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Opinion: The ten worst things about end-of-year lists

Posted by Rob Alderson,

This week Editor-in-Chief Rob Alderson looks at the annual media rush to produce countdowns, run-downs, highlights, low-points and best-ofs and compiles a few thoughts, naturally, in list form. Why not compile your own festive space-filler using the thread below?

1. Life is messy and defies this kind of listification

The past year – like every year – has been a chaotic, confusing and complex set of events defined on one scale by a series of widely-publicised political, financial, social, cultural and meteorological “landmarks” and on the other by the daily experiences of Planet Earth’s six billion inhabitants. For some of those six billion the behaviour of Miley Cyrus has been a significant part of their lives, for others it might be the increasingly turbulent resistance to the Russification of Ukraine’s political establishment.

Trying to boil all this down into a neat package is not just reductive, it smacks of metropolitan media bubble arrogance.

2. Culture in particular doesn’t need this

Art, design, music, film, literature, comedy and television are all thrillingly broad churches where most people can find something that excites and engages them. Creative endeavour of all stripes should be championed and celebrated at every available opportunity, not reduced to depressingly predictable lists of the same-old names.

3. Who decided a top ten made the most sense?

There’s a great routine in Ricky Gervais’ show Politics where he talks about a terrifically odd 1980s safe sex leaflet and charts the poor writer’s increasingly desperate attempts to come up with ten tips to meet his brief. Buzzfeed (more of whom later) has pioneered the random-number-list (i.e. 17 Jackals that Walk like Christian Slater) but on the whole it still tends to be all about ten.

What if there weren’t ten great films this year? Why can’t writers rise up against the tyranny of the 10? I’ll start; if you make it that far you’ll find the tenth entry on this list is just a selection of good cheeses…

4. The compilers of these lists feel very important

We’re already starting to see end-of-year lists billed as “the definitive” or the “hotly-anticipated.” Really? Wind your neck in. At best these are amusing diversions, so a compiler’s self-elevation to the status of trusted cultural gatekeeper is cringeworthy.

5. And some even tell us how to spend our money…

Following on from point four above, the Christmas gift guide is one of modern society’s most pernicious cultural tropes. Too witless to know what your loved ones would like? Approach your Christmas shopping in a rigidly thematic, alphabetical or lowest-to-highest cost basis? Then have we got the guide for you! Gift-giving by numbers like this is everything that’s wrong with Christmas circa 2013 (unless they include It’s Nice That products, in which case they’re excellent).

6. Buzzfeed eats itself

In media circles the idea of “Buzzfeedificiation” has become fairly well established this year but at Christmas when everyone is jumping on the list bandwagon what happens to the mother ship? Increasingly desperate attempts to stay ahead of the game? Endless Christmas themed countdowns? We’ll find out, but it won’t be pretty.

7. These lists will come to define 2014

A lot of chatter this week about Facebook’s most talked-about topics which might seem like harmless fun, but self-appointed social media gurus are even now poring over the figures and working out ways that people’s online interests can be harnessed and converted into cold hard cash. The same goes for cultural lists; many will use these round-ups as the starting point for next year’s projects under the culturally-rancid notion that success breeds success.

8. There are some weird niches…

Quick I need to know what the best psychology books of 2013 have been! Sure thing, here you go…

9. These kind of lists are brilliant…

And so we come to the crux of the matter. I don’t hate these lists, I hate how much I like them. Readers devour this kind of content at this time of year and for publishers they are a great way to help fill the festive schedule. It’s why we do a Review of the Year here at It’s Nice That. In the modern world’s cultural cacophony anything that helps us make sense of it all is a godsend.

10. As promised…

Cambazola. Cheddar. Laughing Cow triangles. Chaumes.

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Posted by Rob Alderson

Editor-in-Chief Rob oversees editorial across all three It’s Nice That platforms; online, print and events. He has a background in newspaper journalism and a particular interest in art, advertising and photography. He is the main host of the Studio Audience podcast.