9 Ways The Listicle Defined The 2010s

At the end of the decade, we celebrate the format that ruled the Internet. (Plus, lists always perform better with odd numbers.)

Farewell To ... ” is an end-of-decade series that explores some of the biggest cultural trends of the last 10 years. HuffPost’s culture team says bye to the era of “one queen of hip-hop,” so long to lily white and mostly male literary institutions, R.I.P. to the movie star and more.

For better ― and oftentimes, worse ― during the last decade, lists were everywhere.

We were told which movies were best, and which albums were worst. We learned what every woman should stop doing and what every woman must own and why we weren’t married. We laughed at photos of dogs and cats and teacup pigs and otters holding hands. We shared the 37 things that every native New Yorker knows, and the 65 things everyone who grew up on a farm understands, and the 21 tweets every new parent has to see, and the 59 books every man needs to read, and the 475 photographs that will save you if you’re on death’s door. We watched in horror as lists grew longer: of assaults, of accusers, of attempted comebacks and careers cut short. 

Click. Scan. Share. Repeat. 

The dominance of the listicle reflects some truths about the media climate over the last 10 years: the rise of digital publishers, the obsession with and dependence on (to publishers’ own detriment) big tech companies like Facebook and Twitter and Google, the short attention spans inherent to the online age, and the constant stream of new content which is near-impossible to keep up with in any meaningful way. 

BuzzFeed, which launched in 2006, but really found its footing during the 2010s, cemented the listicle as a format which could be refilled over and over and over and over again. As Amanda Mull put it for The Atlantic, “The internet can now be more accurately described as a series of lists, enumerating everything from the United States’ worst airports to the most beloved grocery stores,” citing their utility as “a bulwark against the internet’s constant information overload.” 

When discussing how to commemorate the end of the decade, it felt like there was almost too much to tackle. After overloading ourselves with information and then in turn overloading our readers with information, where would we even begin? So we decided to return to old faithful: the listicle. Below is a noncomprehensive tribute to and inherent critique of a decade filled with lists. 

Don’t worry, you’ll totally understand it just as long as you own 13 things and grew up in the suburbs and have a dog but love cats.

Lists That Told Us (Mostly Women) What To Do …

The listicle format — and of course, the dreaded photo gallery — provided the perfect template for digital magazines and news organizations to guide us into a supposedly better life. Whether you needed help finding a man, or understanding why you’re still single, everybody and their mama seemed to be doling out advice to anyone, especially women, who didn’t ask for it. And then, there were also lists that actually did help us out when we needed it — like what to say to some of the most dreaded questions in an interview process and what to do when you’re bored (BuzzFeed has that genre on lock, with so, so many iterations). In retrospect, wasn’t so much of the internet experience in the 2010s rooted in wasting time while simultaneously trying to figure out how to fix your life? Welp, there’s a list for that.

 

Lists That Attempted To Correct Erasure … 

The 2010s were, good or bad, the decade where “wokeness” became the major parlance of the culture. Which is to say, more than ever, mainstream cultural conversations were focusing in on calling out injustice, amplifying the voices of marginalized people and pointing out the pervading inequalities in society. A lot of lists during the decade did this in poignant, irreverent and satirical ways. Whether it was pointing out tone-deaf commercials or satirically listing “stuff that scares Black people,” these lists helped shine a light on experiences and voices that had, up until then, otherwise gone unnoticed or unexplored in mainstream media. 

 

Lists That Helped Us Process A 24/7 News Cycle … 

The 24-hour news cycle began with the proliferation of cable in the 1980s, but only in this decade did it leave us feeling like Wile E. Coyote chasing the Road Runner. Keeping up with the never-ending content wheel was nearly impossible. The internet became the media industry’s fulcrum, which meant news was no longer dependent on broadcast schedules or a newspaper’s next edition. Scandals that once took a week to unfold now zip by in less than a day. Journalists turned to lists as a way to recap events that never seemed to stop: Donald Trump’s lies, celebrities’ clapbacks, new product launches. Readers could catch up on what they’d missed, and newsrooms could capitalize on traffic generated form audiences too strapped to follow along in real time. 

Lists That Captured A Collective Experience … 

This was the decade in which we all had the same childhood. And the same embarrassing moments with our relatives. And the same thoughts around candy corn pizza. The internet showed us that we’re more alike than we thought. Whether it’s the general public or a specific group with a shared background, listicles galore created virtual bonding moments that made social media feel a bit less divisive. This decade bestowed upon us a space for us to verbalize what we already knew. Whether it be awkward moments at the gym, Thanksgiving with Black families or annoyances with people who stand up as soon as the plane lands, social media has been pivotal in highlighting those shared experiences. 

 

Lists That Only Applied To You … And You … And You … And You …

No lists of the 2010s were circulated more than the lists that spoke directly to, well, you … and your friends … and your siblings … and your fellow Taureans. Media outlets gave us countless roundups tailored to very specific sectors of the population in the hopes that people would post them, tweet about them and share them with those in the same boat. Suffer from hypothyroidism? There’s a list for that! Sick of people saying you live on a Bayou because you’re from New Orleans? So is he! It became so easy to replicate the viral success of these “demolisticles” that they were everywhere and about everything. There’s nothing more powerful than a microtargeted audience.  

 

Lists That Made Us Nostalgic AF …

The 2010s were, arguably, the decade in which we distilled the art of nostalgia. Nostalgia for the ’90s (fashion, sitcoms like “Living Single” and “Friends,” and the comparatively optimistic mood) loomed especially large during the decade, particularly for millennials yearning for the sense of security as the decade seemed to get progressively worse ... and worse. Listicles on sites like BuzzFeed and The Root sought to help us recall and reflect on the past, resulting in lists that created space for the act of communal remembrance. Also, they were just fun. 

 

Lists That Asked Us To Confront Our Mortality …

One theme of the 2010s: death. Earth dodged the 2012 apocalypse that had long been predicted, but that didn’t distract us from pondering mass destruction. Climate change threats were everywhere; bad news seemed to reach a pinnacle and pop culture’s true crime wave made murder an entertainment fad. As a result, we needed constant reminders that life isn’t so bad ― or that it is bad but we’ll be OK. Some of this was disguised as inspirational fodder, but make no mistake: Constructing a bucket list or reminding yourself that humanity still has hope is just a way to anticipate death. Sorry!

Lists That Sparked A Movement ...

Sometimes a list of names speaks louder than a thousand think pieces. The 2010s marked the beginning of a sustained, in-depth national (and international) dialogue about sexual harassment, assault and abuse in the workplace. Of course, Me Too was sparked by rigorous reporting by investigative journalists, not lists, but the list provided a way to more easily absorb the ubiquity of the epidemic of gender-based sexual violence. There were the women who accused Bill Cosby of assault, photographed one after another after another. There were the women who accused Donald Trump of sexual misconduct, a list that grew ... and grew ... and grew. There was that list of men in media, so controversial that it sparked a legal battle. And then, after a handful of powerful predators faced a handful of consequences, there was the list of those who rose up in their places. These lists allowed us to grapple with the magnitude of upsetting stories; the people of all genders who stood up and said “Me Too.”

 

Lists That Made Us LOL … 

Lists have been slowly refined since the beginning of time. First, it was Moses who was writing down the Commandments when he realized, “Meh, I’ll just make it a Top 10.” Then the “Late Show with David Letterman” made comedy lists a staple in the ’80s. But it wasn’t until the 2010s when lists reached their final stage of evolution: comparing drunk people to babies.

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