Home » Cultural Comment, January 2009

Of Human Listage

1 January 2009 771 Views 6 Comments author: Isabelle M.

Every year, come late October, Hollywood studios start churning out their heavy-hitters, the prestige projects, designed to win critical praise and, if possible, a couple of shiny trinkets for the studios’ trophy cabinets. It is the time of the year of the Based On A True Stories, of biopics and grim character pieces (Black & White optional), when reviews start using such phrases as “solid Oscar contender” and “Award caliber performance” and, most horribly, the phrase “…expect this movie to crop up on a lot of End Of The Year Lists”. It is a phrase that fills me with dread because for a person of my disposition, it means the end is well and truly nigh for, as always, I have nothing significant to offer.

Every year it is the same pattern. Suddenly, inexplicably, a good chunk of the world’s population becomes obsessed with lists : TV stations compile the year’s most significant events; . Radio 2’s Top 2000 blares from countless speakers nation-wide; and every critic, be they TV-, radio-, magazine- or internet- based, present their audience with an easy-to-digest top 10 or 20. I have always been able to step aside as the List Juggernaut gathered speed, managing not to be swept up by it. I was contented , even thoroughly amused, by reading others’ attempts–from the most respected critics down to the lone bloggers–never feeling pressured to step up to the plate and provide a list of my own.

However, this year everything changed. For this year I became, much to my own surprise, an author for an internet magazine. Not exactly a position I ever imagined myself to be in, nor one I aspired to, but when those wonderful people of Playtime Magazine approached me, they displayed so much infectious puppy-dog enthusiasm for the project that I didn’t have the heart to turn them down. That–and my own unfortunate tendency to leap headfirst without looking–has landed me in the position that I am today. And I am thoroughly enjoying it. Despite my complete lack of anything but the most rudimentary formal writing training and the language barrier (English is not my native tongue), I’m churning out regular content that is read and appreciated by hundreds of people. While I’m still gripped occasionally (well, frequently, to be honest) by bouts of self-doubt and self-pity (accompanied by much wailing and gnashing of teeth, often publicly) I am secretly quite proud and immensely satisfied by how things have turned out in my second career as an internet magazine author.

And then, one of my esteemed colleagues suggested  a list edition.

Now, I never meant to imply that lists are beneath me. I am fully capable of wasting a significant part of the day perusing this list or that. There’s something immensely comforting in clicking through page after page until you reach the number one spot. I enjoy reading lists in any way, shape or form. Some are wordier than others, some are more worthy than others, but each enriches me in some way–even if they are simply there to jumpstart discussion. So without further ado, and emboldened by my new-found powers as a writer, I opened up a new Word doc and typed in huge, bold letters


And there’s where I got stuck. What was I to do? How was I to continue from here? Suddenly and for the first time in my admittedly short writer’s career I found myself faced with Writer’s Block. It was a whole new experience for me. Unless someone took the liberty of cementing several large bricks to my keyboard, Writer’s Block was something I assumed would not – could not—happen to me. I’ve always been able to express my thoughts, if not always coherently. In word and indeed in writing, I’ve never been shy of expressing my opinion. Not always popular, or sound, but I’ve expressed myself nonetheless and have always argued my view at length as long as I was passionate about it.

And maybe that’s the crux of the problem. I am simply not passionate enough about  listmaking to bother.

Part of the reason for that is that I’m not exactly cultured. If anything, I’m unapologetically low-brow. I’ve never hidden the fact that I enjoy bargain basement B-movies and the collected oeuvre of Amanda Bynes as much as I enjoyed a Seven Samurai or a Sergio Leone. I’ve never obsessively kept track of the latest releases or felt compelled to seek out titles, or ignore others, based on critical or commercial merit. I’m not even very critical; I simply watch what I enjoy and try to enjoy what I watch. Hell, I could count the number of 2008 releases that I’ve seen on the digits of my extremities without taking off my socks. So, what good would a list by my hand be to you? Other than as a mild curiosity, an insignificant blimp on the List radar?

Imagine, if you will, you and your close circle of friends gathering for an evening of discussing Dostojevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Now imagine the one friend in your circle who not only has never read it, but isn’t even sure of how to spell Dostojevsky (or whether or not he actually wrote Crime and Punishment). Instead, while you’re knee-deep into the discussion, your friend is running around with a bra strapped to his head, re-enacting the battle of Helm’s Deep. That would be me.

I’ll argue the merits of Miranda Otto’s Eowyn over Liv Tyler’s Arwen to Hell and High Heaven. I’ll defend the virtues of Amanda Bynes till kingdom comes. I’ll discuss Buffy with my dying breath, proudly proclaim Brighton Wok the freshest movie I’ve seen all year and gush endlessly about the relentless realism of The Wire. I’ll spew my opinion of 12 Angry Men and Notting Hill by way of Rock ‘N Roll High School all in the same breath and never ever waver. But in my mind, there’s a huge difference between having a heated back-and-forth debate on any given subject and presenting the world with a fait accompli like a list.

The other part of the reason I’m not into listmaking is that I have a fairly chaotic personality. I can never find my keys, or my cigarettes, or my passport (I’ve had to get a new passport twice in the past 5 years because I couldn’t for the life of me remember where I put my old one. Not a fun thing to do one week before you’re scheduled to fly). I’m always driving my roommate crazy by leaving dirty socks and other items of clothing everywhere but in the hamper (pretty embarrassing when he brings home female company and one of my bras is stuffed half behind a pillow on the couch) and my idea of cleaning up after dinner is dropping my plate on the nearest flat surface
So, naturally, I do not see the point of comparing a bunch of movies that could come from entirely different genres and subjecting them to some vague arbitrary criteria simply to put them in some kind of order that will undoubtedly be disagreed with by –rough estimate– 100% of the people that read it.

So now you are aware of the uphill battle that I’ve fought with


It even invaded my dreams one dark and stormy night. A veritable nightmare in which The List, wearing the unholy combination of Bill Nighy’s face and Richard Simmons’ hair, taunted me in mock monkey-french. I gave up the idea of a list the very next morning. I’m not too big to admit defeat in the face of such a fearsome adversary. I tell you, it felt like the lifting of a  heavy burden.

And then I looked at the calendar and was reminded that there are only 12 months in a year and next year I might be facing my nemesis once again. So I leave you with this New Year’s resolution: If one of my esteemed colleagues suggests a List Edition again next year, I’m gonna hop on a plane and strangle him.

Provided I am able to find my passport of course.

Edited by Tracy McCusker

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