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Being Modern: Lists


Though our telegram from the Queen appears to have been lost in the post, it must not be allowed to escape the nation’s attention that Being Modern is – as the more eagle-eyed among you may have noticed from the number above – 100 columns old today. Yay for us, etc.

And what better way to celebrate our arrival at a nice, round number than to compile a list? Or better still, to examine our ongoing fascination with such things. Not that even we can make the case that there is anything terribly modern about listing things. Hell, the Lord High Executioner had one when Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado opened in 1885 and someone called To Do has been leavingthem lying around all over the place for as long as anyone can remember.

But these are not the kind of lists we are talking about. No, the lists we are referring to are like the pop charts (themselves just turned 60, quick, let’s list something…), though they are not based on anything concrete, such as actual sales of actual units.

You know the ones we mean: Britain’s 100 favourite adverts/comedians/songs/poems/catchphrases/gadgets/films/lists and so on. Sometimes, these are even compiled by public vote, but that’s not the point, because the point is in the listing, as to do so gives us the illusion of order and the temporary chasing away of the chaos that surrounds us. (Our 100 favourite cod psychological explanations for everyday things, anyone?)

While it’s impossible to trace where this fetishisation for tabulation started, it is always good at times such as these to blame someone, so let’s have a pop at Nick Hornby. It was his High Fidelity alter ego (sorry, character) Rob Fleming, you might remember, who mistook compiling top-five lists for having a life and so shone a light on the fact that men seem to reserve a part of their brain for the listing of life’s crucial things (films seen, goals scored, gigs been to, children fathered).

And it’s not just men. Last year, my wife made a list of the things she wanted for Christmas. Naturally, I countered with my top-five reasons why we couldn’t afford them…