As the noughties draw to a close, people inevitably try to wrap up the decade in a convenient package, slap a label on it and sell it off as a profitable Christmas book that no one will read.
Summarising 3653 days of news, culture and everything else in processed chunks of bland generalisations is a prospect that many people, mostly journalists, find irresistible.
They make such generalisations at the end of every year, but with the closing of a decade they think have a licence to freak out.
There are endless Top Tens and Top 100s all over the internet and in newspapers that no one in their right mind would either read or pay any serious attention to.
Just do a Google search for “noughties” and any other word, and you will be met with a list of some kind about the decade that almost was.
Even “noughties crap” brings up the highly enlightening Sexiest Women of the Noughties (So Far) on Hecklerspray, with its title which implies a woman may still be born this decade who could oust Jessica Alba from her top spot, despite being only one month old.
Hecklerspray’s list does have some hint of originality about it however, as it contains only 24 entries, rather than a round number.
The Times, The Guardian, The Telegraph and the rest would never dare produce a list that wasn’t made up of ten, 50, or 100 entries, a fact which shows not only how eager they are to fill column inches with this easy-to-produce nonsense, but how generic they are.
It’s not as if there aren’t already more than enough awards ceremonies every year that are desperate to tell us what is the best and what we should be spending our money on.
Take books for example. There are, to name but a few, The Man Booker Prize, The Costa Book Awards, The Guardian First Book Award, The Orwell Prize, and what must be the most eminent of the lot, The Galaxy British Book Awards.
The Times’ recent list, The 100 Best Books of the Decade, is little but an amalgam of the winners and shortlisted books from the last ten years of the aforementioned prizes, from 2008’s Booker winner, Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger at number 80, to 2003’s Whitbread (now known as Costa) winner, Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, at 25.
What exactly constitutes being “the best” in the eyes of The Times is left open to conjecture. Is it breaking down narrative walls in fiction? Providing insights into unknown areas? Selling the most copies?
No one at The Times seems to know or care, but just to be safe they’ve thrown in some populist numbers – Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code at ten – some political stuff – Naomi Klein’s No Logo at 50 and even some historical stuff – Peter Ackroyd’s London: the Biography at 45.
There really is something for everyone here, and that is why it is so dire. It’s nothing but bookcase facism that tells you what should be on your shelves for everyone to see next time you have a dinner party.
To make a generalisation of my own, if anything the noughties was the decade that spawned the culture of what could be called “Bestism”.
Reality TV gave us Big Brother, The X-Factor, I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! and Strictly Come Dancing, all of which are based on the premise of finding out who is “the best” and dimissing everyone else.
The newspapers’ noughties lists are lodged deeply in this vein. What they are saying is that if you don’t own or aren’t familiar with the contents, you’re not suitable to mix it with the rest of us and should be voted off the social, intellectual and hipness circuits.
Or to turn out a phrase that somewhat epitomises noughties exclusionism, “you are the weakest link, goodbye.”