On the Arbitrary Nature of Lists

by criticalhit009

On facebook, a few of my friends have been posting a list of their top 12 favorite albums, then tagging people to spread the meme around. I’ve noticed similar behaviour crop up in the comments, where people argue for different albums on someone else’s favorite list. This isn’t new. Years ago I did the exact same thing to another person’s list of favorite films, only to step back years later and realize how silly it all was. It’s a strange all-too-common compulsion we have, trying to make people agree with us to shelter our own self perceptions. After all, how can we possibly have conviction in our beliefs if people don’t completely support our opinions?

The arbitrary nature of lists only compounds the problem, perhaps best represented with the “top 12” designation. What, was Base 10 numbering too mainstream for you, facebook meme? It’s more subjective whittling down that causes a stir in the comments section. When it comes to lists like these, some can tend to interject with their own opinions on how to improve the list, rather than making their own. The difference between “I prefer Zeppelin’s III to IV myself” and “should have picked III” can be difficult to distinguish, but comments can typically run the gamut on both ends of the spectrum.

I write about this because comments that insist on improving a favorite’s list make the discussion about themselves rather than the art at hand. It’s twisting the list and the writer to arbitrarily conform to their standards. What’s frustrating is I saw this, and still fell into the trap. A friend posted his favorite albums to sit down and listen to, included a few Greatest Hits albums. I called him out for it, skipping over his framing device, and he edited his post. I still hold the belief that you can’t really call a Greatest Hits record your favorite album (much like you can’t call your favorite mix CD a favorite album), but his choices were totally justified with the framing he used. I still made it about me.