In the Mikado, Ko-Ko, Lord High Executioner of the village of Titipu, had a little list of people who never would be missed. Just in case he was ever called upon to execute anyone. Apparently it wouldn’t have mattered who he would have killed. Just someone. If you’ve read the original, you know it was a terrible list. What wasn’t racist or misogynist was misguided and, worse, unfunny. Not that it mattered, since—spoiler alert—he never did execute anyone.
George Carlin also had a list of people who ought to be killed. As far as I know he didn’t kill anyone either. In my youth, when both hormones and passions ran higher, I also kept mental lists of people who, in my sole opinion, really should have done the world a favor, stepped in front of a speeding truck, and thank you for your cooperation. I never killed any of them, which is likely the only thing I have in common with a real comedian and a fictional executioner. And, since I’m not Lord High Executioner of anything, that’s probably for the best, but hey, one can dream.
Which brings me to lists. Almost everyone keeps lists. There are grocery lists, bucket lists, playlists, set lists, Things to Do lists, guest lists, and the list go on and on. So much so that it has devolved into a peculiar form of essay slash article slash advertisement: the listicle.
You see them everywhere from clickbait on FB to actual ebooks on Amazon. Ebooks, I should point out, which people actually buy. Fifteen Ways Kale Can Kill You. The Eight Best Planets to Visit. Seven Creative Approaches to Slicing Onions. The Top Five Ways of Dying While Taking a Selfie.
You get the idea.
Listicles don’t think you do get the idea. Everything on the list has to be explained, justified, expounded upon, which makes it a listicle and not just a simple, actually useful, functional list. Imagine a grocery list. It’s easy (if you thought I was going there, wrong. Copyright violation).
- Dryer Sheets
Now imagine someone going through every one of those items explaining why it’s there, the deeper meaning of what it means to buy eggs. The virtues of bacon, the advantages of milk for anyone over the age of five. What is the actual purpose of dryer sheets. Are you not enlightened?
All based on the humble list. The difference is that a simple list is actually useful. You make a list so you won’t forget who to invite to the party. Do you go down the list writing an explanation of why they’re on the list? It’s enough to know that they are. Besides, you already know why. Explanations would be for the people who aren’t on the list, but odds are they’d know too. I’m looking at you, Francine.
So what are listicles actually for? For taking monetary advantage of our natural curiosity. And selling books. In general, I’m all for selling books. But there are limits.
I’m going to make another, very short list.
They never will be missed.