End of the year list overload

Jesse Carey

Jesse Carey
Jesse Carey

Everyone knows that the holiday season kicks off following Thanksgiving. Well, it used to be that way, but now, depending on whom you ask, Holiday season either begins after Halloween or at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving day.

At any rate, the holiday season is marked by many traditions, both large and small, tedious and enjoyable. I’m talking about ugly sweaters, the unrelenting and suddenly everywhere Christmas jingles, the ongoing war against Christmas (an annual and proverbial street fight between media outlets that inevitably draws me like a fly to a bug zapper, every year), “It’s a Wonderful Life” and its counterweight, “A Christmas Story.”

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In recent years, another tradition has sprung up, on every one of your favorite websites: The year-end lists. From Thanksgiving to New Year, from BuzzFeed to the New York Times, the recaps, rehashings, and rankings march on without pause.

So why is the year end list the subject of this article? What’s the big deal? Pretty harmless stuff, quickly forgotten at worst, perhaps enlightening at best.

But that’s the point. Many of these lists exist solely as content for content’s sake. End of the year lists offer watered down summaries of more in-depth critiques, often offered up by the same author. Anything to fill the void, because everyone knows that content aggregator websites abhor a vacuum. The year end list, while supposedly a rundown of what happened, from the highlights to the lowlights, is often a lukewarm reheating that spares writers from having to come up with anything new or original to say about the subject.

Additionally, most of these lists simply provide the same 10 songs, movies or television shows, and for similar reasons. What’s the point of a list that’s meant to enlighten if the only things on that list are stuff you’ve already heard of?

More generally, end of the year lists tend toward lighter materials, from detailing which celebrity “won” the year to describing the cutest pets. Pets are cute and celebrities are apparently important, but all of these lists obscures the important events. From Ferguson to the C.I.A Torture report, there are serious events afoot. The juxtaposition of these with trivial end-of the-year lists is jarring at best.

More importantly, the massive amount of content generated in this period of the year, if not obscuring the events that matter, simply numb you them. Everyone is familiar with George Orwell’s “Big Brother,” the dystopian concept in which the government spies on and hides vital information from you. Some of you may be less familiar with the concept of Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.” This is an equally dystopian worldview in which the powers-that-be simply provide all of the information to the public, which so overwhelms the citizenry that they turn towards apathy. The end of the year list, as provided by massive hubs of the internet, neatly encapsulate this worldview, and that is a major problem.

So what can one do? If you like end of the year lists, find ones that reframe the events in ways not previously stated. Dig deeper into the original critiques of the songs, movies or television shows, and don’t settle for the watered down version. Most importantly, don’t automatically click on the funny or the entertaining articles if a more serious one is offered up right next to it — It might be tedious, but it’s important.

Your clicks are what empower these sites to post nonsense and mediocre handicappings of the year that was. Go for depth and thoughtful analysis that might leave you thinking, rather than a short list that will have left you almost before you finish reading it.

Collegian Columnist Jesse Carey can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @junotbend.