A List of the Best and Worst Things About End of Year Lists.

“Tis the season for everybody on the internet to rank the offerings of 2017. Everything from music to tv shows to memes to catchphrases to news stories can be ranked and filed in the accounting of the year. Love them or hate them, everybody clicks on them. They begin and end conversations. They give us a chance to reflect, or learn, or argue.

In the spirit of lists about the best and the worst, here are the best and worst things about lists.

First, the worst:

1. Lists reinforce competitive narratives. Since so many of these lists contain creative work, they can imply that the beauty of making stuff is less important than making stuff better than other people making stuff. It’s not enough to just appreciate the unique genius of Babadook or Curvy Body memes: We have to pit them up against the other viral internet sensations. (https://www.thrillist.com/entertainment/nation/best-memes-2017)

2. Lists presume authority over creation. Of course, the internet is fair enough territory that anyone can make a list. I could make a list right now of my top ten Fiona moments and put it on my Facebook account or tweet out a thread or two. We all get to make the lists but something about presuming the role of listmaker puts people in a position of authority. It’s worth asking some questions about the lists that end up at the top of the lists. Even when the lists are made by highly credible sources, the existence of the list lifts up their authority and taste over everybody else. Lists can also imply that we are what we like or don’t like. We might consider the lists as a mirror of our own worth, checking off our good or bad taste based on the judgment of the internet personas. (FYI: Someone did make a Fiona list! Here it is: http://mashable.com/2017/11/12/fiona-the-hippo-best-moments/#qnvvjXGV1qq2)

3. Lists can give the illusion of being comprehensive even when that might be impossible. Something will get left out or overlooked. There is simply way too much content in the world these days. In this beautiful essay, NPR’s Linda Holmes leads us into this difficult truth: We will miss almost everything. (https://www.npr.org/sections/monkeysee/2011/04/21/135508305/the-sad-beautiful-fact-that-were-all-going-to-miss-almost-everything)  Lists are often bound by biases. Even my choice of lists I see might be limited by bias. The only hope we have is seeking lists made by a list of people we might miss.

Here’s the best:

1. Lists can encourage exploration. At the end of a long year, when we get through the holidays and have some time to catch our breath, checking out a list of Best new shows or movies might expose us to something great that we missed in 2017. We might be challenged to watch something outside of our own little personalized canons. In other words, we might see an animated show about a depressed horse who was a star in the 90s pop up on a list and watch it instead of our 8th rewatch of The Office. (http://www.vulture.com/2017/12/best-tv-shows-of-2017.html)

2. Lists can encourage thoughtful engagement with culture instead of empty consumerism. Hopefully year-end lists are crafted by people who are paying attention to the stories that are capturing people and why. Lists can start conversations about the stories that get traction, whether their fiction or non-fiction. It’s always worth wondering why some songs get played the most or why stories get social-media-shared the most. (Paste always makes great lists: Here’s a source for new music if you need it: https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2017/11/the-50-best-songs-of-2017.html)

3. Lists are a way of celebrating the creations of the year and the stories attached to them. Though they also do the work of critique, lists can ultimately be a way of celebrating good work. If we were going to make a list of Things American Culture Could Use Right Now, celebration should probably be close to the top. We should call out the things we love, with or without numbers beside them.