numbers from afar so we can look back at them and better piece together the national conscience.
It’s like a hyper-digital version of picking a dodgeball team in PE class – the kids stand in a clear line, deemed fit by strength and popularity, and we pick and choose from a distance who we know is good for the team. The last kid remaining is John Carter.
Speaking of John Carter, ‘Best Of…’ lists grow exponentially because each one is met with its shadow: ‘Worst Of..” lists. This is the bottom 1 Percent of culture and, if you like anything on that list, you feel this weird, unsettling emptiness inside your reputation. Like if someone on the subway actually spotted you liking Magic Mike, your entire worldview would be tarnished by this one individual event where you lost track of culture significance. Ugh, get with the times. Maybe we can solve this problem by doing what’s best for these ‘Worst Of…’ applicants: forgetting about them.
The only reason I bring this mind-numbing question up is because I’ve been endlessly reading ‘Best Of…’ lists for the past three weeks or so. I’ve gathered a few things from those: people really enjoyed Frank Ocean and Kendrick Lamar this year, I need to see The Master some time soon and, damn, we really like memes/GIFs. Add in the Election – result: infinite possibilities. And, with extremely short attention spans, every December comes with a collective reset button; did anyone already add Great Gatsby or that upcoming Terrence Malick flick to a ‘Best Films Of 2013’ list that is hiding away in a folder on someone’s desktop somewhere?
I like writing lists. I’ve written a few for the Voice myself and do not regret writing them whatsoever. Just two days ago, I put together a list of ‘Instagram Photos I Would Not Mind Giving Away To Corporate America;’ it may not have been a nostalgic look back at everything between January 1st and December 31st but, regardless, it was a list. And I enjoyed writing it.
Aside from that, I think we need to start asking ourselves, “What are these lists doing to us?” or, “Are Years of Culture measured in significance by the glossy lists they produce?” I’ll give you a second or two to answer that last one. In the meantime, to get a bit more personal, “How do I remember what happened in my life in 2012?” I would pay someone a handful of quarters to write for me ‘The Best, Worst and Seemingly Awkward Moments Of My Life In 2012.’ I don’t remember them; please refresh my memory (by blogging about it or sharing me on a Google Doc).
Please let me know when we have answers to these questions. I’ll be busy watching The Master. But I will say this: if the world does end today, at least we went out on the most post-modern bang possible.