DEC. 26th to Jan. 1st is known in the journalistic community to be Slow News Week, a time when newspapers, magazines and TV shows are packed with lists documenting the highlights of the year that was.
One has to wonder at the furious need we humans reveal for categorizing and ranking other people’s achievements. Despite the fact that these lists are mostly filler, we gobble them up like leftover turkey.
Even the newly dead have roles in this hullaballoo. Any comprehensive roundup of what happened over the course of the past annum must include a lugubrious reprise of those whom “we’ve lost,” whether or not we readers and viewers shed a tear at the time.
In that defunct crowd, for instance, the editors of Entertainment Weekly’s Best & Worst 2010 issue felt the need to mention “the fourth-place finisher on 2005’s Survivor: Palau” alongside Arthur Penn, the director of Bonnie and Clyde.
For attention must be paid. If, as consumers of popular culture, we fail to get profoundly caught up in these media-generated report cards about individual artists, reality TV stars, Hollywood bad boys and girls, and other attention addicts, their industries might just die out. While I sure wouldn’t be sad to see the last of mysteriously successful sleazebag Charlie Sheen (2010 Celebrity of the Year Finalist #6 at The Hollywood Gossip online), apparently somebody out there would miss being uplifted by the keen wit and prankish whore-mongering of Two and a Half Men.
So, be it resolved that we must all be endlessly kept up-to-date regarding who did what in the entertainment industry, for fear it will otherwise perish. Must we also have our favourite songs lassoed and branded as good, bad or indifferent? Are we that desperate to have our own choices validated by strangers? Does any of us really care whether the tune we’ve been humming for months while walking our dog is the same one that some cooler-than-thou music reviewer pronounced top of the pops?
FYI: Entertainment Weekly’s Best and Worst of the Year issue called The Social Network the best film, Breaking Bad the best TV show, Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy the best album, and Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Sacks the best nonfiction book. (You won’t have seen, heard or listened to the contenders for worst, unless, drawn by Zac Efron, you bought tickets to Charlie St. Cloud.) In EW’s Year That Was section, Betty White’s career resurrection is deemed the best “’80s revival.” What a surprise to see White trumping all other 88-year-old female working comedians.
Arts reporters are the worst purveyors of this dreck, but more sober journalists dive in, too. Thus, we are directed to The Canadian Press’s top Canadian news story, which in 2010 was the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games. 2010’s “Nation Builder,” says the Globe and Mail, was VANOC CEO John Furlong.
Meanwhile, in the field of miscellany, we’re to glean what we can from lists like the Globe’s “2010 Lessons Learned.” The latter informs us that “The other shoe has yet to drop on barefooting,” a reprieve of sorts for hardcore runners with snowdrift anxiety.
Sports writers also weigh in with lists of best plays, and a roster of athletes they anoint as the ne plus ultra. Gossip-mongers tot up and evaluate the year’s pre-eminent scandals; foodies shine their spotlight on no-longer-obscure cuisines and the latest resuscitated nursery dish; and the terminally stylish point out fashion’s triumphs and tragedies.
I don’t know about you, but when I glimpse a long list, that’s my cue to hastily turn the page. Only the most novel assessments strike me as truly grabby.
For example, a European friend alerted me to a couple of news stories about English policemen’s lists of “ridiculous” emergency calls, like the one from the woman who demanded the coppers intervene when a black cat appeared at her house uninvited. Another came from a lady in Kent who requested assistance when the snowman in her front yard went missing. (“It ain’t a nice road but you don’t expect someone to nick your snowman,” she whined.) And then there were the pleas for help from the West Yorkshire fellow afflicted with a snoring dog; the alarmed citizen who’d discovered a dead pigeon in the garden; and the conspiracy theorist whose suspicions were aroused after a packet of rice went missing from a kitchen cupboard.
When it comes to end-of-year tributes, I suppose I have exotic tastes. For example, I found it easy to ignore Entertainment Weekly’s list of Best Games of the Year in favour of Dean Haspiel paying comic strip tribute in its pages to the irascible Harvey Pekar.
Pekar is the late author of the autobiographical comic books American Splendor and Our Cancer Year, which, as Haspiel writes, “reveled in the mundane.” (In 2003, American Splendor was turned into a gripping, visually inventive film in which Paul Giamatti played Pekar.)
Haspiel was one of Pekar’s collaborators, so he had a good handle on the Cleveland native’s style. Over the course of their alliance, the EW tribute reveals, he learned that Pekar’s parents had both suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. For Haspiel, that explained the “quotidian” details in Pekar’s stories.
“I believe that, on a subconscious level, Harvey was writing his memoir in case he lost his memory,” Haspiel wrote.
Lists fulfill the same purpose for Western societies, I guess. They clearly mark the passing of time and are irrefutable proof that though, individually, our own days may not have been marked by much excitement, meaningful things continued to happen in the culture around us. That’s a pretty depressing subtext, if you ask me.
Archivists and historians might appreciate this stuff. I’m going to pass. I have no wish to wallow in the petty details of a departing year. No matter how good or bad it was, it’s over, and I’m ready to move on.