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In second place was a story by Blackberry on Cracked: 5 Real-Life Stories of Twins Creepier Than Any Horror Movie that generated 656,478 actions. After that, the numbers drop to 115,000 shares, to 80,000, to the number 10 story, a post by Marriot in Fast Company Called the Future of Travel that generated just 23,023 social actions.
The list is an oddly submissive reading experience. You are, initially, sucked in by the promise of a neatly quantified serving of information or diversion. There will be precisely ten (or fourteen, or thirty-three) items in this text, and they will pertain to precisely this stated topic. You know exactly what you’re going to get with a listicle. But there’s also a narrower sense in which you don’t know what you’re going to get at all. You know you’re going to get twenty-one kinds of gross offal, yes, but you don’t know which kinds of offal or how gross they’re going to be. Once you’ve begun reading, a strange magnetism of the pointless asserts itself.
In an interview with The Paris Review twenty years ago, Don DeLillo mentioned that “lists are a form of cultural hysteria.” From the vantage point of today, you wonder how much anyone—even someone as routinely prescient as DeLillo—could possibly have identified list-based hysteria in 1993. DeLillo’s statement also hints at something crucial about the list as a form: the tension between its gesturing toward order and its acknowledgement of order’s impossibility. The list—or, more specifically, the listicle—extends a promise of the definitive while necessarily revealing that no such promise could ever be fulfilled. It arises out of a desire to impose order on a life, a culture, a society, a difficult matter, a vast and teeming panorama of cat adorability and nineties nostalgia. Umberto Eco put it dramatically: “The list is the origin of culture. It’s part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible. It also wants to create order.”