7 Reasons You'll Never See Even a Single List on Nathan Rabin's Happy Place
1. Everyone else is doing them
Fear, panic, desperation, greed and naked ambition are the engines that power the internet. Everyone is addicted to those sweet, sweet clicks. Nothing guarantees page-views quite like content that has already proven itself popular. And for the past few decades, lists rank alongside nipple slips as online content that guarantees clicks. For a lot of sites, that’s all the inspiration they need to keep churning these pieces out.
And, to be fair, some sites do lists extremely well. Cracked, for example, has reinvented the online listicle by re-conceiving lists as a way to mount a substantive, meaty argument within a format the internet knows and loves. Cracked does a great job with lists that don’t feel mercenary and pointless, but in many ways they’re the exception that proves the rule.
At Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place we’re not gonna do what everyone else does, unless we’re forced to do for financial and professional reasons. But hopefully it won’t come to that for a good three weeks or so.
2. Lists encourage lazy, superficial work
You don’t ever have to do great work, or meaningful work, or substantive work when you’re contributing to a list. There’s absolutely no chance that whatever list you’re contributing to will stand the test of time and be read by future generations. Nope. When you’re collaborating with a group of similarly passionless, disinterested fellow pop culture writers, you never have to do great work, you just have to do good enough work, with the understanding that the bar is set pretty low for lists, and it is perfectly kosher for them to dismiss, say, one of the most important albums all time with a snide two sentence blurb. Lists encourage lazy, superficial and hasty work, rooted less in time-consuming research and preparation than vague recollections and a willingness to reduce great works of art to names on a list.
3. They’re arbitrary as hell
When I worked at a popular pop culture site in the past, readers would habitually grow apoplectic over an inclusion or exclusion of something from some list. “How could you possibly have overlooked the Brie and apple sandwich Owen Wilson eats on the train in the Darjeeling Limited in your list of the 17 tastiest-looking sandwiches in Wes Anderson movies? Are you all on crack? Epic Fail!” some nonsensically enraged commenter will protest.
A better question would be why are commenters, or anyone, really, so emotionally invested in lists pretty much every pop culture website churns out just to fill space and get those precious clicks? Sure, you may not agree with Rolling Stone’s definitive list of the 1047 greatest prog-rock songs but why do you care? Those ranked lists of songs or books or movies or haikus are by definition cynical and reductive, yet people seem to love to hate-read them and complain about them all the same, conveniently ignoring that hate-read clicks count just as much as any other kind of click.
4. Lists contribute to the dumbing down of American culture
Lists reduce everything to nugget-sized, easily digestible, instantly forgettable bits of information and opinion. They don’t just perfectly suit our short attention spans: they encourage it by breaking everything down into little pieces even the dopiest reader will be able to process and understand.
5. Many lists will include some egregiously half-assed entry, sometimes embodying some manner of cheap irony, just for the sake of having a nice, tidy number like 5 or 10 or 15 or 20
And I just think that’s dumb! And gross! And, uh, also dumb and gross!
6. No one has offered to pay me money to write a list in quite some time
7. Fucking Buzzfeed, man. Fucking Buzzfeed
Support Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place’s beautiful dream of list-free entertainment over at https://www.patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace