Lists vs. Opinions: Is there a difference?

The other day I found myself listening to The Matineecast’s episode 59 (Ryan’s birthday episode), where he took some time away from the regular releases and talked about the film High Fidelity. He and his guest, Joanna Chlebus, eventually got around to the idea of list making and how took over (and still consumes at least 20% of film blogs) the internet. While I constantly succumb to this easy trope of comment gathering, which I can say doesn’t always work, I do find some of his words worth taking to heart.

Ryan went on in his argument to use the scene of Rob at Charlie’s get together as a prime example of the problems with people using lists as a substitute for discussion. In this scene Rob, finally back in the presence of Charlie, finds himself unable to speak as he is left in the dust watching Charlie and her friends going back and forth point after point on some topic (that at this point I cannot for the life of me remember what the discussion was about). The thought of being right, or winning the discussion/argument of the evening is completely moot, the idea of being able to contribute in a sociable manner is not.

So the question being posed is if lists, as a structured knowledge base, is a viable substitute for the free form discussion.

Before we get there though I think the question of whether a list is actually an opinion is worth answering. The idea of someone saying Citizen Kane is better than Casablanca is definitely considered an opinion. However, with the constant idea that most bloggers, inclusive of myself, of knowing even before we write the title of the post that whatever we put down as our top five are most times interchangeable depending on our disposition. If someone asked me to remember what my #1 taboo film was (an article I posted a few years back) I would probably name the film that came #3 or #4 in the article. Not because I don’t truly believe in my response, or that my opinion hasn’t changed, but the fact that my response would seem so definitive while at the same time not be is somewhat reducing the effect of my actual opinion of the topic at hand.

The biggest issue I think that is had with lists as opposed to discussions is that lists are for and assumed opinion. When I post a Top Ten Spike Lee movies, there’s an assumed consensus that I like Spike Lee movies, or that I think his films are good. In a discussion however the first question that would be asked is “are his movies good? Do you like him as a director?” which is where discussions win over list making. It allows for a much wider span of thoughts and the ability to express your feelings on a much more broad topic than just rattling off examples of what a topic is with barely explaining why these examples are worth mentioning in the current context.

Now looking at the discussion option in the current comparison; an opinion is based on knowledge and experience which in turn affects emotion. I feel bad about seeing Kristen Stewart films because I know she hasn’t acted well in any film she’s ever been in. This is all based on knowledge and experience, all of which could also have been expressed instead in me listing out ten films which I believe she did a horrendous job of portraying her character on screen. Now the former is a lot more succinct and inviting than the latter, but does it reduce the effect either way? I don’t quite think so. I think the list is just as meaningful as the summarized version (i.e. discussion/opinion). It’s just dependant on the setting on when a where this happens. If I was to be in Ryan’s living room and he were to say “Kristen Stewart is amazing”, I would probably simply respond no and ask him a follow up question as opposed to start to list my Top Ten Worst Kristen Stewart performances. Everything is all about context. Once the reader, as well as the author, both know that then we’re golden.

I guess what I’m saying is that Ryan is right in his personal thoughts, but at the same time I don’t see myself no longer listing my Top Ten Movie Opinions That I Love (yes that was being ridiculous on purpose), just because – like Rob – I enjoy making these lists, even if they’re completely throw away at times. I know that next week I may finally get to see the original King Kong and then I’ll have a new favourite monster movie. The list still says what the opinion/discussion does, just in a slightly different way. And while we’re at it; Top Ten Things That Make This Post Awesome: ….

What do you think of Lists vs. Discussions?

  • Ryan McNeil

    Heh – I think you might have forgotten the shitstorm I caused the last time I brought this up: 

  • Andrew Robinson

    No I didn’t… just didn’t feel like giving the asshat who wants to take my lists away any more linkage… :P

    I play sir. I do remember that piece, and I know you’ve talked about it before. Just your podcast reminded me and made me find a while to write the above madness.

  • Ryan McNeil

    Well I can only applaud the effort. Muddy as my point might have been the first time I tried to make it, I am happy to see that you understand where I’m coming from. I’m not against them unilaterally – like you, I just believe there’s more conversation to be had.

    Now push on to episode 60. It’s one of the very best I’ve ever done – and co-incidentally it’s list-free!

  • Sam Fragoso

    Firstly, I think Stewart is quite excellent in ADVENTURELAND.

    … As for your discussion on lists vs. opinion, I have to say that I prefer a discussion than list making.

    When I began writing and creating my site, lists were an easy way to obtain comments and readers (as you briefly mentioned). It was also actively enjoyable to compile lists that documented our thoughts in a location for everyone to see.

    However, as I continue doing this, I find myself (less and less) resorting to constructing a list of my “favorite films” or “favorite actors and actresses”. Not because I find the task of doing such arbitrary, but because expanding my opinions into a discussion is far more (intellectually and emotionally) gratifying.

    That said, I’m still desperately need to reconstruct a list of my favorite films (which I haven’t done in nearly two years).

    Good article Andrew.

  • Andrew Robinson

    I do agree in the easiness of lists and the importance of discussions,
    but as said earlier… still fun and great way to get a raw idea out.

    Re: your lists you need to update:
    I did a podcast listing my top ten films of all time and I think I’ve come up with a much more likeable solution to that issue (of always needing to redefine that). That solution is me creating my own Pantheon ( where one by one, as time goes on, I add films that I feel have hit that level with me that deserve my undying love. It is highly lacking now, and I doubt will ever be incomplete, but I hope to eventually have it as my complete reference to understanding my particular love of film.