It’s that time of year again. Those lazy days between Christmas and New Year when newspaper space is filled with meaningless lists of films you have already seen, TV shows you have already forgotten and books you will never get around to reading.
This year – this grinning dumb bastard of a year – the lists seem more pointless than ever. Let’s face it: in 2020, fear of missing out has been well and truly trumped by fear of dying out.
While we of course miss our previous social lives, not having visited all the top new restaurants in London isn’t really a cause for concern when they are reduced to doing takeaway, if they are open at all. A list of the best new hotels to visit in 2021 is the very definition of a waste of space when most of the UK is under strict tier four restrictions that prevent travel and will be for some time.
A list of the best walks for Boxing Day has to carry a sub editor’s warning that readers are not currently permitted to travel between tiered areas, rendering the routes shown in great detail of interest only to those who already live near them and will surely know them well.
And, in a year spent confined to home, one would expect Vogue to have come up with a superlative list of fabulous items that every lockdown household needs, but the list its writers compiled reads like pretty much everyone’s Amazon 2020 order history in its whimsy. Taco press? Facemask stand? SURE. Why not?
Newspapers love lists, of course, because they fill space and can be compiled weeks in advance, much like those awful annual quizzes that they also insist on running at this time of year. ‘What can you remember about 2020?’ they demand. Nothing, pal. Last time I looked it was February and everything was great. Bit of a blur since then, so you’ll have to excuse my inability to name the winner of the locked-down French Open.
You want a list? I’ve got a list for you that doesn’t feature The Queen’s Gambit or The Crown. How about the top countries for Covid-19 fatalities? In a year when the Olympics didn’t happen, it reads like a medal table for ill-preparedness, ignorance and ineptitude. A list, like many, that features Schitts Creek, but with a focus on the deep schitt, and the perplexing absence of a paddle. It still has more laughs than the TV show, mind.
Or how about a list that keeps getting longer: namely, the number of SARS-CoV-2 variants that are now emerging and whose sequences are being painstakingly logged? Now that’s a list.
And I bet you haven’t seen them before. Even the experts haven’t.