Monday, February 1, 2010

On The Making of Lists

There are two very popular subjects (which are also pastimes) that I find useless, and even destructive in a passive way.

They are the Lists Of Ten Best this or that and, a corollary, the naming of the Best Novel of the Year, or the Best Actor, or Best Movie, or Best Play. All these choices and decisions are subjective. There are standards applied, of course, and often a committee or board of nominating peers make the selections based on their expertise and knowledge. But personal taste and bias play a role, whether admitted or not.

Certainly, for the general public, the choices are received solely in terms of one’s subjective response. “Oh”, one will say, “that was the best book of the year”. But another will say, “No way. Many books were better than that one. I don’t know how it got nominated.”

Recently there were many lists of different kinds due to the end of both a year (2009) and a decade (the Noughts). This timely occasion produced scores of lists in the newspapers, magazines, websites, and blogs.

The Ten Best Movies of the Year. The Ten Worst Movies of the Year. The Ten Best Movies of the Decade. The Ten Worst Movies of the Decade. And so it went on and on for category after category. You get the picture.

I realize that these lists and contests are marketing tools designed to keep the public interested and increase sales. Other than the resultant cheapening of our intellectual life, there is nothing wrong with that.

However, an outgrowth of this was the appearance of a plethora of lists on various blogs that made the process look absurd. These lists tended to be in the literary field because books are the main subject of many blogs.

So we were treated to the Five Best Spy Novels, Five Best Crime Novels, Five Best Novels about teachers, Five Best Novels about faith, Five Best Novels about War, and so on and on and on.

These blogs of which I write are managed by educated and intelligent people with very good minds. Nearly everything that appears on their blogs is rewarding and useful. So I commented to one blog and expressed my opinion about lists. The response from the blogger and some of his readers was that they knew this very well, but they found the making of these lists enjoyable and felt it created situations for discussion that would increase sociability.

So there it was again. I held the correct opinion but the wrong position. I didn’t see opportunities for socializing. Well, that’s true. But, then, I can’t remember when I ever did.

I should do something about that.  I'll put it on the list.

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