Over the past week or so there has been an increase in the facebook apps of the form "100 things to do, eat, visit, etc." I don't have any objections to them, and in fact they're sort of fun to peruse. At the same time the subjectivity involved in choosing the most notable 100 of anything lends a sort of pointlessness to the lists.
The lastest to enter my attention span is a "places to visit" sort of list. The Sears Tower, Grand Canyon, and Gateway arch all made the cut, but Savannah's Mercer house, White Sands desert, and the Brooklyn Bridge didn't. I suspect the Big Chicken wasn't even considered, and it's at least as artistically significant as the Gateway Arch.
I'm aware that ranking things is a very human characteristic, but I first became skeptical of "100 things" lists when I began mulling over the 100 greatest English language novels, and 100 greatest operas lists.
James Joyce's Ulysses was at the top of the novels lists. Really? Better than Confederacy of Dunces, or Catch 22? The relative merits of a novel depends on one's purpose in reading it, and I don't doubt Joyce's brilliance, but I've made repeated unsuccessful attempts to read Ulysses. I've started it so many times that I've practically memorized the scene with Steven Dedalus and Buck Mulligan in the Tower. Then I bog down. Perhaps I have a lowbrow streak, but I've read the latter two books repeatedly. I don't think it's American chauvanism on my part either. I think Terry Pratchett is one of the finest living English language writers, and if memory serves me correctly none of his books made the "100 greatest ..." list.
As for the opera list, Wagner's Ring Cycle was at the top of the most widely circulated list. As good as it is, it's a ponderous, overly long, somewhat jingoistic opera, guaranteed to bring about a terrible case of sore buttocks, even with frequent intermissions. There are many brilliant and accessible operas to choose from. The Barber of Seville, Il Trovatore, and any of Gilbert and Sullivan's works make arguably much better connection with audiences than the 15 hours of the Ring Cycle.
These lists may be worthwhile to expose a person to places, foods, novels, operas, symphonies, or other types of thing which that person might not otherwise encounter, or to test one's exposure to a wide range of experiences. But you shouldn't stress out too much if you've never eaten haggis, or been to the Gateway arch, or read Ulysses, or suffered through a live performance of the Ring Cycle. Instead figure out what you really find fulfilling, and make your own list.