Decoding the Mystical Listicle

Chances are that if you’re a reader of any kind of magazine or internet content you’ve come across the seemingly friendly but possibly deadly listicle. A portmanteau of “list” and “article” (not related to a male body part) these annoying little bugaboos have become an industry-wide epidemic. Glance at any or all of the covers of women’s fashion magazines and you will see them in their glory bearing titles from the innocuous: “165 Best Beauty Buys,” or “20 Most Googled Style Questions Answered” to the slightly more insistent: “89 Brilliant Ways to Step Up Your Style,” “The 11 Nail Polishes You Need to Try This Winter” “10 Fresh Ways to Spring Clean” to the downright offensive albeit hilarious:: “5 Ways to Get What You Want Under the Tree & In Love” or “27 Amazing Reasons It’s Great to Be A Woman” (did Caitlyn Jenner write that one? ha). Some are truly cringe worthy as in “52 Holy S*it Sex Moves.” By the time I got to “382 Shoes That Scream Buy Me” I felt more than a little violated.

Of course this is not really anything new; lists are in our DNA. When it comes right down to it, what are The Ten Commandments but a list. Centuries later phenomena such as Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, Forbes and Fortune’s 500 lists, and People Magazine’s 100 Most Beautiful People have just signaled a downward continuance of the trend.

And those lists were popular and begot more bite sized lists like People’s 25 Most Intriguing. Time Magazine broke it down still further to “7 Things the Most Interesting People All Have in Common.” There’s even a book by well renowned Italian novelist, medievalist, semiotician, philosopher and literary critic Umberto Eco called “The Infinity of Lists: An Illustrated Essay ” which is basically a very high-brow compilation of lists.

Naturally all bets were off once the internet seized on this arena. It wasn’t long before writers and editors decided to spawn devil children: listicles were at once popular and easy to produce. What’s more they could tie advertising to them known as “click bait” and score on all fronts. Entire websites sprung up (I won’t name any names here but to paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, we all “know it when we see it”) solely for the dubious purpose of seeing how many clicks they could get, how little unique content/effort they could put forth and how many ads they could link to.

This in turn set up the situation that one is now likely to encounter online which could be termed “49 Stupid Things I Compiled 5 Minutes Ago Under a Loose Heading To Make it Seem Like I have Something Original to Say.” Apparently there have been studies indicating that there’s a science to using the most appealing numbers (10, 15, 21 or 25 are goodies) with odd or prime numbers statistically receiving the most clicks. Indeed the whole concept is driven by an overload of info in the modern age; our fast pace and collective ADD sparking the need for easily digestible content. It’s been stated that readers enjoy knowing how long an article is before investing their valuable time, hence the act of assigning a number to the covered points or featured products is tantamount. Some sites have gone a step further with search engine optimization, meaning that their “writers” deliberately attempt to use words that rank higher on Google and other search engines; a concept at once fascinating and propagandizing.

Since I know nothing whatsoever of the actual “art” of writing a listicle having never done so, and have no idea what the optimal words are, I thought it would be fun to brainstorm or suggest titles since that is what initially draws you into their spider’s web.

Apropos to the holiday season I propose: “Ho-Ho-Ho or No-No-No–15 Ways You’re Unintentionally Slut Shaming Your Bestie” Along that same thread: “12 Holiday Sweaters Guaranteed Not to Get You Laid”

For 2016: “61 Style Resolutions Only Rihanna Could Nail” Or maybe “7 Things That You Never Want to Find at the Bottom of Your Handbag” (Obvious choices would be a Popsicle or a rodent)

For the celebrity obsessed: “5 Pop Stars Who Actually Sing Live “ (although I bet that’s been done if there are that many).

“21 Actors Interviewed on Location: 3 of Them Totally Knew Where They Were.”

For the art enthusiast: “35 Most Iconic Fashion Photos Taken In or Around Kidney Shaped Swimming Pools” or “11 Superfluous Mentions of Art at Art Basel”

Lastly, a meta example: “9 Randomly Invented Listicle Titles That Are Almost as Absurd as Real Ones”

– Laurel Marcus

Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

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