Another year, another Hottest 100.
If you care at all, you’ll probably already know that the mildly talented but completely Australian folk duo Angus and Julia Stone received the most votes from Triple J listeners, taking out top spot for their song Big Jet Plane. Someone, somewhere is probably outraged; Fairfax’s Jonno Seidler had a go but could manage only to damn the hirsute siblings with faint praise.
There was a time when I cared — cared passionately — who would top this list. No longer. I’m listed out.
There are too many lists in our lives. Particularly in the pages and screens of our arts and entertainment media. The hottest 100 this. The 20 worst that. The top five of the other. I’ve had enough.
There may have been a time when enumerating ranked listings of cultural phenomena seemed fresh, or at least not insipid, hackneyed or cliched. That time was August 1999. The last months of the last millennium instilled in many a fear of the consequences of buggy computer programming. They also instilled in me a fear of lists of the top things of the last 10, hundred and a thousand years. In every conceivable genre of art or aspect of human life, they cascaded down upon us. Films, books, albums, songs, five-star resort hotels — whatever it was, it had a list.
We’ve just had another largely meaningless milestone tick over, and sure enough, the end of 2010 was accompanied by an avalanche of lists of the decade. I’m not even going to mention any of them. There’s too many to name. There’s certainly too many to watch, read, listen and travel to.
You could spend your entire life ticking off the items in lists such as these. And when you’ve finished, you’ll probably be dead. No wonder people try to cram in so many of them “before they die”. According to no less an authority than Patricia Schultz, there are in fact 1000 places to see before you die. At the pace of one place every week, you’ll be travelling more than seeing, but why not give it a try?
Everyone likes lists. At least, every arts editor seems to. They provide a simple headline and an obvious angle. Throw in some fake controversy over who gets top spot and you’ve solved that little filler problem for this week.
Of course, there’s nothing obviously or terribly wrong with lists. They’re a structure for the unstructured and a guide for the perplexed. They’re a handy mnemonic in these attention-starved times. It’s just that there’s too many of them. And as they proliferate, like so many bacteria on the rich agar of our digitally-addled brains, so does their constituent item — the capsule review.
I think we can agree that the capsule review is the real villain of this piece. Most lists are simply long schedules of them. A hundred words may not give you the gist of War And Peace, but it will certainly give you a line or two at a dinner party. In fact, 10 of them will give you a thousand words, which is suspiciously close to the length of a newspaper feature. And while the capsule review condenses, it also conflates, confuses and confabulates. You could write a whole book on some of the places I’ve seen before I die, but who wants to read another travel book? More to the point, who wants to publish one?
So I’m proposing a little experiment to us all. Let’s get a little listless. Let us ignore, forget or merely stop paying attention to these endless lists of everything. Let’s not break everything up into bite-sized chunks. Let’s try and apply ourselves to one thing at a time. Let us read articles about only one book, one movie or one impossibly beautiful undiscovered Thai beach resort.
And let’s not do anything “before we die”. Everything we do is before we die. By definition, once we die, we can’t do anything anymore.