Lists have always been important to this blog. I’ve written about unnecessary lists, about the methodology behind different types of lists, and I’ve made many lists of my own; some of those, in particular my midyear favorite albums of 2016, became some of this site’s most visited articles. I’ll never forget when I heard someone call our modern first-world society a “list culture,” namely because I think it’s spot-on. Hilariously so. We have to-do lists and grocery lists, rankings of our favorite foods and movies, even rankings of our best friends (remember the Top Eight?). I’m not trying to provide a negative critique, per se, but it’s an aspect of our society worth being conscious of, for not all cultures have been this way. I’ve heard it explained from a few sources that western culture has the general mindset of denoting importance by sequence (i.e., 1st, 2nd, 3rd), while eastern culture has the mindset of one centralized “favorite” or “preference” or focus around which all the others revolve.
Such philosophical musings might not seem to carry much weight on my actual subject: that is, year-end favorite albums and movies. But it’s interesting, right? Even when doing something as seemingly personal and subjective as listing our favorite media from a given time period, we can find ourselves subconsciously affected by our culture’s way of working. Yet even then, I would argue that our decisions are also, unbeknownst to us, affected and directed by the eastern assumption. Considering this idea of all secondary loves revolving around a primary love can, I imagine, be helpful in two specific ways. One, it can reveal where the roots of our preferences and internalized biases may hide. Two, it can keep us from compartmentalizing everything.
I’ll provide an example. When I was younger, I remember being asked on multiple occasions to list the things in my life in order of importance. Common answers from me or my peers would be “1. God, 2. Family, 3. Friends” or “1. Family, 2. School, 3. Friends.” However, if we were to measure importance by “hours spent doing,” then our lists would probably end up looking more like, “1. Sleep, 2. School, 3. Friends, 4. Family, 5. Food, 6. God.” The problem with this sort of ranking is that it pretends that there’s no connection between the different items on the list. You go to school with your friends and eat with your family. You sleep so that you can repeat all of the above. So you see that, by extension of one example, if family is truly your number one priority, then the effort you put into your work is to provide for your family and the amount you sleep is to energize your for your job and for playtime with your kids.
It would be dishonest of me to posit that my rankings aren’t affected by my favorite musical artists being Thrice and Barry Manilow or my favorite movies being The Social Network and Ratatouille. Whether consciously or not, every album or film I consume is being internally compared to my standard-bearers. And that conclusion comes from a fairly limited look at each medium in isolation. Other realizations can be made by taking a “meta” step outwards and looking at one’s worldview or philosophical/political stances. For example, if a music listener is actively involved in the feminist movement, that listener is probably on a very cognizant search for more female artists to listen to, while subconsciously or accidentally favoring women on a year-end list of favorite albums. At the same time, an album the listener might have otherwise enjoyed simply for its musical qualities might be disregarded for the appearance of misogynistic lyrics; another album may be kicked off the listener’s list after the artist tweets something degrading toward women. I’m not trying to suggest that these are bad things! But it’s worth taking time to see what all goes into our likes and dislikes beyond a purely subjective notion of, “This is what sounds good to my ears.”
For my own case, I’ll admit that, as a Christian, nary a year goes by without having a Christian album near the top of my year-end favorites list. Interestingly, I’d argue that I’m more critical of this “genre” than any other genre, but the result is that, when I do find an album I love, it shoots up my list pretty quickly. As for 2016, in my opinion, it had been a really pathetic year for Christian music until the very end, when four (or so) albums were released in October and November that I loved, flinging themselves into my top ten (or so). (My disappointment with 2016’s Christian music output was evidenced by the genre’s absence in my midyear top 10.) This is a bias I’m aware of and one I’m okay with; these albums are ones I want to share with other people, and often they’re albums that won’t get coverage from many other publications. That doesn’t mean I’ll haplessly and thoughtlessly toss Christian albums at the top of my list without any quantifiable merit. In the case of these autumn releases, though, I’m combating against a second agent: recency bias. It’s so much easier to look fondly upon an album that’s two months old–one that’s fresh and exciting–rather than an album that’s ten months old, that’s had the opportunity to age and be forgotten. This “recency bias” is the primary reason why I have yet to compile my year-end list of favorite albums.
In a world wide web that’s already stuffed with year-end lists that have inexplicably been flooding the net since the last week of November (“You don’t matter, December!”), it might seem a little silly to want to throw my voice into the sea to watch it drown. But it’s not my opinion that matters here. It’s the artists and art I’m sharing that matters, and I can only hope it will come to matter to whomever ends up reading my posts. To that end, I think it’s purely happenstance whether my lists get released November 28th or February 28th, as long as these lists have actually had attention and care given to them beforehand. This is why I’ve given myself some rules before releasing any year-end lists, whenever they arrive, in whatever shape they appear.
For music, I’ve loaded my top 40 album purchases of the year onto my phone (1.2 days of music) in order to revisit each album at least once: to give me a fresh perspective on each and to let me view all the albums within a similar frame of mind. For movies, I decided back in December that there were at least four movies I needed to see before I could consider making a favorites list: La La Land, Manchester by the Sea, A Monster Calls, and Silence. Of those, I’ve only seen La La, and in the meantime I’m hoping I have the opportunity to catch a few foreign films, such as Things to Come, Elle, and Toni Erdmann. For music, this rule will help me combat recency bias. For movies, this rule will keep me from picking favorites from too small of an applicant pool, so to speak.
This may all seem like a lot of thought and effort to be put into a few lists. Am I simply a product of the list culture? Even this post itself might seem to be wholly extraneous, and yeah, sure, it kind of is. But this is what I love. Art, creation, the analysis of art, and the literature written around and about art. It fascinates me what one woman can accomplish by herself or what a large team can do in cooperation. The Christian idea astounds me that we create because we were made in the image of a Creator; even more so the theological possibility that all good works and creative efforts are performed in tandem with the Holy Spirit of God. Even if you think that last sentence is utter hogwash, I’d be shocked to meet someone whose life had never been enriched by a poem or painting or play, etc. So yes, it’s important to me, and I will gladly put in the time and effort to bring to you, reader, something worthy of your own time.
That being said…thanks for reading!